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The End is Near!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Our culture is obsessed with the end of the world. Soon, disreputable sources tell us, the zombies will take over, we’ll suffer a nuclear holocaust or a massive geologic catastrophe will wipe out humanity. Weirdly, religious people seem especially drawn to what they call “apocalyptic” (which is a style of writing not a word descriptive of the end of the world) events by shoddy eschatology, misquoting the book of Revelation and even citing tragically confused History Channel documentaries. We’re told to stock up on non-perishables, ammunition, and fuel while we all get started building our underground bunkers. But the apostle Peter tells us to make very different preparations for the end in 1 Peter 4:7-11,

 

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

Peter emphasizes the coming judgment (4:5,17) to remind these suffering Christians that all things would be made right by the just Judge in the future. Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). Some Christians had already died which may have drawn ridicule from critics (4:6). You can almost hear the taunts of 1st century scoffers, “Your Christ said you would live forever but His followers die like everyone else! What use is your faith?”—to which Peter asserts “the end of all things is near”.

 

He didn’t know when. Neither did Jesus (Mt. 24:36) which makes all speculation about the timing of judgment useless. When the end of all things comes is immaterial (2 Pet. 3:3-10). God will take care of all that. The point is “the end” (and, by extension, the judgment) is certain and “near”. In the meantime Peter emphasizes holy conduct (2 Pet. 3:11-12). If the end is near (1 Pet. 4:5) and judgment begins with Christians (4:17) then Peter says what we need to be focused on is glorifying God (4:11b). There are three things in specific that Peter points out.

 

First off, we must focus on glorifying God through prayer (4:7b). The act of prayer is humbling. We are acknowledging our inadequacy and demonstrating our trust and reliance upon God (Mt. 6:5-6). Not to pray is, in effect, to assert our own sufficiency and claim we have no need of God’s strength. Peter gives us guidelines to help us with our prayer lives.

 

He teaches us to be of “sound judgment” while we pray. For some people, knowing the end is near will cause them to indulge in immorality and lose all inhibition (Rom. 13:11-14). Peter says we’re to do the opposite precisely because judgment comes with the end.

 

He also teaches us to be of “sober spirit” when we pray. Sobriety is mentioned twice in 1 Peter in connection with judgment (1:13; 5:8). This is more than simply staying away from alcohol. It means to be watchful, alert, ready to respond. The opposite is to be asleep (1 Thess. 5:6-8). By the way, Peter knows a thing or two about being asleep when he should have been awake (Mt. 26:39-41). Spiritual drowsiness leads to temptation and sin. He’s telling us that the end is near, the devil is seeking to devour someone. So keep your spiritual eyes peeled, be vigilant and watchful in prayer for our own sakes and for each other.

 

Secondly, we’re told to glorify God through loving one another (4:8-9). Peter emphasizing that loving one another is central to our faith. The love we show to our brother is evidence that we love God (1 Jn. 4:20). It’s easy to love most brethren but some require more effort. Therefore, Peter says, to “keep fervent” in our love for one another. Our love for each other shouldn’t depend on our individual loveliness. Our love should reflect God’s love for us: unconquerable, limitless, and dedicated regardless of the loveliness or unloveliness of its object (1 Jn. 3:10-11).

 

Our love is sustained by constant, strenuous effort. “Fervent” literally means to strain or stretch as an athlete stretches toward the finish line. So as the end draws near, let us exert ourselves in our love toward one another. We can express that fervent love by forgiving each other to cover offenses (Prov. 10:12; Eph. 4:32) and even by being hospitable (4:9).

 

Lastly, we can glorify God through serving one another (4:10-11). The miraculous spiritual gifts of the 1st century have ceased, but God has blessed each one of us with unique abilities to serve in some way (Eph. 4:7; Rom. 12:3-8). We are expected to be so motivated by Christ’s servant spirit (Phil. 2:1-11) that we would use all we are given in His service (Mt. 25:13-30). It doesn’t matter what God has given you or how much, He expects you to use it for His glory!

