love

Is Tradition Bad?

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Are church traditions inherently bad? Does a traditional worship service indicate that a church is Spiritually dead? Does a contemporary service indicate Spiritual life?

Or is it the opposite? Does a traditional service demonstrate a commitment to the Word, while a contemporary service indicates a willingness to compromise truth?

To pose these questions is to ignore the one thing that God actually assesses, the condition of the human heart.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” In all we do, God examines our heart.

We can be the most religious, most progressive, most forward thinking, or most moral people in the world, but if our heart is not right toward God, none of it matters. If our heart is far removed from God, we are at odds with Him regardless of our actions.

No place is this better illustrated than in Mark 7:1-23, where Jesus is confronted over the fact that His disciples do not participate in ritual hand-washing before eating.

In His rebuttal to their criticisms, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for disregarding the commandment of God in favor of the traditions of men (Luke 7:8). This verse, combined with the restlessness of Christians anxious to see change in their churches, has led to many using Mark 7 to attack ALL traditions in church.

Those who see tradition as the problem use Mark 7 to criticize the use of hymnals in church, the presence of pews and not chairs in the sanctuary, the lack of audio/visual aids to the sermon, and even the way others dress themselves. Such criticisms, however, miss the basis for the Lord’s contempt for the traditions of the Pharisees.

In Mark 7:6, Jesus said, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

The issue was not that the Pharisees had traditions. The issue ran deeper than the fact that the Pharisees elevated their traditions to the same level as scripture. The real issue was that the Pharisees’ hearts were far from God, yet they portrayed an aura of righteousness by hiding behind their traditions.

In learning from the mistakes of the Pharisees, we see that we must evaluate the condition of our hearts. To do this, we’ll apply three tests:

  1. If we are more focused on our own traditions than the Word of God, we have a heart problem.
  2. If our traditions lead us away from the commandment of God, we have a heart problem.
  3. If we express anger, bitterness, illicit lust, or other forms of darkness, we have a heart problem.

Our heart is the problem if we are more focused on our traditions than what the Bible teaches. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had the entire Old Testament, with its numerous passages teaching God’s love, grace and redemption. Yet, if you attended a Bible class taught by a Pharisee, you would be more likely to hear a lecture on proper hand-washing technique than you would about repentance and faith.

If our churches are spending more time teaching their viewpoints on Bible translations, politics, financial management or social justice, rather than the Gospel as revealed in scripture, then we are more focused on tradition than God’s word. If that’s the case, we have a heart problem.

Our heart is the problem if our traditions lead us away from the commandment of God. That brings up the question, “What is the commandment of God?”

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus said the greatest commandments of God are to love God, and to love your neighbor. Basically, the commandment of God is love.

The Pharisees abandoned the idea of loving one another when they challenged who was actually one’s neighbor, and when their tradition of Corban allowed them to neglect their aging parents. The Pharisees failed to follow God’s commandment to love, and this was expressed in how they observed their traditions. But make no mistake, their heart was the problem.

If our traditions hinder our love toward God, or our love to others, we have a heart problem. If we see people as the problem, different groups as opponents, or disdain those who don’t meet our expectations, we have a heart problem.

Finally, if we express darkness in our lives, it’s an indication that we have darkness in our hearts. Jesus explained that our problems have more to do with what’s going on inside us, rather than what happens around us. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus said:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

If we find ourselves focused on evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications (sexual immorality), then we have darkness in our hearts. If we hate someone to the point that we’d like to kill them, if we desire to steal, or if we desire others’ possessions, we have darkness in our hearts. If we rebel against God, we have darkness in our hearts.

That darkness within our heart is the problem. That’s what separates us from God. How we treat our traditions are merely the symptom.

Once we learn to examine our hearts, we can correct our thinking to return us to where God wants us. God wants us to learn from His Word, love others, and express the righteousness He has placed within our hearts. When we follow this plan, we’ll be too busy glorifying Him and reaching others to be concerned with what color the carpet in the sanctuary is. That will be a beautiful day.

Love Means Endurance

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One of the most profound statements made in the Bible is found in 1 Peter 2:21, “For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.”

In essence, this verse teaches us everything we need to know in relation to Christ, and in our relationships with each other.

