Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Robbed by the Thief on the Cross

"What about the thief on the cross?" This is the question I have heard so many times that I have stopped counting. This question arises whenever I get into a conversation about salvation with a person who does not believe in baptism as one of the essential elements. In Luke 23 we read of the conversation between Jesus and the thief who showed penitence and admitted guilt while asking to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. We recall the wonderful love of God and extension of grace that brought these words from our Savior's dying lips, "Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Some allege this event proves that salvation is possible by simply believing in Christ, admitting personal sin, and asking God for forgiveness and a place with Him in heaven. While all of these are necessary for a person to be saved, these alone do not exhaust the requirements that God has left for us in His word.

There are many Bible answers for why the thief on the cross is not our perfect example. We could point out that both Jesus and the thief lived and died under the Law of Moses, or that Jesus nailed the Law to the cross when He brought forth the new covenant in His blood (Col. 2:14; Matt. 26:28). We could mention that New Testament Christians are those who have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-4) - which would have been impossible for the thief since Jesus had not yet died. We could note that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins was not available, nor was it a requirement for salvation until the day of Pentecost, when the church began (Acts 2:38). And do we really want the thief to be our example? Do we want to live a life dominated by Satan only to repent in our final, tragic hour? This account is given to us not as an example of how to be saved, but rather as a testimony of the unsearchable and matchless grace of Jesus.

There is one simple passage which brings a great deal of light and truth on a subject that so many have clouded in an attempt to justify their denominational mode of salvation. In Romans 10:9-10 we read, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." I only bring up this passage because it has become a proof text for many who believe that baptism is not required for salvation, but merely belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the corresponding confession that Jesus is Lord. In other words, the people who use the "thief on the cross" reasoning for saying baptism is non-essential will quickly go to this passage in order to prove their point. I want to thank them for doing that, because they just proved why their reasoning is false.

Look again at the passage. Did the thief believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? Paul says in Romans 10:9 that this is a requirement for salvation. But how could he believe it? Jesus wasn't even dead yet! The thief didn't even know Jesus was going to be raised - the apostles didn't understand it until after it happened, and Jesus had been telling them virtually every day for three and a half years. The thief was dealing with a different set of requirements. Those under the patriarchal law and the Law of Moses were cleansed by the blood of Jesus and sanctified through their animal sacrifices. It was impossible for the thief to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But we must believe it. The thief was not required to be baptized for the remission of sins, but we are commanded to do so today (Acts 2:38, 10:48).

We need to rightly divide the Bible. The church does not determine what the Bible teaches, the Bible determines what the church teaches. Study. Humble yourself. Change your mind if you are mistaken. Obey the gospel - and obey all of it - not just part.

"...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." - 2 Corinthians 10:5

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Preaching Mistakes

This past Sunday while trying to quote Mark 16:15-16, I accidentally called out, "Matthew 16:15-16." Then Sunday evening, while Mike Dyer was preaching, when meaning to refer to Jeremiah 29:11, he instead said "Jeremiah 22:11." This happens all of the time. If you speak very much you are going to make mistakes. The most eloquent, polished speakers are going to commit errors because every person is fallible. Preachers don't need to beat themselves up about it, and members don't need to be overly concerned about it. For those of you who don't preach but who worship regularly, us preachers are asking you to give us the benefit of the doubt.

When I became a preacher I knew I would make mistakes. I have made many in the past, I continue to make them in the present, and I suppose that even though I never want to make another one, I will still have trouble in the future. But all of this reminds me that a preaching mistake, when unintended, can be a blessing to everyone in attendance when our focus is as it should be. Here's why:

1. The listener has the opportunity to catch the mistake. I did not know I said, "Matthew" instead of "Mark," until someone told me. I was so thankful they told me. This let me know that someone was paying attention. It also let me know that they either knew the Scripture or looked it up. Their communication gave me the opportunity to correct my mistake. One of the reasons I am even writing about this and putting it on the front page of our bulletin is to own up to the misquotation. Every preacher who loves the Lord would never want to preach anything but what the Bible teaches. When it is brought to our attention that we have made a mistake, it is a blessing.

2. Not everything you hear in life is true. We have the responsibility to "test the spirits, to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). Paul said, "Test all things, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes. 5:21). The reason why many people leave the church is directly related to how they view preaching. If preaching is someone talking while you listen and nothing else then there is a major problem. There needs to be a meeting of every mind and heart at foot of the cross to hear the word of the Lord. Padded pews and comfortable temperatures are overrated. Paul said that in latter times people would heap up for themselves teachers who would tickle their ears. This is not gospel preaching. A Bible man tells the Bible plan. Everyone should be engaged in the discussion as if their souls are on the line because in reality this is the case. Preaching must be examined, evaluated, tested, and applied. It must be in keeping with the standards of the holy and inerrant word of God.

