Table of Contents Discerning God



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Table of Contents


Discerning God’s Will: Learning to Listen Heaven and the “Eternal Worship Service

Solitary Conceit

Exegetically Speaking

Living out the Living Word

Points to Ponder

The Story behind the Song

Church Builders

Counselor’s Corner

Book Reviews

News Update

Sermon Helps

Puzzles and ‘Toons

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Discerning God’s Will:

Learning to Listen

By Alan Stewart



There are few sights this time of year that are as captivating as watching geese flying south for the winter. They glide along in “V” formation with the grace and elegance of synchronized swimmers while giving their honks of encouragement to those in the lead. They possess the accuracy and precision of the mighty Blue Angels because they travel during the day when their vision is clear.

However, on autumn nights while we are peacefully asleep in our beds, millions of songbirds are quietly traveling under cover of darkness heading south for warmer climates as well. Have you ever wondered how all of these birds know when it’s time to move or even where they are supposed to go? The answer is found in the weather patterns that speak to their instincts. When cold northern winds begin to pass through, the instincts of the birds tell them it is time to move. Once the birds rise in the air, they are drawn them accurately to a warmer destination by God’s marvelous engineering of magnetic fields, air currents, and genetic programming.

One of, if not the most, difficult disciplines in our lives is learning how to discern God’s perfect will for our lives. It seems many people will use methods and formulas in their pursuit of God’s will as if God were a celestial Easter bunny who hides His will from us and then courteously lets us know we are “getting warmer” the closer we come to finding His will or that we should know it instinctively, like those migrating birds. What makes this such a troubling matter is the fact Paul noted in Romans 12:2 that our lives should “...prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” A sense of regret and failure can dominate our lives when we are unable to come to a peaceful resolve over God’s will.

Perhaps the real detriment to our lives is not that we do not desire God’s will or that we cannot discover it, but rather that we are not honestly prepared to do it. God will never flatter nor entertain us with a burning bush or an angelic visitation if our hearts are not firmly committed to doing His will. George Truett once said, “To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge. To do the will of God is the greatest achievement.” It would do us well to remember the will of God is not something we have to do, but it is something we are privileged to do! How can you accurately discern God’s will for your life?

I. God Speaks through the Wisdom of Scripture.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” God speaks to our lives, first and foremost, through His Word. Within His Word are revealed the heart, mind, and character of God which enables our lives to develop spiritual instincts of right and wrong. A person who does not maintain consistency in the Word of God will find their lives lived on hunches, suspicions, and feelings. All of those emotions can be misleading, but the Word of God is never misleading.

It is always safe to ask ourselves, “Is any part of this decision in violation of any principle revealed in the Word of God?” D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” A life that is ordered by God’s Word will always find perfect timing in life. Abraham ordered his steps by the Word of God and found a ram waiting in the thicket. David ordered his steps by the Word of God and found a discarded slave who led him to his captive family. A life that is not aligned with God’s Word will be out of alignment everywhere else.

 

II. God Speaks through the Witness of His Spirit.

In Colossians 3:15, Paul writes, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts...” The word “rule” is the picture of an umpire making the judgment determination if something is fair or foul, safe or out. Several years ago, I purchased a GPS navigation system to help give me accurate direction on trips. Inside the system is an internal standard of direction, and anytime I stray from that path, a “voice” warns me I’m going in the wrong direction.

In much the same way, the Holy Spirit guides us through peace and warnings. When Paul was seeking God’s will in Acts 16, he was twice “forbidden by the Spirit” to go in certain directions. He then received the Macedonian call: “...assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us.” The unsettled warnings had been replaced with unusual peace! One of the tasks of the Holy Spirit, as revealed in John 16:13, is to “...guide you into all truth...” Rest assured that the Holy Spirit will never lead our lives in contradiction to the Word of God. It is that peaceful assurance that instills confidence and courage to move forward even against insurmountable odds.

III. God Speaks through the Work of His Sovereignty.

In Psalm 32:8, David writes, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” How does this work toward helping us find God’s will? There were moments as a child when I was being the typical rambunctious and mischievous boy, and my mother gave me “the eye.” No words were ever exchanged, but I clearly knew the will of my mother! When God gives us His eye, He opens our eyes to His leading amidst the providentially arranged circumstances and conditions of our life.

Do you think Jonah clearly understood God’s will after “the Lord sent a wind” and “the Lord prepared a great fish”? Do you think Balaam could clearly see which direction to go once the Lord opened his eyes to the peril of an angel with a drawn sword? I like what pastor Michael Catt said, “You will never miss God’s will as long as you only drive the train where God has already laid the tracks.” Wherever you find God’s providence at work is the place you will most likely find His plan and pathway for your life.

