Tuesday, July 29, 2014


"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" John 13:34-35
 According to these verses the primary definition and characteristic  of a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a  certain series of doctrines or standards; it is that they love other disciples.  Doctrines are important, and standards are great, but according to the Bible, long before  the lost world  knows what you believe and what  camp you are part of or what denominational creed you  ascribe to, they should be able to see that you love other people who follow Jesus Christ.  This is both good news and bad news. It's good news in that the   newest and most spiritually immature believer can  be counted as  a disciple if they love other believers.  This is also bad news because some  of us who like to  consider ourselves seasoned disciples do  such a pathetic job of fulfilling these verses.
In fact, the Bible  has a word or two to say about some of us. " And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Cor 3:1-3 Once again, according to the Bible  the primary characteristic of a carnal Christian isn't what music they listen to or what worldly activities they do or do not engage in. The primary characteristic of a carnal Christian, regardless of how long they've been saved, is that they have a hard time getting along with other Christians. The life of a carnal Christian may not or may not be full of  wine-bibbing and head-banging, but by definition it is full of strife and division.
  The reason this simple commandment is so difficult for some of us who claim to love the truth is  found in Ephesians 4  "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are calledWith all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Forbearing one another takes work and effort. It takes  lowliness and meekness and longsuffering. Carnality requires none of these things and is perfectly in line with our Adamainc nature according to Titus 3:3.  It's natural to  divide ourselves up into camps and tribes and races and creeds and colors. Children in the playground  need no instruction on how to divide up into teams and castes and them wage war against each other. We are  born with an 'us versus them' inclination. It's also the defining mark of the life we were supposedly called out of.  The commandment of God is that, having called us out of a world where  people scheme and plan and  divide and jockey for position and clamor for pre-eminence, we show that we are no longer part of the world by getting along.
  Understanding this, it's no  marvel that the Bible  goes right to the heart of the matter in Proverbs 4, when it says "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life". Our 'issues' aren't what we say they are.  Our life issues aren't really doctrinal or  personality clashes or standards; our 'issues' are heart issues.  We say we can't get along because of this or because of that, but the  plain truth is that we can't get along because of our horribly carnal hearts.
  If I may chase a rabbit for a second here, my crowd is probably the worst about this  among the entire body of Christ. We love the truth, and we love our doctrine, and we love our standards, but we don't particularly love each other.  We would be  quick to find fault with the liberal churches in their immodesty or wordly worship or failure to  stand on the word of God, but the truth is, in this area, they run circles around us.   They may not be able to  rightly divide the word like we claim we can, but they are light years ahead of taking the newest convert and making them feel like family.  I have wondered , if my crowd has so much truth on it's side and we are so 'right', how we blow this  one commandment so consistently?  We disobey the Bible while claiming to believe it more than everybody else.
  In the Bible , heart trouble manifests itself as mouth trouble. Whatever is in  your heart will eventually come out of your mouth, and God takes mouth trouble among his people very seriously.  In fact, he takes it much more seriously than we do.  In 1 Cor 5, the Bible says "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.  And ye are puffed up , and have not rather mourned , that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present , concerning him that hath so done this deed,  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together , and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is the proof text for  executing what is commonly called 'church discipline' in the American South. If  fornication is  being committed in a local assembly, and those involved do not repent, the church is instructed to break fellowship with them  until  that condition is fixed.  But the scripture doesn't stop there, because in verse 9, it says "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company , if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat ." Most of the church folk I know  would  agree that fornication is a serious issue and must be dealt with if a local assembly is to enjoy God's fellowship.  Most church folks would not tolerate an unrepentant drunkard in the assembly. But railers?   Most people would be very hesitant to  break ranks with the  railers  that they attend services with, especially if the transgressors are in a position of leadership.
