On The Silencing of Sin

Posted: January 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

The danger of our times is increasing. I’m not now talking about the threat of physical violence; I’m talking the world of ideas that are played out in action. The culture war in which we engage is not simply about people engaging in certain actions; it is about the way people think that allows them to do the things that are most troubling.

The “don’t judge” mentality is winning out in such a way that we are afraid to say anything for fear of being branded bigots and fear-mongers. The only real “sin” of our times is that of speaking out against actual sins. We have learned that we cannot really call sin out for what it is because that would mean we are hateful, judgmental hypocrites. How so? I see the reasoning go something like this: We are all sinners (true). We all need help (true). We all need grace (true). The extent of our calling out sin should, therefore, stop with recognizing only our own problems because to say anything more than that is to be judgmental and hypocritical (false). The silencing of sin in the broader sense has been effective because we have generally bought into the notion that no one really has a right to say that anyone else is doing anything wrong — unless, of course, we strongly condemn those who are so judgmental. It’s always open season on the arrogant, judgmental bigots. You know who you are.

Have we not noticed the trend? It seems, so often, that when someone makes a point about something being sinful (e.g., the practice of homosexuality), there are immediate rejoinders. “But we all have our problems.” “But we have to love the sinner.” “But we shouldn’t judge because Jesus said not to.” Not that there is no truth to these points (in context), or that they should never be made (in context), but it sometimes has more of the feeling of telling the person, “Please quit saying that something is sinful or that people are actually guilty of sin; it makes us all feel badly and we don’t want that. Let’s just love.” We soften the blow of sin based on the fact that all are guilty of something bad, and “love” demands that we just let it go. As we become more reluctant to call sin out for what it is, sin gets silenced while those who practice the sins hold their hands up in victory over all the hateful bigots who dared challenge their ideas and practices.

I am keenly aware of my imperfections, my failures, indeed my sins. I have no desire to self-justify. But should such an awareness keep me from calling sin what it is? Should it keep me from striving with sin, from pleading with sinners, and from trying to boldly proclaim the gospel? In fact it is the awareness of my own sins, coupled with the knowledge of forgiveness, that makes me want to cry out even more for all to forsake sin and submit to God. I often think of Isaiah 6. Isaiah saw God on His throne and was overwhelmed by both his own sins and the sins of those around him. He was touched with forgiveness, then was ready to answer God’s question, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I, send me.” Isaiah knew he was a sinner, yet was compelled by God’s forgiveness to go out and preach to a culture that, even then, would mostly fail to listen. That didn’t stop him.

Therefore, I believe that anyone who preaches or teaches needs to be deeply aware of his own sins. He also needs to know God’s forgiveness. Then he needs to get out to a world that needs forgiveness and speak God’s message with courage, love, and humility. Don’t let false charges get in the way. Don’t let sin off the hook.  Forgiveness can only be realized when sin is plainly understood and personal responsibility has been taken for it. Yes, we all are sinners, so let’s all see sin for what it is and join together in the great brotherhood of the forgiven. Don’t let the cross of Jesus Christ be lifted in vain, for His blood cries out to the whole world to say no less than this: 1) sin is horrific; 2) God’s love is immense; and 3) He wishes for the whole world to know both (1) and (2).

-Doy Moyer

 


The Next Generation

Posted: January 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Both the Bible and history demonstrate that people and life change from one generation to another. There is the ongoing advance of science, the change of social customs, the rise of new economic opportunities, the discovery of new medications and cures for disease, and the coming power of new leaders and the realignment of national borders. Much of this can be innocent and an opportunity to improve man’s lot and circumstances in life.

But change is not always good. It can bring hardships to citizens, corruption and downfall to nations, or slavery and bondage to innocent people. It can also alter God’s will, pervert man’s thinking, and exalt the passions of the flesh above spiritual qualities that are designed to reflect in man the nature and character of God. This happened spiritually in the world from the days of Abel to Noah, to the nation of Israel from the time of Moses to the captivities in Assyria and Babylon, and to the Lord’s church from the first century to the twenty-first century. It is the age-old problem of a new generation that arises without faith in, knowledge of, and love for God. The Bible describes and details this problem in the book of Judges (see especially Judges 1-2).

