Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Gift God Wants First

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

They were supposed to bring gifts and offerings. There were regularly scheduled sacrifices to be made. There were sin offerings. There were thank offerings. All of these were good and right under the law given through Moses.

We too should make an offering to our Lord. We should give of our means (1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8 & 9). But most of all we should, in view of his mercy toward us, give ourselves to the Lord ( 2 Cor 8:5; Rom 12:1-).

But there is another gift that our God desired far above their offering they made at the Temple, and desires far above any gift of money or Christian service that we can offer. He wants us to be reconciled to our fellowman. Peace is not always within our reach. Some people will refuse our efforts at reconciliation. But as much as it depends on us, we should strive to be at peace with others (Rom 12:18).

Parents may need their children's or grandchildren's financial support. If they do, it should be given (1 Tim 5:3-16). But most parents would rather that their children be at peace with one another. This is a greater gift than any sum of money we could give our parents.

God does not need our financial support. We need to give, because it is good for us, but God is not in need of support (Psalm 50:9-12). What he wants far more than our gifts and offerings is that his children be at peace with one another.

So, if you know that your brother has something against you, do what you can to correct the situation. That is the gift God wants first.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Have No Excuse

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

Flip Wilson's excuse was always the same. "The devil made me do it," he would say. Flip has company. Many people excuse their sin as the inevitable result of the circumstances. There are serious problems with this excuse.

In the first place, quite often we created the circumstances we try to use as an excuse. We go where we should not be, with people we should not have made our companions, and then attempt to use the influences that we willfully placed ourselves under as an excuse for our sin. To be mitigating, the circumstance must be beyond our control. When we have created the circumstances that lead us into sin, those circumstances do not lessen our guilt. They instead make it clear that our guilt is greater.

More importantly, we have the assurance of God that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. When we give in to sin, it is a choice. It is something we choose to do, not something we were forced to do. That we are not forced to sin is seen in the fact that many have endured. We have faced no temptation that was not faced before. The fact that some have resisted proves that we too could resist, if we would.

Poverty is often used as an excuse for violence and theft. Really? Has every poor person throughout history become a thief? Of course not.

We sometimes here immorality excused as a sin that is unavoidable, at least by the youth. Really? Every human throughout history has felt the lusts of the flesh. But many millions have not succumbed.

Let's stop making excuses. Let us instead seek forgiveness and restoration. Let us seek to be free of sin, not just to dodge sin's consequences.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Preparation and Participation

During our vacation, Chery and I visited five different congregations. I always find it interesting to see what other congregations are doing.

For me, the most interesting visit was the first Wednesday night of our vacation. We met with a small congregation. There were only 16 present for the Bible study. Everyone met together (from preteens to senior citizens). Everyone participated to some extent. The class was, from my observation, a very positive experience. It seemed to me that there were two keys to the success of the class.
No one wasted time apologizing for the fact that this little congregation could not offer several different classes on Wednesday evening. They just went ahead with what they could do and encouraged everyone to take part. And most did take part. Participation was one key.

They could participate because they had come prepared to do so. Not only was it clear that several had read the lesson in advance, some of them (who had not been blessed with much formal schooling) had read the lesson and looked up the unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

The lesson booklet was good, but not outstanding. The teacher's methods were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The people came prepared and then participated. Those were the keys.

Let me suggest to you that these are normally the keys to enjoying Bible classes and worship. Those who stay up late Saturday night and arrive at class or worship tired and unprepared, have no right to complain about the class, the sermon, the singing, or anything else.

Come prepared -- well rested, well read, and in the right frame of mind. Participate -- sing out, comment if asked to do so, think over what is being said and try to apply it to your specific situation. If you do these things you will find less and less to complain of; you will find more and more that is of benefit.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Substitute For Evangelism

"The seed is the word of God" Luke 8:11 (ESV)

The word evangelism is used lots of different ways today. Most of this usage is unbiblical. If we are to claim to have restored the New Testament church, we need to learn to use the key words of the Bible the way the Bible uses them.

The word evangelism is a transliteration of euangelizesthai, which is a verb meaning "to proclaim the gospel" (the gospel being euangelion). Where no proclamation has taken place, there has been no evangelism. Where something other than the biblical gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.

Good deeds, hard work, dedication, honesty, and kindness are all good things, but they are not evangelism. These other good things may help prepare people to hear the word of salvation (Titus 2:9-10), but until that word has been spoken we have not evangelized.
A farmer needs to prepare his ground. If it is new ground he clears it of trees, rocks, and other obstructions. The ground must then be plowed and harrowed. But the job is not done until he has planted the seed. No matter how well he has plowed, the farmer has no hope of a harvest until he has planted the seed. Likewise, until the gospel word has been presented, the church has no hope of a harvest of souls.

Benevolence is benevolence. It is a good thing, but it is not evangelism. Edification is edification. It also is a good thing, but it is not evangelism. Nothing is evangelism except the proclamation of the gospel. These other good things may be important preliminaries to the proclaiming of the gospel - just as clearing and plowing and harrowing prepare for sowing the seed. But unless the word has been planted we have not evangelized.

Jesus did not just set a good example and expect people to be converted. He spoke the word. We do not set nearly as good of an example as he did, so we must not hide behind claims that we have evangelized by means of good deeds. If Jesus needed to speak the word, we need to speak the word.

There is no substitute for evangelism. Until the gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.