Posts Tagged 'Dedication'

By the Numbers, 4

pearl1

ARE YOU A NAZARITE?

You can laugh at the question, but it is a valid one. Are you a Nazarite? You probably don’t know how to answer that question, so let me help you out a little. In the Bible, a Nazarite is somebody who comes from a town called Nazareth. But the word “nazarite” means “separated” or “sanctified.” So, now can you answer the question, Are you a Nazarite?

Before you answer that question, you should know that not everybody thinks being a Nazarite is a good thing.

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? (John 1:46 NIV)

After reading that question and knowing what “nazareth” really means, the question asked by Nathanael is kind of shocking. Notwithstanding his opinion, who wouldn’t be impressed with meeting a “sanctified” or “consecrated” or “separeated” person? Surely such a person would be the salt of the earth; a person completely devoted to God. So maybe the real question ought to be, not Are you a Nazarite? but What’s the point in being a Nazarite?

Indeed. In the 21st century, is there anything to be gained from being a sold-out Christian? Can a modern Christian be sanctified, devoted, consecrated to Jesus Christ? Is such a relationship possible these days?

Of course, there aren’t really any Nazarites around these days, but there are Christians, and all Christians should aspire to be like the Nazarites who lived so long ago. Unfortunately, most Christians are not at all like the ancient Nazarites. Most Christians are not all that devoted, sanctified, or consecrated to Jesus Christ. Most Christians, instead of separating themselves from the world, find creative way to keep one foot in Heaven and the other in the world. Which explains why there are so many disappointed Christians these days. Their prayers go unanswered. Others get blessed by they don’t. God seems to be a million miles away from Christians who live a million miles away from Him. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s see what we can learn from the Nazarite vow. It was –

Voluntary

When either a man or a woman takes the special vow of a Nazirite, consecrating himself to the Lord in a special way… (Numbers 6:2 TLB)

The “Nazarite vow” was one of the truly unique provisions God made for His people. It wasn’t just for residents of Nazareth; any Israelite, man or woman, from any tribe could take this vow. The person who took this vow could do so for a certain period of time or for a lifetime. It was a means by which the average Israelite could get closer to God; to have a deeper, more meaningful walk with Him.

The thing about this vow was that it was far stricter than even the vows taken by priests. Among the more famous Israelites that took this special vow were Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

In this vow we see the stage being set for the New Testament Gospel; the fact that the possibility of living a life utterly and completely devoted to Jesus Christ was for anybody. Anybody can enter into a close, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is not insignificant. So many people, even some Christians, think of God as the One who is always out to get them; He’s always looking for a way to judge them and punish them. But, in fact, God is always on the lookout for somebody – anybody – who wants to do His will and live for Him. That’s who He’s looking for!

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV)

And entering into that kind of relationship is completely voluntary. God never forced anybody to take the old Nazarite vow and He doesn’t force anybody to devote themselves to Jesus Christ. If you want God to “show Himself strong” on your behalf, you must show yourself devoted, consecrated, and separated on His behalf. It’s not rocket science. If you call yourself a Christian yet seem distant from God, you’re the problem, not Him.

Complete

Devotion, separation, and consecration to God must be complete. You can’t be partly devoted. You can’t be partly consecrated. And you can’t be partly separated to God. It’s an all or nothing proposition. In the case of the Nazarite vow, its separation included:

[No] strong drink or wine or even fresh wine, grape juice, grapes, or raisins! He may eat nothing that comes from grapevines, not even the seeds or skins! (Numbers 6:3, 4 TLB)

The one who took the vow couldn’t get close to anything produced by a vine. What was the big deal about grapes, raisins, or wine? Actually, it all has to do with the principle of “separation.” This included:

…he must never cut his hair, for he is holy and consecrated to the Lord; that is why he must let his hair grow. (Numbers 6:5 TLB)

And it included this:

And he may not go near any dead body during the entire period of his vow, even if it is the body of his father, mother, brother, or sister… (Numbers 6:6, 7 TLB)

None of these were bad; not grapes or wine or hair or dead bodies. The principle of separation had nothing to do with avoiding bad or sinful things. It had little to do with principles of right and wrong. The principle of separation as far as the Nazarite was concerned had to do with an attitude; with something on the inside of the person, not on the outside. And it’s the same with a Christian. Christians are supposed to live separated from the world. We can see that in the way Quakers live, for example. But it’s what’s on the inside that matters to God – it’s your attitude toward the things of the world that counts. That Quaker, for example, who abstains from AM radio yet finds joy in hand-rolled cigarettes, has accomplished nothing for God. In other words, if you are a Christian, you need to consider where your joy comes from. It’s not, “alcohol is bad,” but rather, “why do you drink it?” It’s not, “that certain friendship is bad,” it’s “does that relationship mean more to you than God does?” The principle of separation has to do with keeping your priorities straight. If something in the world gives you more joy than God does, you need to separate yourself from it.

