When In Athens

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While Paul was waiting for them [Silas and Timothy] in Athens. . .he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. . .Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”  (Acts 17:16–20, NIV 1984).

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  (Acts 17:22–23, NIV 1984).

We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”  (Acts 17:29–31, NIV 1984).

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you.”  (Acts 18:9–10, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The thought occurs to me from time-to-time, that readers of my blog might be saying of me “what is this babbler trying to say?”  Especially as I share with my friends and acquaintances on FaceBook that have known me over the years, but have never known me to share my beliefs so openly.  Maybe it’s because social media does seem to give us a degree of boldness that we rarely seem to have in our personal interactions.  You know, those three taboo topics of sex, politics and religion that we are supposed to avoid.

I do try to avoid those first two topics sex (out of a sense of modesty and decorum) and politics (can be way too divisive and polarizing).  But religion…?  I guess I feel a certain sense of urgency as we approach the day that God has set “when he will judge the world with justice,” to proclaim the good news of the Gospel.  To say what I’ve left unsaid for so many years of my life.  To share what I know with others.

I would like to think for most of my readers (if they read it at all), that I am not “bringing some strange ideas to their ears.”   Yet to some, even those quite familiar with the story of Christ, the concept of being “born again” sounds cultish or merely the belief of a fringe group of religious weirdos.  But the term “born again” was coined by Jesus Himself.  Because Jesus said it should make one “want to know what [it] mean[s].”  God does not need to be “an unknown God.”  But He can only be known though “the man He has appointed” by “raising him from the dead.”  We should not think it is strange that the Father appointed the Son to be the only way we can come to Him.

So while I do get discouraged periodically, wondering if anyone is paying attention to what I write, I guess I will “keep on speaking” and “not be silent.”  One never knows who might be listening.

My Advice – But don’t just listen to me.  Listen to Jesus, the Son of the living God.

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Today’s musing was inspired by Lead Teaching Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon on January 19, 2020. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.

 

These Are The Words I Would Say

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Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV 1978).

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

My Musings – If you knew what you were saying to a loved one would be the last time you would say anything to them at all, what would you say?  You can bet they would not be idle words.  They would most likely be very important words.  To you, and to the person receiving them.  The sad thing is, we go through life not speaking to one another as often as we should.  Leaving unsaid the things that we should be saying, and saying things we later regret and cannot take back.  And when it comes to last words, they are usually not what we would have intended to say if we knew they were our last.

Jesus knew.  And while all of His words are important, the above words are the last ones He knew He would speak to the ones He chose to carry on His mission – it was His Great Commission.  His prime directive to His Disciples.  Words that were carefully chosen and of great importance.

A commission can include the following elements. A task or matter entrusted to one as an agent for another, including the authority to act for, in behalf of, or in place of another, and granting the power to perform various acts or duties.

A task or matter entrusted – “go and make disciples.”  This includes the following sequence: becoming a disciple, being a disciple, making disciples.  Disciples making disciples (a person who follows another in regard to his or her ideas or belief).  We do not make others our disciples.  We make them disciples of the one we follow – Jesus Christ.

As an agent for another – “you will be my witnesses.”   A commission is a co-mission.  Co, a prefix meaning jointly, common or together with another; and mission meaning an important assignment.   We are not alone in our mission.

Including the authority to act – “all authority in heaven and on earth.” The right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person to another.  Let’s not miss something very important here.  All authority (in heaven and on earth) has been granted to Christ, and he is conferring that on us to act on His behalf.  But authority is pointless if it is not exercised.

And granting the power to perform – “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”  One can be given an assignment, along with the authority to act, but without the power to perform, it is merely words.  We have the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have the assignment, we have the authority and we have the power.  What we don’t have is an excuse.

My Advise – What is the most important thing you could tell your friends or family. Don’t wait until the last.

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Today’s musing was inspired by Lead Teaching Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon on January 12, 2020. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you.

What He Said Was Important

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28–30, NIV 1984).

My Musings – How does one move from “weary and burdened” to “easy and light?”  By being “gentle and humble.”  By being imitators of Christ.  In Jesus’ day, the Jews were looking for a political or militant solution to their years of bondage.  Their early excitement over Jesus (“could this be the Messiah“) gave way to disillusionment and hostility, as gentleness and humility did not quite meet their expectations of a deliverer.   They preferred ruthless and pompous.