  In case you were wondering about the definition of 'railing',  take a look at Luke 23:39. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying , If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." In the passage , Jesus has claimed to be the Christ and his enemies  insist that he prove this by some  notion that they came up with, some independent standard.  If he fails to jump through this particular hoop they can then feel justified in saying to themselves and others that he cannot possible be what  and who he claims to be.  If I were to  claim that I am saved and that I love Jesus Christ, and you were to  say "If you really loved God you would do the following activity".  That activity could include  anything from  running to shouting to tithing to weeping to door knocking to street preaching; all that matters is that  it's your hoop and I must jump through it.  When I fail to do that activity to your satisfaction, you  can tell yourself and others that I'm probably not saved, and I definitely don't love Jesus.   You just  engaged in what Phil Schipper calls 'performance based Christianity'  and you just committed the  church-discipline-worthy offense of 'railing' on me.  Isn't the Bible  fun?
  Let me tell you something you probably already know; we are all a bunch of filthy gossips from time to time, and preachers are probably the worst. We talk about each other , about who  we like or don't like, who we agree with or don't agree with, and we do this because  our hearts are not right with God  to the degree that we want everyone to think they are. That unrighteous heart comes out of our mouths, and we can  always find a way to justify our wickedness. According to the scriptures, railing is as wicked an  activity as fornication, and is the grounds for  church discipline if not repented of.
   The scripture doesn't  stop there. In the very next chapter, a continuation of the same thought, the Bible says "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.  I speak to your shame . Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another."  Scripture is clear; we are supposed to get along, and if we don't, these conflicts are to be resolved among the brethren. Taking  matters of disagreement before the lost world is both unwise and wicked, and should be repented of.
  As an example, let's say  that you have a disagreement with another church member.  The nature of the disagreement is  immaterial, but let's say that you had a doctrinal disagreement with them.   You are so 'burdened' to point out to everyone else how wrong they are (and by the way, how right you are) that you  go onto Facebook and  you blast them point by point. You have just railed on them, and made matters worse by doing it  before the  whole world of the Internet.  You have committed a church-discipline worthy offense, you have  harmed not only that person ("..a whisperer separateth chief friends..") but the entire  body of Christ, and you need to repent.
  It is interesting to me, and by 'interesting' I mean 'horribly disgusting', how difficult it is to leave a church without  your motives being questioned and your character assassinated.  It's horrible how  quick we are to blast everyone who doesn't agree with us. It's disgusting how quickly we can turn on people we have fellowshipped with for years and how gleefully eager we are to  believe the worst about people we claim to love! It's disgusting how  we delight in slander and gossip, taking  little thought for how our wicked unbridled  tongues are destroying reputations and ministries! I have seen situations where it was obvious that a sin problem had to be dealt with, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 5 invoked. I have seen  church members who claim to love truth and claim to love Jesus look forward with anticipation that 'so-and-so is gonna get churched'.  How wicked  that is!  It's as insane as a man looking forward to  having his own gangrenous hand   removed and  it is an attitude that is an affront to a holy God!
  In Romans 3 , a remarkable statement is made. "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?  And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported , and as some affirm that we say ,) Let us do evil, that good may come ? whose damnation is just." Paul had been slandered, specifically in the area of his motives. He was trying to do right, and people just couldn't keep their railing mouths off of him, and his ministry. The verse says their "damnation is just". According to the Bible, if you  slander the reputation of somebody who is trying to do right ( and I believe the context includes people who are trying to do right despite  past mistakes) then you deserve the damnation of God.  Even though "the wages of sin is death", I find no other sin listed in the Bible where God specifically says that a specific sin in worthy of damnation. Neither drunkenness or fornication or covetousness or  even murder are given the singular spotlight of attention that you and I and our railing tongues  receive.  We should all pray for a season of repentance, and if we've slandered people, make it as right as we can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

True Worship

  If there ever was a word that is misused in modern Christianity, it is the word 'worship'. There exists a spectrum of people who, while all well-intentioned, have formed and fashioned their mode of worship off of their intentions and their priorities, instead of the word of God.