The Nazarite vow is very illustrative of how Christians should be living. We should be wholly devoted to Jesus Christ, so that if anything or anybody causes a rift to develop in our relationship with Him, then it has to go.

To the Lord

…and he is consecrated to the Lord throughout the entire period. (Numbers 16:8 TLB)

So you see, it’s not a matter of “giving this up” or “giving that up.” It’s a matter of devoting yourself to the Lord. Giving something up for the sake of giving something up is useless. Giving something up because you think it makes God happy is not what this is about. The Nazarite person was a separated person – separated from certain activities of the world so that they could take more time in serving God. It’s not that God derives some kind of strange joy in wanting to keep certain things away from certain people. It’s that He wants to spend more time with His people. He wants His people to get to know Him in a more profound way. Our Lord described it this way:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34 NIV)

Did you see that? It’s not just “denying,” it’s “following.” But you shouldn’t think that Jehovah or Jesus thinks that devotion to Him is all about legalistic works apart from the right attitude of the heart. Remember, the vow was completely voluntary; it was a matter of the heart. How long it lasted was up to the individual. Serving the Lord is up to you. And that’s how God wants it to be. He wants you to want to serve Him. He coerces no one.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)

God wants all of His children to be Nazarites in their heart and in spirit.

Public

The nature of the Nazarite vow was that it was completely out in the open, for all to see. You could spot a Nazarite a mile away. He was the guy with messy, unkempt hair. His hair, so to speak, was a public testimony to his character. You couldn’t hide the fact that you were a Nazarite. The consecrated, dedicated, and separated life of the believer cannot be hidden, either.

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:15, 16 TLB)

You shouldn’t brag about your relationship with Jesus Christ, but you shouldn’t hide it either. You shouldn’t keep your faith from anybody, for any reason.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26 NKJV)

A special benediction

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24 – 26 TLB)

Following all the verses concerning the Nazarite law of separation, we read about the grace of God. The so-called Aaronic blessing (verses 22-27) was given to all Israelites, but it was especially relevant to the Nazarites. If God promised to bless the average Israelite, how much more would He bless the ones completely devoted to Him?

In this benediction, we see the attitude of God. We’ve looked at what the attitude of His people should be toward Him and what He wants, and now we see His attitude. And what is God’s attitude toward His people? He blesses them. God isn’t “out to get them.” He blesses them. Or more accurately, He wants to bless them.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17 NKJV)

If we take this verse literally, and we should, God blesses His people and that’s all He does. “There is no variation of shadow of turning.” God won’t change His mind regarding the people He loves and blesses.

But there’s more to this blessing:

…the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:25 NIV)

What a beautiful statement. There’s nothing for you to fear in God’s presence. He’s not scowling at you. He’s not making a mean face when He looks at you. If you are His child, His face is beaming.

Lastly, we come to this:

…the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:26 NIV)

The Lord will never turn His back on the ones He loves. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? And not only that, God gives His people peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. Peace with Him.

The Bible is a divine Book. It’s divinely authored and ordered. There’s a reason why this benediction follows details concerning the Nazarite vow. God wants us to make the connection between complete consecration, dedication, and separation and God’s blessing. God’s very best is for those who love Him the most.

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 14

Revive Us Again!

Nehemiah 8

For people who don’t find history interesting, Nehemiah chapters 8—11 are a refreshing change of pace. The first 7 chapters of Nehemiah’s book are two parts history with one part of intrigue. Very often, the following 4 chapters are referred to “revival chapters,” because they contain all the elements of a genuine spiritual revival. Students of revivals throughout Church history will readily recognize the four elements:

  • A renewed and sincere interest in the Word of God and a return to expositional preaching;
  • A conviction of sin under the ministry of the Word of God;
  • Fasting, prayer, confession of sin, and heightened awareness of God’s justice and mercy;
  • A commitment to learn and follow the will of God.

