The Truth about Words
January 26, 2015
Words have power. They mean something, because they represent our ideas, our feelings, our aspirations--our very selves. Words have the power to heal, to comfort, to embolden, to inspire, to enlighten and to encourage. They also have the power to hurt, to crush, to destroy, to discourage and to spread darkness and falsehood. The old saying--"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"--it's totally untrue. Words can bring life; words can bring death.
Most of us probably wish that our lives could be filled with happy, kind and encouraging words--that we could live in that place "where seldom is heard a discouraging word"--but the truth is that life is just not like that. There are times that we will hear words that are mean, angry, slanderous, hurtful, destructive and discouraging. Sometimes, we may hear words that are challenging and confrontational, and it may be that such words are necessary for getting us back on the right path in life.
On Sunday, we examined a story in Luke 4:14-30, where Jesus, speaking to His home synagogue in Nazareth, brought both good news to the crowd and challenging and confrontational words too. He informed them that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him and that God had anointed Him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned and recovery of sight for the blind, to release those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of God's gracious favor. Shortly thereafter, however, Jesus challenged this same group, noting that their faith was far insufficient for them to experience a powerful move of God among them.
Their response to Jesus' strong and challenging words? They ran Him out of town with the intent of throwing Him off a cliff to His death! Suffice it to say that sometimes, we human beings don't take too kindly to being confronted or chastised--even when it's the truth. Nevertheless, this same Jesus who challenged them so strongly in regard to their lack of faith--and who was despised for it to the extent that they wanted to kill Him--later went to the cross and, in love, died for them, that their sins might be forgiven and that they might have eternal life--if they would place their faith in Him.
This story brings to my mind two questions that I should ask myself: 1) When I am challenged and confronted with God's truth--especially in such a way that it chastises me and calls me to answer for my lack of faith and obedience--how do I respond? Do I become angry and defensive? Do I want to "kill the messenger"? Do I miss the truth that God is trying to bring to bear in my life? Or, do I respond with an open and humble heart, willing to hear, receive and apply what has been communicated to me?
2) When it falls on me to be the one to deliver a confrontational, challenging truth, how do I go about doing it? What attitude do I hold in my heart toward those I might be confronting and challenging? Is it redemptive, gracious love, or is it something far less--like spiritual arrogance, self-righteousness, or condescending judgment? Is my intent to help, to restore, to bring about God's best, or is my intent just to strike out, to cause hurt and to bring shame? Am I more like a surgeon, cutting with the intent to heal, or am I more like one who cuts to wound or to kill?
Ephesians 4:15 tells us that a spiritually mature approach is to speak the truth, but to do so in love. This is the "sweet spot" that we are to aim for as believers, the perfect balance that will allow us to handle our words in a God-ordained way. Of course, this is not to say that, even then, our truth will be accepted. After all, Jesus' home crowd tried to kill Him after he spoke in such a fashion! Regardless, we can know that when we speak the truth in love, we've done what we're supposed to do in the way we're supposed to do it--and that pleases God.
Tell Me the Story of Jesus
January 19, 2015
There are many, many songs that I remember from my childhood, growing up in Gardendale's First Baptist Church, that we just don't hear anymore. Honestly, some of them I don't really miss, and I love much of the newer music that has come out in the last twenty years or so, but there are many that I do miss and that I will recall from time to time, singing their tunes in my head and recounting what their words now mean to me as an adult who understands them far better than I did in my childhood.
One such song is a hymn written by Fanny Crosby that is entitled Tell Me the Story of Jesus. The second verse of the hymn goes like this:
Fasting alone in the desert, tell of the days that are past;
How for our sins He was tempted, yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor, tell of the sorrow He bore;
He was despised and afflicted, homeless rejected and poor.
Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.
I was reminded of this old hymn this past Sunday, as we talked about the temptation of Jesus in the Judean wilderness. What a powerful story! Jesus, led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit specifically to undergo this time of temptation by the devil, responds in such a strong fashion, gaining victory with every temptation that the accuser brings His way. As Jesus deals with each temptation, He answers the devil with passages from Deuteronomy, revealing that, far more than having a mere head knowledge of Scripture, He carried a deep, deep understanding of the principles found within God's word and was able to apply them effectively.
To me, this is one of the more powerful aspects of this story, because it reminds us that it is not enough for us as believers to have just a passing familiarity with the Bible--we need to know it. Additionally, it's not just enough to know the Bible in a head-knowledge kind of way; but rather, as believers, it is imperative that we know God's word in such a way that we are able to make honest and correct application of it to our life's circumstances. We also need to have a deep understanding of the entirety of the witness of God's word, so that we are not guilty of failing to follow the parts of which we are ignorant--whether unintentionally or willfully so.
Now, one might protest that such vast knowledge and understanding is quite a tall order, and that to fulfill such a mandate would require years and years of careful study and application of the Bible in one's life. I would say that you are right, and that this mandate means that we need to take this matter seriously and get to work, because temptation will come, and the enemy will pull out every stop available in his arsenal to defeat us, to damage our testimony, to sideline us from the work of God and to use us as pawns in bringing dissension and damage to the body of Christ. He will unleash every type of temptation that he has developed and used for millennia against God's people, with the intent of nullifying God's work in and through us. And when he does, we have but one answer: the Bible, God's holy word.
So, I encourage you to move beyond the basic stories, and to start learning the deeper truths. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. This is serious business. If, however, you are armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of the Lord, and you know how to use it properly, you will be victorious over him. God guarantees it.
