Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"She Has Done What She Could"

     The title of this post comes from a statement of Jesus found in Mark 14:8a. We’re told in verse 3 that a woman (Mary, John 12:3) came in with very expensive ointment and used it to anoint our Lord’s head. She met the indignation of some present before Jesus quickly came to her defense. As he spoke on her behalf we come to verse 8, which says, She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.
     There were things she could not do. She could not remove the cup of which he was to drink shortly thereafter. She could not become a gospel preacher after his resurrection and the establishment of the church on Pentecost. She could not even avoid the ire of some of his closest disciples that day in Bethany. What she could do was use that expensive ointment to anoint his head and she did it. Is there anything for us to learn from her example? I believe so.
     There is something that every saint can do for the Lord. I’ve noticed a tendency among some Christians who cannot take part in public roles due to lack of God’s authorization or their own lack of confidence look upon themselves as a sort of second class Christian. That’s a shame. If you are one who tends to this unfortunate (and quite incorrect) viewpoint than take a moment to hear Paul by reading 1 Corinthians 12. If you are inclined to claim Paul speaks only of miraculous spiritual gifts ask yourself why the principles stated would not apply to all spiritual gifts, miraculous or otherwise?
     Now confront yourself with this question: what can you do for your Lord and your brethren? Do you believe that because you cannot be an elder, evangelist, adult Bible class teacher, song leader, or Lord’s table speaker that you have little to offer? Think again. How lacking the Lord’s church would be if it were only made up of those holding more public positions! Peter and Paul were immensely important to the Lord’s church, but so too was Tabitha and she had never preached a sermon or taught an adult Bible class in her life. She hadn’t the right to. Yet she was the quintessential servant to her brethren in Joppa (Acts 9:36-39). The mother of Rufus never stood before the congregation to lead singing or offered words before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. She hadn’t the right to. Yet her hospitality and care for Paul was such that he claimed she became as a mother to him (Romans 16:13). You cannot preach? You can be a servant to your brethren. You cannot serve as an elder? You can serve as an encourager to your brethren. You cannot teach an adult Bible class? You can teach everyone who observes you through your godly example. You cannot lead singing? You can seek to lead many souls to Christ.
     There is so much each of us can do if we would just put our minds to the doing! I came across a quote from Jim Jonas some time ago that I found striking. He said, “I am convinced that most Christians have tremendous stores of talent and skill buried beneath a pile of distraction, insecurity, and fear. We find excuses that seem reasonable to us, that don’t arouse an offended conscience, and we trot them out whenever obligation comes calling.” I firmly believe the only thing that limits my usefulness to the Lord is me. I just as firmly believe the same of you. Indeed, when all of the excuses spawning from the insecurity and distraction mentioned by Mr. Jonas are set aside, I believe there is very little that a child of God truly can’t do in their service to their Lord and brethren. Having the desire to do for the Lord and for brethren is a different matter altogether and a topic for a different time.
     Mary was commended because she did what she could. Nothing more was expected of her. Indeed, nothing more is expected of any of us. But know this: that much is expected. Mary did it because she loved Jesus and wanted to serve him. It’s that love that motivates us to discover, use, and increase our abilities for our Lord and brethren. When we grow to love Jesus as we should we’ll find that the boundaries of what we can do just keep expanding. This is because, in the final analysis, so many of our boundaries are purely self-imposed. What can we do for the Lord and our brethren? Whatever it may be let us resolve to do it with all our might.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Have You Been With Jesus?

      Acts 5:27-29 says, And when they had brought them, they set them before the council.  And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  But Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
        It required extraordinary courage for Peter and the others to stand before the council and say the things they did. The Sanhedrin charged the apostles with disobeying their command to teach no more in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). The apostles said that it was right for them to disobey. The Sanhedrin accused the apostles of trying to bring the blood of Jesus Christ upon their heads. The apostles accused them of killing Jesus (Acts 5:30). The Sanhedrin denied that Jesus possessed divine authority. The apostles declared, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). By then much of the Sanhedrin was prepared to kill the apostles (Acts 5:33). Had they not heeded the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39) they likely would have done so.
      What an awesome display of faith and courage. It is not difficult to begin imagining that they were a different breed of human, a group of first century “supermen” exempt from the discouragements and fears that often plague “the rest of us.” After all, what else could explain their ability to stand with straight backs and determined brows before an enraged Sanhedrin? 