When these four things are present in a church, then we might say that church is in a state of revival. Add verse 10 into the mix, and we not only have a revival, but a truly satisfied congregation:

…the joy of the LORD is your strength.

The setting of chapter 8 is found in the last verse of chapter 7:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns…

Let’s look at what happened when the people of Judah had finally settled in their towns. It all began with the Preacher.

1. The Preacher, 8:1

They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

We haven’t heard from Ezra in a long time; it had been years since the end of his book and the beginning of Nehemiah’s. But Ezra hadn’t been idle during those years. While he may not have been directly involved in Nehemiah’s reconstruction efforts, he was very much involved in his own reconstruction efforts. Scholars generally agree that Ezra had already been teaching the Scriptures to the people of Judah; he was “reconstructing” the Law of God in their hearts. This was important because the generation now living in Jerusalem had no exposure to the Temple, the festivals, or most of the aspects of the religious life of their parents and grandparents; they had to be taught, and Ezra did just that.

It was not accident or coincidence that the people asked Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. Their hearts were ready for more of God and ripe for a move of God.

2. The Place of Meeting, 8:3, 4

It’s hard enough for a modern preacher find a congregation that can pay attention to the Word of God for a mere one hour Sunday morning, but here, Ezra read the Word of the Lord all day, and the people listened!

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. (verse 4a)

So we have recorded for us the first time a pulpit was used in the ministry of God’s Word. It wasn’t the Baptists that invented it, it was the people of Ezra’s day. It was a special elevated platform (the Hebrew means “tower”) built specifically for this purpose, about 300 feet from the Temple grounds.

To most people, a 40 minute sermon seems like an eternity, but the people who had gathered to hear Ezra had been in captivity all their lives; they heard stories about the old days when God moved during the ministry of His Word; they had a taste of His Word and they were hungry for more.

3. The Listeners, 8:2—3; 5—6

A. They were many but not all, verse 2

the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Notice who was there to hear the Word: those who could understand it. This tells us a couple of things. First, from the perspectives of Ezra and Nehemiah, some preparations must have been made. Ezra had prepared their hearts for more through his ministry. Perhaps they made arrangements for babies and children to be looked after so as to keep distractions down to a minimum. But also, not every citizen was there; some didn’t show up for “whatever” reason. Maybe they had better things to do that morning, like wash their cars or plant their gardens. The point is, a true revival of faith is brought about when faithful followers of Christ have an interest and show up.

Second, the people that cared enough to show up that day already had an understanding of Scriptures. They didn’t need to be taught more; they didn’t need to be convinced to listen to Ezra. They understood what God wanted of them because they understood the Scriptures.

These things help us understand the nature of a true revival. It starts, not with an evangelist and praise band; it begins with individual believers who are already sold out to God; who are already in His Word and devoted to studying it. To those, revival comes.

B. They listened, verse 3

And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

This verse is quite remarkable for two reasons. First, the people, who already had an understanding of Scriptures because they knew them, listened “attentively” as Ezra read it. They knew it, they could probably recite it, yet they still listened “attentively.” They paid strict attention as they heard the Word being read. This is really astonishing. Very often, we Christians, who are so familiar with the Bible, have the bad habit of skipping over the verses or stories we think we know so well. They were more interested in the book than the preacher; they sought the message, not the man.

The other reason this verse is so remarkable is the fact that the those who gathered to hear the Word read, stayed and listened “from daybreak till noon .” Imagine that! For some 5 hours or longer, the faithful stood and listened as Ezra read the Scriptures. Talk about devotion and reverence. They were really interested; they had been held in exile for 70 years, finally they’re out and they can’t get enough of the Word of God!

C. They were reverent, verse 5

and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

They didn’t have padded pews to sit on. They stood up as Ezra read the Word for 5 hours. They stood up; a sign of reverence and obedience. These people, as a show of their high regard for the Scriptures and of their devotion to its admonitions, “stood up.” No wonder revival came to these people; they were ready for it every way.