Christ suffered for us. He was arrested, mocked, beaten, flogged, scourged, rejected, then nailed to the cross, where He suffered the wrath of God for our sin, clearing us from a debt owed to God that we could never be able to pay, thus purchasing our eternal salvation and giving us the confident expectation that one day we will enter His Kingdom.

For that reason, we live with hope, we gather as a church, we teach our children and we minister to our communities. “For hereunto were we called,” for this purpose, and as a result of this.

It is in that context that Peter gives us marital advice in 1 Peter 3. 1 Peter 3:1 says, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.”

That verse starts with “likewise,” which refers back to 1 Peter 2:21, “that Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.”

Basically, like Christ suffered for us, we should be willing to suffer, or better yet, endure for each other. Peter’s call for wives to submit to their husbands in 1 Peter 3 differs from Paul in that Peter acknowledges that this can be rather difficult, especially if the wife is married to a non-believer or an idiot.

He is saying, “I know it’s difficult, but Christ suffered and endured for you. You can in turn glorify Him by enduring with your husband.”

Furthermore, Peter writes that by enduring with (suffering) your husband, you can actually win him to the Lord, just as Christ redeemed us through His suffering.

*NOTE: This is assuming that this is a safe marriage. This verse neither justifies abuse, not encourages a woman to remain in an unsafe situation.*

You see, when we love, suffer for, and endure with each other the way Jesus suffered for and endured for us, then good things happen. In 1 Peter 3:5-6, Peter points out how Sarah did the same thing, when she obeyed Abraham, calling him, Lord. As a result, she gave birth to Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who fathered the nation of Israel, from which Christ was born. God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled because Sarah obeyed him, even when Abraham acted like a fool.

When we trust the Lord, good things happen. When we trust the Lord enough to love one another as Christ loves us, really good things happen.

After addressing the wives, Peter addresses the husbands, saying in 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”

Again, that word, “Likewise.” Husbands get a double-helping of “likewise.” Peter was saying, “Like Christ suffered for you, and like your wife continues to suffer with and endure with you, dwell with her!”

When Peter said to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge,” he meant more than sharing the same address and roof. To dwell with our wives according to knowledge means to live with, do life together, get to know, become more intimate with, understand, and fully love our wives. This is something a husband should want to do, if he loves his wife as Jesus does.

However, our flesh does not love as Jesus loves. Therefore, men find it just as hard to “dwell” with their wives as wives find it to “be in subjection” to their foolish husbands. Wives would rather handle business than watch their husbands bungle it, and husbands would rather talk to solve a problem rather than communicate to connect. Therefore, scripture must teach us to go against the flesh and do that which takes a little more effort. Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, and husbands, dwell with your wives.

“Giving honor unto the wife as the weaker vessel” simply means to cherish her as you would a fragile, priceless antique. We should want to love, cherish, protect and spoil our wives.

Yes, it can get exhausting, which is why Peter gives us the suffering of Christ and the patience of wives as examples.

Finally, Peter discusses Christians at large. In 1 Peter 3:8, we are commanded to “be all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.”

This verse teaches us to be unified, gathering together around our common belief of Jesus Christ as our savior, and our faith in the redemption He purchased for us on the cross. Doing this, we should be compassionate and sympathetic to one another, and love one another.

This may seem like a tall order, but Christ loved us before any of us were lovable. So should we love one another.

All of these concepts are premised upon us loving each other as Christ loved us. Such glorifies the Lord. Are we willing to learn to love each other, endure with each other, and work to help and edify each other. May God bless you.

Where’s the Love? (Mark 6:1-13)

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In Mark 5, multitudes of people are following Jesus. They come to Him for healing and deliverance. A crowd had met Jesus in Capernaum when Jairus came to beg Him to heal His daughter. A woman with an issue of blood came to Him to be healed. Crowds listened to Jesus teach and preach as the One who authored the scriptures they had spent their lives learning.

Yet, in His hometown of Nazareth, the people were unimpressed. In Mark 6:1-13, Jesus returned to His hometown synagogue, and began to teach. His ministry and teaching had stirred up controversy, and the people began to question His authority.

They said things like, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Aren’t all His brothers and sisters here? Where did He get this wisdom, and how is He doing these great works?”