IV. God Speaks through the Words of His Saints.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 11:14, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” God will often use trusted friends as an extra set of eyes to give us perception of what we are clearly missing. It is always wise to seek counsel from godly people who are walking fresh and intimate with the Lord.

The classic example of this would be Mordecai’s convicting, yet confirming, counsel to Esther. Esther knew in her heart what was right to do, but fears and self-preservation were overtaking her will. Mordecai’s words added confirmation to what she already knew, and it gave her the courage to follow through with God’s will. Adrian Rogers said, “Ninety percent of God’s will is found between your ears.” He was describing sanctified common sense! A man is only as wise as his ability to recognize, receive, and react to the wisdom he is given.

Former diplomat Bernard Edinger made this observation, “Inside the will of God there is no failure. Outside the will of God there is no success.” Success in the Christian life is no accident and it never “just happens.” When the perfect will of God intersects with the complete obedience of man, life will be a flowing transition rather than a forced transaction! So, do you really want to know God’s will for your life? It is not that difficult if you have the sense God gave a goose!

 

© 2010 Alan Stewart


Alan Stewart pastors Rechoboth Baptist Church in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.

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Heaven and the

Eternal Worship Service”

By Shea Oakley



If you have been a believer for very long you have probably heard some people in your church talk about the desirability of Heaven with a certain degree of hesitation, a degree of doubt. These are the brethren who find themselves wondering if the dwelling place of the blessed is some kind of an “eternal worship service”. By this they mean the idea of spending all eternity singing literally endless choruses of hymns before the throne of God as they do for 20 or 30 minutes before a worship band or a choir on a platform on a typical Sunday morning. For some this idea is not yet a very appealing one.

I will not argue here about exactly what Heaven may be besides an eternal worship service. I do wish to submit that, for those who have at any time been caught up into the presence of God through corporate worship in song (or individual worship in song for that matter), such a Heaven isn’t something to dread. It is instead something to be deeply desired, for to feel God’s habitation of His peoples’ adoration, as one of those people, is perhaps the greatest “high” any human being can ever experience in this life. Those who only know boredom during such times simply have not yet been willing or able to truly focus on the One such times are centered around.

I say this not to discourage the believer who has not yet experienced the spiritual delight of worship. I have only begun to more consistently experience this delight myself in the last few years of my own two decades of faith. Many factors can negatively effect being caught up in holy veneration of our Lord and not all of them are our fault. Moreover, if any Christian sincerely purposes in his or her heart to focus on the reality of the divine during times of corporate worship, no matter whether it evokes good feelings or not, those feelings will come eventually. The whole purpose of worship, remember, is to express our deep love and loyalty to the God who has so loved us. Rapturous feelings of connection with Him are sometimes a wonderful result of loving God in this way, but they are not the object. The object of worship is to honor God’s infinite worth with our wills. In a sense the purpose of worship is worship. It is its own fulfillment.

That said, we cannot forget that Heaven is the ultimate place of worship, a place where every earthly barrier to the vital adoration of our Creator has been completely and permanently removed. For the true child of God, looking forward to this can be a source of sometimes overwhelming joy.

In Heaven, the conscious adulation we will know is also the ultimate connection, the ultimate consummation, the absolute perfection of our union with God. In heavenly worship we will be caught up into our Lord as we but tasted when we attempted to focus on Him on Earth. In our present frame we just cannot fully grasp how wondrous this will be. It is the answer to our heart’s truest desire.

What could be better than experiencing that which will connect us with Him as nothing else presently can, as nothing else is meant to while we still sojourn on this fallen planet and “see through a glass darkly”? This is what we were born and re-born for! It is our destiny and our purpose. We were made to glorify our Lord and Savior and we will not be truly whole and happy until we can do so in the paradise of His absolute presence in His Son, Jesus Christ, in the place that Son prepares for us.

Remember this the next time you sing in church. Contemplate the ramifications of worship both now and one day in Heaven. Let your mind and heart ponder the goodness of your God as you sing to and for Him. My prayer is that, as you do, the idea of someday entering into an “eternal worship service” will become a source of joyful expectancy, no longer something to mistakenly dread.

© Shea Oakley. All Rights Reserved.

Converted from atheism in 1990, Shea Oakley has written over 350 articles for electronic and print publications since 2002, including Disciple Magazine (and Pulpit Helps Magazine), The Christian Herald, The Christian Post, Christian Network and Crosshome.com. In 2003 he graduated from Alliance Theological Seminary with a Certificate of Theological Studies. Shea and his wife Kathleen make their home in West Milford, New Jersey.