D. They responded, verse 6

They people responded in two stunning ways:

…and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”

When the crowd shouted, “Amen! Amen!,” they were basically shouting to Ezra, “We’re with you! We’re with you!” And the fact that they repeated it twice shows how intense the feeling was behind their affirmation.

Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their second response was to “bow down.” This phrase occurs only a handful of times in the Old Testament and it’s an undignified posture. These people got down on all fours, with their foreheads on the ground in humble, reverential worship of God.

From the posture, they “worshiped” God. They responded to the demands of the Word by assuming a humbling position and offering God the adoration of their hearts. They yielded completely to the Scriptures with all their being.

4. The preacher

A. He blessed the Lord, verse 6

Ezra praised the LORD

Literally, Ezra the preacher began by “blessing the Lord.” He recognized God as “the great God,” far greater than himself or his ideas. The message of God was great; Ezra was merely a messenger. To “bless” the Lord means to make God smile. When we bless the Lord, we make God happy.

B. He stuck to the Book and spoke clearly, verse 8

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems as though several preachers read and interpreted the Scriptures that day in addition to Ezra. Some scholars think Ezra was the “head reader” and the Levites were assigned by him to paraphrase the Hebrew into the language of the exiles. Some of those born in exile may not have had a good understanding of the Hebrew language, so Ezra made sure that he did whatever was necessary to make the plain meaning of the Word clear, and the people understood.

Ezra and the Levites made the Law of God clear, they did not teach their own ideas. They simply enabled the people to grasp what was being read: the Book of the Law. They did no engage in silly histrionics in trying to make it more interesting. How different from today’s church, where all manner worldly methods are employed in “preaching the Word.”

As R.L. Stevenson correctly observed: “The Bible should be read as freshly as a book, not dreamingly as the Bible.”

Ezra and the Levites were not song-and-dance men, they were not entertainers. Their job was to make the people understand the Word of God. For the preacher, it is not enough simply to read a verse or two and tell humorous stories. It’s not enough for the people in the pews to simply hear the Word. They must use their reasoning minds to understand it; to grasp intelligently the mind of God.

We have to admire Ezra as much as we admire Nehemiah, for he was faithfully adhering to the prophet Jeremiah’s admonition:

Let the prophets who have dreams tell their dreams, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)

5. The effect of the Word

A. They wept, verse 9

For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

This was the first response of the people to the Word of God. They were filled with sorrow because of a consciousness that the Law of God had been broken. The powerful exposition of God’s Word will always bring about a deep conviction of sin. Notice, it wasn’t a hymn or worship chorus that brought about the tears, it was the preaching (exposition) of the Word of God. This is what brings about revival in a person’s heart. Revival is not an emotional gimmick, but a conviction of the heart caused by an honest exposition of God’s Word, not a manipulation of it.

This kind of sorrow is not a kind of self-centered remorse, but a genuine sadness of knowing how far from God’s ideal you have fallen and how much you have offended Him. But this kind or sorrow is not meant to last long:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

B. They rejoiced, verse 12

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

When the Ezra and Nehemiah saw the people weeping, they said something that may sound odd at first, but was actually very wise:

This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” (verse 9)

This revival among the people was NOT about the people; it was about God. The day during which the Word was read was a holy day to God; it was set apart for HIM, not THEM. Had the people continued in their weeping and mourning, the day would have degenerated into a wishy-washy self-centered celebration of emotionalism, and that is not what a revival is for. The religious leaders forced the people to get a grip on their emotions and to remember Whose day this was.

Then they told the people what they should be doing:

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (verse 10)

Repentance was to be followed by celebration. God’s Word, at first, may cause sadness and conviction and it may cause a heart to melt or break, but that’s not the end it! The end-goal of godly conviction must always be rejoicing and celebration in the Lord. Or, another way to look at it: mourning because of sin must always precede the joy of salvation.

C. They ministered to those in their midst in need, verse 10

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.

The beautiful words at the end of verse 10 have formed the basis of many sermons: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Now you know the context. Repentance, followed by joy leads to service, which leads to the ability to tap into God’s strength. This is how believers look after each other. Those who have share with those who don’t have, in the strength of the Lord. True revival will lead to needs within the community of faith being met.

