Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune and Amazing Grace International, Inc.

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

The Indispensable Church – 1

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

If the Gospels are any indication, Jesus didn’t have much to say about the Church – the word occurs only twice and both times in Matthew (16:18; 18:17). But that doesn’t mean he thought it was unimportant. In fact, Jesus made it plain that the Church was an integral part of His mission. He came to build it. In fact, it is the only thing Jesus ever said he was going to build.

New Testament writers advanced the understanding of the Church in a variety of ways: It is, as our text says, the “household of God” (or God’s family). It belongs to God (a point made explicitly seven times in the New Testament). It is called the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23) and “God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

So what’s the point?

There is no relationship with God apart from the family of God. There is no connection with God without belonging to God. There is no relationship with Christ without belonging to His body. There is no indwelling of God’s Spirit without God’s temple, and no temple without the Church. Altogether, the Church is an indispensable part of a relationship with God.
Mike Tune

Voting on Worship

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

It took me totally by surprise. I’m used to billboards advertising churches – “Come worship with us!” But this one was different. The church name was displayed prominently at the top (not so unusual) but at the bottom, in big bold letters were the words “Voted Best Place to Worship 2022.” That was a new one.

So I wondered: voted by who? Their own members? Isn’t there a Bible passage about that? Something along the lines of “people who measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves are not wise” (of course there is – 2 Corinthians 10:12). Might there be a cadre of people whose job it is to visit houses of worship to see which is best? (I’m new to the area so maybe that’s a thing here.) What were the criteria for making this judgment?

We need to be careful with this. Worship is all about the exaltation of God. When God’s people live holy lives, then gather to praise God, listen to God, talk to God, and remember what God has done for them (which leads back to praise), that’s worship. It’s not about “place.” Through all this, I may be encouraged, renewed, motivated and instructed, but worship is not about what I get. Worship is about what I give and specifically, about what I give God. The most important thing about it is whether what we offer pleases the Lord. He is not required to accept whatever we offer (Isaiah 1:10-15) and if our text passages are any indication, what gets our vote probably isn’t getting His.

And His vote is the only one that counts.

Not Just Something You Get Through

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

Through the trials of life, no matter why they come, God calls His people to “patient endurance.” But what does that mean?

Buddy Cannon tells about being on Willie Nelson’s bus in Austin Texas. They were parked at the Austin City Limits theater and people were coming and going to visit with Willie. One of the bus drivers brought a woman on board who was distressed. She sat at the dining table and she and Willie talked – she crying and Willie listening sympathetically. A family member had died and her grief was deep. At one point she said: “I just don’t know how I am ever going to get over this.” And Willie, who never took his eyes off her, replied: “It’s not something you get over . . . but it’s something you’ll get through. A bulb came on in Cannon’s mind and later, he and Willie wrote the song “Something You Get Through” (see the official video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdtx-pxjX8A).

I love the song and the story behind it. It reminds us: No matter what happens in life, if you live through it, you’ll get through it. My mother called it “putting one foot in front of another.” You just keep on keeping on, plowing ahead no matter how the rough seas rock your boat.

But that’s not the endurance Jesus has in mind in our text. It’s not a “keep on keeping on no matter what” kind of thing. It is “patient” endurance, which speaks to “how” one endures. You keep on keeping on in a spirit of calm and restraint and (yes) confidence – all components of patience.

Why?

Because for us it is not just “getting through it.” We have the assurance of the abiding presence of God to shepherd us through our trying times. As Phil Johnson wrote: “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us. He didn’t build His home in us to move away. He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

Or as an older hymn goes:
I walk with the Savior each step of the way
I trust Him to guide me, by night and by day.
Not dreading tomorrow, nor what it may bring,
I’m safe in the keeping, of Jesus the king.

It’s the difference between just “getting through,” and being victorious.

What Are You Looking At?

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness (Luke 11:34).

In the previous verse, Jesus says the purpose of light is to illumine the path – so you don’t stumble around in darkness. I would guess we have all had that latter experience. In that sense, the Psalmist says, God’s word is the light to illumine our way to God (Psalm 119:105).

But here, Jesus changes the metaphor. The eye no longer follows the light. The eye is the light, and the body follows it. Jesus’ point is that your life tends in the direction of where you are looking. If you are looking at the wrong things (ie. have an unhealthy eye), you’ll head in the wrong direction – toward darkness.

Eve found the fruit of the forbidden tree “pleasing to the eye.” If I might paraphrase: “she couldn’t keep her eyes off it” and she just kept circling back. The solution of course was easy, but hard. Look at something else. But she didn’t, and before long, she couldn’t. The light that was her eye went bad. It led to discontent and ultimately, sin.