Bible students can read a case study of this problem in the church of Ephesus—a body of Christians in the first century that was established in the ancient province of Asia. When Paul called the elders of this church to meet him in Miletus, one clearly senses the apostle’s fears for the next generation of brethren. Three times Paul reminds these leaders that he withheld no truth from them: that he “shrank not from declaring unto them anything  that was profitable,” that he “shrank not from declaring  unto you the whole counsel of God,” and that he “ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:27,31).

Paul leaves no doubt about the basis of his concern: “I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). The apostle, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, saw what was going to happen to the next generation. And, surely enough, he was right. We know that some 25 to 30 years later these brethren left their first love and Jesus admonished them: “Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place” (Rev 2:4-5).

We know from letters and other historical documents of the second century that after the first century the church in Ephesus and churches in general began to corrupt the organization of congregations from one of a local oversight of a plurality of elders in each congregation into a structural change of a hierarchical and national rule of priests, bishops, cardinals, patriarchs, and the pope. But the perversions went far beyond organizational changes and affected every aspect of the Lord’s church—including the basics of salvation, the worship, the work of the church, and the name by which they were called.

We, like Paul in his time, have concerns for the next generation of our times, especially since so many among us nowadays think that we are bound to human traditions and that they are personally being moved and directed by the Holy Spirit. Our prayer is that brethren here at Kirkwood discern the differences between and among the “traditions of men,” their “personal feelings,” and the “teaching of scriptures.” Neither our generation nor the next generation must permit itself to go beyond the gospel Paul preached and the teaching of Christ that was revealed to and written by holy apostles and prophets. To do this is to be cut off from God and be accursed (see Gal 1:6-9; 2 John 9; Eph 3:3-5).

-L. A.

 


Pursuing Hospitality

Posted: January 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

This past Sunday we studied about being “knit together in love” (Col 2:2) and how to “consider one another” (Heb 10:24) in an effort to stir up, edify, and support our brethren. We observed that to work together effectively as a local body, we must put considerable time and effort into strengthening the bond between us.  While this building of fellowship between us can and should certainly take place within our assemblies, the church building should not be the only place we ever interact with our brethren. We all need to give serious consideration to the work of hospitality.

The Bible uses the word hospitality to translate the Greek word philoxenos. This word, in a very literal sense, means brotherly love or friendship (phileo) toward strangers (xenos). This does not mean, however, that hospitality only applies to genuine strangers in the world around us. Peter urged the Christians to whom he wrote to “be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1Pet 4:9). Thus, hospitality is the expression of love and friendship to anyone we have an opportunity to welcome into our home, even brethren. It is the hosting of guests (regardless of how strange they may or may not be).

Just as Christians are instructed not to forsake the assembly, we are also instructed not to forget or neglect hospitality (Heb 13:2). This is another important way in which we can consider one another, and we must keep it at the forefront of our minds. In Rom 12:13 we are literally instructed to “chase after” or “pursue” the work of hospitality. It should be a constant goal in our lives—something we are passionately and diligently working at.

Although we all may voice our hearty approval when the value of hospitality is mentioned, I am afraid sometimes we are tempted to simply push this work off on someone else. We come up with a variety of excuses to justify the fact that no other member of the church has set foot in our homes in recent history. Yet, many of these hindrances should not have to bring our pursuit of hospitality to a complete standstill. While, we may not be able to have brethren into our home every other week, I think we could all at least find room for growth in our pursuit of hospitality.

Let’s briefly address a few roadblock to hospitality that need to be torn down:

1. I’m not good enough… Maybe your home is not the most elegant or spacious. Maybe you feel that your decorating and cleaning skills are subpar or you are ashamed of your lack of cooking ability. Maybe you have never been good at keeping conversations interesting and lively, and you are afraid that the evening will be one long disastrous awkward silence.

First of all, know that you are not alone. We all have limitations and feelings of inadequacy. Yet, carefully hiding away these faults from one another is not the answer. It is often the sharing of our blemishes and struggles that strengthen the bond between us most. We need to work on having the humility and openness to make ourselves vulnerable. That is the only way genuine relationships can be built. Hospitality challenges us to tear down the white-washed exterior and be real with one another… to see one another in something other than our “church clothes.”

So don’t be ashamed of the stains on your carpet or the crayon marks on the wall. Folding chairs in a one-bedroom apartment are enough to show love and hospitality. If you can’t cook, order a half-gallon of pasta from Psghetti’s and buy a package of salad at the store, or just stick to popcorn and dessert. If you are the world’s worst conversationalists, invite someone else with the gift of gab or bust out a board game to keep things moving. Don’t let your inadequacies hold you back. After all, the only way to grow in these areas is to start practicing.

