Part 2 – Local Church, Why Bother?

In last Friday’s MDB, we reflected on why we should be a part of a local congregation. We need each other, just as body parts need each other and family members need each other.

As men especially, God has called us to be spiritual leaders, both in the home and in the church. Many times I have seen wives in churches alone or with their kids. Daddy didn’t come. I am grateful that many men reading this take seriously their G0d-appointed role to be an active part of a church.

There are many things done as a congregation, not as individuals.
  • Our collective worship: to sing, teach and pray together (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19).
  • We take the Lord’s Supper together (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinhians 11:17-34).
  • We gather up a collection to support preaching and benevolence (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:1-16).
  • We are to hold each other accountable to God’s standards (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3; Matthew 18:15-17). Church discipline by its very existence necessitates an identifiable body of believers. Study the phrase “among you” in the New Testament. How do you define “among you” without having an idea of who belongs and who does not in a local church? Just like in a family, a team, an army, a nation, or a company, we have to hold each other accountable. That, however, requires us to be committed to each other, vulnerable and transparent.
  • We provide comfort for each other as we share our sufferings with each other and pray with and for each other (2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11; Hebrews 12:12).
We need each other!

Another concept that helps us to understand our individual part of a collective whole is that we are “living stones” that are being “built up into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). Stones are joined together with mortar. Individual stones separated to themselves cannot form a wall or a house.

Some will balk at the term “church membership” because it is not used in the New Testament. True, but the word “members” is used, but not in the “club” sense of the word. We are members in the “body” sense of the word (Ephesians 5:30; 1 Corinthians 12). We are members in the “household” sense of the word (Ephesians 2:19). We are “members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).

The value of knowing each other:

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Finally, what do I do with the unruly? Warn them. What do I do with the fainthearted? Comfort them. What do I do with the weak? Uphold them. How on earth can I know whether you are fainthearted, weak or unruly unless I am committed to you and spend a great deal of time with you? This requires, therefore, that we make ourselves accountable and vulnerable to each other. As a result, when I am weak you can know I am not being unruly, and what I need is a helping hand not a warning. You can also know when I am being unruly, and what I need is a warning not comfort.

“Love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17).

The Fruit of the Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Fruit of the Spirit

Here are some thoughts about the Fruit of the Spirit for your meditation today.

It is a fruit; a result.

Fruit is a consequence. Fruit is a natural function of good soil, good seed, sunlight, moisture and good nutrition. The fruit naturally comes in that environment. Too many Christians are focused on the fruit end, in my opinion. We tell ourselves, “I need to be more loving,” or “I need to be more self-controlled.” Yes, we all do, but our focus should be on the root end, the nutrition, the soil. Into what are your roots tapped?

Fruit: singular. This is a collective noun.

You get all of these fruits, not just one or two of them. It is not that Bob is loving and joyful, but not kind, while John is self-controlled but not loving. Nope. God produces all of these fruits in the life of a Christian who is walking, living and being led by Him (Gal. 5:16,18,25).

It is the fruit “of the Spirit.”

This is God’s fruit, not yours. What is the fruit of humanity left to our own devices? Read the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 – that is the “fruit” of mankind. It isn’t pretty, is it? Furthermore, God’s fruit is the cultivating of His own character within us. These are His qualities. He is loving. He is kind. He is longsuffering. Read John 15, and notice how many times we are told to “abide” in the Jesus the True Vine. Because we are attached to the vine, we will naturally bear fruit. It is a result of His working, not ours.

How do I practically “live in the Spirit” and “walk in the Spirit”? How do I allow myself to be “led by the Spirit”?

If you go back to John 15, notice verse 7 where Jesus stated, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…” This is not something mystical or ethereal. It isn’t hard to understand. We have to plant the seed of God’s word into the good soil of our hearts and God will produce His fruit of righteousness (James 1:21). We have to remove the thorns and weeds of worldliness and materialism that “choke the word” and make it “unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Here are a few more verses for your study and reflection (Colossians 1:5-10; 1 Peter 1:23; 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Does God have expectations of growth and fruit?

