They refreshed my spirit

For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:18)

Her name was Irene. She was an elderly sister in Columbus, Ohio who struggled with a host of physical ailments. It literally brought tears to her eyes to sit in the pews for a worship service because of the pain she was enduring. In her later years, I remember her hobbling through the doors of the church building, pulling an oxygen cart behind her.

What amazed me and put “oxygen” in my spiritual lungs was to see what she did when she entered the building. She came in smiling. Irene greeted everyone, especially any visitors. Holding her oxygen cart with one hand and shaking visitors’ hands with her other hand.

Her life was for Jesus and for others. She had the joy of the Lord in the midst of her pain and suffering. Her focus was not on her suffering but on how to encourage others.

Thanks, dear sweet Irene. See you in heaven.

Men, I write this to encourage you to look around in your congregations on Sunday and find someone like Irene and give them a hug. Go visit them next week and sit down with them and be refreshed in your spirit. Be thankful for those who teach us by their example the simple truths of humility, thankfulness and love.

They refreshed my spirit

Greater is He who is in you

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4-6).

It may seem like evil is winning. We may groan, cry and sigh like Lot did over Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). Tears may flow down our eyes as they did for David and Jeremiah because people do not keep God’s law (Psalm 119:136; Jeremiah 9:1). Just as Elijah was tempted to despair, thinking he was all alone, we might begin to feel the same way (1 Kings 19).

Greater is He who is in you

In all of this, however, we must call our minds back to 1 John 4:4. Satan is not winning…Christ is victorious. The wickedness and evil people around you will not overwhelm and conquer you because God is in you. He is greater. God is greater than Satan. Do not despair. Please do not throw your hands up and ask, “What’s the use?”

If Jesus Christ lives within you, then you are overcoming the world. You can overcome the temptations of this world through Christ. With His strength you can withstand the blast of Satan’s blows. “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper…” (Isaiah 54:17). The Devil has thrown everything he has at God’s people and yet we still stand, because Jesus promised it (Matthew 16:18). Christ’s power, not our own, is working.

As I have heard many preachers say over the years about the book of Revelation, “I have read the end of the book and Jesus wins!”

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

Some were persuaded and some disbelieved

Last night, I went with a few other Christians to hear a preacher present a great lesson on “Can We All Understand the Bible Alike?” One of the passages he referenced in his sermon was Acts 28, which is an account of Paul arriving in Rome. Please take time to read the passage below and notice why some did not receive Paul’s message. You can see that it had nothing to do with God’s word or it being impossible to understand.

“But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:22-28).

Some were persuaded and some disbelieved

What did Paul do? He expounded, he testified and tried to convince them about what the Scriptures said. The message of Jesus was clearly and reasonably presented to the crowd that day.

Take note that some were convinced, but others disbelieved. They did not agree “among themselves.” There was religious division among them. So, what was the problem? Was Paul’s teaching too hard to understand? No, Paul quoted Isaiah in saying they had “closed” their eyes and that their hearts had grown dull. It had nothing to do with the message. The problem was their eyes, ears and hearts.

Lord, please open our hearts, our ears and our eyes to see Your word just as it is. Please remove any pre-conceived notions, traditions and men’s opinions from our hearts. May we simply listen to Your truth with an honest mind. Amen.

Apollos watered

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Apollos was God’s watering can. I like that. When Apollos followed Paul in Corinth, the Bible records that he “greatly helped those who believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28).

Our plants and young trees right now are struggling because we really need some rain. It is a visual reminder everyday of Paul’s words. Merely planting a tree or a tomato plant is not enough…you have to water it. It is really amazing to watch what happens to a plant when it gets some much needed water. That plant springs back, revives and grows.

I am thankful for God’s watering cans…

  • By your words of encouragement, you can greatly help other believers make it through this day (Hebrews 3:13). A simple text message, or a card in the mail, or sitting down for coffee, can make an eternal difference!
  • When you make a strong stand for following God, you are pouring refreshing live-giving water on other Christians. Your example of commitment and sacrifice stirs up others to do the same (Philippians 1:14).
  • Taking time to encourage those young Christian men or women is watering on what others have planted in their hearts. I’m grateful to God for the watering cans in the kingdom who are helping to encourage my sons and daughters. I know of many watering cans who helped me grow in my faith. Even the apostle Paul talked often about those brethren who “refreshed” his spirit (1 Corinthians 16:18; 2 Timothy 1:16).

For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (Philemon 7).

How Beautiful Heaven Must Be

Here is the chorus from the old hymn, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.”

How beautiful heaven must be, sweet home of the happy and free. Fair haven of rest for the weary, how beautiful heaven must be.

So, why is heaven so beautiful? Why is it a place upon which we should set our minds?

It is beautiful because God is there.

The Lamb, Jesus Christ, is there. In His presence there is joy, light, holiness, love, rest and peace. By contrast, hell is a realm where God is absent, so nothing good whatsoever is there. I believe this is the most beautiful thing about heaven – Jesus is there, and we will see His face. We will forever be with the Lord (1 Thes. 4:18; Rev. 21:3; 22:4).

