Weekly Bulletin Articles
Occasionally my oldest will complain to his mother of pains. This is normal. Occasionally I complain to his mother of pains. This is also normal. But the two are not the same. The former holds the promise of growth. The later holds the promise of more pain.
“Growing pains without growth is just pain.”
The life of a Christian is one of growth. We begin as infants (1 Peter 2:2), but we must not stay there. Just as physical growth involves pain, so does spiritual growth. It takes effort to become fully mature (Hebrews 5:14). We must push ourselves, get outside of our comfort zones to thrive.
Yet it is possible to exert effort and suffer soreness, endure embarrassment and sense shame, or otherwise be strained and feel discomfited without actually growing.
Take our spiritual ancestors for example. They strained toward righteousness. They pursued godliness with a dedication often unseen today. Yet they often were chastised. Why?
In Isaiah’s day, God demanded that the Israelites cease their sacrifices. God said, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13). Their feasts had become a burden to God, such that he hid his eyes from them (Isaiah 1:14, 15). They continued to sacrifice and celebrate, but they had forgotten justice (Isaiah 1:17). Evil deeds and hearts overshadowed their outward shows of devotion (Isaiah 1:15, 16).
Theirs was a hypocritical, outward-focused religion. Since God looks upon and weighs the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2), this type of religion is bound to fail.
The Holy Spirit gives us another reason why many of our ancestors failed in their pursuit of righteousness. Of Israel, he says, “They did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32).
A perusal of Old Testament history will paint a vivid picture of pursuing righteousness by works. One that we, at all costs, must not sketch ourselves.
Certainly the issues in Isaiah’s day were caused by pursuing righteousness by works. Unchecked long enough, such a pursuit will lead to iniquity. But it might not necessarily seem so. It might look remarkably like a pursuit that leads to growth. To many the Jews of the first century seemed righteous. To the discerning eye of Jesus they were anything but.
God knows our hearts. He sees perfectly. We cannot peer into the hearts of others, but we have a view into our own. Laying out God’s word we must test ourselves. Looking at the perfect life of Jesus we must model ourselves in the image of our Lord.
Those who grow do so by God’s grace through faith (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 1:17). Growing pains produce righteousness. Growing pains without growth is just plain old pain.
One leads to glory, the other to condemnation. Choose wisely.
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15, ESV).
When readers of the Bible begin to consider sin, and to classify those which are most serious and harmful, they almost invariably think of sins of physical action which have the most harmful or offensive results. Murder, rape, child molestation and others of such nature are almost always considered to be the “worst” sins, those for which forgiveness must be most difficult to obtain.
It does not take long however to discover that God’s list of “worst” sins is not necessarily the same as ours. In particular, he is much more concerned with the impact on one’s spirit or heart than on the consequences of sin to our flesh. No statement is more emphatic than the text cited at the beginning of this article — 1 John 3:15.
I remember a popular song of my childhood entitled, “Standing on the Corner, Watching all the Girls Go By.” One catchy line was “You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Maybe not, but we are accountable for our thinking to an even higher authority than our human courts. In the context of that old song we should remember Jesus’ warning, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
It is that same principle which John appeals to in his condemnation of hatred. One who hates his brother is every bit as guilty, and as evil, as was Cain (Genesis 4:8-10). This is the negative application of the principle, “God is not as concerned with what we do, as with what we are.” That is normally said of good deeds, but it appliesequally to sins.
It is largely true to state, “one is not evil because he sins; he sins because of the evil within him.” Jesus made that plain in his teaching of defilement: “… what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person …” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Without the evil thoughts, the actions prompted by them would not occur. Sin originates from within us. It is only after those inner thoughts incubate and mature that we act upon them. James asked and answered the question as to the origin of our sins: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). Always, the inner thoughts are first, then come those deeds which the thoughts inspire.
But one has already committed the evil when he harbors and develops the thoughts and attitudes which lead to the sinful action. The one habituated to pornography is an adulterer in God’s perspective, even if he never commits the actual physical act. The one who hates his brother (who can be anyone) is just as much a murderer as one on death row, so far as his spiritual relationship with God is concerned. Hatred is just as offensive to our Creator as that act which would take his life. It is just as contrary to the nature and will of God.
The real importance of this principle is taught earlier in 1 John 3:7. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Sin is not just about doing some bad thing, like stealing or killing or lying. It is far more about being ungodly. One who hates is far from the nature of God. One who loves is of God and from God. That should be the ultimate standard of our conduct. Not just what we do, but what, and who, we are.
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not’” (Numbers 11:25 NKJV).