They failed to understand just what kind of bondage the Messiah came to deliver us from.  They were seeking “peace in our time.”  Christ came to offer peace for all time.  They were seeking deliverance “at all costs.”  Jesus offered peace that demanded the greatest cost.  They were seeking liberty in the land.  Jesus was offering liberation of the heart.  They wanted vengeance.  Jesus offered forgiveness.  They wanted unconditional surrender.  Jesus offered unmerited grace.  They wanted independence.  Jesus offered relationship.  They wanted a manifesto.  Jesus offered their names written in the Lamb’s book of life.   They wanted rebellion, Jesus required surrender.

My Advice – So what have we learned in 2000 years?  Will we as the Church advance the Kingdom of God through pollical activism or by proclamation of the Gospel?  Through force or faith?  Harshness or gentleness?  Arrogance or humility?  By becoming 21st century Pharisees or by modeling ourselves after 1st century believers?  By engaging in crusades or by taking up our cross?  Let’s learn from Him.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you …”  Our country’s and the world’s problems will not be solved from the outside in, only from the inside out.  It’s the heart not the head.  It’s the eternal, not the temporal.  It’s the narrow path, not the broad path.  It’s the Great Commission, not the great omission.  The time is short.  The harvest is great.  The workers are few.  Let’s get on with it.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

Unvarnished Truth

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Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:37–38, NIV).

My Musings – “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ― George Orwell, author of 1984.

We are all jaded these days when it comes to the truth.  Everyone wants to put their own coat of “varnish” on it.  Take it out of context.  Omit parts that are inconvenient.  Hear or accept only what fits our idea of what we want the truth to be.

My Advice – In a world of deceit, be revolutionary. “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2, NIV 1984). Jesus came to testify to the truth, and it got Him crucified. As Christians, we have been entrusted with the truth He proclaimed.  Let’s be faithful to His truth.  The world may hate us for it, but keep in mind that the world hated Him first.  Why did the world hate Him?  Because He testified to the truth, and the world did not want to hear the truth.  If we are hated for testifying to the truth that Christ testified to, then we can truly can be regarded “as servants of Christ.”  And that’s not a bad thing.  So keep on (“prove faithful“) “speaking the truth in love.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

 

 

 

Be and Go

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My Musings – “The ends of the earth” may be out of the question for most of us, but each of us has their own “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria” in our spheres of influence.  Notice that we are not called to make converts, that is the job of the Holy Spirit.  We are called to be witnesses, by our words and by our deeds, working together.

We are, on the other hand, called to make disciples, not just be disciples.  Being mentors to others in the faith that may not be as far along in becoming like Christ as we are.  The command is to go, or as some commentators state, as you go.  In other words, as we go about the life that God has given us, we are to give back by teaching others what we have already learned.

My Advice – We need not go out of our way to be witnesses or to make disciples.  If all went to the ends of the earth, what would become of our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria if all of us did.  But as we go, wherever we go, let us be witnesses and make disciples.

 

On Being Salt and Light

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My Musings – God has commissioned us to share the Gospel, so that others may know the way they can inherit eternal life. We should view this as a privilege, for that is what it really is. Not so much a command as it is an opportunity to share the best news anyone could ever hear.

People usually cannot wait to share a piece of good news with others or to introduce new friends to old friends. In the same way, we should be very eager to share the Gospel and to introduce others to the Savior. To play whatever part we can in rescuing them from eternal separation from God. Yet all too often we are hesitant to do so. Perhaps this is because we fear rejection and ridicule. Whatever the reason, we sometimes let our burden over these fears overcome our burden for the lost.

But it is not just failing to speak out when we should that prevents us from being the witnesses that we should be. It is also the way that we live our lives. Our external behavior is not always as consistent as it should be with the internal change that has taken place in us. So, if we dared to speak up to share our faith, would our testimony be credible based upon the evidence of how we live our lives day-to-day? The sad reality is that when we fail to speak out when we should, or when our conduct is inconsistent with our professed faith in Christ, we are actually being a witness – a poor one. This is certainly not the legacy we want to leave with our friends and family.

Apart from the rule of law itself, attorneys have two primary tools at their disposal when presenting their case before a judge or jury. The first tool is the personal testimony of a witness that is offered in support of the case being presented. The second tool is physical evidence that corroborates the case that has been presented. In a court proceeding there is also an adversary, an opposing attorney who will attempt to impugn the integrity and veracity of the witnesses and contradict or call into question the credibility of the evidence.

