Monday, October 24, 2011

They Prayed for WHAT?!



Most Christians know that prayer is central to one’s spiritual existence both in private and public expressions.  Most are familiar with the what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”  Few are familiar, though, with the “Apostles Prayer” of Acts 4.  It is to our extreme benefit to study and learn from this apostolic example for what the apostles prayed for and what we typically pray for are in stark contrast most of the time.

After appearing before the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, the apostles were “charged …not to speak or teach at all in the Name of Jesus.”  [Acts 4.18]   In brave civil disobedience, Peter and John replied; “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  [Acts 4.19 – 20]  They were then further threatened and let go.

Peter and John then entered into prayer with the entire church.  That prayer is preserved for us by the Holy Spirit by the hand of Luke in Acts 4. 24b – 30.  While our prayers are often reactive to our circumstances, the apostles prayer in contrast, is proactive – not to get them “out of trouble” but to bolster them for MORE trouble!  Their prayer was not at the time of their arrest but at the time of their release.  They prayed for God’s help for strength to return to the battle, not to be taken out of the battle.  Therein is the lesson for us.

In observing the text we see it in four parts; there is a NEED for prayer, there is a DELIVERY of the prayer, there are RESULTS of the prayer and there, finally, are CONSEQUENCES of the prayer.

In 4.23 – 24a we see that the NEED of prayer was evident because their release was conditional; that they would cease speaking out in the Name of Jesus Christ.  The need for prayer was predicated on the fact that such a surrender was not an option and that Divine intervention was very much needed.

The DELIVERY of the prayer is given to us in 4.24b – 30.  The form, the content, the purpose and the mindset should be prototypically instructive to us in the 21st century.  The church of Christ faces existential madness and Islamic extremism from the outside and interpretive apostasy from the inside.  

Powerful prayer is needed more than at almost anytime since the 1st century for it was our Lord who asked the rhetorical question; “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?”  [Luke 18.8]  Friends, if we neglect powerful prayer we may just answer Jesus’ question in the negative.  Nothing would be more tragic!  Let us observe the details of the apostles prayerful delivery:

·         God is addressed as both Sovereign and all powerful
·         The prayer is based on Scripture [Psalms 2] which is quoted
·         It is acknowledged that opposition to the gospel is in God’s plan
·         God actually predestines certain events (though not individuals)
·         The persecution is NOT asked to be taken away
·         Three things ARE asked of God:
1.      That they will be able to SPEAK God’s Word
2.      That they speak this Word with “all boldness” (ESV)
a.      The phrase rendered “all boldness” is translated from the Greek word parrhesia which, according to Strong’s means “all out-spokeness, frankness, blunt, assured and plain (speaking).”
3.      That the Word “spoken boldly” will be confirmed by “healings, signs and wonders performed through the Name of You holy servant Jesus.” [4.30]  This was promised by Christ in Mark 16.20.  Today, as the Word is now complete, our confirmation is through that revealed Word.  Those who hear it from us can either accept it or reject it.  The miracle of preserved revelation IS our confirmation!

This powerful prayer had immediate RESULTS.  In 4.31 we see those immediate results;

·         The place was shaken
·         They were all filled with the Holy Spirit
·         They continued to speak the Word of God
·         That continuance was with BOLDNESS!

Not only were there immediate results, in 4.32 – 37, we see long term positive consequences:

·         The entire congregation was of one heart and soul
·         They had all things in common
·         The Apostles continued to give their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
·         Great grace was on them all
·         There was not a needy person among them
·         Land owners sold their land and gave the proceeds to the church
·         The Apostles distributed these funds according to the various needs in the congregation
·         God rose up Barnabas as an encourager

We can positively conclude that in our spiritually perilous times that we should pray for the ability to SPEAK God’s Word, to speak it OUTSPOKENLY, FRANKLY, BLUNTLY, ASSSURADLEY, AND PLAINLY, AND for God to confirm our words by the Scriptures rightly divided.  May our prayers be as the Apostles!

NOTE: Picture is a free public domain image of the "Jerusalem Cross"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

David's Lamentation


We are studying through II Samuel at the Archdale church of Christ right now.  Last Sunday night our lesson covered the tragic death of King David's son, Absalom.  Though a pitiful and ruthless man who sought his father's death, David loved his son and lamented his demise in chapter 18, vs. 32; "And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"  We are reminded that, as was Absalom, we are worthless and rebellious towards our God, a loving and forgiving Father who loves us despite who we are.  David was willing to die in the place of his son but could not.  God was willing to die in our stead and DID!  Moved by this Scripture, the great American composer, William Billings, produced in 1778 this great hymn entitled simply; "David's Lamentation."  The attached video show how this song was sung on the great American frontier in what is called the "Sacred Harp" style.  It was, as in the New Testament time, sung a-capella (Latin for "as in church") without instrumental intervention.  The time is kept by the raising that lowering of the elbow to hand.  The tune is sung first and then the words in this video as this is how the music was learned on the frontier.  Thanks to one of our sisters at Archdale for sending me the link for the video.  Enjoy and reflect on the Christ who died for you and me though we were in rebellion!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjxaUEyvifU&feature=related

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Part of ONE Don't People Want to Understand?