About a year after their deliverance from Egypt, after celebrating Passover for the second time, Israel departed from Mount Sinai to journey to Canaan. Shortly after beginning that trip they began to complain about their diet of only manna (Numbers 11:4-6). Remembering the varied diet of Egypt, they demanded meat. Moses cried out to God, who promised to feed them meet for a complete month (verses 19-20). At that incredible statement Moses asked how it could be possible. That brought about the Lord’s response, essentially, “Is my arm too short?”
The idea of a shortened arm suggests a deformity or disease. In 1 Kings 13:4 King Jeroboam’s arm “withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself.” In his conversation with Moses the Lord speaks of his arm “being shortened,” rather than having always been that way. The image projected is that of someone who is handicapped.
Such deformities are common in poorer, less developed parts of the world. It is common to see many who are crippled, blind or otherwise handicapped on the streets of Asia, Africa, or South America. When we pass them, often begging in order to provide food for themselves, we are moved with emotions ranging from pity to disdain or even contempt.
When we doubt God’s ability to solve our problems or provide for our needs we are in danger not only of doubt, but of disrespect. Has his arm become shortened so that he cannot answer prayer or fulfill promises? Is he in fact handicapped?
His answer to Moses was emphatic and specific: “Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” In other words, “I am fully capable of doing whatever I choose or need to do.”
God’s arm is long enough for him to do whatever he says he will do. He “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) and therefore cannot and will not fail to do what he promises. He is “not a man, that he should relent” (1 Samuel 15:29).
Throughout the Bible God’s relationship with mankind is based on “covenant,” which may be defined as “a mutual agreement between two parties which contains obligations and benefits on both sides.” Those are described on God’s part as “promises” (Romans 9:4). Just as his promise to feed meat to the Israelites in the wilderness was certain of fulfillment, so his promises of forgiveness from sin and eternal life are also certain. We can trust him implicitly, without reservation or doubt (James 1:5-6).
God is known in the Old Testament by many names or titles. One of the most frequently used is “The Almighty.” He is “all powerful” (omnipotent), with no weakness or inabilities.
The Hebrew writer defines faith, in part, as the conviction that God “is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” That is, we believe that God will do what he says and fulfill all that he has promised.
That included feeding more than six hundred thousand men, plus their families, in the wilderness. It also includes giving us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3), and “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). God is not deformed or handicapped. He is all powerful, all wise and all loving – fully capable of ruling over all creation until it has fulfilled its purpose. Let us trust in him.
How important it is that we emphasize the fact that the church of the Bible is not simply an organization wearing a certain name and tracing its “historical roots” to some doctrine and practice of the “Restoration Movement”! The church is a group of persons who have intellectually, spiritually and practically accepted the authority of Christ in ALL things that pertain to life and godliness. This includes how to be saved from sins, worship acceptably, and live for Him daily. In no case was a man made a Christian by submitting to a man-made set of rules, even if those rules were: “In order to come into our church, you must be immersed in water.” Although it would be easier for a person to deceive himself and/or be deceived, it would not change that basic truth even if those man-made set of rules were: “In order to come into our church, one of our preachers must immerse you in water as he says, “I now, by the authority of Christ, baptize you into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
for the remission of your sins.’”
Unless a person has “obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine” which Peter and Paul preached (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:17-18), and knowingly and willingly submitted to the authority of CHRIST, he was NOT made free from sin and added to the Lord’s church. And this is true no matter whether he thinks he joined the “Church of Christ Church” because he was baptized by a “Church of Christ preacher” or whether he thus joined the Christian Church or some other denomination with their “Historical roots” in the Restoration Movement! It is simply Bible truth that when a penitent believer (no babies!) is baptized in the name of Christ (Acts 2:38), he is saved (becomes a member of the church for which Jesus died, Acts 20:28; cf. Mk. 16:16; Acts 22:16).
The desire for fellowship and unity is commendable, but any unity on the basis of allegiance to ANY human being-even Peter and Paul-is unscriptural. The “unity of the Spirit” is not the unity of two human spirits who are tired of fussing, but a unity produced by both parties following the direction of the Spirit.
The bottom line is: Whatever a man’s “historical roots” may be, if he is not what he is because he submitted and still submits to the authority of Christ, his religious roots are worth nothing. He will be cut off as a branch even if he had the right roots and does not continue to follow the authority of Christ!
(The Spiritual Sword VOL. 16 NUMBER 4)
I confess that I have been slightly disturbed over the years when I have heard those whom I considered great and good gospel preachers refer to “our historical roots” with the seeming implication that “we would not know what “we” really are or believe if we did not study and know about “our historical roots.”