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Solitary Conceit:

The Church and the Individual

By Joe McKeever



C. S. Lewis was fielding questions from his audience. Someone asked how important church attendance and membership are to living a successful Christian life. From his book God in the Dock, his answer:

“My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about 14 years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and of course, I found this meant being a target.

“It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.

“If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament (John 6:53-54), and you can’t do it without going to church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.

“I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t worthy to clean those boots.

“It gets you out of your solitary conceit. It is not for me to lay down laws, as I am only a layman, and I don’t know much.”

Solitary conceit. That one has snagged my attention and will not turn me loose. I see it in Christians who stand aloof from church attendance, in pastors who will not associate with other ministers, and in myself. The Christian who recoils from identifying with a specific church suffers from solitary conceit.

“The churches today just don’t meet my need.” “They aren’t as warm and welcoming as churches ought to be.” “I find I can worship better at home with my Bible sitting in front of a blazing fire in the fireplace with a cup of spice tea at hand.” Then you are smarter than God.

Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting [encouraging] one another, and so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). The verse just before reads, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” The Lord thought every believer ought to belong to a fellowship of Christ-followers. The person calling himself a disciple of Jesus but not joining with other believers is attempting something never successfully done and specifically forbidden in Scripture.

I’ll tell you what I think it is (just my opinion, mind you): it is indeed a conceit. The solitary believer who will not join with other believers thinks himself a better Christian than they. He visits a congregation and spots a class of church members he’d just as soon not be identified with. They are a little beneath him. Their brand of Christianity is not as refined as his. Their doctrines not as well thought out as his. They dress differently. Their music is not very good.

Solitary conceit is every bit as dangerous and destructive as it sounds. We remember how Jesus said no one would enter heaven unless they humbled themselves as a little child. That’s the remedy for solitary conceit. Let the follower of Jesus Christ rebuke his pride and step forward in church and join those humble believers who are trying their best to follow Him too. As Lewis noted, you just might discover you are not worthy to shine the boots of some of those whom you looked down on earlier.

The pastor who will not deign to associate with other preachers—particularly those shepherding smaller, less (ahem) significant churches—suffers from solitary conceit. I know these pastors. Some are my friends. My pastoral ministry—like that of most preachers—began in small, out of the way churches. Unity Baptist Church in Kimberly, Alabama, Paradis Baptist Church in Paradis, Louisiana, and Emmanuel Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, were not large and would not impress the pastors of the larger city churches in those areas.

As a young preacher, I recall being surprised at not finding the pastors of the First Baptist Churches in attendance at associational functions I would attend. “Where are they?” I wondered. I would have thought they would have delighted in attending these events where they could associate with other preachers. The fact that it was like bread and butter to me made me think they would see it as such also. They didn’t. Were we to ask them, those pastors would plead that a) they don’t have time, b) those meetings have little to offer them, and c) “We send our money.”

Baloney: It’s pride—conceit. We all find the time to do whatever is important to us. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to address the Alabama Baptist Convention meeting at First Baptist Montgomery in two sessions. In one, I directed a broadside toward “You pastors of the big First Baptist Church who are too much of big shots to attend your associational meetings.” I said, “My friends, get off your high horse, humble yourself, get in there and fellowship with those pastors and you might make a discovery. You will find that there are pastors of much smaller churches—even bi-vocational pastors—who can teach you a great deal.” An “oooooh” went up from the congregation. I had touched a nerve.

Again, as Lewis discovered, you might find that bi-vocational pastor serving that handful of folks down at Shady Creek Chapel is a far greater Christian than yourself and has wisdom to offer like you have only dreamed of. Solitary conceit afflicts pastors as much as the next man and should be seen as the isolating sin it is and be repented of.

I suffer from solitary conceit when I try to bear up under the load God lays on me alone, all by my lonesome. We’ve all heard the plaintive cries of the four-year-old, “I can do it by myself!” The immature within us makes the same claims, and is just as mistaken. We need one another.

Anyone doubting that should spend two hours perusing the entire New Testament in search of “one another” texts. There are at least 31 places in the gospels and epistles where believers are commanded to do certain things to one another. We are to love, submit, encourage, rebuke, be kind, pray for, admonish, teach, build up, and forgive one another. One of my favorite books is One Anothering by Al Meredith and Dan Crawford, containing devotionals on each of the 31 admonitions they find in Scripture.

One of our highest privileges is praying for friends. One of my highest pleasures is sharing prayer requests with several friends who lift me up. I have seen answers to prayer in the remarkable range not long after asking for their prayers.

This old story has been retold thousands of times, but it fits here. When the pastor called on a church member who had been missing worship for quite some time, he said not a word but took the tongs and lifted a coal from the fireplace, laying it off to itself. Soon, it had died out and turned black. The church member said, “Well said, preacher. I’ll see you in church Sunday.”