On one end of the spectrum  are the contemporary churches who, in a sincere and laudable attempt to  reach the unchurched, will take the basic  setup of a nightclub, and stick Jesus's name on it. Every trick from blacklights and  rock music to  Zippos held aloft during  guitar solos  is deployed in an attempt to create an emotional response in the audience that can  then be called 'worship'.  Personal experience is the currency of the realm, and if you 'felt' something, the  assumption is that it must not only be true, but it must be God. That's one end of the  spectrum and,  however well-intentioned, is woefully short of the Biblical standard.
 Towards the middle of this spectrum are the Baptists (who are resembling the Pentecostals they used to make fun of more and more) who exhibit a mode of worship spoken of reverently as 'the old timey way'.  In my observation, the 'old timey way' is whatever  your father or grandfather did, regardless of whether is was right or wrong.  In the 'old-timey way', the high water mark of church life was somewhere between the 1920's and  the 1940's in the American South. Entire meetings are planned and based off of this emulation, complete with tents set up in fields and sawdust  poured on the ground in an attempt to set the stage for 'old-timey worship'.  Enthusiasm is the currency of the realm and  if people run and shout and carry on  then it is assumed that the Holy Spirit has fallen and that 'worship' has occurred.  These folks, including some of my dearest friends, want to capture the perceived spirituality of  the past, but in doing so, often  also fall woefully short of the Biblical standard
  The other end of the spectrum  are the solemn, liturgical  churches where worship consists of rote repetition of phrases penned during the Dark Ages and led by deacons/bishops/elders/presbyters who are possibly old enough to have been there when the liturgy was composed.  Such churches, in a well-intentioned respect for tradition, assume that not only does God prefer quiet, but he prefers to speak Latin.  I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that these churches are populated by an older crowd who, as luck would have it, prefer quiet.
  The solution to all this confusion is, as always, a return to Biblical definitions and standards. That  book  which contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness", also defines worship and sets the  conditions and parameters of it. It sets this tone from the very beginning.
  In Genesis 22, we have one of the most heart-rending stories in the word of God, the account of Abram taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him.  Right in the middle of the situation, the word 'worship' shows up for the first time. The Bible says, in verse 5  "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship , and come again to you."  God has asked Abram to  do the unthinkable,  and it's insane to think that Abrams heart wasn't full of sadness and confusion and sorrow.  It's inconceivable that he didn't wonder if he had  understood God correctly as he prepared that trip up the mountain.  He had no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared, that this great typology of the Lord Jesus Christ was being displayed in his life and recorded in scripture for the edification  of millions.  All he could see was that God wanted him to sacrifice the promised seed, and there is no way that it made any sense to him.  His response is that they would worship right smack in the middle of all that.
  That puts to bed the notion among the brethren that everything must be all right, for worship to occur. Not only does Abram  put a priority on worship  right  in the middle of  turmoil and  sorrow, he's not the only man in the Bible to do that.  In Matthew 9, the Bible says "While he spake these things unto them, behold , there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying , My daughter is even now dead : but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live ". With his daughters body  growing colder by the minute, this ruler  found both reason and ability to worship God. Job echoed this sentiment when, according to the Bible, "... Job arose , and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped And said , Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave , and the LORD hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the LORD".   King David, as he mourned the death of his son "...arose from the earth, and washed , and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped : then he came to his own house; and when he required , they set bread before him, and he did eat". I see nothing  in these examples to indicate that there was excitement or 'running the aisles'.  No one shouted, no one laid on the ground or flopped like  a mackerel. There is no sign of the  'whoop-whoop for Jesus' crowd in this  worship.  There is a solemnity to these scenes, and with broken hearts, these men worshipped God.  The preponderance of individual worship in the Bible appears to take place during times of  great confusion and sadness.
  In Matthew 15, a gentile woman comes to Jesus.  Everything wasn't right at her house. She wasn't even  under the covenant extended to Israel. But the Bible says "Then came she and worshipped him, saying , Lord, help me." Once again, we see that her worship involved not excitement, but brokenness bordering on despair. Her worship took the form of crying out to God for help. So often we  treat worship as a pep rally for God when that doesn't seem to be the case in scripture.
