In the shadow of your wings

The Hebrew word tsêl is used in Psalms 13 times. Most of the time it is translated “shadow.” Sometimes it is translated “shade.” King David used it to describe death in Psalm 23 writing “the valley of the shadow of death.”  But in Psalm 63:7, he used the same word by writing, “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”

The king had known desperate and dangerous times in his life. His predecessor, Saul, hunted him and wanted to kill him. His son Absalom took his palace and wanted his crown. Certainly, there were times in David’s life when he must have wondered how much longer he had to live.

But in Psalm 63:7, possibly written as David fled Absalom he was able to say, “In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”

There is no fear when one lives in divine protection. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6 NKJV).

Are you living like this, or does fear dog your steps? Do you wish you could say as David did, “In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy?”

Well known speaker

Preachers don’t usually have editorial privileges over the flyers that are mailed to announce a gospel meeting.

One came today introducing the good brother who is to speak at a meeting as a “well-known speaker.” I think this is like a title that is supposed to provide some kind of inducement to attend a gospel meeting (revival).

Personally, I can only think of one inducement that will get me to attend a gospel meeting or revival, and that’s whether the speaker will preach the word of Almighty God.

In my years preaching, I’ve seen “well-known speakers” stand and tell jokes for 30 minutes, return to seriousness for three minutes and then conclude their “lesson” that really didn’t teach anything. They may be well-known, but they’re not gospel preachers.

It’s almost like we’re living in the days of the prophets in that we exist at a time when there is a famine for the word of God (Amos 8:11). Amos said the famine he described was not one of food to eat. It was a famine of God’s word. In this age of two and three-day gospel meetings where church leaders think they are providing the gospel to the lost,  they are starving the lost AND their own members that need pure, rich spiritual food.

That’s a shame.

What kind of growth for the church?

The Bible commands churches to grow. What kind of growth does the Bible require?

Many brethren would say the Bible requires spiritual growth and that is correct. Yet, the way many church leaders act only numerical growth is desirable.

How are preachers selected? Many are hired by elders and/or committees by the single most prevalent yardstick: numerical growth. In my more than 30 years as a preacher, I’ve seen it dozens of times. Many congregations of the Lord’s church hire preachers by how many baptisms were recorded at that candidate’s current work and how many new members are documented.

Not every church is like this, but many of them are. The alarming thing is that numerical growth was never commanded in the New Testament. Never.

The New Testament does command spiritual growth, but many congregations don’t know how to gauge that “metric,” so they don’t concern themselves with it. Why don’t they know? Don’t they understand how spiritual growth occurs? Why don’t they equate spiritual growth with success? Isn’t that how God views it?

The apostle Peter wrote about how Christians are supposed to grow. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Peter 3:18 NKJV). The apostle Paul also wrote, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15 NKJV).

The Bible says that spiritual growth is necessary. Yet many brethren don’t even know what constitutes such growth. The answer is simple. If the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of God’s word is preached, then spiritual growth occurs.

I have seen churches acquire 200 members almost overnight. That is not necessarily spiritual growth, though, is it? In one case I witnessed, a 30-member church ballooned to 230 members on one Sunday because a division occurred at a large church not far away. Some might consider that a success. The only characterization that deserves is sadness.

Why is it that some elders and search committee members use numerical growth to indicate professional success? They do it because it’s easy. But the truth is often never easy. The truth is that some charged with hiring preachers are not engaged by trying to find one that will help grow a church spiritually like they should and instead go for the quick fix they believe will give their congregations want they want: numbers.

Without the cloud

Israel had one thing that all the other nations living around them would never have. It was almost like a trademark. They had the presence of God’s glory in a visible cloud.

All this began early in Israel’s history as it left Egypt. God led the way in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13: 21-22; 16:10; 19:9, 16). The Canaanite nations with their idol temples had nothing like this. Perhaps the priests of Baal and the Astarte attempted to replicate it in some way, but such would have been a vain attempt.

Solomon witnessed the cloud of God’s presence when the Temple was dedicated (1 Kings 8:10-12). God promised he would be with Israel and its king in such a way as long as they obeyed his commandments.