In no way do I mean to disparage the giants of the “Restoration Movement.” I confess that I have read most everything I can find written or published by Alexander Campbell and others of that era. I am ready to confess also that I have read everything I can find by Guy Woods, Gus Nichols, Roy Deaver, Tom Warren and Garland Elkins. I owe a great deal to all of those, and many more. But the truth of the matter is that I was a Christian before I ever heart of ANY of them, and expect to remain such if they all turn out to be apostates.
I started reading the New Testament at the age of 7 and became a Christian after reading it carefully for about 4 years. I do not remember reading anything about Alexander Campbell for MANY years after that. This is simply to emphasize the fact that we in no
sense need to deny or disparage the greatness and worth of men who have gone before or are contemporaneous with us, nor to pretend that all our insights were gleaned ONLY from the study of the Bible. At the same time, we need to realize and emphasize that if Alexander Campbell, Guy Woods and Tom Warren had never lived, although the world would be a much poorer place, I would have been a Christian anyway by following the word of God.
The seed of the kingdom was and is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). If we are not rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17) of that Word, it just does not matter what we or anyone else calls “our historical roots” or how similar those roots may be to some other persons “roots”.
A great and good man, now deceased wrote some tracts on “What the Church of Christ Believes.” In my judgment, all such does disservice to the Cause of Christ. Many times I have heard or used such expressions as: “The Churches of Christ have historically taught—.” The proper answer might be, “So what?” When we imply that the “Church of Christ Church” and the “Christian Church” are TWO churches with some common “historical roots,” and thus the doctrines and practices are equally relevant and valid because they have some common roots in “the Restoration Movement,” great damage is done.
The truth is that the very concept of a Christian Church and a “Christian Church preacher” teaching a “Christian Church doctrine” is unscriptural, sectarian and sinful. But it is no less true that the concept of a “Church of Christ Church” with a “ Church of Christ preacher” teaching “Church of Christ doctrines” is equally so. (To be continued next week)
What is carnality? Our English word carnal comes from a Greek work that means having the nature of the flesh. Another definition is, “controlled by the senses or governed by human nature.” Perhaps the easiest definition is this, “worldly thinking and living as opposed to spiritual thinking and living.” In Romans 8:6, Paul wrote, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” From James 4:1-10, let us examine carnality and its cure.
In James 4:1-4, James points out the products of carnality. Fights and wars have their roots in the carnal mind. Lusts, murders, and covetousness also have their beginnings in carnality. Adultery comes from a desire to please the flesh. All these things lead to enmity with God. Enmity with God will lead to mourning and gloom (James 4:9). Considering the aforementioned products of carnality, do we really want to be carnal?
While the spirit is willing to overcome carnality, the flesh is weak at times. How then can we cure carnality? In James 4:6-10, we see five ingredients needed to remove carnal thinking from our lives. The key ingredient is humility. “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). Christ defeated carnal thinking with a humble heart (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus taught that the greatest in the kingdom would be servants (Matthew 23:11).
The second ingredient is submission to God. Words that describe submission include meekness, obedience, humility, and selflessness. When we submit to God, we die to self (Galatians 2:20). We must submit to God’s will and not our own (John 6:38). Submission to God gives us the freedom to please him.
Nest, we must resist the devil. Peter warns us about our adversary in 1 Peter 5:8-9. John describes Satan as the “father of all lies” (John 8:44). It is interesting to note that resisting Satan will cause him to flee from us.
Fourth, we need to draw near to God. This implies action on our part. We draw near to God through prayer, through studying God’s word, through worshipping God in spirit and truth, through the fellowship of the saints, and by living the Christian life. If we draw near to God, He draws near to us.
Fifth, we must repent. Repentance is defined as a change of heart that leads to a change in life. In Luke 13:3-5, Jesus said unless we repent, we would all perish. In Paul’s great sermon on Mars Hill, we learn that God requires all people to repent (Acts 17:31). Carnality cannot be overcome without godly repentance.
In Titus 2:12, we are admonished to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly. John commands us to love not the world and the things of the world (1 John 2:15-17). In Galatians 5:16-26, we are taught to walk according to the Spirit not the flesh.
What drives us—the desire to please self through the flesh or the desire to please God through the Spirit?
“How we travel to someplace determines how we feel about that place.”
The above quote comes from writer Eric Weiner on Travel with Rick Steves. During his interview, Mr. Weiner also commented upon the connection between traveling and travailing. “To travel is to travail,” he said. He was speaking in the context of taking a long train ride and feeling differently about his destination as a result of his journey. But my thoughts went to much more consequential things.