Basically, their reaction was, “Who does Jesus think He is? He ain’t no better than the rest of us!”

The people of Nazareth had a front row seat to the arrival of Christ. They watched Him grow. They were told of His virgin birth. They were among the first to hear Him preach, and to see Him work miracles.

Yet, their advantage in seeing Jesus grow up was also their stumbling block. Having seen Him grow up among them, and being home to His carpentry shop, Jesus had become too familiar to them. As a result, they took Him for granted and overlooked His divinity. So, they reacted to His ministry with incredulity.

Jesus was familiar to them. Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt breeds rejection.

This is a real danger to us today. It is possible for us to become too caught up in the day to day activities of life, and the weekly activities of church, that we forget Who our Lord is.

We can fall into a routine of religious habits, begin living by our works rather than the grace of God, and start thinking that we have somehow elevated ourselves to a place where we have earned God’s favor.

We can get caught up in trying to build a church, expand a ministry, and improve our lot in life that we forget about our Lord, who should be the center of it all.

We can continue this trend until our Lord finds Himself on the outside of the church, and on the outside of our lives, knocking on the door in hopes that we’ll open up, and let Him in. We can forget our first love. (Incidentally, this was the same sin committed by the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, and the Lord threatened to take their candlestick.)

When we do that, we commit the same sin as the synagogue in Nazareth.

We must never forget God’s love, and we must never discount the effect His love has had upon us. We most never forget how His love redeemed us and transformed us, and we must never forget that His love is our primary motivation in life.

In Mark 6, Jesus goes on to send the apostles out two-by-two. They went through the villages, preaching the Gospel, calling the people to repentance, and ministering to their needs by healing them and casting out devils. Likewise, we understand that the Lord has sent us into this world to spread the Gospel of His death, burial and resurrection for our redemption from sin.

It’s a mighty calling, and one God has blessed us with. Our primary purpose as Christians, and as a church, is to publish and preach that Gospel wherever we have opportunity, as the Lord commanded us to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we are not motivated by God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for others, our preaching will be in vain. Furthermore, if love is not our motivation, then our message will stray.

All too often, church social media pages, Web sites and blogs will contain more information about why the church is different, or better, than other churches. Many churches have replaced the message of the Gospel with the message of themselves. In this regard, many church Web pages, social media accounts and blogs don’t differ that much from the local car dealership, furniture store and insurance office. It becomes about branding, and not carrying forth God’s message.

The same holds true for Christian Web sites which debate issues within Christianity (pews vs. chairs, powerpoint vs. hymnals, to politic or not, etc). We spend so much time talking among ourselves and promoting ourselves that we fail to do what God told us to do… to preach the Gospel to every creature. This happens when we forget our first love, Christ becomes a mere theological concept, and we become like the synagogue in Nazareth.

As we wrap up our exploration through Mark 6:1-13, we see the apostles anoint the sick with oil. This is how they applied medicine. The olive oil they used had medicinal qualities, and proper medicine was all but non-existent. The people who came to the apostles were in agony, and the apostles did what they could to alleviate that pain as they preached the Gospel.

These actions reflected the love of Christ. You see, Christ is not only concerned with our Spiritual well-being, He is interested in our physical well-being also. Christ does not merely sympathize with our pain, He empathizes with us.

You see, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was in all points tempted like as we are. This means that as He lived the human experience on earth, He experienced all the same problems we do. Financial problems. Family problems (His brothers initially rejected the idea that He was Messiah). Social problems (many rejected Him). Rejection. Betrayal. Persecution. Hunger. You name it.

He knows what you’re going through, and He knows by experience.

After experiencing the worst that society had to offer, He gave Himself over to the Pharisees, who gave Him to the Romans, who crucified Him. As He hung on that cross, He endured the wrath of God for the sins of the world so that we can all be spared, if you repent and believe.

The Lord loves you immensely. Not only that, but He is concerned for your well-being also. When the apostles ministered to the physical needs of the people as they preached their Spiritual needs, they reflected the love of Christ.

Jesus loves us. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He also told us to love each other as He loved us. May we never lose sight of His love.