When it comes to faith in Christ, the Gospel is the case that is being presented. The Holy Spirit is the “attorney” that is presenting (convicting) the case. He uses believers as witnesses to testify about their own personal knowledge and beliefs (this is what I believe and this is why I believe it). He uses the Scriptures as the evidence to support His case (fulfilled prophecy, empty tombs, historical record of contemporaneous eyewitness accounts, etc.). The adversary, of course, is Satan. The individual lost soul is their own judge and jury, and this “courtroom” drama plays out in the conscience of every individual.

As it relates to our roles as personal witnesses, we must be prepared to testify when called to the “stand.” In the meantime, we need to make sure that the lives we are living will be consistent with the truth that we proclaim.

We must not only “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.”

The adversary the devil will take every opportunity to show that what we do does not support what we say. At stake is a life sentence – heaven or hell. So, it is very important that we speak up about what we believe and give it added credibility by showing how it has changed our lives. It is not our responsibility to convict or convince. But it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to make sure that our testimony (what we say) and the evidence in our lives (what we do) are working together and are both convincing and convicting

God has many witnesses that he can call to the “stand.” While it is our duty to answer the summons, it is also a privilege. It is a privilege because there are others He could call, but He called us. It is a privilege to be a play part in rescuing the lost from eternal punishment. It is a privilege to show our love for Him by showing love for His lost sheep. It is a privilege to demonstrate our thankfulness for saving us by answering the call to the Great Commission.

The case has already been made. It is recorded in the Bible for all to read and respond to the call. But “how, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14, 15, NIV 1978) God is sending us.

We may be sent across the ocean or merely across the street. But wherever He sends us, we are sent to be a light to the world and as salt to the earth.

These are two images used by Jesus to illustrate our task (commission) that He has called us to. Jesus did not waste words when He was here on earth. He chose them carefully because He understood how important it was for people to grasp the truth. In this case, his chose salt and light.  “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.(Matthew 5:13-14, NIV 1978)

SALT OF THE EARTH

Pray…that God may open a door for [your] message, so that [you] may proclaim the mystery of Christ. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:3, 5-6, NIV 1978).

A Preservative – Salt is a preservative that prevents or retards decay. So it is with believers. We act as spiritual preservatives in a world that is decaying. While it is not in our power to save others, the positive influence that we have on non-believers should never be underestimated. Our behavior should positively impact the non-believer’s behavior, perhaps slowing the decay and preserving what righteousness remains. Who knows, whether or when the influence may eventually lead someone to the Lord.

Adds Flavor – Salt enhances or adds flavor where there is little or no taste. Christians should add spiritual flavor in a world that is tasteless. We cannot achieve this if we are overbearing in our witness. This only leads to bitterness, much like too much salt can ruin the taste of food it was meant to add flavor to.

Not Obscured – Salt is most noticeable if it is not obscured by other spices. We cannot control whatever distractions come into the lives of those within our sphere of influence, but we should be careful of whatever distractions come into our lives that might obscure our witness. We may be the only contact some non-believers have with the Gospel. If our witness is obscured by our worldliness, we are not helping their chances of entering the Kingdom of God.

Must Be Applied – Salt must leave the saltshaker in order to do its work. As witnesses to the Gospel, we must go out into the world. We cannot spend all of our time within the closed circles of church, small groups and Christian schools. If we are to have an impact on the world, we must go out into it.

No Substitute – While many so-called substitutes line store shelves, there really is no satisfactory substitute for salt. The taste may not be quite right, it may leave an after-taste or it might not work as a preservative. In a similar fashion, there is no satisfactory substitute for witnessing. While many things may point to God (nature, word, conscience, etc…), there is nothing like a life that has been changed to bear-witness. There is nothing like someone who has been there to show the way.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD

A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV 1978).

Gives Light – Sometimes you have to state the obvious. The purpose of light is to give light. It is meant to be seen. It is meant to attract attention in dark places. Christians should be a source of light to a world that otherwise walks in darkness. But the purpose is not just for our light to be seen and to call attention to ourselves, but for the light to allow others to see the redeeming work of Christ in our lives.

Dispels Darkness – When light is introduced where there is darkness, darkness is chased away. Interestingly enough, it does not work the other way around. You cannot introduce darkness where there is light and have the light chased away. Light can be extinguished, but not by darkness. This is the way we should live our lives, as witnesses for the true light. We should be dispelling darkness, not extinguishing our lights.