WARNING!  This post contains TRUTH, though spoken in LOVE,  which "may" if not accepted,  cause severe anger, physical reactions of high blood pressure, upset stomach and head ache.  If you experience any of these physical reactions, consult and obey the New Testament passages noted until the symptoms pass.  DO NOT consult any denominational doctrines of men, creeds, dogmas, traditions or public opinion as your symptoms will only increase in number and severity.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4.12 (ESV)

There is a growing divide among God's people.  This divide concerns this question; "Is the church of Christ just another denomination among many or is the church of Christ the singular Body of Christ spoken of in the New Testament as the singular and narrow way of salvation excluding all others?"   "IF" we have "ears to hear," the answer is plain, obvious and clear.  The divide comes from the fact that many among us no longer look to the ancient words of Christ preserved for us in written form by the Holy Spirit for all time and eternity without change.  Granted, many continue to hold that truth is static, understandable and obtainable through the Words of the New Testament.  Sadly, many others have grasped the existential view of truth, that it evolves over time, constantly changes, is at best elusive and is interpreted individually based upon each persons life experiences, stories and perspective.  Which is it?


In Matthew 16.18 Jesus promised to build His church.  Singular.  Not plural, singular.  There were not and are not multiple churches.  There is only one gospel, all others are accursed according to Paul in Galatians 1.6fl.  “IF” there are multiple churches, multiple gospels and multiple ways for salvation, the reason and purpose for the church of Christ vanishes.  “IF” we are just “one among many,” all is lost as a reason to exist.
 
This is a very hard message.  Many today in the Lord’s church are talking about “unity” with “other Christians.”  We must ask the question, “IF” there are “other Christians,” how did they become such and to what church were they added?  In Acts 4, Peter asserts in a detailed and redundant way that there is only “ONE name under heaven by which we must be saved.” 

·         In 4.2 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE teaching
-      ONE proclamation
-      ONE resurrection
·         In 4.7 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE power
-      ONE name
·         In 4.10 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE name
-      ONE crucifixion
-      ONE resurrection
-      ONE man
·         In 4.11 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE name
-      ONE stone
-      ONE cornerstone

In verses 12 – 20, Peter concludes his assertion of the one way of salvation.  Salvation is found in no one else.  In fact, “IF” there are other ways to salvation other than “repentance and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” (Acts 2.38) then, in contradiction to Peter then there MUST also be: 1) More than one teaching, 2) More than one proclamation, 3) More than one resurrection, 4) More than one power, 5) More than one name, 6) More than one crucifixion, 7) More than just one man, 8) More than just one stone, and, 9) More than just one cornerstone.  By default then we must also conclude that Christ Himself was mistaken when he promised to build just one church.  By default then we must also conclude that Paul was in error when he asserted that there was but one gospel and that other gospels were accursed!  The exclusion of other names given for salvation is 100%.  


The singular gospel of salvation cannot be denied though it very often is rejected along with the proclaimers of that gospel.  The opponents of this singular name, this singular gospel, this singular salvation want this gospel to spread no further and  be spoken and taught no more.  Whether or not this singular gospel is to be spread, be spoken about or taught is for others to judge but we must continue to preach, proclaim and teach this narrow and exclusive gospel message of Jesus Christ!

“What part of ONE don’t people want to understand?”

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fewer, The Better!


Not many people remember but after Sarah died Abraham married again and fathered 5 sons by Keturah, legally a woman of only concubine status.  One of those 5 sons was a man called Midian.  Midian, in turn,  had 5 sons who became the 5 progenitors of a “people of the east” known as the Midianites.  The Midianites were a nomadic people and lived at times in southeastern Palestine, in the Sinai Desert and southwest Israel alongside the Moabites.

Our first brush with Midian is positive.  Jethro, the father in law of Moses, was a priest of God and was from Midian. Apparently, there were very few God fearers among them, most were idolators.  When it becomes clear that Israel is going to enter Canaan and sweep the land clean of it’s inhabitants, Midian allied herself with Moab and began to militarily confront Israel.  Midian was out to play hardball, a move they would soon live to regret.  In Numbers 25 we learn that the Midianites infiltrated the camp of Israel, seduced both men and women to worship the false god Baal-Peor  which triggered the wrath of God.  A plague ensued upon the people and 24,000 died before the Lord until the plague was stopped by a man known as Phineas.  Phineas was a priest.  In fact he was not just any priest, he was the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron.  When Phineas observed that an Israelite man was taking a Midianite woman into his family circle, he arose and killed both the man and the woman with a spear.  The anger of the Lord was abated and Phineas was rewarded by God with a “covenant of peace” and a “covenant of perpetual priesthood” because he was “jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”  Phineas became the warrior-priest for Israel.  God used him to strike a heavy blow to Midian. 