We no longer enjoy a visible apparition of God’s presence. We don’t really need it. We have his son’s promise he would always be with us (Matthew 28:20). Faith is believing in God’s word without the need to see anything miraculous (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Many people still want to justify their belief in God by some kind of miracle. They want to see God to believe in him. Unfortunately, they don’t understand the nature of faith. They have been blinded by the teachings of people they’ve never met: empiricists like David Hume who lived in the 1700s taught knowledge only comes from the five human senses. The empiricists said that knowledge only comes from a person’s five senses and nowhere else.

We know that faith comes from reading and understanding God’s word (Romans 10:17). This is the only way to true faith because faith comes from the evidence of God’s word (Hebrews 11:1). The apostle Paul told the Ephesian members of the church that when they read what Paul wrote, then they would know what he knew (Ephesians 3:4).

Many, however, continue to discount what the Bible says about faith because they want something they can’t have. They want the cloud Israel possessed. They need to see God without the cloud.

I meant well

How many times has this been said and by how many people: “I meant well.”

How many times? Hundreds? Thousands? Those three little words are uttered all the time. The phrase is meant to evoke a particular response, which usually is, “Aw, that’s okay.” Well, it isn’t okay. So why do we say it?

The phrase may mean, “I wanted to do something good, but I never got around to it. I meant well.”

That’s not good enough. It won’t please your boss. It won’t make your husband or wife happy. It won’t be good enough for the Lord Jesus. Those three words are just an admission of failure and laziness.

Perhaps what the three-word phrase really means is, “I neglected to do what was right.” Certainly, this is closer to the truth, isn’t it? Most of the things we intended to do and fail to finish we meant to do but didn’t. The result is “I meant well.”

Jesus taught a parable about a landowner going on a long trip and gave his servants five, two and one talent. The talent was about 33 kg. and a talent of silver would be worth about $16,000. Two of the servants immediately got to work and made more money. But the one talent man dug a hole and buried his money. When the landowner settled accounts, he was angry with the one-talent man. I think we know why.

“I meant well” sounds like a good excuse, but it isn’t. It means “I’ve failed.” The one-talent man failed not because he had no ability, but because he was lazy. And this is the principal reason why people don’t get their work done. “I meant well,” makes our negligence seem okay. It isn’t.

Why didn’t Solomon listen?

Solomon was God’s choice to become king of Israel after his father, David. In 1 Kings chapter 2, David gave his son some great advice. The first part of it dealt with the absolute necessity of learning and obeying God’s commandments (1 Kings 2:3-4). In the second part, David warned his son of his enemies and impressed Solomon with the need to deal with them.

From the totality of Solomon’s life, we know he listened intently to the second part but forgot the first. He immediately dealt with his father’s enemies. Over his lifetime, however, he should have remembered what his father told him about the need to obey the Lord’s commands.

We should listen to David’s words, too, because many of us were not listening in our youth, were we? Many people reject obedience to God, even in religion. But the very word religion means conformance to and an obligation to keep commands.

God never issued his commands in the Old and New Testament as something we might like to do. If so, they never would have been called commandments, would they? Remember, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15).


The Leap

In “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the archeologist is required to negotiate several booby traps to retrieve the “Cup of Christ” that supposedly had held his blood at the crucifixion. It supposedly had healing powers. 

The last of the obstacles Jones must overcome is by stepping out on a stone bridge that is well camouflaged and invisible. He says, “It’s the ‘Leap of Faith.'” Many people have used this very term to describe setting out on a course of action that is either unknown or unknowable. Jones took a step he considered was into a void. It wasn’t. It was a stone bridge. It most certainly was not a “Leap of Faith.”

Faith, as defined by the Bible, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice, please, the writer says faith is SUBSTANCE and EVIDENCE. It is not a “leap” into the unknown. The evidence that gives faith is the Bible. The substance is the overwhelming truth that God’s word is the very underpinning of our belief in the 100-percent proven inspired and inerrant word of God (Romans 10:17).

In the New Year…

The last post on this blog was in October, so if you are reading this, thanks. You’ve really hung in there.

The New Year is a great time of reflection and renewed purpose. I preached a lesson last Sunday (Dec. 30) from a book of sermons by Gus Nichols that someone gave me about 50-years ago. It was a pretty well-known acrostic of HAPPY NEW YEAR. Any advice I could give you would have to do with the “H” in “Happy.” It stands for “HOLD.”