  How can a person do that? How can a person worship God  with a coffin in their view and no hope in sight? How can a person bowed down with  grief  raise their eyes to the third heaven?  The answer to that lies with  Abram.
  Abram says in Genesis 22 that both he and Isaac will worship. I have always wondered if he was planning on worshiping before or after the sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us a peek into Abrams heart in Hebrews 11:17-19, which reads "By faith Abraham, when he was tried , offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said , That in Isaac shall thy seed be called Accounting that God was able to raise him up , even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." Romans 4 explain it even further, telling us "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,  (As it is written , I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken , So shall thy seed be And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead , when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:  He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;  And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised , he was able also to perform " God had made no promise to Abraham of a resurrection, but he had promised that  Isaac would  inherit the land.  The very foundation of Abraham's worship was that God  cannot lie, and that somehow, despite the circumstances, this all has to work out somehow.  He was so certain of God's  truthfulness that he had every intention of coming back down the mountain with his son at his side.  It seemed reasonable to Abraham that it was God's responsibility to keep the  covenant, and if  it was necessary , God could and would  raise his son from the dead.  Abraham's worship wasn't based on feelings, it was based on the word of God.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 29 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." The strength  of our worship isn't based on who we are or what  our situation is, but rather on God's word and God's character.Because of who God is, and how God is, and the promises made to us in the word of God, we can worship with full assurance that somehow, it will all work out. That isn't wishful thinking; that's worship.
  Taking it further, it's obvious that true worship cannot be done in your own strength or based off your own ideas. It has to be done in accordance with God's word. Jeremiah 26:2  says it plainly: "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Paul's confession in Acts 26 is "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:" You may like the  guitar solos and the Zippos, or your soft spot may be the running and shouting spells. Maybe you're the dry liturgical type but unless those things are found in the words of God, they are your idea, not his, and do not constitute true worship. After all, Isaiah 8:20 tells us "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


"And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.  And when the sabbath day was come , he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished , saying , From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary , the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." Mark 6:1-3

  The Bible says in Mark 6 that in his hometown, when he  began to teach and preach, the people that had known him knew him as 'the carpenter'.  The obvious implication from that is that Jesus was, after all, a carpenter, and that he had done it  long enough or often enough that his reputation was that he was 'the carpenter'.  The old joke is that people get into the ministry because they don't want to plow, but Jesus  didn't have that problem. He was  separate from sinners and undefiled, but not too good to work.  I  don't claim to be  privy to  all that is involved in being a carpenter  during those times, but I'm assuming that it  manual labor like it is now.  Despite being the express image of God, Jesus Christ wasn't too good to plane his own boards and drive his own nails.  He could  produce  food  supernaturally, but that he wasn't ashamed to labor and sweat and get tired.  This makes perfect sense when you consider that when  you first see God in the bible, he's working.   It makes perfect sense since, before the Fall, he told Adam to work. God is a working, labouring God. Not only is work  not a curse, but working apparently  doesn't degrade you as a minister.  It wasn't beneath the dignity of Jesus Christ to be  'bi-vocational'.  
  I went to a preachers fellowship once and at the beginning of the meeting they asked all of the preachers to stand up. I stood up.  They went around the room and  all of us introduced ourselves and told what church we were from.  Afterwards somebody approached me and asked me where I ministered at.  I  told them that I was a street preacher and gave them the name of my church. They  said "Uh yeah, that standing up  and introducing thing? That was for real preachers. You know,  pastors, evangelists, full time guys. I'm sure you understand."  I checked my impulse to  wallop the guy and assured him that I did understand and that I wouldn't make that  mistake again.  We certainly get some strange ideas about the ministry sometimes.