We need each other. We need the Church as a whole and a local church in particular. We need companions and friends along this journey. The one who says he does not contradicts the Lord Himself.

Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.

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Exegetically Speaking

by Spiros Zodhiates


Watching for Christ’s Return

Matthew 24:42-44




From Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, 2006, AMG Publishers

[42] From the example of the days of Noah, Jesus instructed believers to, “watch (grēgoreíte, the present imperative of grēgoréō [1127], to watch, stay alert, a verb deriving from egeírō [1453], to stay awake, to not succumb to anxiety and fear, to maintain watchfulness) therefore: for ye know (from oída [1492] from horáō [3708], to see and perceive with emphasis on understanding) not what hour your Lord doth come (érchetai, the present middle deponent of érchomai [2064], to come).”

The believers have absolutely no perception or revelation of the precise hour Christ will come. The timing is hidden from us. In the parallel passage in Mark 13:33, the word used is kairós ([2540], season, a bit broader than “hour”) showing the fluidity of eschatological time references in Scripture (see also Acts 1:7; 1 John 2:18: “it is the last hour” [a.t.; hōra {5510}]).

Consequently, the return of Christ is always imminent. In Revelation 3:3, the Lord warned the church of Sardis, “You will absolutely not (the two negatives ou [3756] and [3361] combined as an intensive combination meaning ‘absolutely not,’ never, at any time) know what sort (from poíos [4169]) of hour I will come upon you” (a.t.)—referring to a local judgment.

The present (as opposed to the aorist) imperative of grēgoréō stresses the need for a constant vigil since Christ’s return is soon. This is the first time Jesus said to maintain an attitude of alertness based on (oún [3767], “therefore”) our having absolutely no experiential knowledge of the hour of His return.

We watch with expectation not only for Christ’s return but also for the events associated with that return as described by Paul (1 Thess. 4:13–18). For us, His return means resurrection to a qualitatively new life (John 5:29) and reunion with believers of past ages, some of whom may be close relatives. The expectation of redemption that offsets our groaning to be released from our present dying bodies (Rom. 8:10-11, 19) is described with the verb apekdéchomai ([553], to sincerely and eagerly await, expect [Rom. 8:23; see 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28]).

Christ’s return also means our appearance before His judgment seat (bēma [968]) to receive rewards for benevolent (agathós [18]) works done “through the body” (2 Cor. 5:10; a.t.), that is throughout the course of our physical lives. One phrase that captures the full meaning of the Lord’s return to and for believers is the “blessed (from makários [3107]) hope (from elpís [1680])” (Tit. 2:13).

The writer of Hebrews says unbelievers have “a fearful (from phoberós [5398]) expectation (ekdochē [1561]) of judgment and a zealous fire coming to devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27; a.t.). To them, Christ’s coming is the same threat to worldly values, goals, and living that it was to those in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37). Their expectation, cued by consciences stamped with the guilt of vile things done throughout their lives (2 Cor. 5:10), is terror. Guilt is a negative premonition that produces cowering and running for cover (Rev. 6:16: “Hide us from…the wrath of the Lamb!”). But there will be no cover. The hypocrite even “say[s] in his heart, My lord delays his coming” (Matt. 24:48; a.t.), as if an omniscient Lord would not notice.

In modern Greek, grēgora means quickly, implying a need to hurry because of danger. Something is about to take place that is not within one’s control. An unpredictable, uncontrollable, and undesirable storm is brewing. The Noahic flood was such a storm. Anyone who has survived a major flood understands how quickly life-sustaining water turns into life-threatening power. The need is not philosophical conjecture but escape. Jesus did not say when the storm is coming, only that it is coming. He cautioned us to prepare and wait for His ark. There is always an ark for He is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9).

But we are told in 1 Timothy 6:16 that the true Light, like our natural sun, is unapproachable (from aprósitos [676], a compound from the alpha privative a [1], without; prós [4314], toward; and eimí [1510], to be). We cannot live without the sun, but we do not try to colonize it. We receive from it, but we cannot control or regulate it; it is not within the scope of scientific manipulation. Unlike the sun, the Son of Righteousness is fast approaching. He will return in “yet a little while” (Heb. 10:37), so we must “watch” in a hurried (i.e., urgent) manner.

There are several imminent events. The rapture of the church is imminent, but death is always close. People’s spirits are either peaceably “carried by the angels” (Luke 16:22) or violently snatched out of their bodies. We never know when our physical lives will be taken from us. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” While the fact of death is appointed, the time is not an intuition or even a private revelation. Consequently, we must live our lives with ongoing watchfulness and expectation, treating death as an imminent coming of the Lord to take us to Himself.




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