He sure does. Read the parable of the vine in Isaiah 5:1-7 and you will see that God planted a vine and expected good grapes from it. Jesus cursed the fig tree in Matthew 21 as a message that He expects fruit. We are known by our fruits, Jesus said simply (Matthew 7:15-20; 12:33). Any branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and thrown into the fire. Any branch that bears fruit, God prunes that it may bear more fruit (John 15). God desires to produce the fruit of His divine nature within your life, men.

Tap into the vine today!

Clothing Consistent with the Claim

As fathers, we are charged with leading our sons and daughters in God’s ways, that includes how they dress. This is always an issue at all times of the year, but it is all the more important in the summer.

Clothing Consistent with the Claim

Teach them the value of their bodies and their souls. The world is constantly telling our children, our daughters especially, that value comes with having the “perfect body.” Sometimes, we as parents may even encourage that by the way we talk and behave ourselves, using words like “sexy.” As fathers, our words and our actions have incredible power in affecting how our children view themselves. We need to remind them that what truly matters to God is the heart. Here are a few passages to consider when discussing this with your children (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Proverbs 31:30).

Teach them that what they do with their bodies affects their souls. Our charge as fathers is to instruct our children to save their whole being for their spouses. Here are a few passages to consider when talking with them (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20; Proverbs 5-7).

Teach them that how they dress can be a stumbling-block to others. Sometimes as a father, I have had to give my daughters an education on how guys think. It isn’t a comfortable discussion…it is downright awkward, but they need to hear it. Yes, some guys will lust even if a girl is properly dressed, but if a girl dresses in such a way that draws a guys’ eyes to certain parts of her body, then she is creating temptation and a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:12-13). We must encourage our sons and our daughters to choose clothing consistent with the claim to godliness (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Fathers, that includes when it is hot outside. That includes when you are around water. God’s rules and God’s principles do not stop at the water’s edge.

Consider the environment in which you are placing them:

As a father, you should seriously consider the wisdom of putting your children in environments where they are really going to be tempted to look at immodestly dressed people. Immodesty is everywhere; you can’t completely avoid it. However, why would you willingly put your sons in an environment where ladies are walking around everywhere in bikinis? That’s like taking someone to a buffet and then telling them not to think about food! That also will affect your daughters, believe it or not. They are constantly comparing their body images with other girls. Find creative ways to get to the water without being around a bunch of immodestly dressed people. I know many Christians that do not agree with this. My wife and I have been told that we are extreme on this one, but I encourage all reading this to not dismiss what I am writing.

Prayerfully consider it.

An Indistinct Sound

For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8)

The apostle Paul, in his discussion regarding speaking in tongues, illustrated the importance of sending clear signals. To his point, if someone in those days was miraculously speaking in another language, but no one in the congregation knew what he was saying, then the speaker was merely talking into the air (vs. 9). You are not teaching or edifying when no one understands the message. Furthermore, if a bugler in an army made “an indistinct sound,” then the soldiers in the army would not know which action to take.

So, in the army, and in the church, if leaders and teachers make an indistinct sound, people cannot follow them. We need to send clear signals and distinct messages. The same is on the baseball field: the pitcher and catcher have signals that each knows and understands. The manager and the base coaches have signals that everyone on the team knows and understands.

Now, let’s apply this principle to marriage…do I send confusing and mixed messages to my wife?

Do I make an indistinct sound?
  1. Do I have one set of rules for me and another for my wife?
  2. Do I show support for my wife’s efforts and dreams one day, but on another day make it very difficult for her to believe I am supportive?
  3. Do I send mixed messages on whether I am fully devoted to her, and to her only?
  4. Do I make a consistent stand for God and for His ways, or does the situation at hand determine my ethics?

Something to think about today, men. If you are the head of the home, and your wife is to follow you just as she follows Christ, then are you sending her clear messages?

