Friday, December 28, 2007

Getting Back to Basics

What is my greatest desire? What is the most important thing in all of life to me? It is this: to hear the Lord I love say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23). Heaven is a wonderful goal, but I want even more than heaven to please the Lord who has loved me so abundantly and graciously.

“Faithful over a little…” Another version says, “faithful in a few things.” None of us is perfect, nor can we be. We all do our best to serve the Lord we love. Or, do we? Are we faithful even over a few things? Are we faithful in attendance? In prayer? In regular Bible study? In our moral lives? In our service? Can God depend on us personally to spread His word?

We are responsible to use well what God has given us. The issue is not how much we have but how well we use what we have. Each believer should faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to him or her by God and multiply his or her God-given “talents” for the sake of the kingdom.

As we ponder the coming year, the best thing we can do is to get back to basics, to practice the things that help us to grow spiritually healthy and strong. We cannot do that apart from the basics.

Are you as spiritually strong today as you were a year ago? Where will you be spiritually in a year?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Treasure your Bible

I like to recommend giving Bibles as gifts during the holiday season. There is no higher treasure. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ and his word. I want to tell you a true story, but I must change the names and places of some individuals involved to protect a precious brother. You will understand why.

About a month ago I received an email from a city in Turkey asking for Bibles to help a struggling congregation in a nation dominated by Muslims. Of course, evangelism is illegal in most Muslim countries; and the punishment for evangelizing is usually death. Muslim countries under Sharia law have no freedom of religion.

Since I did not recognize the name, I asked for some references. I wanted to know if this brother who wrote to me was faithful to the Lord. Since he did not know any American members of the church, he pointed me to an Australia, who vouched for the sincere efforts of the Turkish brother who had come out of Islam and into the faith. This took some time. I am so grateful for my elders who acted with speed.

In the meantime, I found the Turkish brother who asked for funds, was not seeking funds for himself but for a friend in another country, who had found a way to smuggle Bibles into a predominantly Islamic country in Africa. When we made the commitment to help, the Turkish brother put me into contact with the African brother, who sometimes lived in another country than the one where he was taking the Bibles. We will fictitiously call this precious brother Ammed. So we have a Turkish brother and an Australian saying that Ammed is a faithful brother. Then I learned from Ammed that he attended a congregation in East Africa.

Rather than asking for the money for himself, Ammed said send it to an elder of the church in East Africa, where he attends and is the only foreigner. He informed the elders, and we sent the money to them to buy the Bibles. The church where he attends rejoiced at his faith and at our willingness to help buy Bibles to smuggle in to the lost.

In the meantime, Ammed worked all day at his job and spent his nights printing evangelistic literature that was designed for his native, Islamic land. I marveled at a man who would risk his own life and that of his family to evangelize the Islamic world. I marveled at a man who rejoiced that an American church would help him, something he never expected.

He would loved to have smuggled ten times as many Bibles into his native land. This story, which involves people from four continents, is amazing to me. I am humbled by the sacrifices of a man who converted from error to truth. In his last email, he asked if he could download my studies on the internet and translate them into Arabic. How could I refuse such a servant?

In coming weeks and months I hope to hear more from Ammed about the Bibles and his evangelism he is doing among his people. Please pray for his safety and success.

in hope,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Singing in Half Voices

On one of my overseas campaign trips, I met Luda, who translated for me and who worked very hard with WBS. She is a graduate of British Bible School. She visited Concord Rd. some weeks ago, and now is back home. She is a bedrock for a congregation there. Here is her email. I took out some portions that were not needed for this post:

Dear Phil,
I am so thankful to God that I had a unique opportunity to see an American Church of Christ and meet you. It was such an inspiration. And see, how blessed you are: the building, many Christians, faithful and experienced preachers, an opportunity to travel to other churches and attend lectureships.Maybe you, people, take it for granted? We, here, are devoid of this.

The church still meets in secret as is not registered. To register nowdays is practically impossible as the "Russian orthodocs atheists" are vigilant and we have, as in old days, the so called "cesaropapism". Despite loud declarations the accepted state religion is the above. Even registered baptist and pentecostal churhces with own buildings have problems and some buildings were expopriated. Catholic priests also have hard times though one third of the population is catholic as big territory was Poland before the advent of the Soviet power.