Our eternal inheritance.

Peter describes our inheritance in heaven as one that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that does not fade away. He adds that it is reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:7).

When we are in heaven, we are with all of God’s people.

Dwell on that for  moment. All of God’s people who have ever followed Him on this earth. Think of all those great men and women of faith you read about in Scripture…they are there. The precious ones in our lives who have walked with Jesus and are now asleep in Jesus…they are there. And the countless others you don’t even know who have given their lives as a living sacrifice to Jesus…they are there. That is beautiful.

In heaven we have transformed bodies.

We have a body made without hands. This mortal robe is a tent; it is temporary. However we groan, as Paul wrote, for our mortality to be swallowed up in immortality (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

“It is done…”

At the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “It is done…Behold, I make all things new.” That is beautiful. There is no more sickness, no more crying, and no more pain, because the “former things have all passed away” (Revelation 21:1,4-7).

Serving God eternally…

The beauty of heaven continues with the fact that we will serve God day and night in His temple. An eternity to serve God, to worship and praise Him without all the limitations of sin and mortal flesh. The angelic beings who are now in heaven do not cease praising God (Revelation 4:8).

Oh yeah, and angels will be there, too.

Just something to think about today.

Where Christ Is

Let’s meditate for a moment today on where Christ is. Please read Colossians 3:1-4.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

Jesus fills heaven and earth, and He is with us always, but His home and His throne is in heaven above. He is sitting. I find comfort in that. In heaven there is no turbulence, chaos or unrest. You find absolute certainty as to Who is in charge. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God. He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Remember that today, men.

We were raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. That means Christ is with us now. That means we must change what we seek, men. We no longer seek the sinful things of this world. We fix our gaze upon Jesus in glory, and that will transform our attitudes, behavior and decisions.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

As a dear sister said this week in a Bible study, “That doesn’t mean 24-7 I am sitting on a rock meditating.” Yes, we have to pay the bills, mow the lawn, change diapers and go to work. We are not just sitting in a holding pattern, enduring life’s misery because we know one day we will be in heaven. No, friends, God wants us to set our minds on things above when we are at work. Does God want us involved in our communities? Yes! Our whole character truly demonstrates to the world that this world is not our home. We are involved in the world, but our minds fixate on heaven. Our real home is where Christ is.

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

You died? Yes, when we were buried with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:11-13), we made the commitment to Christ to die to this world and our old man of sin. When that happened, God wrapped Christ around you and tucked you safely and hid you securely in the shelter of His wings. Hidden with Christ in God…just an awesome thought.

When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Do not make anyone or anything other than Christ your “life.” Christ is your life.

When He appears…think about that! He is already present, among us and within us (Colossians 3:11), but He will appear to all one day. When that happens, we will one day be living with Him in glory!

Let’s all focus on being where Christ is.

Superficial Healing

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

Brokenness is real. We are broken because of sin. Our brokenness is seen in the violence and hatred around us, as evidenced once again sadly in Nice, France yesterday. The brokenness is evident in strained marriages, troubled youth, and very distracted Christians. When we are standing in the wake of the consequences of our sins or of the sins of others, we need healing. However, we must be cautious of seeking superficial healing as spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah.

Superficial Healing

Let’s take a bite out of Jeremiah 6 today and reflect on why God said the people were only healed superficially.

Vs. 13 – Everyone is greedy, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.

From the king to the servant, and from the prophets to the priests, all were greedy. The priests and prophets dealt falsely. They told the people what they wanted to hear, and the people “loved to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). They told the people what was politically correct and easy to the ear. The priests and prophets lined their pockets by offering a feel-good message of “peace, peace.” The problem is, first of all, that message was not from God, and secondly, there was no lasting peace in that message.

In contrast, Jeremiah was delivering a message of doom and destruction. He called them to “amend their ways and their deeds” (Jeremiah 7:3,5). Real healing, whether for the individual, for the marriage, for the church, or for the nation, requires us to look honestly at the truth, no matter how painful it may be. We have to call out evil, hatred and violence for what it is. Truth demands real change and repentance. The truth calls us out for who we really are and what we have to do to change. Do we want the preacher really to tell it like it is? Do we really want the shepherds of the church to tell us what we need to hear? Do we want superficial answers, or do we want truth? We demand truth from our physicians and mechanics, don’t we? How about God?

Vs. 15 – Were they ashamed? They did not know how to blush.

Real healing happens when we are truly ashamed for our behavior and our words. Not just sorry that someone caught us. Not just sorry that we can’t continue our double life. The people of Jeremiah’s day had become so calloused that their over-the-top wickedness was considered mainstream. Because they were so desensitized, the word of God did not penetrate their hearts. If you don’t see a problem with immoral behavior, how can you feel bad for participating in it?

Vs. 16 – Ask for the ancient paths…but they would not walk in them.