      They were not supermen. In fact, they had not always been as bold as this. Even after this event Peter, the spokesmen for the group, would briefly turn hypocrite and lead others astray by his example (Galatians 2:11-13). God reveals their failings so that we will recognize that they were just like us, fraught with all the frailties and fears indigenous to humanity. Like us, they occasionally succumbed to temptation. Like us, they experienced illnesses and death. Like us, they sometimes needed a shoulder to cry on. Like us, they needed to be encouraged. Like us, they needed to be saved!
       So if they were not supermen, if they really were just like us, how did they manage to bravely stand before a hostile council and so thoroughly make their defense that the council could not begin to deal with the points they made? I believe we find all the answer we need in Acts 4:13, the first time two apostles were brought before the council.  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” They had been with Jesus. They had traveled with Him, listened to Him, received their training from Him, and been saved by Him. They had been with Jesus.
     When ordinary people are filled with extraordinary faith that they have been with Jesus becomes apparent to all who are paying attention. Our ordinary daily lives should show us the truth of this. Why do faithful Christian spouses patiently work at their marriage when folks all around them with similar troubles and fears separate from one another? It is because they have been with Jesus. Why does the faithful Christian see the glory of God in the brilliant morning sunlight while other folks are grumbling about going to work in the morning? It is because they have been with Jesus. Why doesn’t the faithful Christian curse and throw out vulgar gestures when someone cuts them off while driving or shoves in front of them in the grocery line? It is because they have been with Jesus.
      Living hand in hand with Jesus does not reveal itself only when one’s life is on the line. It is something that shines through in daily life. Of course, it does require a mature, committed faith to hold its resolve in the face of personal danger. It is the type of faith all saints should work for. Christians often say that they do not know what they would do if faced with the same challenges of some of our earliest brethren, such as those faced by the apostles in Acts 4 and 5. I don’t believe that to be the correct attitude. All committed Christians should be prepared to not just have their faith tested, but to cling to it to the end, even if that end is death (Matthew 10:22). Such would certainly not be easy, but it would be expected by the One prepared to welcome them on the other side.
      Yes, we are ordinary people. None of us are masquerading as regular humans until we find the nearest phone booth. Yet we are all capable of extraordinary things through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Living the faithful Christian life each day is as extraordinary as surviving the most trying moments with faith intact. Both are made possible because the saint has been with Jesus. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Few Thoughts On Fellowship

     Where many have concluded that fellowship is the thing Christians do over fried chicken, a cup of coffee, and conversation; the New Testament use of the word shows it to be spiritual in nature. We have fellowship with those who stand for the truth, worship God in the ways He said He wants to be worshipped, and live their lives making every effort to walk worthy of their calling. New Testament Christians take tremendous delight in laughing with one another over a meal and recognize such intimacy to be a product of the blessing of being in fellowship with God. They recognize this foundatinal truth: it always comes back to God!
     How is the fellowship God desires established? The answer is found in 1 John 1:5-7. This is the message we have heard and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkenss at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. To claim fellowship with God is to walk in the way He walked. Look at Jesus Christ and do what he did. Love truth as he loved it, walk according to the Father’s will as he did, and love souls the way he loved them. Those who are willing to do this will not hesitate to put him on in baptism and will, as a result, join with those who share the same faithful commitment. They will work and worship together, fellowshipping one another because they are in fellowship with God. Anyone can claim to love Christ, sit down over a hearty meal with other such claimers, have a grand old time, and call the whole thing fellowship. But if one wants to be part of the spiritual fellowship in which God delights 1 John 1:5-7 tells them how.
     Not long ago a brother declared, “We cannot have fellowship with someone God does not fellowship.” If by “cannot” he means it should never happen then he is absolutey right. If by “cannot” he means it couldn’t actually happen…Well, that’s a different story. Let’s consider Scripture.