Ashamed

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In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” That statement not only framed the rest of the book of Romans, but also much of the New Testament.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is how Jesus died for our sins, according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. Romans 5:8 tells us that the Gospel was the ultimate demonstration of God’s love toward us, because God loved us enough to send Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners. John 3:16 openly declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.

God’s love for us is both unmerited and inexplicable. There was nothing we did, no inherent value within us that would warrant God giving His only begotten Son for us. Disagree? Romans 5:6-7 points out that none of us would die for a righteous man, or even a good ole boy. We don’t even see each other as worthy to die for. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present God see that value in us? It’s inexplicable!

That’s what the Bible calls, “grace.” God loves us. God loves you. That love is so strong and so deep that He gave everything He had to redeem you from sin, condemnation, death and degradation.

Once you understand the love that God has for you, that He openly demonstrated in the Gospel, you will never be ashamed of that Gospel.

That word, “ashamed” is an interesting word. In modern times, we understand “ashamed” to mean “embarrassed” or “humiliated.” However, the scriptural use of the word “ashamed” really means “disappointed.” In other words, you put your faith into something that didn’t pan out. You were left with the short end of the stick. You were left holding the bag.

Think of the man who has worked 10 years for one company, loyally paying his dues in hopes of being promoted to partner, only to be passed over for the promotion in favor of the boss’s friend. That man feels that the past 10 years of his life has been wasted. He has to go home and tell his family he didn’t get the promotion. His friends will all know he came up short. He is “ashamed.”

However, the Apostle Paul says that he “is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” He is not left disappointed in the Gospel. He has not come up with the short end of the stick. He has not been left holding the bag, and he hasn’t been passed over or forgotten. He is not ashamed.

Paul said “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ” because he understood the love God had toward him. The Apostle Paul understood that no matter what happened to him in this life, God loved him, and God’s hand was upon His life.

Therefore, Paul understood how to “abound and be abased,” how to be full and hungry (Philippians 4:12). When times were good, Paul celebrated and praised God for His abundance. When times were bad, Paul praised God for leading him through the challenges. Even in the worst of times, Paul knew God was with him, so he was at peace. He understood God’s love for Him. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.

Therefore, Paul was able to write in Romans 8:35-37:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

Regardless of how bad things got, Paul knew that He could not be separated from God’s love. Therefore, he felt peace, and he felt victorious, no matter the circumstance. Because after all, the Christian life has less to do with our current circumstances, and more to do with our eternal destination. Paul also understood that, and he knew that eternity in God’s kingdom would more than outweigh any suffering he endured in this life.

Hence, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18.

Therefore, no matter what happened, Paul was not left high and dry, he was not left destitute or hopeless, because he knew God’s love, and trusted the promises God had made.

Paul was not ashamed.

If you know Jesus Christ as your savior, remember that God is with you through the good times and bad. Remember that He will care for you and meet your needs. Most of all, remember that your eternal destination in His Kingdom will be far greater than anything you can imagine here.

If you are not a Christian, know that God loves you, and gave His only begotten Son to redeem you. Rejecting Christ will bring God’s wrath and judgment. However, turning from sin and trusting the Lord to save you will bring you the same blessing and peace Paul had. You will not be left high and dry. You will not be ashamed of the Gospel. Will you consider repenting and trusting the Lord for salvation?

To share your story of salvation, or to ask for more information, contact us below. Pastor Leland Acker will follow up with a response.

God Is Good To You, And That’s All That Matters

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God loves you.

It may  not seem like it, but He does.

Christian singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once discussed how he once discounted God’s love because God loves everyone. If God loves everyone, what’s so special about me?

The flaw in this way of thinking is that it takes the focus away from how good God is to you, and it compares God’s goodness to you to how good He is to everyone else. When we think this way, there is nothing God can do to please us.

If God loves us and blesses us the same as everyone else, then we are unhappy because we are not special to God. If God blesses others more than us, God is not being fair to us. If God loves and blesses us more than everyone else, then we wonder why? We either accuse God of being partial and unfair, or we believe we deserved the blessing and harbor resentment for others who didn’t earn God’s blessing.

Lost in all this is how good God is to us. We forget how much He loves us. We forget how He blessed us. As Mullins mentioned in the above-linked video, the issue is not how our blessings stack up to others’. The issue is what God has actually done in our lives.