In her essay “My Year of No Shopping” Ann Patchett writes of the year she decided not to buy anything. The decision was born out of two realizations: First, that her shopping had become a (poor) way of handling anxiety and second, she already had far more than she needed. She writes: “The trick of no-shopping wasn’t just to stop buying things. The trick was to stop shopping.” Stop looking – advice that would have saved King David a lot of heartache.

But “stop looking” isn’t only what Jesus has in mind. He calls us to something deeper. Realize what you are looking at, what you are focusing on. Is it  necessary? Is it good? Will it make you a better you? Will it contribute to holiness? No? Then turn away and focus elsewhere. In time (unless you keep circling back), you’ll find its hold lessening, the attraction fading and your life will take a turn toward the light and healthiness God always intended.

Because of the Resurrection

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 3:19).

You don’t get very far in the Gospels without reading about demons. They were (are) horrid creatures intent on destroying lives. They caused people to lose all inhibitions, reject normalcy, spit in the face of convention, frighten and threaten others with impunity and hurt themselves physically. No one wanted a demon, and no one wanted to be around anyone who had one. If you had a demon, what you really wanted was for someone to put you out of your misery.

Though the Gospels do not elaborate, Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven of these creatures. I can’t imagine her pain. But Jesus cast them out (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9) and for that, Mary would be forever grateful. She traveled with the disciples and supported them out of her own pocket. On Friday she stood with Jesus’ mother at the cross. On Sunday, she was there at the grave. The man who had given her life back was gone – murdered! What anger she must have felt that Sunday morning! What emptiness! What lostness! Everything was meaningless.

But not quite.

While mourning the death of her savior and the cruel (seeming) theft of his body (or so it seemed), Jesus appeared. She was so lost in the abyss of her own grief she didn’t even recognize him until he said her name: “Mary!” And then, her life was changed again. Weeping had filled her night, but joy had come in the morning.

It’s tempting when life tumbles in to give in to the same despair of Solomon: “Everything is meaningless.” But Solomon was wrong. The resurrected Lord assures us none of our afflictions have to have the last word. Perhaps that’s why Paul called them “light” and “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17). There is the resurrection. And once that becomes real to you, life is anything but meaningless.

Experiencing the Love of God

She [Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me (Genesis 16:13).

In a series of lessons on “Loving the Lord’s Way” I recently told the story of Hagar to illustrate God’s love. Hagar is significant.  Though a slave in the household of Abraham, she nonetheless is the only person in the Old Testament to give God a name — and she does it on the basis of her experience with God’s love.

My first point  was that before the Bible ever uses the term “love” to refer to something God does, God acts in a loving way. He does it by seeing people in their distress taking note of it, and acting in caring ways toward them to relieve their pain. Notice that Hagar was not of God’s family. She was an Egyptian, and a slave. But God had his eye on her and showed love to her. It was but the merest foretaste of His love to come.

The second point was that if God calls us to love others as He has loved us – and He has – we must begin with His example: to see people in their distress, take note of it, and act as we can to relieve their suffering.

But there is a third point.

People come to know God’s love by seeing it in us first. It will do no good to talk about God’s love if we will not show it. Until then, it’s just talk.  The talk becomes real to others in our actions.

Spiritual but not Saved. Saved but not Spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

If you are not a Christian, can you understand God’s word? Based on this text, some would say “no.”

It is a good example of why context is so important for correct biblical interpretation.

Paul was not speaking hypothetically. He was talking about his readers. They had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” called into the fellowship of Christ, and had the Spirit of God. They were not, however, “spiritual.” Paul said they were still “people of the flesh” – just “human.” He made his judgment on the basis of how they were acting. Jealousy, strife, arrogance, and division characterized their lives. Because they “thought” like worldly people, and not like God, they acted like worldly people and had difficulty understanding what Paul had told them and what he was writing to them. Our verse was a rebuke of his Christian readers. That is the context.

This leads us to some important observations: First, “spirituality” has to do with how one thinks and the direction of life. Second, it is possible to be spiritual, but not be saved. Cornelius in Acts 10 is a prime example. He had a mind and heart for God, expressed in the way he lived, but he was still unsaved. Because he was spiritual, when he learned what God wanted him to do to be saved, he did it. Third, it is possible to be a Christian and not be spiritual. When our thinking, our views, more mirror those of the world than God, we are unspiritual, worldly, human, carnal, and have difficulty understanding what God wants of us. The Corinthian church is a prime example.

In another letter Paul urged his readers to set their minds on things that are “above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Context is critical, but our ability to understand Scripture also depends on the nature of our thinking.

Listening

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear . . . (James 1:19).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).