As followers of the Way and sojourners upon earth, we are all travelers. It is certain that how we travel determines our destination. If we walk “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), “in the light” (1 John 1:7), “in the truth” (2 John 1:4), and “in love” (Ephesians 5:2), by God’s grace we will dwell with him for eternity. Peace, joy, rest, and utter amazement will be ours forever.
If we walk in our own ways (Acts 14:16), according to the flesh (Romans 8:4), in idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:11), or in darkness (1 John 1:6), then we reject the sacrifice of Christ and earn for ourselves the judgment of God (Romans 6:23). Pain, horror, loss, and constant dread will be ours forever.
The two destinations could not be more diametrically opposed. One holds the promise of the personal presence of the Provider of all that is good (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 7:15-17; James 1:17). The other is the absolute absence of anything good (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 22:13; 25:41)
Yet within those absolute places, it appears that there is room for degree.
“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. ” (Luke 10:12-14).”
The powerful demonstrations and explanations elevated expectations. Later in Luke, Jesus expands upon the relationship between knowledge and responsibility.
“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47, 48).
While ignorance is not an excuse, it does seem clear that those who know Jesus and reject him will incur a worse judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31), and those who abandon the Lord will find themselves in a worse state (2 Peter 2:20-22).
In a state of absolutes (joy or sorrow, peace or pain, delight or depression), how can we experience degrees? Perhaps it is how we have traveled.
Those who sacrificed all, who gave up family, friends, and freedom will appreciate the gifts of heaven all the more. Those who have plumbed the depths of suffering while walking with their Savior will find his personal comfort that much more soothing. Those who have grown from infants (1 Peter 2:2), to fully mature (Hebrews 5:14), who have drunk deeply at the well of living water (John 4:10, 14), will be more prepared to fathom the flavors of the tree of life.
The opposite must also be true. Those who have turned from walking with the Lord will spend eternity in agony knowing exactly what they lost. O what soul-crushing agony to have looked upon the Saviors face, to have stepped in his glorious light, only to turn to self and destruction!
The details belong to God, but this seems clear, how we travel will impact not only our destination, but also how we experience it.
Travel well, my friends. The travail is worth the triumph.
Serious talk. Guys, I’m a little bit scared. When my elders announced we would be resuming class at the church building on Wednesdays, of course I was excited. BUT—and here’s what I debated sharing publicly because I’m embarrassed—there was a part of me that was disappointed about “having” to be at the building Wednesday again. Disappointed.
Why? Because it’s been over 3 months since the church met together for Bible study. I’ve grown accustomed to coming home from work, eating dinner with the family, and then relaxing in the living room watching some sort of canned Bible study on my TV (with my family). I’ve officially gotten out of the habit of the family getting ready for Bible class and driving to the church building on Wednesdays.
So there was a part of my heart that was actually disappointed—bummed—over the “burden” of going back to Bible study.
And that scares me.
Of course I’m taking my family back. That’s not a question. I’m excited! (And I’m the preacher, so I kind of need to be there!) There’s no danger of me or my wife “falling away.”
I’ve just gotten out of the habit. And psychologically, my mind has grown accustomed to it. I don’t like this about my heart. And in my prayers, I ask God to rid my heart of sinful desires like this (like the desire to stay home when I can assemble, which is a heart problem).
Here’s another scary thought to me: What if I was 18? That time was an impressionable time for me. I look back, and I sometimes think I could have gone one way or another with my faith. I would have been vulnerable to this if this happened to me then. I NEEDED the assembly—every assembly.
What if I was 5? Or 10? Or 13? Kids that are that age are going to remember this. And we have deprived them of assembling with the saints in some major, important ways.
What if I was a new Christian? What if I was a weak Christian?
If I felt disappointment in my heart, think what others may be feeling at the thought of “going back to church.”
I still think the churches, collectively, did the right thing in postponing their assemblies for a number of weeks. But elders did this to better assess the situation. At first, because of the unknowns, the virus was a major concern. And it still is a concern. But over 3 months later, at what cost?
This virus isn’t going away any time soon. At some point, we need to think, “What is the end game?” Am I willing to be absent from the assembly of my church family for another month? Three more months? Six? 2021?
(Why even go to church anymore? Let’s sell the building and do everything online! Is that what some of us are good with??)
At some point, we have to ask: what’s a greater threat to the church: a virus? Or the effects “scattering” is having on the church after months of isolation?