2. I’m too busy… Maybe you are burning the candle at both ends and just feel too exhausted to think about hospitality. Maybe between girl scouts, little league, and band practice you don’t feel like your family ever has a free night. And when you do get a free night, quality time with each other takes first priority.

For some, busyness can be a very difficult hurdle in the pursuit of hospitality. Yet, let me remind you that there are 365 days in the year. Starting today, you still have 350 to go.  There are 24 hours in each of those days. If developing a closer relationship with your brethren is the priority that it should be, I think we should all be able to allocate some of that time for hospitality.

We each need to seriously evaluate all the activities that are taking up our time and energy. In some cases, we may need to make sacrifices. Certain hobbies and pursuits may need to be pushed lower on our priority list. The cultivating of stronger relationships with our brethren in an effort to build up the body of Christ should not always get the short end of the stick.

Yet, even if you can’t squeeze a full evening out of your schedule, don’t let it stop you. Even getting together with a brother for coffee before work or sharing your lunchbreak with a sister is better than nothing at all.

3. I’m just not interested… If we are honest, this may be the biggest roadblock we are dealing with. It is not that we don’t have time, we just don’t have a desire to make time. It is not that we feel incapable, but that we just feel lazy.

If this is how you’re feeling, remember—how you treat your brethren is how you are treating Jesus. Would you make time for Him? Would you put some extra effort into welcoming Him into your home? Jesus tells us, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:40).

Let’s all put a little extra effort into pursuing hospitality this coming year. It will help us be more knit together in love. It will help us stir up one another to love and good works. It will help us build up the body of Christ.

-Grady


His Sheep Hear His Voice

Posted: January 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Something special exists between a flock of sheep and their shepherd. And it all begins with the shepherd and the love and attention he gives the sheep. He treats them with care and speaks to them, hooks them, and prods them with gentleness to move them in the right direction. His words, his leadership, and his correction direct them to still, safe waters and to lush, green pastures. His unvarying and unerring guidance breeds in them trust and familiarity by his words (see John 10:1-21; Psalm 23).

They soon know the words “come” and “halt.” They know that one is an invitation to follow and receive the blessing of food, drink, and a fold of safety, and the other is a warning of danger and a promise of protection.

Do we not, as God’s flock, see in this real life parable of our spiritual relationship to Jesus the need to become familiar with the voice of our Shepherd––the words of truth Jesus has spoken? Do we not also see that our Chief Shepherd has walked ahead of us and traveled the path that He wants us to follow?

The Shepherd of our souls walked in the paths and ways of holiness, purity, righteousness, and truth––and calls to us to follow in His footsteps (Luke 9:23). He has also said “halt” to our wayward wanderings toward the deceptions of Satan––hypocrisy, indifference to truth, greed, lasciviousness, lusts of the flesh, and a host of other compromises with sin (see Matt 23; Matt. 15:18-20).

The voice of our Shepherd has been revealed to us by the Spirit of God who guided apostles and prophets into all truth (John 14:25-26, 16:13). And we can only hear and recognize His voice by reading, studying, and learning these words of wisdom and knowledge. These instructions guide us into green pastures of spiritual enlightenment and sustenance and unto the banks of still waters that quench our soul’s thirst forever.

What is there not to love about the voice of our Shepherd? Are we not drawn to Him by the love He has shown in laying down His life for us? Are we not enticed by the daily forgiveness that frees us from wrath to come, the contentment and peace that provide rest and fulfillment to our souls, the lure of hope that stirs sacrificial devotion to truth, and the beauty of holiness and purity that turns our hearts away from the cheap and trashy appeal of sinful passions?

The Lord Jesus Christ, brethren, is our Shepherd and if we are of His flock and hear His voice, we will find nourishing pastures of truth in which to graze, and safety from the wolves of deception who seek to attack and destroy us. His sheep do, indeed, hear his voice (John 10:3-6).

What Jesus also notes about His sheep is that “a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:5). The value of sheep recognizing the voice of the shepherd is that they immediately detect the voices of imposters. Their familiarity with the sound, the inflection, and the tone of the shepherd’s voice alert them to unfamiliar voices––sounds they do not recognize.

This parable of the good shepherd warns disciples of Christ against uncertain sounds that are readily detectable when they know the voice of the Shepherd. The key, of course, is knowing the voice of the Shepherd. Those who give themselves to studying the gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation––the complete revelation of truth––know the familiar sound of truth and the off-key sound of error and deception.