3. Mistakes in the pulpit remind us of God's perfection. Paul told the Corinthians, who often attacked his preaching, "I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:3-5). God deserves all of the glory in everything, especially preaching. It is His will, His word, and His wonderful grace. Paul reminded the brethren that he was not behind what was being preached, but every word came by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Today preachers only have the Bible, but the Bible is all we need and it is still the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Our faith cannot be in preachers. No preacher ever wants to be believed because he is the preacher. Genuine faith is hearing and believing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

4. Mistakes from the pulpit keep the preacher humble. Every Christian who commits much time to service in the church can be in danger of becoming arrogant. When we receive compliments we might start to believe them. My grandmother (a preacher's wife) always used to say it was her job to keep her husband's head the correct size. If he got complimented too much his head might not fit through the door, but if he was being ridiculed and criticized too much he may get discouraged and decide to leave the ministry. Compliments and criticism together will both be a blessing to a Christian with the right attitude. I have had different people walk out the door with a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the same sermon I had just preached. This humbled me. It also reminded me that God was the only one I was trying to please.

Preachers make mistakes. People make mistakes. How thankful we are for the Father who resides in heaven who is perfect and holy but who gives grace! How thankful we are for the Son who stands by His side and intercedes with His blood! How thankful we are for Comforter who rules in our hearts and gives us peace!

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." - Isaiah 55:7

"Ohhhhhhh Boy!"

Many years ago a gentleman was born in western Kentucky named Odell Lamb. They called him “Red Lamb” because of his wavy red locks and his ruddy complexion. Odell went from the Kentucky farm to the German battlefields. He served in World War II and was present at the Battle of the Bulge. He came back to the Unites States and settled down with his wife Edna.  They had two children together. He worked at the stove plant and also farmed in beautiful Calloway County.
By the time I came to the New Providence church, Odell had lived a long and healthy life. He was retired, but still farming. He had served as an elder in the church for many years, but had now left that work, too. I was only 25; he was about to turn 80. He had a kindness about him. His smile was warm and genuine. He never missed an opportunity to worship with the saints. He always – ALWAYS wore a suit.
Every once in a while there is a person in your life who brings nothing but positive things. In the four years I preached at New Providence, Odell Lamb was peace and joy. Always encouraging – always thankful – always one of my biggest fans. He was dependable, and as solid as a Christian man could be in every aspect of life. He was honorable, he was gentle, he was strong, and he was loving. If you wanted a walking definition of a mature Christian, you would look no further than Red Lamb. When he prayed, you could tell you were listening to a man who had prayed before. He talked with God as one who had carried on life’s conversations with his Creator for more than a generation.
In 2003, I left green fields of Kentucky winter wheat for the rolling hills and streams of southern Tennessee. But I still go back to Murray State Racer country now and then. When I go, I always stop by and look for Mr. Lamb. He resides at Emeritus, an assisted living facility for the elderly. Last October when I saw him he was in bed and could not leave it. I was sure that visit with my friend would be our last. But this past Wednesday, I stopped by again and he was still there; still in bed, and only two weeks short of his 95th birthday. When I walked in the door he immediately straightened up, smiled, and exclaimed, “Jeremiah! I never would have thought it!” We sat and talked for awhile about old times and caught up on the new. What a wonderful visit we shared with one another!
Before I left our discussion turned to more serious matters, and he said to me plainly, “I am ready to go to heaven.” “So ready….Ohhhhhhh boy!” As I relay his words it is impossible for me to express his tone of voice and the look behind his eyes. But he said these words with excitement, joy, and a deep longing for something he had been working toward for 95 years. He did not say this because he was unhappy. He was not complaining about his age or the weakness of his body. He was simply saying that he was so blessed to be a Christian and that his time on earth was over and he could hardly stand to wait any longer. He said these things with the understanding that the better country was on the horizon and he could almost touch it. I have seen many a weary Christian long for heaven on a bed of affliction. But I do not know if I have ever seen a deeper joy, a greater hope, or a truer, more genuine faith.
I left and thought, wow! I had just seen something really special. I now know what I want if I ever live to be old. I want that feeling. I want that confidence. I want that anticipation. I want that hope.
Heaven is really going to be glorious beyond imagination. I pray that one day I will be able to see it from the place where I lay my head and say, “Ohhhhhhh boy!”
“For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.”
- See more at: http://www.faughnfamily.com/ohhhhhh-boy/#sthash.HO5IUq25.dpuf

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ask People

About two years ago I met Charli Wilson at Hardees. As I remember it was at the drive-thru window. I don’t eat there often but sometimes I will grab breakfast. It is not far from the church building. Not long after that first hello I talked to her inside the restaurant during another morning breakfast. I invited her to worship. I believe we were having a special emphasis Sunday.