 

God’s gifts are “manifold”, that is, they are all varied. Each Christian is uniquely equipped for a distinctive function. No gift is insignificant in the church because what one member has another lacks. No matter how ordinary or how monotonous the task, serve with the strength God supplies being dependent on Him (2 Thess. 3:13). If you get burnt out on good works, it could be because you haven’t been relying on the strength of God to accomplish the work of service.

 

The motivation for our service, love and devotion in prayer is the glory of God (1 Pet. 4:11b). Many will get involved in the work of the church for their own gain. But Christians pray in secret, serve on the sidelines, and love unselfishly all because Jesus is coming back soon. Peter’s instruction isn’t to sit around waiting but to be watchful which is another way of saying, “Get to work praying, serving & loving!” (1 Thess. 5:1-11).

The Power & Seduction of Music

Monday, November 13, 2017

Joseph Fletcher, the Scottish political activist of the 18th century, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I care not who makes its laws.” Music can have a greater impact on the thinking and behavior of individuals than even the laws those individuals live under.

 

Fletcher saw music as a powerful tool for political change. Indeed it still is. Music can be used to inspire revolution because of its inherent connection to our emotions. As one man said, “Music is the language of the soul.” However, as I hope to explain, music’s greatest strength (a vehicle to express human emotion) is also its greatest weakness. Here, we are speaking in the realm of music in general and not specifically music directed toward God as worship.

 

Every song carries with it a worldview, a philosophy, a way of seeing the universe that is being expressed musically. That message, whatever it may be, is birthed in the creative minds and skillful hands of the musicians, carefully crafted in the studios of Nashville, TN or Brooklyn, NY, then digitally snipped, cut, and packaged into its most palatable form by producers to be devoured by you, the consumer.

 

Consumption of that message takes place in the most sacred human space called the heart. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Wisdom pleads with us to be careful what we pour into the sacred wellspring of our heart because, like a well of water, our heart is easily changed by what is poured into it. Exposure to and acceptance of the message a song is espousing will have consequences on our thinking and behavior (Mt. 15:18-20).

 

Because music reaches us on an emotional level more effectively than other forms of communication, music should be regarded as a gift from God. If you have that gift you should be using it. You may be able to bring blessing through the power of music to the hearts of others. But use it cautiously because music is also very seductive. As I stated before, music’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

 

Music can be perverted for ungodly use when an artist uses the vehicle of music to express a sinful message. Like sermons teaching error but delivered in flattering and flowery speech (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the lyrics of a song can easily be cloaked in an attractive melody. I can’t tell you how many songs I loved to play and sing along to only to find out once I examined the actual language of the song what message was being communicated. One obvious lesson we should take from this is to, as the song says, be careful little ears what you hear. If our heart is being shaped by the songs we listen to we must guard against being seduced by attractive music while swallowing sinful content.

 

Pay careful attention to the message of the song before you allow it to take up residence in your heart. Passages like Philippians 4:8 are extremely valuable as filters for our heart, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

 

Many forms of music have no lyrical content at all. Classical, jazz, and other forms of “music for music’s sake,” though bereft of words, are not bereft of power, meaning or influence.

Let’s move to the realm of music in the context of worship. It is interesting that God wishes for us to praise Him with music. But what kind of music does the Lord of the universe desire? Notice the few New Testament passages on song worship we are given give very little direction on the form that music is to take. We are simply told to “sing” (Jas. 5:13) with the “fruit of [our] lips” (Heb. 13:15) “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). We are given freedom as to the form those “hymns, psalms, & spiritual songs” take as long as we “sing” them. Notice God emphasizes content not form. Our worship songs glorify God when their content is spiritual (Col. 3:16). The primary way worship music reaches us emotionally is with words that resonate and make melody in our hearts as we sing them. The physical melody is secondary. This is not to say that no attention should be given to the physical melody or that melody can not be beautiful in its own right.  The Biblical picture is that the physical melody is mean to facilitate Biblical instruction.

Contemporary worship music has gotten away from this content-first, participatory approach in favor of a form-first, observation approach. The emphasis is less on instruction and more on producing emotion through the form of music. In worship, God wishes us to use music as a vehicle of expression that points to His glory. When the content of our worship music is given a back seat to form the music no longer points to God but is, in a sense, pointing to itself. Worship music is no longer a means to an end (to extol the virtues of God & express truth) but becomes an end in itself, a subtle form of idolatry.