God loves us, even though we’re unlovable. God gave His only begotten Son for us, sent Jesus to die to pay our debt, so that we could be redeemed and live eternally in His presence. God took the refuse and brokenness of our lives, transformed us, and has healed us. He did all of this, knowing that we can never repay Him.

The issue is not what God has done for others. The issue is what God has done for me. And as long as I continue to compare myself to others, and as long as I continue to compare God’s goodness to me to His goodness to others, I will never fully realize the blessings He has poured out on me.

In Genesis 29:31-35, we see the story of Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Leah’s story is a sad story. She wasn’t considered attractive in her day, no one wanted to marry her, and the only way she was married to Jacob was because her father tricked Jacob into marrying her.

Soon after her marriage to Jacob, he married her sister, and favored her sister. Her sister, Rachel, was considered very beautiful and desirable. All of her life, Leah lived in Rachel’s shadow, despite the fact that Rachel was the younger sister. Now, her sister had stolen her husband.

Jacob disregarded Leah. He favored Rachel. There was no worse form of betrayal than what Leah felt. Yet, Jacob still had relations with Leah, because in Genesis 29, Leah began having children.

Her first son was named Reuben, meaning “See, a son!” Her reasoning was that God had seen her affliction, and now that she had given Jacob a son, he would love her. He didn’t.

She named her second son Simeon, meaning “heard.” Her reasoning was that God had heard she was hated, and gave her another son.

Her third son was named Levi, meaning “joined,” because after three sons, surely her husband would be joined to her now. Wrong.

Her fourth son was named Judah (celebrated), because now she will praise the Lord.

Notice the progression. She transitions from being preoccupied with how Jacob feels about her, and ultimately comes to a place where she can just praise God for how good He is being to her. She stays in that place of blessing and praise until she notices that Jacob is having children with Rachel’s handmaid. So, Leah provides her handmaid, and you can tell by the naming that her praise to the Lord has waned.

The point is, the more Leah was focused on what God was doing for her, the happier she was, regardless of how Jacob treated her. The more she focused on what Jacob was doing, the less happy she was.

So, the lesson we learn from this is this: Yes, life is unfair. Yes, things happen that shouldn’t. Yes, your pain is legit and real. Nonetheless, God still loves us and blesses us in our despair. Don’t discard that love, and don’t miss those blessings because you are focused on what God is doing elsewhere. Don’t miss God’s grace because you are focused on what is wrong. Look to the Lord, trust Him, recognize those blessings, enjoy them, and praise Him for it.

Yes, God loves you. Yes, God loves everyone else, too. That’s not the point. God loves you, and that’s all that matters.

The Greatest Love Story Never Told (Song of Solomon)

The Song of Solomon is often overlooked in Bible studies for a variety of reasons. First, it’s located in the middle of the Old Testament. Secondly, the imagery of passionate romance depicted in the book can seem awkward for groups with young children, or groups with both genders. Thirdly, and possibly the biggest reason, is that the book can be difficult to understand.

Even the great Bible expositor Charles Haddon Spurgeon expressed difficulty in interpreting the Song of Solomon when he said the book could only be understood by the “initiated,” and that the book stood in the middle of the Old Testament like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, whose fruit you cannot eat unless you are brought by Christ past the cherubim with the fiery sword. Apparently, Spurgeon was incapable of simply saying, “This book is hard.”

Spurgeon song of solomonSong of Solomon is often preached as a book about marriage. However, Spurgeon believed, as do many other Bible teachers, that Song of Solomon is an allegory for the love Christ has for His people.

It’s with that context that we examine the book, Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon can be divided into three parts… the romance, the wedding, and the marriage. Each mirrors a stage in our walk with Christ. The romance, where Christ loves us regardless of our station in life, and draws us to Him. The wedding, where we repent and commit ourselves to Him, and the marriage, where He takes us to our eternal home. In each of these parts, we can see the passionate love that Christ has toward us.

In the beginning of Song of Solomon, we see the romance develop between the Shulamite woman and King Solomon. In Verses 1:5-6, the Shulamite woman notes that she is black, that she keeps vineyards for others, and her mother’s children were angry with her. The fact that she is black indicates that she has spent her life in hard field labor. She has not known luxury, nor has she been able to preen or care for herself. While she says that she is comely (she looks good,) her body shows the effects of her life of hard labor.