Soon after getting to know Charli  I met Levi Brewster. He works at McDonalds and yes, I admit it, I go there for breakfast even more than Hardees. As coincidence would have it, I discovered Levi and Charli were dating. At least once a week one of them was handing me food at the drive-thru. About a year and a half ago Levi and Charli attended worship at Willow avenue for the first time. It was a very busy Sunday and I barely got to speak to them before they left. Since they were both Tech students I was hoping to introduce them to some people their age. But I didn’t have the chance. Although expressing some interest after their first visit to Willow, they did not come back for about a year.

But as time went on I kept running into them all over town. Eventually through our talks and a little encouragement they decided to start attending Willow again. Since Hunter and Mindy Harp had started a special Sunday night study for the college age group, Levi and Charli had an opportunity to spend time with people their age and fellowship and study and build friendships. They have been studying for a few weeks now and have become regulars on Sunday night and Wednesday night. As of now their work schedule keeps them from worshiping on Sunday morning.

And then it happened. I got a phone call. What was supposed to be a premarital counseling appointment turned into something better.  Charli called me and asked if I would meet her at the building to baptize her.  Surrounded by her new college age friends and Levi she obeyed the gospel. Levi then requested to be baptized as well. They had both been thinking about this decision for quite some time, and were convinced from the teaching of the Bible to become Christians. What a wonderful day!

This all happened because they were asked. They were asked to come to worship. They were asked to study. They were asked to dinners after services.  They were asked to be a part of a group of friends who love the Lord and one another. Above all, this happened because they were asked by God to be a part of His eternal kingdom through the blood of Jesus Christ even before the foundation of the world.

Ask people. Stop hesitating. Enough with the good intentions. No more blaming your lack of evangelism on your fear of rejection. Nothing, absolutely nothing will happen if you do not ask.  Be His hands, His feet, and His mouth, and give glory to God in the church and it will grow. Have faith in God. He will give to those who ask.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Monday, August 11, 2014

Respect for the Bible

I am just going to say it. I cannot believe what I am witnessing in our 21st century world! We are living in an age in which God is more of a figment of our imagination than the enthroned Creator of the universe. There is a lack of understanding of who God is and what He has done. There is an even greater lack of respect for the authority of Scripture. Some may be offended by some things I am about to point out. But if these things offend you, please know that I love you. I merely ask you to examine the divine text and see if your beliefs measure up to God's perfect and holy word.

1. To preach various and sundry methods of salvation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. An honest examination of the conversions in the New Testament will lead a person to understand that God is not saving people by different methods. He is not requiring different people to do different things. And yet as I speak with people about their salvation they regularly tell me they went about this process in different ways. It seems for many of them, that as long as they were sincere about their decision that is does not matter what they actually did. This takes the mode of salvation out of God's hands and places it in ours. Last time I checked salvation was something God did. We should comply to what God requires in His word.

2. To call a church by any other name than a Biblical name is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. I can give you 50 different names for churches in our city. There are not 50 different names in the Bible. There are several different ways in which the church is named or described. But you will never see the church of the New Testament named after a man or a methodology. You will never see the name of the church of the Bible attribute glory or honor to anyone but deity. I cannot see how anyone who respects the words of Scripture could even begin to be a part of a church that doesn't even honor God with its very name.

3. To worship God by another method other than what is found in the New Testament and exemplified by the apostles and the church is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. People want to know why I don't worship God the way they do. This is not the correct question. The correct question is, am I worshiping God according to the commandments that He has left for His church? The responsibility lies with the one who is worshiping. Have they done all the Lord has commanded? Have they added anything? Have they left anything undone? God can and will reject our worship if it does not please Him. He has that right. Who is being worshiped here, anyway?

4. To believe that Scripture is open to individual interpretation is to disrespect the authority of the Bible. If I had a nickel for every time a person has told me, "Well you know, the Bible can be interpreted in many ways" - I would be a millionaire! No, the Bible is meant to be interpreted God's way. We do not shape the word of God, it shapes us. We must adhere to the teachings of God's transforming, Holy Spirit delivered will. If the Bible is open to individual interpretation, then throw it away. It has no power over us if the power resides in us. The truth is that the Bible as it stands is the very thing that will measure our souls in judgment. It is the bread of God. It is the breath of God.

As a Christian, I still sin daily. I have plenty of issues and problems. I am realizing as I get older just how little  I actually know. But I am confident of this one thing - The Bible is the divine and perfect word of God. It saves us all the same. It teaches us all the same. It will judge us all the same. It has not changed in 2000 years and it never will. I may do many things wrong in my life, but I will not disrespect the authority of the Bible. When I see something, anything in the Bible that is lacking in me, it is time to make a change.

"Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven." - Psalm 119:89

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thanks for Asking!

Have you ever had this passing conversation: "Hello, how are you today?" "I am doing fine, how about you?' "Doing well, thanks for asking!" We appreciate certain questions, especially when they are sincere and concern our personal well-being.

But other questions come to us that hardly have us so excited; questions that challenge our character, our knowledge, or our activity. Farm Bureau Insurance Company has a television commercial that illustrates the frustration some parents experience when their children ask them difficult questions. They present the idea that their representative has all of the answers. It is a clever piece of propaganda. But we all know the truth. Some questions are just too tough for any of us to handle well.

As a preacher, I get asked a great deal of questions. People call me, facebook message me, email me, text me, catch me after class, after worship, at the store, in the parking lot, you name it - I may get a Bible question anytime from anyone in anyplace. All I can say is 1 Pet. 3:15 is intimidating!

But from the bottom of my heart I want people to know it is an absolute honor to be asked. I am not afraid of any question. I may not know the answer, and I am not afraid to tell people I do not know the answer. But I might know it. And when I don't know it, I will promise to study and get back to them and point them to the Scriptures. Being asked questions is a privilege and I look forward to every question I receive. Here's why:

1. I am going to learn something.
2. Someone actually thinks I have something valuable to offer.
3. It keeps me on task with my responsibility of study.
4. It gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned.
5. It may lead to the saving of a soul.
6. If my attitude is right and my study diligent, God will be glorified.

If anyone ever asks you a spiritually driven question, be thankful. When this occurs, you have one task - deliver only what the Bible truly teaches. Human opinions are plentiful, but the Word of God is true and living and powerful and it saves and it will abide forever. It contains the only answers that matter eternally.

And if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask (Matt. 5:6). Something wonderful is potentially going to happen because of the question. God is looking for people who are looking for Him. Thanks for asking!

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." ~ 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A People for the House of God

God's intention for the church was in existence before the world began. In His infinite wisdom He provided for its establishment with the sacrifice of the blood of His Son. As I age in His kingdom and experience kingdom life, I learn more and more about the superior foreknowledge and design God has for His family.

In my mind today is how God has set each of the members of His body into the church just as He pleased (1 Cor. 12:18). From the widow struggling to get to worship because of health concerns, to the lawyer or doctor in his suit and tie, to the family of lesser means who needs the church to provide groceries from time to time, God has made each of us essential to the kingdom. He knows we need Him. He knows we need each other. He knows we all have something to offer to the church and that the something we each have is very special.

To illustrate, I would like to share a few thoughts that have come to me through study and conversations with other Christians this week.

1. God is interested in workers for His house. Last night I was reading 1 Kings 5 to my children before bed as a part of Bible Bowl preparation. This chapter discusses Solomon seeking out King Hiram to help him with the construction of the temple. There were 30,000 laborers summoned for the house of the Lord. There were 70,000 who carried burdens. There were 80,000 who quarried stone. There were 3,300 who supervised. All essential jobs, all essential people. All different types of work. All contributing to a house that would glorify the Lord. God wants people. God wants different people. God understands and it is by design that we are all doing something meaningful to build His house.

2. God is interested in the lesser even more than the greater. Paul said to the Corinthians in his description of the church, "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor..." (1 Cor. 12:23). We overemphasize the preachers, the teachers, the elders, and the deacons. They get a great deal of praise and are the subject of many public prayers. Certainly we are thankful for their work and the prayers are much needed. But the backbone of the church is comprised of the people who do all of the things we call "little things" that in God's mind are not little at all. A friend of mine said to me this week that we are probably teaching the wrong idea to our young people sometimes. We have made them think that unless they go to Africa and do mission work they cannot be spiritual giants. The fact is that there is something to be said for a person who wants to get married, become a part of a local community with a regular job, and raise a Christian family. This type of dream made the America of the past a beacon and it is what has made the church the last great hope on earth.

3. The senders are as important as those who are sent. As a preacher, I want to personally thank every individual who contributes to the spread of the gospel. If you participate in the public offering each week for the work of the local church, you are contributing to the greatest work that is going on in the world. Paul reminded the church at Rome, "...And how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14b-15a). Not every person will publicly proclaim the gospel of Christ. But every person has ownership in gospel preaching who supports it by hearing, seeking, learning, doing, giving, and sending. Those who preach will be forever indebted to those who support preaching. Those who are saved by the message preached can give glory to God for every person who had a part in the name of Christ and the plan of salvation coming to their ears.

Church, let me tell you - you matter! Every single one of us matters. God sent His Son to die for us both collectively and individually. He created a house for His people and a people for His house. If you have become one of those people, praise His name. Do your part and be thankful. He is preparing an eternal city for you.

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13