I don’t want to oversimplify things. But if your conscience isn’t as burdened over this anymore, then—I say this kindly but bluntly as your brother in Christ—you have a heart problem. The virus is no longer the biggest danger in your life.
God designed His church to be an ASSEMBLING church. Online “worship,” while I’ve been thankful for it, will never be a substitute. His people need to be willing to take a little bit of RISK to follow His plan and ideal. We need to have a little bit of FAITH—not that God will miraculously protect us from getting the virus—but that assembling with His people is more pleasing to Him than cutting ourselves off from the church.
Let’s take safety measures. But I need “church.” I need to be in relatively close proximity to my brethren. I need the friendships. I need the encouragement. I need the congregational singing. I need the classes. I need the accountability. I need to hear YOU—in person—push me to keep going, “and all the more as we see the Day drawing near.” Let’s not give Satan one more inch.
(Although I don’t agree with this statement, “I still think the churches, collectively, did the right thing in postponing their assemblies for a number of weeks.” the problem that this brother is concerned about is very real. Mike)
By Rick Brumback
So often during times of crisis, despair, or when the obstacles of life seem to overwhelm us, we wonder where God is, and if He knows or cares what we face. Each think of a time, and it may even be today, when we have felt buffeted by the forces of life that threaten to swallow us. It becomes difficult to function; we dread the prospect of a new day with its troubles and wonder if it all matters.
The atheist should have no trouble because survival of the fittest is the rule. Those who look to God (or some “higher being”) struggle to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with the presence of God. The argument usually goes something like this: If God is all powerful, and If God is all loving, Why do evil and suffering persist? There have been many theories, called “theodicies,” and books to try to give an answer. You might recall such a book: Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. But the ultimate, correct answer will only come from God’s thoughts and inspired Word.
The truth is that people can and do choose poorly, and that is the source of trouble. First, our poor choices, aka. sins, take their toll on us (Prov. 13:15). Second, the sins of others affect us (Ex. 20:5). But we can rightly ask why our parent, or our child, is afflicted with a terrible disease. Did they do something to merit this? That was the view of the ancients (Cf. Job 4:7-8; Luke 13:1-5; John 9:13). But there must be a better answer. We live in a realm characterized by sin. From the Garden of Eden sin has tainted everything it touched because perfection was ruined. That is why Joshua said “I go the way of all the earth” (Josh. 23:14). The result is that none escapes the touch of evil or pain (Ecc. 9:1-2, 11-12). But it would be wrong to say that we are hopeless.
Often people try to make sense by considering themselves, and then everything else in relation to them. But perhaps there is another way. Instead, let us try to look at God and then all existence in relation to Him. Our questions are not new; God has heard them before. But what have others seen in response to these questions (Psalm. 4;39;49)?
How should we react to problems? Let’s look at the case of Job. His faithfulness was tested by the loss of property, family and health (1:8-19; 2:7). This testing is allowed as a demonstration of his commitment to God. Job did not understand all that was behind this suffering, and he wished God would explain. But the reality is that God did not explain Himself, He expected Job to know that His ways are ultimately inscrutable and that one need only be confident in His wisdom and ability (40:1-2; 42:1-b). But one thing is certain; Job did not lose integrity or faith in his God (1:20-22;2:9-10).
Perhaps we forget that there may be value to suffering. It helps us realize that we should not be satisfied with life here. It affords opportunity to demonstrate our integrity and confidence in God. It teaches us that we can win with God even when times are tough. (Heb. 12:3-13;1 Pet. 1:6-7). And while we may not seek occasions of suffering, we should not be overcome when such come. There are some things we know and are to remember I can decrease the trouble in my life by choosing to follow God’s good ways rather than indulging in wrongdoing. And even if we choose this course, not one of us is immune from other troubles. We help one another to bear up (Gal.6:2), because we share a common challenge and a common bond. The presence of absence of evil is not to be equated thoughtlessly with our spiritual faithfulness of God’s concern for us. Therefore we should not make the mistake of speaking for God by saying, “God just wanted her to come home” and other phrases of “comfort.” It places blame on God for all evil, when it really belongs with Satan and the presence of sin in an imperfect world. God does not intend to spare us all challenges or troubles; they can serve a purpose if we will let them. The real battle is not in our flesh, or our careers, or family health. The real battle is in our minds as we are determined to maintain our integrity and not charge God foolishly.
This all started with the question, “Where is God when I need Him?” Is He listening to my cries? Does He care? The answer to these questions is thus: God is right here hurting with us, wishing things were perfect and that sin did not exist. God has walked in our shoes and cares about us. What’s more, God was at the cross, suffering, so that we could escape to a place that is perfect.