-L. A.

 


The Importance of Goals to Grow Toward

Posted: January 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:14-15).

There’s no doubt that we need to set our hopes on heaven, but we also need to set goals for our growth in this life. Eternity with God is a worthy objective, to be sure, but that destiny is not an arbitrary reward handed out to some few who were “lucky” enough to be selected. Rather, it is the end of a road that has to be traveled by conscious choice. Where the time comes, heaven will be a state of spiritual maturity for those-and only those who chose to grow in that direction while they lived in this world.

As far as our characters are concerned, there’s a considerable gap between what we are now and what we need to be. With our present attitudes and values, we wouldn’t enjoy living in a realm where God is the only pleasure, even if we were allowed to give it a try. Plainly, we need to grow in the quality of spiritual-mindedness. But growth in godly character does not take place by accident. Without setting deliberate goals, we simply “drift” occasionally stumbling forward perhaps, but more often than not falling backward into further neglect and worldliness.

For one thing, our goals for spiritual growth need to be higher. We should aspire to greater growth in God than we’ve dared to dream about before. God is greater than our “modest” personal goals sometimes make Him out to be, and we should not underestimate the quality of character that He can help us—yes, even us!—to partake of (2 Pet 1:2-4). But also, our goals need to be more specific. It doesn’t do much good to simply say, “I know I need to be a better person.” Instead, we need to take an honest inventory of our personal traits on a regular basis and then make definite commitments, God being our Helper, to change our character.

Most importantly, however, we need to study the character of Jesus Christ and let Him define our concept of spiritual maturity. What we’re aiming to do is “grow up in all things into Him who is the head.” Doing that will often take us (as it did Him) in a different direction than the popular picture of “spiritual maturity.”

“Our first step in rediscovering an authentic Christian spirituality is to gain a clear picture of a mature Christian. If we ignore this question spiritual growth will become an accidental occurrence” (Gary L. Thomas)

-Gary Henry

 


The Beauty of Jesus

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Charlotte and I have been blessed in our travels to see the majestic alpine mountains of Switzerland and Austria, the snow-draped grandeur of the Alaskan peaks, the breathtaking display of fall colors in Maine and Vermont, and the sunrise making its way over the Golan Heights and mirroring its fiery reflection on the Sea of Galilee.  These monuments of nature along with the heavens declare again and again the beauty and creative power of God’s handiwork.

When we speak of God’s creative power and workmanship in nature, it reminds us that He is seeking to do the same thing in the lives of each one of us. Man has been created in the image of God, but has fallen short of His Creator’s design. We, every one of us, have followed the prince of the power of the air and indulged the lusts of the flesh in fulfillment of bodily passions. We each have corrupted and defiled the pure and perfect goodness that God gave us at birth. When we see the manifestation of God’s power in nature, it reminds us that He has the will and power to make each one of us a thing of beauty.

Any one of us who is open to God’s mercy and grace can come to Him by faith and be washed and sanctified and cleansed by the precious blood of God’s Son. This happened to the Corinthians who were adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, thieves, revilers, idolaters, drunkards, extortioners, and covetous (see 1 Cor 6:9-11). God took sinners like these and “recreated” in them the beauty of Jesus—a beauty that was never marred by fleshly indulgences (see 1 Pet 2:21-25).

The apostle Paul said of himself and the Ephesians who received God’s gracious gift: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). At the opening of this chapter the apostle had described these brethren as “by nature children of wrath” because they were dead in sin by following the course of this world (see 1 John 2:15-16).

Christians—men and women who have been transformed by the creative power of God—are products of God’s craftsmanship, of His handiwork. As a potter shapes a vessel into the likeness of an image he has envisioned, so God molds and forms believers into the afore prepared design that He willed before the world began. The exact portrait of God’s design was manifested in the unblemished life of Jesus who set before the world the beauty of love and mercy and grace and goodness.

God’s eternal plan ordained that all men in Christ be formed into the image of His Son so that, as we sometimes sing, we can each “let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me” (Rom 8:29-30). That beauty will be displayed in every man who comes to God by faith, receives the word of God into his heart, and is transformed by the power of the gospel. God’s word, like a seed, is implanted into a believer’s mind, takes root, and produces the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

When our lives manifest the fruit of the Spirit’s work by the gospel, they, like the heavens and earth and all their beauty, are designed to declare and display the beauty of God’s handiwork. May we all, as we begin the new year with a study of the “works of the flesh,” purpose in our hearts to resist the devil, draw near unto God, and manifest in our lives the beauty of holiness and purity as seen in Jesus (James 4:7-8).