Give it some thought.

Beatitudes, Part 9

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

No one was more loving and compassionate than Jesus. No person was more careful about the words he said than Jesus. You will never find a human being who sacrificed more of himself for the good of others, including his enemies, than Jesus.

If there was any person that could preach, talk, and live in a way that should have not offended anyone, it was Jesus. But as I heard in a sermon recently by Kevin Clark, “Not even Jesus could pull that off!” In fact, Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26). They slaughtered Jesus, the most pure and loving person in history.

We will suffer persecution.

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). If people spoke against Jesus, then those around you will speak against you when you follow Jesus (John 15:18-19). I may want a pain-free walk with Jesus, but Jesus calls me to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him.

Persecution comes in various forms.
  • The liberal, godless media will make fun of your values.
  • Professors, fellow students and teammates will mock you publicly because you believe in God and His word.
  • Politicians and elected officials may mock the very morals and beliefs you hold dear, and they do so to thunderous applause.
  • Your spouse may decide to turn against you because of your convictions.
  • Close friends may abandon you because you desired to live for Jesus.
  • Your boss may fire you.
  • Your co-workers may deliberately do things to make you look bad in front of the boss.
  • Sometimes even Christians, who are holding hands with the world, will tease you and put down your beliefs. They do this for self-justification to assuage their own guilt.
Jesus says to “rejoice” because we are “blessed!”

We have God’s favor; God is smiling upon us. We are blessed for several reasons:

  • “Yours is the kingdom of heaven.” We are citizens, sons and heirs of His kingdom now! He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6)!
  • For so persecuted the prophets before you…” We also are blessed because we are in great company…the prophets of old (Elijah, Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah). That’s pretty good company!
  • “Great is your reward in heaven.” One day we all will be in heaven with God, and this temporary suffering will be swallowed up in God’s eternal glory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Local Church – Why Bother?

A local church – why bother? Many folks I’ve talked to over the years have argued that being part of a local congregation doesn’t matter. “I can be a Christian without being part of a church.” “I need Jesus, but I don’t need the church.”

If you are one who feels that way, I would like to challenge you from God’s word to think differently. I also hope that you will see what you are missing by not being part of a local congregation.

An individual is not the church.

I have heard people say many times, “I am the church.” Not true. The more accurate way to think of church is “assembly” or “congregation.” In the New Testament, the word “church” can refer to the body of Christ – all Christians everywhere (Ephesians 1:22-23). Church is also used to describe local bodies of believers who join together to do God’s work. For example, “the church of God which is at Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Please study the terms used to describe the church:
  • A body. An eye is not the body, but it must operate in conjunction with the whole body. The apostle Paul used this word picture to teach the church in Corinth about the value of each individual as part of the body (1 Corinthians 12).
  • A kingdom. One citizen is not the kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
  • A household/family. We are “members of the household of God,” and a family named after the Father (Ephesians 2:19; 3:14-15). One person is not a family. Imagine one of my children saying, “I am a Kemple, but I want no part of the other Kemples.” Or, “I love you, Dad, but I don’t want to be around your other kids.”
  • An army. A soldier is not the army; he must fight alongside in unity with his fellow soldiers (Ephesians 6:10-20). Paul described Epaphroditus as “my brother, my fellow worker, and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25).
  • A flock. We are a flock of sheep and we need a shepherd. Each local congregation is to have shepherds who are directly accountable to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5; John 10). The elders at Ephesus were also called shepherds (pastors) and overseers of the church (Acts 20:17,28-29). We are commanded to place ourselves under and make ourselves accountable to the guidance of shepherds who oversee our souls (Hebrews 13:17). As a Christian, I am directed by Christ to be accountable to His children, specifically to the elders of the local church (James 5:13-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Paul made it a point to ordain elders in every congregation (Acts 14:23) and to ensure that the evangelists Timothy and Titus did the same (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). An individual sheep left to himself becomes easy prey for the wolves.
We need each other!