I thought of these two passages recently while reading The Boys, a memoir by Ron and Clint Howard. You remember Ron, surely. He played little Opie on television’s Andy Griffith show (ok, some of you aren’t old enough to remember that show – look up an episode on YouTube).

Ron began playing Opie when he was just shy of six years old. I always liked that show (still do). In fact, some years ago a friend and I were at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures with an afternoon free. I said: “Let’s find that pond that opens the Andy Griffith show.” So we looked it up and drove over to Franklin Canyon Park in (believe it or not) Beverly Hills.

Early in the first year, the script required Opie to deliver a particular line to Andy. Before shooting, little inexperienced Ron raised his hand to ask a question. When called on, he said he didn’t think his line sounded “kid-like.” Everybody stopped. Director Bob Sweeny said: “How do you think a child would say it?” Ron replied and Sweeny said: “Good. I like it. Say it that way instead.”

The whole thing was (obviously) memorable for Ron. He writes: “My appreciation for how seriously I was taken, as a human being with ideas and agency . . . has only deepened with time.”

Not all of “Opie’s” suggestions were taken in the years following, but he felt “listened to” and valued. Everyone, including a child, deserves to feel heard. God’s people, in honoring one another, must work to affirm the value of others by listening to one another. The wise person understands you never know when a good idea might crop up, or who it might crop up from!

Waiting

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

Ed Harrell died March 15. For over thirty years he was a distinguished professor of History at the University of Alabama and Auburn University. More importantly (to me), he was a gospel preacher. He wrote the following in Christianity Magazine in 1986 (Vol. 3, #4)

It occurs to me that much of life has to do with waiting.

When I was a teenager, my physician father would pack me off every summer to work on our farm in South Georgia. For three months each year, I did brutal tobacco field labor in one of the most ferocious summer climates in the world. My father was not really trying to teach me a lesson (what I did was a piece of his own life experience), but he did teach me several.

I have often tried to reconstruct my thoughts during the sultry evenings when I lay exhausted on the wooden floors of our farm shanties. I think I was just waiting. I knew the torture that lay ahead in the fields the next day, and week, and month. But I steeled myself to grit it out; I could wait; this would not last forever.

I have waited many times since. I waited while in the Navy and I waited through graduate school. My wife, so she tells me, waited through a series of pregnancies.

All Christians understand that life is a wait. We know that we are “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth (Hebrews 11:13). But too often we forget that we are waiting, thinking rather that we are living. Near the end of his long life, the seventeenth-century Puritan preacher, Increase Mather, received a letter from a friend asking if he was “still in the land of the living.” “No,” he replied, “I am in the land of the dying. I am going to the land of the living.”

If we fail to grasp the transient nature of life, it will throw old age out of perspective. Being old then becomes a discontinuity with the rest of life, instead of being the culmination of our existence. On the other hand, if we know that all of life is waiting, then we come to the end of it more yieldingly.

And so, if you come to visit me when I have become aged and gnarled, and I look upon you with blank and clouded eyes, do not, I ask, regard me with pity or pathos. I shall just be waiting. I have done it before and I am tough enough to do it again. If, by God’s grace, I can still think, I shall have my mind fastened on the object of my long wait. If it is my lot to face the final days without reason, I pray that my body will be so conditioned to waiting that it will do so gently. But, whatever the case, like all waits, this one too will pass and I shall be on my way to what is next.”

Kindness

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . (Colossians 3:12).

Isaac Litton by Phil Ponder.jpg.jpg

Opened in 1930, Isaac Litton was an iconic high school on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. In the course of its 41 year history it was at times a football powerhouse, but was most often known as the home of a 100+ member marching band.  I come across “Litton” grads often in my travels.  My mother attended there.  By the time I came along they had added a Junior High which I attended briefly in the 9th grade. Every graduate I’ve ever talked to spoke glowingly of their time there. My mother treasured her class ring all her life. The school has now been closed for nearly half a century.

Recently, on a social media page devoted to my own high school (Madison) someone wrote asking if anyone had any memorabilia from “Litton” (the schools were rivals but not that far apart). It would seem his grandfather graduated from there in 1955 and he was looking for an Isaac Litton pennant from his grandfather’s time to remember him by.

I was surprised when, in reading the responses, a woman wrote: “Your grandfather was in my class. I was a cheerleader then and I have some things. I will look to see if a pennant is among them. He was a great guy and a special friend.”

Graduating in 1955 would put the woman in her 80’s. She’s kept memorabilia from her high school days because they were precious to her, but she was willing to share her treasure with someone she didn’t know.

I thought: “That’s a kindness. To give something you value to bless the life of another.” It’s what God did. It’s what Jesus did. And while anyone can show a kindness, kindness is a necessary identifying marker of a follower of Jesus.