 

Why have we changed the recipe for God’s simple plan for song worship? I believe it is because of the seductive power of music. Because music has the potential to sound so beautiful we become infatuated with form at the expense of content. This is no big deal with secular music but when it comes to worship music content must precede form. In so doing, we share the guilt of Esau who exchanged the holy for the common.

 

In Amos’ day, Israel was “at ease in Zion” and had turned the worship of God into an exercise of self-indulgence. They were those who “sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:5). The prophet says “Woe” to them! (6:4). They had no awareness of the meaning and instruction of the songs of David and sang them as idly as any other common song.

 

The irony is that the very thing that could have brought the Israelites out of their sin and closer to God (true, spiritual worship) had been perverted as a tool to gratify their own pleasure and pushed them further away from God. Let’s not make the same mistake.

 

If we stay true to God’s simple recipe for worship everybody wins: God is glorified, we grow closer to Him and more like Him, and unbelievers will see that “God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).

What Is Your Name?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” (Gen. 32:26-27)

 

With revenge in his heart Esau had driven his brother Jacob far away from home (Gen. 27:42-43). The feud between these twins began even before birth (Gen. 25:22-23) as the Lord prophesied that they would break patriarchal tradition “and the older shall serve the younger.”

 

Jacob was so named for the unusual circumstances of his birth. He came from Rebekah’s womb clutching his brother’s heel and was named as “one who takes by the heel or supplants” even “one who deceives” (Gen. 25:26). Jacob went on to further fulfill his namesake by using his gift of cooking to deceive his elder brother into selling him his birthright as firstborn for a portion of stew (Gen. 25:29-34), a choice he later regretted with tears (Heb. 12:15-17; Gen. 27:30-40).

About 20 years passed and it came time for Jacob’s homecoming. It was a moment Jacob had been dreading: it was time for Jacob to meet his brother Esau again. “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Gen. 32:3) to feel him out. Would the whole birthright thing have blown over by now? Or perhaps Esau’s bitterness had taken root and his hatred for Jacob only increased? The time was coming when he would find out.

When the company came back and reported that Esau, accompanied with 400 men, was coming to meet Jacob personally, Jacob misread this as a show of force and prepared for the worse. “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.” (Gen. 32:7-8)

 

It was in the darkness of uncertainty and fear that Jacob finally called upon God in humble prayer for deliverance: “Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’” (Gen. 32:9-12)

 

Jacob prepared a lavish parade of gifts to “appease” his brother’s anger and sent them ahead in waves across the ford of the Jabbok (Gen. 32:13-21). Then, that same night, he sent his family and everything he had on ahead (vv.22-23) leaving Jacob alone with his thoughts and his God.

 

Then something very strange happened. It wasn’t until Jacob was all alone that “a man” came and “wrestled with him until daybreak” (v.24). Jacob refused to give up. He fought and strove with the “man” until the “man” “touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him” (v.25). Even still, Jacob refused to give up!

 

Jacob’s mysterious wrestling partner was a messenger from God, an angel, as revealed by Hosea the prophet, “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, And in his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel And there He spoke with us, Even the Lord, the God of hosts, The Lord is His name.” (Hos. 12:3-5) The angel somehow represented God and the wrestling match represented Jacob’s agonizing spiritual struggle with God. This battle was a strange dramatization of Jacob’s earlier prayer (Gen. 32:9-12).

 

Jacob was stripped bare. His company, wealth and family had all crossed the river. It was Jacob and his God, one on one, “face to face” (v.30). His desire for God’s deliverance and blessing was so strong that nothing, not even a painful dislocated hip, would stop him from getting it. The angel said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (v.26)

 

But then the angel did something even more strange and unexpected. He asked him his name. “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” (v.27) Now, why would God use His messenger to ask that question? It certainly wasn’t because He had forgotten Jacob’s name.