More on this next Friday…

Be Careful What You Ask For

The nation of Israel as a whole was frustrated by the high taxation that existed during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 12:4). When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took the throne. As a result of pride and bad advice, Rehoboam decided to increase the tax burden on the people. This resulted in 10 tribes rebelling under the leadership of Jeroboam, whom they named as their first king (931 BC).

They wanted change, and they were hoping for change, but the change they got was so bad that Israel never recovered. Jeroboam fundamentally transformed northern Israel. New gods. New priesthood. New days of worship. New location to worship God. I want to emphasize the point that all future kings in northern Israel kept these changes in place until their captivity by Assyria in 722 BC. They sacrificed the long-term spiritual health of the nation for temporary economic relief.

Be Careful What You Ask For!

We as a nation seem to be just as fickle as the people of Israel. One president or party is in power and we get sick of it and go to the opposite extreme: from Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama.

The caution the Scriptures provide is…be careful what you ask for.

  • Do not vote with the “I’m just sick of the current crop of leaders” kind of mentality. You might put yourself in a worse situation than before!
  • Do not vote upon the emotions of the moment or a few good speeches. Because of the emotion of the moment, the Jews killed Jesus and asked for a murderer to be released instead. Look at history to see what happens when the emotions of the moment control the people.
  • Do not vote based on the temporary benefits that your favorite politician promises to give you. What is the long-term cost for those short-term goodies?
  • Have you fasted and prayed before you decided on a candidate?
  • Have you sought the counsel from God’s word before you decided on a candidate?
  • Have you considered the long-term spiritual consequences of your vote?

The nations have sunk down in the pit which they have made; in the net which they hid, their own foot has been caught…the wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God (Psalms 9:15,17).

Joash and Jehoiada, part 2

In last Wednesday’s MDB, we looked at the relationship between the young King Joash and his uncle, Jehoiada the priest. We saw that King Joash came from a very wicked family, but Jehoiada became his father in the faith. As long as Jehoiada lived, Joash lived faithfully to God. We were impressed by the influential power we are given from God to be fathers and grandfathers.

But for today, we have a sad end to this story. The Bible tells us that when Jehoiada died, Joash chose for himself new counselors – wicked counselors that gave him very bad advice. Read the following passage:

Now after the death of Jehoiada the leaders of Judah came and bowed down to the king. And the king listened to them. Therefore they left the house of the LORD God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the LORD; and they testified against them, but they would not listen (2 Chronicles 24:17-19).

After Jehoiada died, King Joash had two sets of counselors: the leaders of Judah and the prophets sent by God. King Joash chose to listen to the leaders of Judah and he led the nation into apostasy. He went so far as to execute the prophet Zechariah who confronted him. Read the following passage:

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He also has forsaken you.’ ” So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The LORD look on it, and repay!” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).

Wow! Zechariah was the “son of Jehoiada,” and Joash had him killed. Also notice that Jehoiada was called the “father” of Joash. Joash did not remember the kindness of Jehoiada. The kindness of saving his life. The kindness of teaching him the ways of God. The kindness of standing by his side faithfully till the end. The kindness of sacrificing his own life, time, energy and resources to ensure Joash’s proper upbringing.

What is to be learned?

  1. Young men have to stand on their own someday and choose which kind of advice they will hear. Men like Daniel, Ezekiel and Joseph chose the right pathway even when they were hundreds of miles away from home. If your parents and others around you taught you the right way, you will still have to choose for yourselves which kind of people will be your advisors when you are on your own. Just like Joash, two very different sets of advice will be offered to you, which will you choose?
  2. Parents and grandparents have to be reminded that we cannot control the choices our grown children make when they are not under our roofs. Joash’s choices later in life were not a reflection on the parenting of Jehoiada. Yes, sometimes the way our children turn out is a reflection on our parenting (see Eli and David in the Old Testament as examples), but that is not always the case. It certainly was not the case with Jehoiada. Jehoiada ruled his house well and led Joash in God’s ways. Joash made his own choices. Please take note that Zechariah and Joash were both raised by the same man; one chose to follow God and another chose to leave God. Our children have free will given to them by God. God was the greatest Father ever, and His children ALL walked away from Him. Is that a reflection on God’s parenting? Of course not.

