Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Season of Thanks

"...O Lord, that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
Shakespeare, "Henry VI, Pt. II."

I had another birthday the other day, and for me it was an occasion for thankfulness.  Another reminder that every day is a grace gift from God and each new year of life a blessing from His hand.  Coming so close to Thanksgiving as it did this year, only two days shy, it stirred my thoughts even more toward gratitude to my Lord.  He has given me life three times over.  The first time, naturally, when I was born.  The second time came in Bible school when I was nine years old.  Through His Son Jesus, I was born into His kingdom.  Nearly eight years ago, on Valentine's Day, the third time came.  A severe headache turned out to be a brain hemmorhage that doctors said should have killed me in minutes.  They couldn't understand why it didn't.  However, twenty five years prior to the appearance of the aneurism, I had suffered a head injury in an automobile accident.  Although we could make no sense of it at the time, I now see that the sovereign hand of God was preparing me even then for the survival that puzzled the doctors a quarter of a century later.  By His grace, He had lifted me up, had healed me, had kept me alive.  Thank you, Lord, for your incomprehensible grace.

On my birthday this year, I received some other reasons for thankfulness .  In one of the earliest Candle Drippings (#3, March 28, 1990), I shared the story of Rachel Allen, who, at age twenty one months had a form of leukemia that was diagnosed as incurable.  Doctors found only one course of treatment that held out even the remotest hope for the child.  It was a six week treatment plan, yet after only three weeks, she had grown worse instead of better.  Toward the end of the six weeks, while making funeral preparations, her father, Dr. Ronald Allen, received the news that remission had actually begun.  This fall, Dr. Allen moved from Portland, Oregon to Dallas to begin teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary.  On my birthday, I visited Dr. Allen at the seminary; and during our conversation, he gave me the wonderful news.  Rachel is now eighteen years old, fully well, and planning to graduate from high school this year.  Thanks again, Lord, for your lovingkindness.

How can we express our thankfulness to the Lord for His wonderful mercies?  As I left Dr. Allen's office that afternoon, an answer to this question came to mind.  From the Psalms, a source of strength and comfort both he and I have learned to draw from.  "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High; To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night ...."  (Psalm 92.1-5).

To Thank and to praise the Lord is both a duty and a delight.  To review those qualities of grace that belong to Him should fill our hearts with joy.  When I see His lovingkindness expressed toward those I love, when I see His sovereign power and faithfulness to His people --- like Rachel Allen, like even me, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, I am ready to sing with the psalmist my praise and thanks to Him.  It is a precious thing to give thanks to God, a precious privilege to receive His mercies and simply return to Him a whispered word of thanks.  It is an ever-present reminder of our dependence on Him.  "What do you have that you did not receive?" asks the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 4.7).  And James reminds us that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1.17, KJV), such gifts as lovingkindness in the morning and faithfulness in the evening.  In the morning, remember all the provision God has made for us as we face the responsibilities of the day.  We need, too, to reflect on the protection He has given us through the night.  After all, He doesn't owe us a new day of life; but in His steadfast love, He gives it to us.  And at the end of the day, how can we sleep without thanking Him for His faithfulness to us throughout that day?

Each day, my back yard fills with birds.  Sparrows.  Starlings.  Hummingbirds.  Mourning doves.  All day long, they busy themselves gathering what has been given them.  And as they gather, they chirp and sing their thanks to God.  It is a blessing just watching them.  Amy Carmichael tells a similar experience of a sunbird in her yard.  Every time he sips sugar and water, she says, he chirps and flicks his little tail.  It's his way of saying, Thank you.  "Do you flick your tail?" Ms. Carmichael asks.  "Don't laugh and say, 'I haven't got a tail.'  Your tail is in your mouth.  It is your tongue.  Use it."  Our heavenly Father gives us good treasures daily out of His heavenly store.  Maybe we can't always voice our thanks, but we can be full of thanks always.  We can have a spirit of thanks always.  Thankful.  Grateful.  Right now, I am.  Are you?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Model Church

The Baptist Faith and Message says, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a local body of baptized believers….” Although its definition contains much more, this brief partial statement provides a starting place. Most theology books or Bible studies on the subject of the church will then generally begin their discussions with reference to the Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament, e,kklhs,ia (ekklēsia). The word “church,” they will tell you, comes from the word ekklēsia, meaning “called-out ones,” making the church a body of called-out people. In fact, Baptists usually define the New Testament church as an “assembly of called-out believers,” a fact which is certainly true, but only in part.

“Church” does translate the word ekklēsia, but it does not come from that word. Instead, the word “church,” in a round about way, comes from another Greek word, kuriako,s (kuriakos). Kuriakos literally means “belonging to the Lord.” Although this word is not used in the New Testament specifically of the church, it is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the linguistic source for our word “church.” This bit of information changes the focus of our study significantly. No longer should we focus on ourselves as just an assembly, but rather on the Lord to Whom we belong and Who called out the assembly.

The character of the church as a unique possession of God gives it an importance far above any “called-out assembly.” Other assemblies have been called out for various reasons. In fact, the term ekklesia was used by the Greeks before New Testament times to designate their city councils, assemblies called out to discuss and legislate the laws governing their cities. The New Testament borrowed this word from the prevailing culture and gave it a new meaning, an assembly called out by God to worship Him. As a result of this new meaning coupled with the significance of kuriakos, no other assembly has the distinction of being called out by and of belonging to the Lord.

In addition to our calling out by and our possession by the Lord, what marks distinguish the church from other assemblies? In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Paul offers a few characteristics.

1. The Word of God dominated their assembly. Paul says they “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 6) Further, “the word of the Lord has sounded forth from [them].” (v. 8) In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul adds that he thanked God for them because they did not receive God’s Word as the word of men, “but for what it really is, the word of God.” If we belong to the Lord, we will love His Word, we will live by His Word, and we will fill our hearts and minds with His Word so that His Word literally saturates our lives both individually and collectively.

2. They recognized the Lordship of Christ. Paul repeatedly called Him, “Lord Jesus Christ,” “Lord Jesus,” or just “Lord,” as he discussed their faith in Him and their response to Him. This is not a concession to the so-called doctrine of Lordship Salvation, but recognition of a relationship that follows our maturing in the faith as we grow and get to know Christ in all His glory. Paul; describes that Lordship even more clearly when he commends their repentance. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul notes that they turned to God from idols, an excellent description of what repentance really involves. They turned to God “to serve [because He is Lord] a living and true God [not dead, false idols].” Again, they serve Him because He is Lord.

Their response to Him is first one of love, then a response of obedience, obedience because of love and gratitude, no doubt, but obedience nonetheless. He is Lord and Savior at this point, not merely Savior. In our salvation the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14; see also 2 Peter 1:11) Our salvation not only places us in this kingdom, but also makes us servants as well as sons. Salvation begins with receiving the gift of eternal life through Christ, but it also eventually includes submission to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

3. They “mimicked” the apostles and the Lord. That is, they lived lives that transparently revealed the power of Christ living in them. They did this by first imitating the example of the apostles (cp. v. 6). Christ’s power working through the church showed the world that they were truly Christians—“little Christs,” they truly were a kuriakos, a prized possession of the Lord.

I’ve given you here only a few characteristics of the model church at Thessalonica for you to think about and meditate on. Read all of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 and see how many more characteristics of the model church you can find. There are more, many more. How many of them does your church measure up to? How many do you measure up to?

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Version.