In Numbers 31, on instructions from God, Moses assembles an army of 12,000 men, 1,000 from each tribe in order to “execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.”  This army was led by none other than Phineas.  The Bible says that “every male” was killed from among them including the 5 kings of the five Midianite clans.  Baalam also died, the man who pushed the infiltration idea to start with.  This all took place “on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan, opposite Jericho.  Why, then, some 200 years later are the Midianites again a threat to Israel, now in the land of promise? 

History tells us that the Midianites not only were divided up among 5 tribes, some lived in fortified cities and some lived as roaming nomads in the wilderness.  The city dwellers were the warriors and defenders of their land so the nomadic portion of the people could sustain everyone with their shepherding and trading endeavors.  The nomads survived the slaughter for they were not present at the battle on the plains of Moab.  Over time, the Midianites rebuilt their powerbase and became so strong as to not only threaten Israel once more, they actually conquered Israel and held them under subjection for some 7 years

According to Judges 5, Israel “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and he gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.” (6.1 NASB)  Midian allied themselves with the dreaded and hated Amalekites and suppressed Israel in ways that are hard to imagine.  Israel was suppressed to such an extent that they abandoned their property and lived in caves while the enemy ravaged the land.  They cried out to God for deliverance and He heard them.  God sent them a deliverer, a man called Gideon whose name means “mighty warrior” or “faller of trees.”  How he delivered Israel is very instructive for us for it shows us an insight into the mind of God as He protects His people and sets them on a path to growth and faithfulness.

About fifty miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee is a place known as the Valley of Jezreel.  It is large and flat, very suitable for large armies of men to gather and fight.  Gideon set up camp overlooking the valley above a place known as “The Spring (or well) of Harod” that gives a continuous source of cold, clear and clean water that flows south and east into the Jordan River.  Today it is known as the “Springs of Gideon” and water STILL flows as it did many thousands of years ago.  Gideon had raised a small army, without weapons by the way, of 32,000 men.[1]  The enemy down in the valley numbered approx. 135,000![2]   Outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, the odds looked “mighty long,” especially in the light of the fact that the enemy was a fully trained and equipped professional military force.  That being the case, God now tells Gideon something spectacular, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, “My own power has delivered me.” (7.2 NASB)

God first tells all the men who are afraid to just go on home, 22,000 do so.  That leaves 10,000.  God tells Gideon that He is going to “test them.”  Gideon, at Gods direction, brings the men to the Springs of Harod and tests them as to just how they drink the water.  Only those who lie down prostrate and “lap the water up like dogs” are chosen.  All those who knelt down and scooped the water up with their hands were sent home.  This number turned out to be 9,700 leaving a force of 300 men!  NOW God was ready!

We all know what happens next, the 300 men at God’s direction under Gideon blow their trumpets, crash their lamp jars, hold up their torches and cry out at once, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”   Panic ensues in the ranks of the enemy so as they all flee their camps.  Gideon summons men from Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh and the enemy is pursued and killed, including their two field commander kings, Oreb and Zeeb.  The defeat was massive, 120,000 of the enemy were killed as they fled before Gideon.  In addition, Ephriam is summoned to secure a broad area, cutting off any possibility of retreat .  Later Ephriam routs the remaining whole army of 15,000.   The Bible says in Judges 8.28 that “…Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore.” (NASB)  Midian disappears from history.  God delivered Israel from the enemy with only Gideon and 300 men!

This is far more than just very interesting history, it gives us an insight into the mind of God as to what He will do for His Names Sake when he people are threatened or suppressed.  From His ranks he will purge the fearful and the faint hearted leaving only a faithful remnant with whom He will gain a great victory!

By application, when God delivers a congregation of His people who cry out to Him for deliverance, He may choose to separate His people into 3 camps, the Fearful, the Faint-Hearted and the Faithful.  We MUST take heed to make sure we are in the 3rd group, a distinct and tiny minority – a remnant!  As we have just discovered, only less than 1% were ultimately selected to remain in God’s army to attack Midian.  That means that 99% of those called by Gideon failed to make the cut.

·         The Fearful will not inherit a reward in Heaven – Revelation 21:8.  Those Christians that
bury their talents in the ground and refuse to confess Christ before men are fearful and will not gain their inheritance!
·         The Faint-Hearted  - James 4:8 – The fainthearted Christian is one that is apart from God, being a sinner and having an un-pure heart.  He in enjoined to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  Elijah asked the faint hearted Jews on Mt. Carmel; “How long will you halt between two opinions?”  (I Kings 18.21)  The faint-hearted will not be used by God until they repent and return to God.
·         The Faithful – Matthew 25:21 – The faithful servant who has been faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things! 

Let us all strive to be FAITHFUL in all things so that we will be in “God’s 1% remnant!” as was Gideon and his 300 men!  Those faithful will be used by God to save our congregation so that God can grow His church here in Charlotte!  The remnant will prevail in the struggle!


[1] This according to Judges 7.3
[2] This according to Judges 8.10
NOTE: Picture courtesy of: http://gardenofpraise.com/bibl12s.htm, a publication of the La Vista church of Christ

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