However, my church strives to preserve the "first love" and we are doing fine: regular Sunday service and the Bible class after, Ladies class and the OT class during the week as well as a small Sunday school for children. We sing in half voices as we rent an apartment in secret and it is also illegal. Our preacher Nickolay has studied in the WBS and had individual studies under one preacher from the Evansville church for some three years. Now starting from January we are on our own. I decided to give some part of my salary plus money from collections to pay the rent and continue. The rest of people, we are about 10, cannot help financially. I think I owe this to God and do not feel deprived. It is difficult to grow in such circumstances and the fact makes us all feel unhappy. Of course, we pray for an increase in number and having students but so far everything has not been effective. Some could not accept what they heard and how the service was structured and that we did not have a magnificent building decorated with icons and gilded worship objects, some could not accept that our Bibles do not bear a Russian orthodox cross (with a additional line below pointing to to hell or the paradise) etc.

Best wishes,
In Christ,

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The List

For some twenty years I have been hearing about "the list." This is a list of instructions that "ChurchofChristers" made up to distinguish the saved from the lost. Progressives claim that this list is really a basis for self-righteousness and meritorious salvation.

Now, I suppose there are some misguided brethren who think they can save themselves by their own doing. On my part, I know that I need saving. I need the grace of God. Most members of the church understand that. But those who are always hollering about the list are not interested in being fair. They find the most hard-headed legalist among us and pretend we are all that way. They love to invent a stereotype and criticize their imagined persona.

I have to admit I have never seen this list. In my thinking it has all the credibility of "Quelle," the supposed document of the higher critics. They made up "Q," and some brothers have invented the "list." Both make good propaganda. It is easier to defeat an invented list than it is to deal with the commandments of the Scripture.

What we have read is the Scripture. Jesus intends to be obeyed when He speaks. The way to love Him is to obey Him--He said so. This is not auto-soterism (self-salavation); this is love. We are to observe and to teach others to observe everything He commanded. Some don't like us saying that, but we didn't. Jesus said that (Matt. 28:20).

When we say that, some respond with the accusation that we make every commandment have the same level of necessity, that we flatten out our understanding of Scripture. No, we realize some matters are weightier than others--Jesus said so. But Jesus also said those who would relax or annul or breaks one of the least of the commandments will be the least in the kingdom.

We have no desire to make lists, but we do not wish to ignore anything the Lord teaches. We have no preconceived notions that by keeping commandments alone we can save ourselves from the wrath to come. No, no. We need the blood, and we obey because we love.

I think it sad that some in order to excuse their self-made religion have to resort to imaginary lists and impugning motives. They must point the finger at others in order to take notice off of their own self-made righteousness.


I ask, "What commandment of God can a person refuse to obey or willingly disobey and still please God?"

Monday, December 03, 2007

Love and Rules

Love is what God's will is all about.

Matt. 7:12 "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Rom. 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

When I hear of someone bad-mouthing rules, I wonder what they are thinking. They certainly are thinking of commandments the way God does. Calvinism has made trashing any kind of "works" popular. "No flesh will be justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16) does not mean that we are free to dismiss whatever commandments we don't like. Nor does it dismiss (as some desire) the need for the obedience of faith. We are saved by grace--yes--through faith--yes! Grace alone without faith does not save. Faith alone without grace does not save.

What kind of faith saves? It is not dead faith. It is not mere believing. It is an active, living, obedient faith. The apostle Paul spoke God's will by inspiration in Galatians 5:6 when he said: "in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith WORKING BY LOVE."

I hear people save we are saved by faith alone, but they take it back every time when you mention love. They take it back every time when you mention repentance. Grudgingly they take it back when you mention obedience. Well if faith also requires love, repentance, and obedience, then one is not really saved by faith alone.

God's commandments teach us how to love Him (Rom. 13:8-10). You can talk emotional love all you wish, but you have to know how to love. The commandments teach us how to love (Jn 14:15). It is not legalism or Pharisaical (as some charge) to speak about keeping commandments. One has not forgotten grace simply because he speaks of obedience. After all, we can never do enough to earn forgiveness or heaven. I do not believe in legalism; I believe in loving God enough to take His word seriously and be obedient. This is what I call loving lawfulness--it is thoroughly Biblical and right.

We are not speaking of meritorious works; we talking obediently complying with the Lord's conditions. These are His conditions; we didn't dream them up. Jesus made it clear that keeping His commandments is how we abide in His love (John 14:21, 23; 15:10).

Some speak of rules as if they were hateful things. They are, however, God's rules. The Lord Jesus rules our lives by rules. We acknowledge His Lordship of our lives and show we love Him by listening to His rules.

God gave us rules for our best interests, because He loves us. They were rules that show love, not enslavement. People who reject the rules of God are also rejecting His means to protect us and to make our lives better.

Instead of rebellion against God's love by rejecting His rule in our lives, we should embrace Him and His words (Isa. 1:18-20).

let the love of God rule in your life.