The Word of the Lord, read and taught faithfully, will bring about a revival in the hearts of those who hear it IF they are seeking more of the Lord. The Word of the Lord will convict of sin, which will lead to repentance, ending in joy. This idea of “joy” was one reason why John wrote his first letter:

We write this to make our joy (or your) complete. (1 John 1:4)

God does not want any believer to be miserable, He doesn’t want you to have a little bit of fun. God wants His people to have a whole lot of fun around His word and in service to Him. Studying the Word of God and listening to its exposition ought to bring an abundance of joy into your life. If it doesn’t, there is a problem in your life that you need to face up to. Something is seriously wrong with a Christian who has no interest in God’s Word; no interest in reading it, studying it, hearing it preached, and no interest in Christian fellowship. Those are the things that must precede any revival.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

PSALM 84: A Hunger For the House of God

Psalm 84

Psalm 84 is a most amazing psalm to study because it contains to many different genres. It’s a hymn, lament, and a song of Zion all at the same time. It is also difficult to determine where this belongs in Hebrew history. What we do know about Psalm 84 is given in its superscription:

For the director of music. According to gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

This song was written for the Sons of Korah, not by the Sons of Korah. Who were these men? The Sons of Korah served at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple in Jerusalem. We have to go all the way back to 1 Chronicles 26 to learn about the history of this family.

The divisions of the gatekeepers: From the Korahites: Meshelemiah son of Kore, one of the sons of Asaph. (verse 1)

In the list of names that follow, we note that they all descend from Asaph and Kore. Asaph we know about, he was a musician and worship leader in the Temple during David’s time. But who was Korah? You will recall that Korah has the dubious distinction of having been swallowed up by the earth because he led a revolt against Moses. The whole story is found in Numbers 16 and proves one thing: our God is a God that forgives! By the time this psalm was written, Korah’s descendants were seen faithfully serving the Lord in the Temple.

1. Longing to be in God’s house, 84:1—4

The emphasis of these first four verses is not the house God but rather one man’s longing for the house of God.

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (verse 2)

Clearly as far as the psalmist was concerned, there was no distinction between the house of God and being in the presence of God; they were one and the same thing. To be in God’s presence with God’s people was his heart’s cry. The question for believers today is this: Do we feel the same way as the psalmist did? The question isn’t, “Do you want to be in church,” but rather, “Do you want to be in God’s presence with God’s people?” The simple fact is, worshiping God with God’s people is not an option. That’s not to say that God is only with you when you are are with other believers. In fact, God is with you all the time when you are walking in the light. But it is God’s desire that believers fellowship and worship Him together.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24—25)

We might think it strange that there are Christians today who don’t like going to church, for whatever reason. But when we read the Hebrews 10, we realize that their have always been “believers” who recklessly disregard God’s will and stay away from church. The writer to the Hebrews makes it plain that true believers need to continue in fellowship with one another, in spite of what others may be doing.

The psalmist had the right attitude:

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. (verse 4)

Being assembled together, fellowshipping with other brothers and sisters and worshiping God is a blessing; it is in that atmosphere that God blesses His people. No wonder the psalmist was desperate to be in God’s house!

2. From strength to strength, 84:5—8

Even though the psalmist was not yet at the Temple, he can still enjoy the presence of God on the way there:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (verse 5)

Even just planning on going to worship gives the believer strength. The pilgrims of the Old Testament received strength for their journey to Jerusalem. Similarly, God moves on believers today whose hearts are inclined to His house.

Strength was definitely needed for some to get to Jerusalem; the journey was not without peril or danger. In fact, some scholars believe this psalm to have been written during the Exile, when there was no Temple and no Jerusalem! For those exiles living in Babylon, all they had were the memories of being in the Temple, worshiping with others. Even in those memories, though, strength could be found. That is how powerful the House of God can be!

Verse 7 speaks of “strength to strength.” What does that mean? Isaiah 40:31 gives us an idea:

[B]ut those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

“Strength to strength” is just another way of referring to “renewed strength,” which is the possession of all believers, as long as they are longing for the House of God. It is in worship and desiring to worship that strength is to be found.