She also says that she has not kept her own vineyard, which means she has no vineyard. She has no wealth, she has no assets.

She is hardly a bride suited for a king. In Old Testament times (as well as medieval times, and even modern times), royalty married those who could bring peace or prosperity to their kingdoms. Alliances, trade agreements, and even mergers were orchestrated through royal weddings. The Shulamite woman can offer none of these.

Yet, despite her destitute situation, King Solomon loves her. In Verse 2:4, the Shulamite woman says, “He brought me to the banqueting house. His banner over me was love.”

This is a Cinderella-type story if there ever was one. King Solomon not only loves the Shulamite woman, and cares for her, but he brings her to the banquet. There’s a banquet, a ball. The creme de la creme are there. And King Solomon has this Shulamite woman on his arm, is introducing her to every one, and his proud to be in love with her.

It means a lot that King Solomon makes this romance public. He loves the Shulamite woman. She is the object of his love, and he is driven by his love to care for her. She is not a scandal to him, and he is not ashamed of her.

This is a mirror to how Christ loves us. He loves us in spite of the fact there is nothing we can do for Him. He loves us in spite of the rejection we suffer at the hands of others. He lifts us out of our hopelessness and takes us into His kingdom, where we can know love, care, and be provided for.

In Chapter 3, we see the wedding. In Verse 3:11, the Shulamite woman tells the daughters of Zion to “Behold King Solomon,” who has been crowned with the crown of his espousals. Also in chapter 3, we see that King Solomon takes the Shulamite woman to His bedchamber, which is surrounded by 60 of the best fighters in the king’s army.

The espousals, the wedding, is the union of King Solomon to the Shulamite woman. The marriage union is an eternal union never to be broken. This is why marriage is so sacred to God. It provides a picture of the love between the Lord and His people.

Being married to King Solomon, the Shulamite woman would never again know fear. She would sleep in the safest place in the kingdom, and the king would never put her out.

Likewise, when you are a child of God, when you know Christ as your Savior, you are in the safest place in the universe, because nothing can get to you without going through God first. And God will never turn you away.

Jesus said in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee. He that heareth My words, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

Basically, if you know Jesus as your Savior, you will never need to fear God’s wrath, and you will never come into condemnation. You are safe, and the Lord will receive you into His kingdom.

Finally, in Song of Solomon, we see the marriage.

No marriage is perfect. All marriages endure hard times, conflict, and sometimes estrangement. Thus, in Song of Solomon 5:2-8, we see such an occasion arise between the Shulamite woman and King Solomon. The king has come to her door, but she has just gotten ready for bed, her coat is put off, and she has washed her feet, and she doesn’t want to get messy. So, he leaves.

How often does the Lord knock on our door, but we are too busy with the day to day things of life to answer His call? How often are we preoccupied with the things of this world to answer God’s call on our life? How often do we put off doing something for the Lord because today is not a convenient day?

We miss our Bible devotional time, and our prayer time because we are too busy. We refrain from giving to the church because we have a lot of financial plans and obligations. We do not surrender to the ministry God has called us too because it would disrupt our current lifestyles. Then one day, we find ourselves apart from God, wondering why He is silent, and distant.

He knocked. We couldn’t be disturbed. Therefore, the fellowship was broken.

The good news is that there is reconciliation. In Verses 6:1-3 we see the reconciliation between the Shulamite woman and King Solomon. When we repent and turn to the Lord, He forgives, and we are reconciled to Him.

Closing out the Song of Solomon, we see a beautiful sight. In verse 8:12, the Shulamite woman has her own vineyard. The woman who had no vineyard in chapter 1 now has a vineyard of her own. She lives happily ever after, with Solomon.

Likewise, those of us who wonder this earth without a home, those of us who know Christ as our Savior, will one day have an eternal home.

In John 14:2-4, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”

If you know Christ as your Savior, He has prepared an eternal home for you in Heaven. The day is coming when He will return and take you to that eternal home, and you will be with Him forever.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

As Solomon loved the Shulamite woman, so Christ loved us. Will we receive His love by turning from sin and trusting in Him? Or will we spurn His love in favor of the sins of this world. Each will choose for himself or herself. How will you choose?