 

Years ago when Jacob stole his brother’s blessing from his blind father he pretended to be Esau (Gen. 27). Now, Jacob find himself kneeling before an All-seeing Father, the Almighty God, who says “Who are you?”

 

Jacob was found out. All he could do was admit who he was. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13) And not a moment before Jacob admitted who he really was in God’s sight, which was a liar, a cheat, a deceiver, a sinner, could he ever be anything more!

 

It was at this moment that God changed Jacob’s name. Jacob, the supplanter, became Israel, the father of a nation that would bring blessing to the whole world. Not until we admit who we really are in God’s sight will we ever be able to achieve or enjoy anything of eternal value.

A New Creature

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

(2 Cor. 5:17)

 

When someone is “in Christ” (cf. Gal. 3:27) what exactly changes? Physically, there is no discernable difference. He looks the same and is in the same physical location. But mentally there is a transformation that begins to take effect that is something altogether “new.” This change is a process and is fundamental to our development as Christians. Paul describes the “new creature” in several other passages as well. Take a look at Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3:8-17 and Romans 12:1-2.

 

In Ephesians 4 notice how Paul emphasizes the difference between the one who has “learned Christ” (vv.20-21) and the “Gentile” (or unbeliever, vv.17-19). The unbeliever’s “mind” is “darkened” in “futility” and “ignorance” making his “heart” “callous” and his “walk” (manner of life) corrupt with “sensuality”, “impurity”, and “greediness”. The way he thinks translates to the way he lives.

Contrast the unbeliever with the Christian (vv.20-32) and the difference is obvious. Again, the Christian “mind” thinks differently. The “spirit of [his] mind” has been “renewed”. That is Paul’s way of saying the way a forgiven sinner thinks has been overhauled, transformed, completely upended. The “old self” has been done away with in exchange for the “new self” which “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” “in the likeness of God.” The image of God that was destroyed by our sin has been “renewed” again to perfection. After that gracious renewal comes a new way of thinking (vv.20-24) that motivates a new way of living (vv.25-32).

Colossians 3 delivers basically the same message. There is an exchange of “self”. It’s ‘out with the old, in with the new’ where the forgiven sinner is instructed to “put aside” certain behaviors and “put on” the new ‘clothing’ (“heart”) of a Christian. How are we to accomplish this? Does some miracle overtake us and the spiritual lightbulb within us turns on?

 

There is no miraculous operation going on here. Like his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is advocating the Colossians be taught and hear and learn this new way (Eph. 4:20-21; Col. 3:10,16). The Christian “mind” is “set on the things above” “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Again, his whole way of thinking has been changed as he puts “on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (v.10) and lays aside that which is “dead” (v.5).

 

Jesus once said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (Jn. 6:45). Paul is illustrating the same concept.

 

But the question is why would a person completely change his thinking and behavior and how is such a transformation possible? Can people really change so drastically? The gospel says yes!

One passage that sums up our answer is Paul’s statement in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When we consider all that God has done for us (“the mercies of God”) such love is powerful enough to cause this amazing mental transformation that will in turn cause a complete change of life! This process begins when we become a Christian, grows as we learn of Christ, and will be perfected when we meet our Lord when He returns. can

Overseen not Overlooked

Sunday, September 10, 2017

People need oversight. Employees need supervisors: the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers: the classroom with competent teachers creates an environment conducive to learning. Little children need parents: homes with loving parents are better in every way. In all these relationships there remains the danger of being overlooked. Overlooked employees feel underappreciated; overlooked students feel left behind; overlooked children feel unloved and alone. We have a great need to be overseen, but all too often we end up being overlooked instead. In keeping with God's character, He has made abundant provision for His people.

 

When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). When a church appoints elders based upon the godly characteristics found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that group is blessed. These men aren’t perfect and their word is not divine law but if they are appointed according to God’s plan, a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.

One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is the comfort of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to take heed unto himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to take heed unto to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). To the Lord’s sheep, these are comforting words. We have faithful men who are watching out for us, to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We enjoy serving the Lord under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice especially when we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect type of overseer, who guides and comforts us throughout the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14) and there is absolutely no chance of being overlooked.

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