3. The reward of being in God’s presence, 84:9—12

The blessings of God’s house are second only to the blessings of His own presence. So great is the author’s devotion to the house of God that time seems to stand still for him:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (verse 10)

Sadly, this isn’t the experience for many Christians at church. It’s amazing how long that one hour can be, from 11 till noon some Sundays! And yet, while we smile at such a sentiment, that was never how God intended our worship experience to be. Your worship experience, however, is not the responsibility of the pastor or worship leader. You need to come to church, full of anticipation and expectation; prayed up and ready to hear from God. For most church members, it seems like church is merely an afterthought, an activity tacked onto the end of the weekend; something to be done if you have the time. We sandwich our church service in between Sunday breakfast and lunch out some place with friends. Moffatt, in his translation of verse 10, paints a clear picture of how you should view your church-going experience:

I would rather sit at the threshold of God’s house than live inside the tents of worldly men.

In other words, the psalmist would rather be “close” to God’s house than “inside” anybody else’s. I hope that’s how you feel about your church. Of course, the problem with today’s Christian isn’t so much the temptation to be “inside the tents of worldly men,” it’s the temptation to stay in bed!

With verse 11, the psalmist gives us what the presence of the Lord is like, and this may explain why some believers would rather not be in church:

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

The thoughtless, careless Bible reader sees only the phrase “no good thing does he withhold,” and clings to it. But because that thoughtless, careless Bible reader misses the qualifier, “from those whose walk is blameless,” he lives in disappointment. His God is fickle and mean; his prayers are full of promises—bribes, really, as he tries to pry a blessing out of God. You can’t expect to receive anything from God if you are not trying to live in accordance to His teachings! Imagine the complete folly of calling yourself a Christian, yet giving virtually no evidence in support of that claim and still expecting God to answer a prayer.

The fact that “God is a sun” must scare the daylights out of that kind of careless Christian. For as surely as the sun above sheds light on everything below, so God as the sun shines light on that person’s true character, for all to see. Let’s face it, we all want to appear to be better than we really are, and if going to church risks the revelation of our sad relationship with God, then we stay away, thinking we are preserving the illusion. Of course, in staying away we fool no one.

But God is also “a shield.” Some see this as symbolic of His protection. While this may be so, can the shield not represent God’s grace, which covers penitent and repentant worshipers? God as the sun may reveal our disgrace, but God as a shield covers that disgrace with His grace, making us acceptable in His sight. What a marvelous picture of a God who love us more than anything.

Finally, the psalmist ends his psalm the way he began it; by addressing the “Lord Almighty.”

LORD Almighty, blessed are those who trust in you.

In relation to the Lord Almighty, those who trust in Him are blessed. Throughout this psalm, there has been the thought that as believers are faithful to the house of God, make every effort to be in the house of God, worshiping and fellowshipping with other like-minded believers, that they would be blessed by God. But there is the strand of another thought, running parallel to that thought, and it is this: the blessing promised by God doesn’t just drop on a believer simply by virtue of his being in the house of God like he is supposed to be. In fact, his whole being must long to be there. Being in God’s presence with God’s people must be something he wants more than anything. And this, more than anything else, may be why so many Christians today live disappointed with the quality of their lives. Everything else is more important than the house of God to them—their families, their jobs or careers, their vacations, well, you get the idea. And as they give preference to those temporal things, they do themselves eternal harm because they are missing out on the very best God has to offer.

Don’t be that kind mindless, careless, thoughtless Christian whose life is so full he has no room for God and God’s House!  In the end, you will probably find out that without God, your life wasn’t nearly as full as you thought it was.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

Missing Christians are NO Christians

emptypews 

Here is an article written by Jim Elliff, which I acquired from Steve Camp’s blog, Camp on This.  Although written about Southern Baptists, it could easily have been written about any denomination.   After decrying the disparity between the number of people on a church’s membership roll and the number of members who actually attend that church’s Sunday service, Elliff makes the following excellent observations:

What do these facts and figures, as general as they are, suggest?

First, they reveal that most of the people on our rolls give little evidence that they love the brethren—a clear sign of being unregenerate (1 Jn. 3:14). It is impossible to believe that anything like real familial affection exists in the hearts of people who do not come at all, or who only nominally check in on Sunday morning as a cultural exercise. Love is the greatest mark of a genuine believer (1 Jn.3:14-19). Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but “forsaking the assembling,” is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart. The phrase: “They went out from us, because they were never of us” (1 Jn. 2:19) may have doctrinal overtones, but it nonetheless represents many on our membership rolls.