God’s paths are old. God’s truth is ancient, but His truth is timeless. The words of Moses were around 800 years old by the time of Jeremiah. They were old and ancient, but they were from God and still were relevant. Superficial healing comes when we pacify ourselves with modern philosophy, pop culture, and any “new” idea that may come our way. Real healing begins when we ask for the ancient, old Jerusalem gospel.

Vs. 17 – I set watchmen over you…but you would not listen.

Just as there were false prophets, there were also true prophets like Jeremiah. The people of Judah had a choice as to which group would be their advisors. The same choice exists for us today, men. God will allow us to choose superficial healing promoted by those seeking their own glory. He will also put people in our life who can help us get to true rest and healing. They may say things that hurt, but in the end we will be saved. It’s our choice.

Better Than Sacrifice

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).

God calls us to worship Him, no doubt. But God also said over and over in Scripture that He desires some things more than our worship. Provided below is a listing of many passages on this principle for your study and reflection.

Better Than Sacrifice – Old Testament

Psalm 50 – It would be helpful to read this whole Psalm! “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God” (vs 23). God wants us to be thankful and obedient when we worship.

Psalm 51:16-17 – The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. God wants our hearts to be broken before Him.

Proverbs 21:3 – To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice (See also Proverbs 15:8; 21:27; 28:9)

Ecclesiastes 5:1-5- Draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools. Keep your word when you promise Him something.

Isaiah 1:11-17 – God “hated” and “despised” their sacrifices because of their wicked lives. He told them to cease to do evil, and learn to do good. They needed to repent and wash themselves, and then worship Him.

Jeremiah 6:20; 7:9-11,22-24 – God asked for the purpose of their worship. God’s house had become a den of thieves. Jesus quoted this passage in Matthew 21:13. See also Jeremiah 11:15.

Hosea 6:6 – I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Jesus twice quoted this passage (Matthew 9:13; 12:7).

Amos 5:21-24 – Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. Just as in Isaiah, God hated their worship and wanted them to stop it. He wanted to see justice and righteousness in their lives first.

Micah 6:6-8 – We may want to offer the Lord “thousands of rams” and “ten thousand rivers of oil.” We might even want to offer our own child to Him. But what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?

Zechariah 7:5 – Did you really fast for Me, for Me?

Malachi – Just read the book of Malachi, and you will see several examples of people worshipping God, but with corrupt motives and impure lives. God deserves and expects better than that.

Better Than Sacrifice – New Testament

Matthew 5:23-24 – First be reconciled to your brother, then offer your gift to God. Our relationships with others matter! How effective is our worship when we are at odds with the brother in the next pew?

Matthew 6 – When we fast, pray and give alms, Jesus wants a heart of humility. Don’t put on a concert for others to see your righteousness.

Matthew 15:7-9 & John 4:23-24 – God wants our obedience, that we worship Him in truth. He also wants our hearts, that we worship Him in spirit.

Matthew 23:23 – According to Jesus, there are weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy and faith.

Mark 12:32-34 – Loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Romans 12:1-2 – We are to be a living sacrifice.

1 Corinthians 11:28 – But a man must examine himself…then partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Hebrews 13:15-16 – Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Did you see a consistent pattern in all of those passages? Men, as we consider our worship to God, we must also reflect upon our heart, our character, our behavior and how we treat others.

Two Unhealthy Responses to Anger

Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry. But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated (raped) his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:21-22).

Amnon, a son of King David, had just raped his half-sister, Tamar. This act was vile and premeditated, and Amnon (even if he was royalty) should have been punished.

Two men close to this situation, however, had two unhealthy responses to anger. Their anger was clearly justified, but how each of these two men dealt with it was destructive. I believe we can gain some valuable insight here as men of Christ.

Two Unhealthy Responses to Anger
  • David’s inaction. King David was “very angry” as you see in the above passage. Very angry…but did absolutely nothing. Maybe it was because he was guilty of adultery and murder himself. Maybe it was because Amnon was his firstborn son. Regardless, he did nothing. It is my belief, that David’s inaction led to Absalom’s plan to murder Amnon.
  • Absalom plotted his revenge. This was his sister. They had David as a father and they had the same mother.  He said nothing good or bad to Amnon. His hatred led to silent scheming, waiting for the right moment to strike back. Absalom successfully conspired with others to murder Amnon. He had a right to be angry, but he took it way too far.

Both men were right to be angry. How could you not be angry when someone is raped? There are many times when we have a right to be angry, but we err in how to deal with what caused the anger.

As men in congregations, we will be faced with situations that create anger. It happened to Jesus (Mark 3:5). But what do you do when you are angry? Do you push it aside or suppress it? Do you ignore the problem, thinking it will go away? Do you fail to approach the brother or sister that is causing the problem because of fear or insecurity? Do you sulk and mope around giving people at church the “silent treatment”? Or are you like Absalom, figuring out clever ways to strike back and make others pay for their wrongdoings?

In David and Absalom we observe two unhealthy responses to anger, and we can learn from their mistakes. May we meditate on healthy, God-approved ways to deal with our anger.

Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26-27).

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).