  I know what the Bible says about how you shouldn't "muzzle  the ox that treads out the corn" and how "they  which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" and I've heard the same pompousness and scorn that you  probably have  against  bi-vocational minsters . I've heard them called 'part-time preachers'.  There is absolutely no scriptural backing for such an attitude. After all, Jesus Christ apparently drove a nail or two in his day.  When presented with this fact,  some will l say that Jesus only worked a secular job until he began his ministry, then he , of course, went full-time. Presumably he had 'arrived' like them and was now a 'real preacher'.  Let's look at the Apostle Paul then.

  In Acts 18, we see in the life of Paul that "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;  And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.  And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought : for by their occupation they were tentmakers.  And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." He was of the "same craft" and  "wrought".  Nine chapters or so after being 'called to preach', Paul was still making tents to make ends meet and pay for his living expenses and his ministry.  Being a working  man didn't keep him from preaching, and it didn't make him any less of a preacher. 
  Do not let the brethren or the devil ( who appear to be in league with each other some times) beat you up  if you get up every morning and go to work to pay your bills and feed your family, as if somehow you are entangled with the world or a second-class minister.  If you  take care of the   things in life you are commanded to take care of (1 Tim 5:8) and  preach when the  opportunity presents itself, you have done what the Bible commands and you have nothing to be ashamed of.   If your ministry supports you, you should thank God that you  are allowed to  do the work of the ministry full time.  You also ought to really do it full-time, by the way.  Your life  is made possible because somebody else  gets up and goes to work and takes part of what they earn and gives it to you. Your opportunity costs them something.  Act like it. They do that so that you can labour, not so you can sleep in and go play golf with your preacher buddies.  You ought to work at least as hard as anybody that contributes to your ministry, because the truth is, you owe them.  But if it  doesn't work out that way, and you  still go to work every day, you haven't done anything wrong.
  I have a friend named Jack who lives in Wisconsin.  Jack and his wife  are  publick ministers, and they have never  managed to  garner any significant financial support.  Every year, Jack works a job in Wisconsin and he and his  wife live very frugally until they save up 10 or 12 thousand dollars. He then quits his job and they travel around the country preaching until the money runs out.  When the money runs out they start all over.  Jack's perspective is that the Bible does not say 'Go ye into all the world and somebody else will foot the bill'.  Along the same lines,I am a fully-funded evangelist.  I  acheive my fully-funded-ness by   getting  up and going to work.  I pay my bills, I feed my kids, I support other ministries financially, and I take whatever is left over and I fund myself. I  work overtime to  buy gospel tracts, or to put gas in a vehicle to go minister. That's not a burden, it's an honor.
  We have such a  warped perspective that if we go somewhere to minister and we don't get an offering, we feel as if we have been wronged somehow  Nobody owes you anything for preaching or singing or praying or encouraging or edifying. What's wrong with paying your own way? What's wrong with putting gas in your car, and  giving your time, your gifts, your  energy to a bunch  of people , saved or lost from whom you will receive absolutely nothing  in return?  What's wrong with being 'bi-vocational'?
  2 Corinthians 8 says "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;  How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.  For to their power, I bear record , yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;  Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped , but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God." Great works of God are not only financed by  carpenters and tent makers and  people that work at Wal-Mart and people that fix air-conditioners, but great works of God are also performed by such people who feed their families and pay their bills and  pay other  people's bills and  keep their cars running and  pray and weep and give and preach.  I have seen people fawn over the big-name evangelist, but let  me let you in on a little secret; he doesn't exist. There is no such thing as a big-name preacher.  He is a big pile of damaged goods that God , in his mercy, allows to serve, and if both of you are obeying the Bible, neither of you is doing any more for God than the other.
  You may look  at the guy with the big ministry in the spotlight and say to yourself that, by  comparison, God isn't using you.  Says who?
  I  recently preached a Sunday night  service and afterwards a young girl wanted to speak to me. She went on and on about what a help the message was ( which makes me very uncomfortable, but I haven't figured out a way to politely make them stop) and she began to fawn a bit.  She acted like it was a big honor to  talk to me, but the truth is, she is more important than I am, and it was an honor for her to take her time to talk to me.  Let's keep some perspective, shall we?