Second, these numbers suggest that most of those who do not attend (or who only come when it is convenient), are more interested in themselves than God. To put it in Paul’s words, they are “fleshly-minded” and not “spiritually-minded” (Rom. 8: 5-9). The atmosphere that most pleases them is that of the world and not God. They can stand as much of God as makes them feel better about themselves, and they find a certain carnal security in “belonging” to a local church. But beyond that, they will politely resist getting involved. They use the church, but are not really a part of it. For some, the extent of what they can take is an Easter service now and then; for others it is an occasional sterile (and somewhat Pharisaical) trip to church on appropriate Sunday mornings as fits into their schedule. But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections. The fact is, you do what you love to do.

Third, the numbers indicate that some people have joined other denominations and our churches have not kept up with their movements—a sign of inadequate pastoral oversight and the built-in deficiencies of the “inactive membership” concept. I’m quite certain Paul never dreamed of “inactive membership.” Embarrassingly, some left on the rolls are dead—physically! It goes without saying that a dead person is about as inactive as one could be! But others, though presumably alive physically, have disappeared without a trace. I believe it was our beloved Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS who said, “Even the FBI could not find some of them.” Yet, if we want to claim them as members, we are responsible to keep up with them.

All of these people have “prayed the prayer” and “walked the aisle.” All have been told that they are Christians. But for most, old things have not really passed away, and new things have not come. Most are not new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In too many cases, obvious signs of an unregenerate heart can be found, such as bitterness, long-term adultery, fornication, greed, divisiveness, covetousness, etc. These are “professing believers” that the Bible says are deceived. “Do not be deceived” the Bible warns us concerning such people (see 1 Cor.6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6: 7-8; Eph. 5:5-6; Titus 1:16; 1 Jn. 3:4-10; etc.).

Jesus indicated that there is a good soil that is receptive to the gospel seed so as to produce a fruit-bearing plant, but that the “rocky ground” believer only appears to be saved. The latter shows immediate joy, but soon withers away (Mt. 13:6, 21). This temporary kind of faith (which is not saving faith, see 1 Cor.15:1-2) is rampant among Southern Baptists. In The Baptist Faith and Message we say we believe that saving faith is persistent to the end. We say we believe in the preservation and perseverance of the saints (once saved, always persevering). In other words, if a person’s faith does not persevere, then what he possessed was something other than saving faith.

In John 2:23-25 Jesus was the center-piece for what turned out to be a mass evangelism experience in which a large number of people “believed” in Him. Yet He did not entrust Himself to even one of them because “he knew their hearts.” Is it possible that we have taken in millions of such “unrepenting believers” whose hearts have not been changed? I say that we have. Our denomination, as much as we may love it, is on the main, unregenerate. Even if you double, triple, or quadruple my assessment of how many are true believers, we still have a gigantic problem. It is naive to believe otherwise.

There are those who would say that such people are “carnal Christians” and don’t deserve to be thought of as unregenerate. It is true that the Corinthian believers (about whom this phrase was used; see 1 Cor. 3:1-3) acted “like mere men” in their party spirit. Christians can commit any sin short of that which is unpardonable.

Undoubtedly, however, Paul did suspect that some of the Corinthians were unbelievers, for he later warns them about such a possibility in 2 Cor.12:20-13:5. A long-term and unrepentant state of carnality, is, after all, the very description of the unregenerate (Rom. 8:5-14, 1 Jn. 3:4-10, etc.). In calling some people “carnal” Paul did not mean to imply that he was accepting as Christian a lifestyle that he clearly describes elsewhere as unbelieving. He wrote, in the same letter: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9-11, etc.). Apparently there were some, even then, who were deceived into thinking that an unrighteous man or woman who professes faith in Christ could really be a Christian!

What must be done? I suggest five responses:

1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, “Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does.” Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot “unsave” true believers.

It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded “sinner’s prayer,” or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don’t forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.

2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.

Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See “Restoring Those Who Fall,” in Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, http://www.CCWonline.org)

Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God’s Word is.

We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.

3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional “invitation system.” We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.

Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his “new measures.” Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a “decision.” Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an “altar call.” His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.

We don’t need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of “converts” are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See “Closing with Christ,” http://www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)

The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See “Childhood Conversion,” http://www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)

4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God’s sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.

As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than “admitting that you are a sinner.” Also, “Inviting Christ into your heart,” a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God’s judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.


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