Passions

Have you ever lost your cool?

Or in a moment of weakness, have you ever made a decision you regretted?

If we’re to be honest, life is full of regrets. We regret the sins of our past, our bad decisions, the things that bring us shame and even the things no one knows about.

I think to a large degree this is one reason why many people skip church. Life can become one big guilt trip, and hearing a sermon about sin and impure motivations in the heart can compound that guilt.

Guilt is universal. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee once said that he has never been the preacher, husband or father he thought he should be. A man who spent his life teaching millions of people through the Bible felt like he didn’t measure up.

And then there’s the Apostle Paul, who said in Acts 14:15, “ We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God.”

The like passions Paul experienced are the same ones Dr. McGee experienced, which are the same passions you and I experience. It’s the sin nature. It’s temptation. And all too often, we fall before it.

Yet Christianity goes beyond defining the problem of sin and temptation. Christianity teaches us about God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption from that sin and temptation.

Notice how Paul, in Acts 14:15 exhorted the people to turn from their sin to God. Obviously to please God, we must believe in Him and trust Jesus Christ as Savior. That involves the confession that sin is evil and the decision that we no longer want a part in it.

Yet, our passions pull us back in. At this point we truly see how awesome the grace of God is, because even though we continue to struggle and fall, God continually forgives us. He loves us in spite of our weaknesses and failures.

When I read Dr. McGee’s statement that he falls short, and when I read Paul’s statements about his shortcomings, and when James mentions Elijah’s passions in James 5, I am reminded that I am not alone. You are not alone. We all struggle with sin, and come short of the glory of God.

But God be praised, He loves us anyway.

Don’t let sin and shame keep you out of the Lord’s presence. He already knows all about it. Come on in, and let Him love you through it.

What stops love?

DSC_0213Fear.

The one obstacle to following the Biblical command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love our enemies, is fear.

The Biblical commandments to love go beyond a tender affection toward others. The Biblical command to love involves putting that love into action. Indeed, the very meaning of agape love indicates that a personal sacrifice is made on behalf of the recipient of love.

This bears out in the way Christ taught us to love. In Luke 6:30, He says, “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” Then, in Luke 6:35, Jesus says, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

While we want to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, the idea of loving so sacrificially can carry with it the fear that our love will not be returned, or even worse, those we help will turn around and hurt us. We fear the result would leave us empty handed, and looking foolish.

There’s not a person alive who hasn’t loved someone who in turn rejected or betrayed them. It’s not a good feeling. It can leave one jaded, angry, and fearful to love again. To find yourself in that state is to find yourself in a dark place.

Yet, we worship the Light of the world. Jesus Christ shined His light into darkness, dispelling sin, degradation and hopelessness. Perhaps our focus should be on the Light, as opposed to the possible darkness.

Fear of love comes from not trusting the Lord to work in the situation. It comes from not seeing the redemptive power of love, and not trusting the Lord to work through the love toward the redemption and well-being of the one loved. Without that faith, one can only see the risk, and the possible negative consequences.

Love is not a risk. Love is not a gamble. It’s not even an investment. Love is a promise. While the one to whom you show agape may reject or betray you, the Lord promises to bless you for that love.

You see, when you focus on the Lord as you show love to your neighbors and enemies, the same people He loves, then the risk of rejection and betrayal is no longer as big of a deal. It may still happen, but it’s secondary to the fellowship you build with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the process. Furthermore, it’s secondary to the change and reconciliation that can come as a result of your love toward others.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may not have changed the hearts of segregationalists and white supremacists in the South. Indeed, his efforts landed him in jail on multiple occasions, and even saw him assaulted numerous times. Yet, when we discuss the legacy of Dr. King, we don’t say, “There lived a man who was beaten and jailed.” We say, “There’s a man who forever changed our nation for the better.”

Was the change he made worth the suffering he endured? If he were alive today, I think he would say yes.

Let’s elevate this conversation.

Jesus Christ loves sinners. He loved the publicans and the sinners, and dined with them many times. Scripture teaches that He loves all people. The Lord, who loved people, took on the form of a person, and came and lived among us. He came to save us. Yet, mankind rejected Him, beat and tortured Him, then killed Him in the most brutal way possible.