Contrasts With Darkness – Light is most noticeable the darker it is. In pitch-black darkness, even the faintest light is obvious. So we should not be too quick to dismiss the effectiveness of our witness or the impact that it has on those groping around in the darkness of sin and separation from God.

Do Not Hide – Darkness may not be able to overcome light, but light can be hidden. If hidden it cannot dispel the darkness or serve as a beacon to those lost in the darkness. We must not hide our witness, whether from fear or shame. We have nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of. We may be the only light that some ever see.

Noiseless – Light is quiet. It does its work without distracting noise. This does not mean that our witness should be nothing more than something to observe. We can verbally communicate the Gospel and our testimony. But it should be done with gentleness and respect. Not flashy or overbearing. The Gospel needs no added flash and our testimony need not be offensive.

My Advice – No one who is conscientious wants to be known as someone that shirks their responsibility. No caring person wants to withhold what they have to share from those who are in need. Christians who have not merely tasted salvation, who are no longer infants but have allowed the Holy Spirit to begin the process of transforming their lives are to some degree both conscientious and caring. So why is it that some shirk their responsibility to witness and in so doing withhold the good news from those who need it? There may be many reasons – fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fears of inadequacy, fear of messing it up, fear of failure, fear of physical harm, etc. Unfortunately, not of these fears absolve us of our responsibility of failing to warn. And none of them an valid excuse that our warnings might fail. So we must confront our fears.

We had a lot more fears when we are younger. We also had a lot less ability to cope with our fears when we were younger. But healthy adults, as they grow, as they gain more knowledge and experience, overcome some of their fears and become better able to cope with their other fears. As Christians, it should be the same as it relates to our fears about witnessing. A healthy Christian is a growing Christian. As we grow, our old fears about sharing the Gospel will increasingly give way to a “burning fire, shut up in my bones, I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.” When we are “full grown” and “fully mature” perhaps we will get to the point where “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We may not be there yet, but in the meantime there are a lot of things we can try to be (available, willing, clear, natural, believable, consistent, prepared, sensitive, respectful, patient, truthful, faithful, encouraged, seasoned, shining, responsible, eager, humble, precise, uncompromising, loving, gentle). The good thing is that we are not alone. God wants us to be all of these things as well. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives He is working to make them be.

Be Available, Be Willing, Be Clear, Be Natural, Be Believable, Be Consistent, 

Be Prepared, Be Sensitive, Be Respectful, Be Patient, Be Truthful, Be Faithful, 

Be Encouraged, Be Seasoned, Be Shining, Be Responsible, Be Eager, Be Humble, 

Be Precise, Be Uncompromising, Be Loving, Be Gentle.

Be a witness.

 

 

Find The One Thing

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My Musings – “Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean %@$&*!.” This quote is known as Curly’s Law, from the movie “City Slickers.”  Curly is a hardened and grizzled cowboy leading a trail drive for urban “city slicker” cowboys on vacation.  When asked what that one thing is, Curly smiles (probably the only time he smiled in the movie – I don’t remember for sure) and says, ” That’s what you have to find out.”

Paul found out. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).  What was behind?  Originally, a life obsessed with persecuting Christians.   What lay a head?  His reward.  Such a prize, such a reward for faithful service to Christ that Paul considered that “to die is gain.

In between “what is behind” that Paul was forgetting and the prize that Paul was “straining toward” lay another obsession of “fruitful labor.”  But it came with a cost. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  Ahead of all this was chains and martyrdom.

But He stuck to his obsession with “the one thing,” because he considered everything else “a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:8, NIV 1984).  All of these things (imprisonment, floggings, beatings, stonings…) could have been “stopping stones.”  Instead, Paul used each one as a “stepping stone” “of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11).

All of these things that happened to Paul “served to advance the Gospel” and encouraged many others “to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” from the first century until now.

My Advice – Your “one thing” can only be found in “one person.”  “That’s what you have to find out.”  Be obsessed until you find Him, and once you find Him, be obsessed with serving to advance the Gospel more courageously and fearlessly.  The cost of these obsessions might seem too high, but Paul also said, “therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [yes, he really said light and momentary] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV 1984).

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, NIV 1984).

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 15, 2019. Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons. If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m. We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.