January 12, 2015
On Sunday night at the beginning of this week, LPBC had the wonderful joy of ordaining three new deacons--Brian Brunson, Jim Ivy, and Bobby Punch. After hearing the testimonies given by each of these new deacons who were chosen by the church to serve for the next three years, our ordained ministers and deacons laid hands on them and prayed for them, setting them aside spiritually for the task before them, in keeping with the ancient traditions practiced in the New Testament church (see Acts 6:6).
As we were in the process of ordaining these new deacons, I had some time to think about what they were being set aside for and what it would require of them to fulfill their new role in a biblical manner. First, I thought about the title of "deacon" and what it truly means. Our English word "deacon" comes from the Greek diakonos, a word that at its root means "servant." In its original conception, the office of deacon was designed for this very purpose, to serve the church so that the Apostles might be freed up to focus on prayer and on the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures.
This serving of the church can take on a variety of forms, represented in a vast array of ministries that deacons may pursue, including administrative service, visiting the sick and elderly, comforting the hurting, caring for the needs of others, resolving disputes in the congregation, or even fixing broken things around the church. As it stands right now, God has blessed us with a group of deacons with broad interests, a variety of gifts, abilities and talents, and a wide range of passions and experience. And He can use every single one of them to do things that we might never have conceived, employing each one's unique mix of all of these to accomplish great things for His Kingdom.
But this is not just true of deacons alone. In fact, the Bible teaches that every believer receives ministry gifts (also called "spiritual gifts") from God, and we are clearly instructed that we are to use our gifts in service of others, both within the church and outside of it as representatives of Christ in the world. Of course, such an assertion with it brings a series of questions: What are my gifts? How does God want me to use them? What can God accomplish through me? And so on.
As I have served churches for almost thirty years now, I have learned that the best way to discover one's spiritual gifts is simply by getting to work. Find something you can do or would like to do, and get going with it. If you don't know how to get started, ask a minister--we'll point you in the right direction and get you in touch with the people you need to know. As you work, you'll discover what you excel at, and you'll receive feedback from others who can help you figure it out as well.
In regard to discovering how God might want to use your gifts, start to pray about the matter, asking Him to reveal it to you. It may be that He opens doors of ministry for you in a very straightforward fashion, or it may be that He answers in a more roundabout way. Look inside of yourself and examine your unique mix of experience, passion, gifts, talents and abilities--along with your temperament--and watch for ministry opportunities that fit who you are. Ask others to help you in this discovery process.
As to the last question (What can God accomplish through me?), who knows what God will accomplish with a willing heart that is passionately committed to serving Him? He might just use you to change the world. At the very least, He will use you to change the world around you!
As we get rolling in this new year, I challenge and encourage you to try biblical service. You might just be amazed at the results!
Living by Faith in 2015
January 5, 2015
Can you believe that it's 2015? I remember as a kid thinking about how I would be in my 50s when 2015 came along, and how I thought that my best days would be past me and I would be all old and washed up by then (my kids think that of me now!). Isn't it interesting how time offers a different perspective? Now that 2015 is actually here, I don't feel as old as I thought I would be at this age, and I believe that my best and most productive days are in front of me, not behind me!
"I believe." That's a key phrase. It's key because the word "believe," scripturally speaking, comes from the same word as "faith." So when I say that I "believe" the above, I mean that I have faith that God is going to use the years ahead to make me more productive and useful for His ends and purposes, and this belief excites me and encourages me.
This is important, because in God's word, we read time and time again that we are to live by faith. But, how does a person do this, especially when we are NOT wired up to live by faith? Let's be honest--mostly, as human beings, we live by sight. That is, what we observe and perceive is what we intellectually base our thinking and our assumptions on, and we act accordingly. We also live by feeling. How often do we say, "I feel like...," and then we base our attitudes and activity on how we have been informed by our emotions.
Other things that drives us as human beings are our passions and desires. The 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote in a letter to a friend that "the heart wants what it wants--or else it does not care." If you take some time to observe where people's decision making comes from, you'd have to conclude that her assertion is correct. Often, for no reason other than "this is what I want," people make decisions that have a broad and lasting impact on others and the world around them.
So, how do we move from the world of observation, emotion and passion and begin to base our lives on faith? Let me give you three quick thoughts from my own experience and reading of Scripture:
First, we acknowledge that faith is not the same as intellect, emotion or passion. Faith is something entirely different, because it is God-driven, as opposed to the other things that emanate from within us. The things of faith are God-produced, and they often are counterintuitive and even contrary to our natural way of thinking, responding and acting.
Second, we make a conscious choice not to be locked into the cage of our own observation and intellectual conclusion, not to be mired in the muck of our own emotions and not to be driven by the stormy winds of our passions, but rather to submit to the dictates of faith. Informed by Scripture and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, we purposefully decide that we will follow God's thinking, God's guidance and God's path, trusting in God to bring about His desired results and ends.
Third, we examine from a heavenly perspective the results of our thinking and doing. In the moment and in hindsight, we constantly evaluate whether or not the reasons and the ways we are doing things are bringing about eternal results, such as the Good News being spread, disciples being made, brothers and sisters being encouraged, the church being strengthened and God being glorified through our lives.If not, the course needs correction, and we honestly assess where and how that needs to happen and make the needed changes. If so, we rejoice, and we continue on, affirmed in the rightness of our path.
This is what I'm shooting for in 2015--living by faith--and I hope you'll join me in this pursuit. Because, as it says in God's word, "The righteous shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Galatians 3:11). Happy New Year!