Yet, His love for us, which propelled Him to the cross, accomplished something no one understood at the time. His death on that cross satisfied the need for judgment, and thus our sins are forgiven if we believe on Him.

He loved. He was rejected. He suffered. Yet, His love redeemed us. For Christ, was it worth it? In scripture, He says, “Yes.”

So, in Luke 6:38, Jesus says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

Far too often this verse is interpreted that we will be materially rewarded for love. In reality, this verse promises that your love will not be in vain, and by loving, you could very well change the world.

Love your neighbors and enemies, and keep your eyes on the BIG picture.

Leland Acker is the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Services are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce building at 104 E. Industrial in Early. This week, Bro. Waymon Childress will bring the morning message. 

What it means to love

WP_20141002_003Love is a word that has captured the imaginations and inspired poets, authors, artists and musicians for generations. If we took a snapshot of the music industry in the 1980s, we’d see a plethora of poetic explorations of love, including but not limited to, “Is This Love,” “Love Bites,” “The Greatest Love,” “Love Song (Love Will Find a Way)” and of course, “The Power of Love.”

Love is a word that is thrown around in modern society.

“I love that jacket.”

“I love the Dallas Cowboys.”

“I love L.A.”

“I love going to the beach during the spring.”

Love. Then there’s the ever present “I love you” spoken between romantic partners, whether love truly exists in the relationship, or not. Love is so commonly used in today’s language that it no longer carries the gravity it did when spoken by Christ and the apostles 2,000 years ago.

Periodically on this blog, I’ve written about the meaning of the Greek word, agape. Agape love is a self-sacrificial love that puts the needs of others above your own. Agape has a redemptive quality. It’s agape that propelled Christ to the cross. Agape.

The definition makes sense, but what does agape look like in action? How can I know if I truly love my brother, let alone my enemy? There are certain characteristics that identify agape love.

We’ll start with Paul’s explanation in I Corinthians 13.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

Agape love is marked by:

  • Patience
  • Unselfishness
  • Humility
  • Good behavior
  • Pure thoughts
  • Rejection of evil, rejection of wrongfulness
  • Rejoicing in truth
  • Belief
  • Hope
  • Endurance
  • Never ends, hence, it is unconditional.

So, when we ask ourselves if we love our brother, we must ask ourselves, “Am I patient with him?

“Is my friendship with him for my benefit, or his?”

“Do I gossip about him? Or do I reject rumors shared about him?

“Do I trust him?”

“Is my friendship with him contingent on what he can do for me?”

Philippians 2:4-5 concurs with 1 Corinthians 13, stating that love is outwardly focused, not inwardly focused. Love puts the emphasis on the other person.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

When you have agape love toward someone, you are not looking to see what you can get out of the relationship. You are looking at how you can meet the needs of the other. This is why the love from a parent to a child, or from our Lord to us are such powerful examples. A mother loves her son and sacrifices for him greatly, expecting nothing in return. Jesus left the glories of Heaven to suffer for mankind.

In fact, the passage in Philippians 2 speaks to that, saying “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was in Heaven, enjoying a close personal relationship with the Father, and being praised by the angels. Life was good. Had Jesus been self-centered, He would have been minded to stay in Heaven. Instead, He looked not only on His on things, but also on our things, particularly, our need for salvation.

Therefore, He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) As I’ve stated many times, the love of Christ propelled Him to the cross to purchase our salvation. 

And that’s why Luke 6 teaches us to love, not expecting anything in return (Luke 6:35), because that’s who God is. And if we truly want to be conformed to the image of Christ, we will learn to love like Christ. Our focus will be on others without consideration for how we will benefit from the relationship.

So, with that insight from the scriptures concerning love, do we actually love each other? Do we look to each others’ needs? Or are we more concerned that our own needs are not met?

Let’s challenge ourselves to love one another this year. Look on each others’ needs, fears, scars and hurts, and see what you can do to help or heal. Learning to love one another like this will not only create a powerful environment in our lives, but it also brings us into closer fellowship with the Father, which will result in blessings beyond what we can imagine.

Leland Acker is the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Services are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce building at 104 E. Industrial in Early. This week, Bro. Waymon Childress will bring the morning message.