-L. A.

 


Pruning For The New Year

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

This past Sunday morning, in looking at the picture of Jesus as the “True Vine”, we talked some about the concept of spiritual pruning. In a physical sense, pruning is the process of trimming superficial, sickly, or feeble branches in order that the nourishment of the vine can flow more effectively into the stronger fruit-bearing branches. In a spiritual sense, for us to grow in our service to God, we must allow Him to cut away hindrances and distractions from our hearts so that our time, energy, and resources can be used more effectively for His glory.

This process of pruning is not just optional. If the branch of our spiritual life is to continue abiding within the  Vine, we must be willing to grow and increase in accordance with the Vinedressers’ will.  As we seek to refine our lives for growth in this way, it is valuable to consider some specific areas of pruning that we can work on in the coming year.

Spiritual Stumbling-Blocks: Firstly, we need to cut away anything that may be contributing to temptation and sin within our lives. Jesus says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you… If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you” (Matt 5:29-30). No matter how innocent or valuable we may feel like something is within itself, if it is drawing us away from the Lord, we need to be willing to amputate.

What means of communication is Satan using to fill our minds with godless thinking? Are there television shows, movies, social networking sites, mobile apps, news sources, or even people within our lives that threaten to mold our minds after the ways of the world? What subtle tools is Satan using to try to infiltrate our hearts? We need to have the vision to recognize these dangers and the commitment to block off as many of the enemy’s inroads as possible.

Spiritual Distractions: Not all weak and feeble branches are cancerous. Some may simply be taking away valuable nutrients from more spiritually productive efforts. While pruning stumbling-blocks is essential to maintaining spiritual life, to actually grow spiritually and increase the fruit of our harvest, we must be willing to prune spiritual distractions as well.

Individuals who have spent much time and effort in personal prayer and Bible study, evangelizing, teaching, serving, and encouraging others, have had to sacrifice lesser priorities in their lives. We may have to step away from climbing the career ladder, put our personal hobbies on hold, and reduce our involvement in non-spiritual groups and activities.

Certainly, these endeavors are not all valueless. In some cases they can provide us worthwhile spiritual opportunities to shine our lights and serve others. Yet, if these spiritual benefits are just minor and incidental, we may need to consider serious renovation of our schedule books. If pleasing God is truly our highest desire in life, the way we employ our time and effort each day should reflect it. We must prune away the shoots on the fringe of our spiritual lives in favor of those more closely attached to the Vine.

Spiritual Stagnation: Finally, we must prune away the less fruitful shoots in favor of those that prove to be the most spiritually productive. The harvest is plentiful and there are more spiritual endeavors before us than any one individual can successfully pursue. We each have to evaluate our particular talents and opportunities and employ them as effectively as possible to the glory of God and the furthering of His work in our lives.

We cannot simply continue year after year in the exact same spiritual routine regardless of how fruitless our efforts may be. When we recognize that our efforts are not being well spent, we must explore new ways to serve and to grow. We must not become discouraged at these times, but see each fruitless effort as an opportunity to learn. If we are willing to refine our efforts and prune these old practices, our failures can become great sources of spiritual growth in the end.

So, as we enter into the new year, what parts of your life need to be pruned? What stumbling-blocks, distractions, or stagnations can we eliminate to be stronger and more fruitful servants for God?

-Grady

 


Challenge For The New Year

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

The beginning of a new year provides an excellent opportunity for us to pause, ponder, plan, and prepare for the future. We hope that the new year will especially cause us all to think about our spiritual service to God and how we can improve in the fulfillment of our duties to Him. Let us challenge you in these specific areas:

Spend more time in prayer. Don’t allow the day to begin or end without spending time in prayer to God. Throughout the day, stop and petition Him for help and strength. And, by all means, don’t just wait for a crisis to develop before you think to pray. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

Study your Bible more consistently. Use a daily Bible reading calendar or come up with your own plan to read on a regular basis. Don’t just rush through a few verses. Instead, really study the text to learn its meaning. Before you end a reading session, think about how you can make application of what you’ve read in a real and practical way. “Give attendance to reading . . .” (1 Tim 4:13).