     We read the following from 3 John 9-10. I have written something to the church, but Diotrophes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknoweldge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Diotrophes refused to fellowship a group of traveling preachers (5-8). What’s more, he raised his fist against his brothers and sisters in the congregation who did welcome them, casting these faithful Christians out of the church. Further, he refused to recognize the authority of the apostle John. Thus, Diotrophes refused fellowship to faithful traveling preachers, faithful brothers and sisters within the congregation of which he was part, and an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note this well, beloved: God fellowshipped while Diotrophes didn’t. Severing fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ is never something to be done without prayerful study and meditation. Neither should it ever be the result of an emotional reaction. Man’s emotions lead him wrong. A lot. When fellowship is severed it must only ever be for a single reason: a Christian or group of Christians has chosen to no longer walk in the light. That conclusion should only ever be reached after calm and prayerful consideration of God’s Word. Otherwise, one may disfellowship where God has not. What a frightening proposition!
     Turning to 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 we find a different, though equally disturbing, situation. It is actually reported that there is sexaul immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rathe to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” These brethren had among them one walking in darkness. He was living in sin without remorese or repentance. They were aware of it and yet took no action to remove him from their midst. His wicked influence (leaven, v. 6) was left unchecked and could easily have ravaged that church had not Paul stepped it to get it sorted. Note this well, beloved: God did not fellowship while the Corinthian brethren did. When calm and prayerful study reveals that fellowship must be severed faithful saints had better have the courage and conviction to follow through. It is no better to extend fellowship where God does not than to sever fellowship where God extends it.
     What determines biblical fellowship? What are its boundries? What is to occur when those boundries are reached? Man has had much to say about this throughout the centuries and has left folks more confused than ever. So stop listening to man. Let us resolve to simply hear God. We know with certainty that He will never lead us wrong.   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Majority Appeal

     In Exodus 23:2 God cautioned against something that has been a problem for man almost from the very beginning. He said, You shall not fall in with the many to do evil. Centuries later Jesus made a couple of very informative statements along these lines. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14).    Yet even with these warnings the appeal of the majority remains incredibly strong.
     It is quite common for those in the minority on issues to be mocked and pressured to join the majority. I can only assume that Noah and his family must have seemed like a crazy (and tiny) group of religious extremists as they built the ark (Genesis 6-7). Righteous Lot infuriated the men of Sodom as he refused to take part in their deeds, clearly judging them wicked and ungodly. They would have killed him for it had he not been rescued (Genesis 19:5-9). Joshua and Caleb offered their minority report, rocked the boat every which way, and nearly received a stoning for going against the majority opinion (Numbers 13:25-14:10). Students of the Scripture know that in each of these cases (and many more could be added) the majority was wrong. If we can determine why the majority is nearly always wrong in spiritual matters we can equip ourselves to stand correctly and remove the appeal of “majorityism” (if that’s not a real word it should be!) altogether.
    Let’s understand this first: no majority is ever wrong simply because it’s a majority. Right and wrong are not determined by numbers, either great or small. Some take a peculiar delight in holding a minority opinion on just about everything. Where many believe the expression “might makes right”, these just as heartily accept the proposition “if believed by few it must be true.” That’s silly. A small group can be just as wrong as a large group. Nothing is true because either a majority or minority accepts it as such. Let God be true though every one were a liar. (Romans 3:4)
     So why is the majority usually wrong on spiritual matters? Well, how do the majority of people respond to divine truth and authority? You don’t need to do any research into this besides considering your own relationships. Set aside your brethren for a moment and answer the question by simply considering all other acquaintances in your life. It doesn’t take much thought to see that people, as a whole, lack faith in God (at least as God Himself would define it). Every day we see the majority of people substituting human plans and purposes for divine. Practically speaking this means that there is very little chance for sound conclusions in spiritual matters from the majority.
     Neither is it a surprise that most people seek out a majority. Without faith in God and the strength to stand alone, most people seek security in numbers. When a majority forms, regardless of the morality or appropriateness of the position they advocate, they convince themselves that “everyone can’t be wrong” and continue to “go alone to get along.” Their numbers grow and the broad way remains heavily traversed.
     Beloved, there is nothing appealing about condemnation and if Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 7:13-14 (he did) the majority is marching steadily toward destruction even with its flowing banners of “might”, “popular opinion”, and “wisdom”. How many fathers have asked the child who foolishly followed his friends into some mischief, “If your friends jumped off a bridge would you?” The Father above asks, “If the majority chooses condemnation will you?” Don’t say “no” and live “yes”. Find God’s truth in Scripture and let it guide your steps. It will set you on an awfully narrow road and for long stretches you may not see another traveler upon it, yet it ends at the very gates of Heaven. The majority won’t be there, but God will. No majority is so appealing as that!