Hold on to your faith this year because many people won’t. Unhappily, many people will quit following Jesus, turn their backs on him and walk away.

It probably won’t happen all at once. Most will have weakened faith by failing to study the Bible. The Psalmist wrote, “The entrance of your word gives light,” (Psalm 119:130 NKJV). When a person rarely or never allows the word of God to enter their minds, there is only darkness. One cannot walk in the dark without the danger of hitting something.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession,” (Hebrews 4:14 NKJV). In my opinion, the theme of the book of Hebrews is precisely this. It is mentioned three times from chapter three to chapter ten. It is central to understanding it.

One of the best pictures of weakening faith is a word picture in Hebrews 2:1. In it, we see a boat sitting at a dock, but the rope that holds it to its mooring has been untied. It begins to drift, finally leaves and disappears. When a person stops studying God’s word drifting can occur. The result, if not corrected, is spiritual weakness and ultimately the loss of faith. It is a silent and spiritually deadly process.

Let me encourage you to do two things. First, make sure this process doesn’t take root in your life. Secondly, warn others not to let it happen to them.

Thanks for reading this. Have a Happy New Year!

It never fails

Every election year, it never fails. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are so headstrong about political parties that they become willing to alienate me or anyone else in favor of their candidate. They will go so far as to actually divide the body of Christ along party lines. They post their liberal or conservative ideas on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ in an attempt to make a distinction between right (which is what they think they are) and the rest of us (who must be wrong).

Brother Cecil May in “Preacher Talk,” his publication, wrote, “In the church, the kingdom of the Prince of Peace, ‘traditionalists’ rail against ‘progressives,’ and ‘progressives’ brag they are no longer the phariseistic legalists they once were and that most members of the church now are.”

Then Bro. May wrote, “Where are the peacemakers?” Brother, have I been waiting for someone to ask THAT question!

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are fomenting division EVERY ELECTION YEAR on the basis of Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative. Are we trying to divide the body of Christ along party lines? WHY? Why isn’t unity as important to US as it was to Jesus (John 17)?

A nation of scofflaws

The stop sign pictured in this post is about 75 yards away from our house in Tennessee. Does it look bent and beaten up? That’s because it was hit repeatedly by cars. It also seems that, no matter how red the sign is or how big and white the letters are, this sign is incapable of stopping anyone.

This sign and dozens of others like it (including speed limit signs) are ignored by almost everyone every day in our nation. Let’s be clear: these signs are not suggestions. They have the force of law. Refusing to stop at the stop sign is an offense punishable by a fine.

That means very little to almost everyone who comes to that intersection. Routinely, people refuse to make a complete stop. Most people don’t even slow down. Drivers everywhere are united in their disdain for speed limits almost normally driving 10-20 miles per hour faster than posted speed laws.

No matter how much safer automobiles have become, almost as many people were killed in automobile accidents in 2016 as in 1978. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the death rate soared above 10 percent in 2015 for the first time since the mid-1940s.

We have become a nation of scofflaws. We no longer have any respect for any law from the lowly stop sign to federal felonies. Our nation has become antinomian, meaning against law.

So, if we as a matter of normal behavior refuse to obey the laws of man, how much respect have we for the laws of God? Let’s look at an example. God and the Lord Jesus both commanded, “You shall not commit adultery,” (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 19:18; Romans 13:9). According to the American Psychological Association, infidelity in the United States accounts for 20-40 percent of divorces.

How many other laws are humans violating each day? How about, “You shall not steal?” If you think that the commandment of God in Exodus 20:15 is violated often, you’re right. Theft is among the most prevalent law violations in the U.S. In 2009 there were 15.6 million property thefts.

It seems we have the same disdain for God’s laws than we have for man’s. If it seems as though humanity is sinking into a moral abyss, it’s probably because it is. And, it’s become a slippery slope.

God has many commandments, but he has insisted on only one thing: obey him. He told Israel, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess,” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).

God places before us the same choice. So, how is our nation of scofflaws doing compared to the Israel that by transgression failed to obey God and was sent into captivity? Not any better?