Attend every Bible study and worship in this New Year. This, of course, is your duty — but it is also a privilege. BE HERE! Make this a high priority. Why would you not want to be present to worship God and study His Word? “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . .” (Heb 10:25).

Teach the lost. We all have friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members who are lost in sin. They NEED us to share the gospel with them. Make a firm commitment to reach at least one of them with the “good news” this year. If each Christian would bring just one person to the Lord each year, we could soon convert the whole world. Let’s do it! “Go ye therefore and teach all nations . . .” (Matt 28:19).

Live a pure, godly life. Nothing else matters if we are not living faithfully for the Lord. Think about this, and let it be manifested in how you talk, where you go, who you associate with, how you dress, etc. Others are looking to you, and evaluating Christianity on the basis of what they see of it in you. “Ye are the light of the world . . . let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).

In a very real sense, having a “Happy New Year” depends on how well you fulfill your spiritual duties to God.

-Greg Gwin

 


What You Really Are

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

“Tell me what you are busy about, and I will tell you what you are” (Goethe).

The above quotation rings true when applied to our lives.  How we spend our time and what we allow to occupy our attention tells others what we really are, and that may be dramatically different from what we claim to be.

Professing to be Christians does not mean we are living as the children of God should.  We must conform our thoughts and actions to the word of God and the example set by His Son and be busy about the Father’s business.  Otherwise, people will know (and the Father will know) that despite our claims to be dedicated to the Lord, our affections lie elsewhere.

What are you “busy about”?  Is it your job?  Does it take all of your energy and most of your time?  Is your main interest in life the amassing of “things”?  Do you use all spare moments in some recreational pursuit?  If any of these apply, you need to take stock and channel your “busyness” into that which is more profitable—serving the Lord.

If one is going to be Christ-like, he must have the mind of Christ (Php 2:5).  It is evident that Christ’s attitude while on earth was to be busy about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49).  Such passages as John 4:34; 6:38 and 9:4 show that He continually focused on doing the will of God.  In turn, He taught His disciples the most important thing in life for them was to do God’s will and be concerned with His kingdom first (Matt 6:33).

The apostle Paul zealously applied himself to the will of God.  He was always busy serving the Lord.  He constantly pressed on, striving to live a life pleasing to God so that he could attain his goal and receive an incorruptible crown (Php 3:7-16).  On the other hand,
Demas, a fellow-worker with Paul, busied himself with other things—things of this world
(2 Tim 4:10).  His love for this “present world” ultimately caused him to abandon both Paul and the Lord.

When Jesus was in the house of Mary and Martha, two sisters who lived in Bethany, both of them were busy.  In the eyes of the world and even in the eyes of her sister, though, one seemed to be idle (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).  She busied herself seeing that the needs of her guests were satisfied.  She became so anxious about it that it consumed her.  Her sister Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, not wishing to miss a single word He was saying.  She busied herself listening to Him, knowing that it was the most important thing she could be doing.  When Martha complained to Jesus about her sister, He told her not to worry about so many things that, in reality, were not necessary.  Rather, she should devote herself and her time, as Mary had, to “the one thing that is needed”—hearing and obeying the word of God.

Again, with what are you busy?  Is it your job, a hobby, material possessions or worldly pleasures?  If so, what does that say as to what you really are?  What do others think is your first love?  What is the Lord’s view of you?

A question that has been used before, possibly overused, but nevertheless is relevant to our line of thought is: “If you were tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  If you were “busy about” that which you should be, it would be evident to all what you really are.  All would know you are a Christian, see the glory of God in you, and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).  More importantly, the Lord would know.  If you claim to be a Christian, get busy doing the will of the Lord.

-Gene Taylor

 


Hanukkah

Posted: January 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Articles

Feasts as times of remembrance, thanksgiving, and sacrifices are as inherently a part of the Jewish nation as the people themselves. When the nation was founded, the law was given, and a leader accepted, Israel already had been authorized by Jehovah to observe the Passover feast in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage (see Exod 12-13). As the nation developed, the rich history of God’s people called for other festivals and special days. Festivals and celebrations were ingrained by God Himself into the lives and the thinking of the Jewish people.

Even when Jehovah ceased to speak to them by Moses and other prophets, the nation itself inaugurated festivals to celebrate great moments of history. Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration each December, is the most notable example in modern times. Historically, it dates back to the period between the covenants to a memorable day in 165 B. C.