Root of Bitterness

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled (Hebrews 12:15).

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them (Colossians 3:19).

I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 recently, and I’ve been thinking about plants, vines and branches, soil, nutrition, and root systems. If we want the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) in our lives (and marriages), then we need to do some farming. This particular farming requires we “walk in,” “live in,” and are “led by” the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-26).

But what happens if you are trying to plant God’s word in your heart so that you can be led by Him, and in your heart you already have a “root of bitterness”? What does the above passage in Hebrews 12 say about it? Is there “fruit” to a root of bitterness? There sure is…trouble! The fruit of the root of bitterness is that it “springs up” and “causes many to be defiled.”

Bitterness comes from past hurts, unresolved conflicts, years of piled up resentment because of abuses, neglects and hurtful words. That root of bitterness means that we are holding on to some things in our hearts and minds. Things we need to resolve, work through, and forgive (release).

How does that affect a marriage? Notice the above passage from Colossians, that Paul tells husbands to “love” our wives, but we also are not to be “embittered” toward them. You cannot truly love your wife if you have a root of bitterness toward her in your heart. If you have bitterness and resentment toward your wife, it will affect how you listen to her. It will affect how you talk to her and treat her. It will affect how you see any thing she does. It will affect how you receive any good thing she tries to do for you.

It will also affect the kids. When the Hebrew writer says “many will be defiled,” he means many! When there is a root of bitterness in your marriage, many are going to be affected. People at work see it. People at church are affected by it. Your neighbors see it. This plant gets big quick and its poisonous fruit plants the same root in the hearts of others.

So, if you find yourself having bitterness in your heart, it is time to do some aggressive farming and plant management. That root needs to be completely removed. This may mean you have to sit down with your wife and begin to do some uprooting in prayer. Sit down as a couple with a godly counselor, maybe an older couple in the church. It may mean that you as a husband need to sit down with a wiser, older Christian man and work through your struggles and resentment in prayer with him. It certainly means that we fall before the Lord and beg for His strength and wisdom to uproot this nasty and destructive plant from our hearts.

“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you” (Luke 17:3-6).

Beatitudes, Part 8

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

We are reeling as a nation once again from a deadly mass shooting, the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history. Hate is real; evil is real; Satan is real.

If there was ever a time that we need to be peacemakers as God’s men, it is now.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

The word literally means to make peace. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we must seek to produce an environment of peace both in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But what kind of peace? Jesus’ peace is not what the world offers (John 14:27). Jesus’ peace is not freedom from conflict. Jesus’ peace is not accepting the evil choices of others. Jesus’ peace is not about being silent on truth (Matthew 10:34).

  1. Jesus’ peace is about reconciling people to God. “In the world we have tribulation,” Jesus said, “but in Me you have peace” (John 16:33). Through the blood of Jesus which He offered for us on the cross, we can have peace with God and be reconciled to Him (Colossians 1:20-22). There is no better way that we can be “peacemakers” than to bring people to the blood of Jesus so that they can be at peace with God. Only when we are at peace with God can we truly be at peace with each other. Are you at peace with God through Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7)?
  2. Jesus’ peace is about having a heart for healthy resolutions to conflicts and disagreements. Peace in relationships is something we have to pursue. It takes all the strength we can muster sometimes. This concept is repeated often in Scripture. “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11). Jesus gave us advice on how to handle conflicts with each other. Read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Read Matthew 18, the whole chapter. We must seek to have a soft answer that will hopefully turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). At our congregation recently, we heard a great sermon from Kevin Clark where he reminded us to be the kind of people that turn down the temperature. We must not be the kind of people who ratchet up the rhetoric, push people’s buttons, and retaliate for every insult and jab thrown our way. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).