Exactly three years before that day, according to Jewish history (1 and 2 Maccabees), Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian general, had attacked the city of Jerusalem on a return trip home after the conquest of Egypt. The general overran the city, broke down the walls, and desecrated its holy place. The paganistic leader erected an altar to Zeus atop the Jewish altar and ordered the offering of swine to heathen gods. Faithful Jews fled the city to remote parts of Judea but renegades stayed, intermarried with Gentiles, ceased the practice of circumcision, defiled the Sabbath, and blatantly compromised the sacred laws of Moses.

The arrogance of the heathen worshippers persisted and idolatry with the aid of apostate Jews spread to many cities throughout Judea. When the idolaters arrived in Modin they met the resistance of the Maccabean family led by the father, Mattathias, who stepped forward to slay a fellow Jew and a Gentile official who were about to offer sacrifices on the pagan altar. He made his way through the streets, gathering around him a Jewish army, and headed for the hills of Judea where he was joined by a stalwart company of Hasidean Jews. The army, led by Judas after his father’s death, challenged Syrian soldiers in many parts of central and southern Palestine and ultimately at Jerusalem itself. The determined band of guerrilla soldiers reconquered Jerusalem and immediately cleansed, restored, and rededicated the holy place and its worship.

“Hanukkah,” the Hebrew word for “dedication,” is generally used in the Old Testament to denote the inauguration and consecration of offerings, the altar of burnt offering, the walls of Jerusalem, etc. (see Num 7:10; 2 Chron 7:9; Neh 12:27). The word, as its counterpart in the New Testament (egkainaia, John 2:22), probably means to “initiate” or “inaugurate,” but is used in the context of offerings and services of dedication. It is specifically used by Jews today to describe the annual feast that commemorates the work of Judas Maccabees.

When Judas took control of Jerusalem he restored and purified the temple; demolished the defiled altar and built a new one of unhewn stones; consecrated the temple court and renewed the sacred vessels; brought the altar of incense and the table into the temple; and burned incense, lighted the lampstands, and displayed the showbread (1 Macc 4:36-51).

A solemn assembly of faithful Jews was called to the holy place on the 25th day of the ninth month (Chislev/December), the precise day, according to Maccabean history, the sacred place was defiled by Antiochus. They celebrated for eight days with burnt offerings, peace offerings, thank offerings, and merry-making. They “rededicated” the holy place with hymns of thanksgiving to the music of harps and lutes and cymbals (1 Macc 4:51-55). Judas, and later a public assembly, decreed an annual observance for eight days beginning each year on Chislev 25.

The feast, of course, is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament, which was completed by 400 B.C. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament. When Jesus visited Jerusalem during the winter months and taught the people that he is the “good shepherd” and that he is the “Son of God,” John marked the time as “the feast of dedication at Jerusalem” and noted that as Jesus taught he “was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23).

Hanukkah or the “Feast of Dedication,” sometimes called the “Feast of Lights,” is prominently observed by Jewish families today in their homes. It is a time of mirth and gladness in which they exchange gifts, sing, dance, and light a new candle in the menorah each night of the holiday. The lighting of the candles is a special ritual that recalls a story in the Babylonian Talmud. Legend has it that after the restoration of the temple Judas could find only one small cruse of sanctified oil—a day’s supply. It was lighted in the temple’s lampstand and continued to burn miraculously for the full eight days of the ceremony. The story, yearly festival, and lighting ceremony reflect the continued belief of many Jews that Jehovah delivered them from the Gentiles and is still their God and Savior.

Hanukkah, as all Mosaic and Judaistic feasts, is of no significance to Christians who are committed by faith to Jesus as Messiah—God’s anointed Savior. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled and brought to fruition all that the Old Testament prefigured and anticipated in the law, the feast days, and temple services. As the Lamb of God, He redeemed man from sin, purchased men of every tribe and tongue, and fashioned them into a holy temple and habitation for God in the Spirit (see John 1:29,35; Matt 26:26-28; Heb 8:6-12; Heb 9:11-15; Eph 2:11-22; Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:9-10). He thereby fulfilled God’s eternal purpose for man, abrogated the old covenant and all its festivities, nailed them to the cross, and dedicated a new and living way to God through the new covenant of grace. In Christ Jesus under the new covenant all men, Jew and Gentile, are complete, blessed with all spiritual blessings, and have no need to follow Jewish festivals of the law of Moses (see Matt 28:18-20; Rom 1:16; Eph 1:3-7).

-L. A.