It’s Not The Same Without You

When we plan a party and invite a number of our friends to come, we anticipate the joy we will experience in the company of our invited guests.  As the guests arrive and the party begins, our spirits rise with the camaraderie of the occasion.  If for some reason one of our friends is unable to attend, we still have a good time, but we may later remark to that friend, “It wasn’t the same without you.”

When we make this statement, we are acknowledging the special bond that exists between ourselves and that particular friend.  We are telling that person that his or her company enhances the enjoyment of such an occasion, and that his or her absence materially detracts from it.  Most of the time, the one to whom we make this statement will take it as a compliment, and will try harder not to disappoint us in the future.

While we generally understand and acknowledge this truth in our secular affairs, we may not be as aware of it in our spiritual pursuits.  Those who are Christians have a long-standing invitation to meet with the Lord on His day to offer up our worship to His holy name.  Our purpose for meeting and our focus of attention in such an assembly is to offer pleasing worship to God.  If He is not the object of our assembly, then we have missed the point of meeting together.

At the same time, however, there is more to our assembly than just a group of disconnected individuals offering individual worship to God.  We see this from the manner in which Paul spoke of certain aspects of our corporate worship.  In Eph. 5:19 he spoke of us “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”  In Col. 3:16, he said we must be “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  The point is that each person in the assembly contributes to the edification of every other person in the assembly as we join our hearts and minds and voices in worship to God.  When someone is missing from the assembly, it is not the same as when they are present.

The effect that each person has in the assembly is illustrated by the story about a church building that had no lights.  As the members headed to the building for worship, each one brought his own lantern.  When a visitor to that city asked why they did this, one of them replied, “There are no lights in our building, so each of us brings a lamp.  The more of us who are present the brighter the light inside.”

The spiritual application of this story is that each one of us contributes to the “light” that pervades our worship assemblies.  The more of us who are present the brighter that light.  At the same time, however, each one who is not present diminishes the light in our assembly.  And this is the lesson we should take from this story.  When we are absent from the assembly, it is not the same for those who are present.

In Heb. 10:23-25 the writer said, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  We are called upon as Christians to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  We cannot do this if we are absent from the worship assemblies.  Willfully neglecting the assembly robs one’s fellow Christians of some of the joy of being in the company of his brothers and sisters in Christ.  Someone once wrote, “What is missing from CH _ _ CH?  UR!”  In the assembly of the saints, our worship is not the same without you.

When Light Is Not Light

The anonymous author of Psalm 119 used each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to form a stanza in his great song extolling the virtues of God’s word.  In our Bibles this psalm covers one hundred seventy-six verses.  One of the most well-known of these is verse 105, where the psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

This short statement perfectly summarizes the psalmist’s view of God’s word, and perfectly illustrates how God’s word functions in the lives of those who utilize it as He intended.  For the psalmist God’s word was an essential element in his daily life.  He understood that as a man of God he lived in a world that is shrouded in the darkness of sin.  The only way he could safely traverse life was to let God’s word shine on his path.  In this way he would never stumble.

This attitude toward God’s word is timeless in its application.  As long as the world stands, it will be shrouded in the darkness of sin.  This is because most people choose to ignore the light of God’s word as they pursue their own selfish and worldly desires.  As long as the world stands, those who wish to please God must open up His word and allow it to light their pathway each day.  The promise of God, implied by the psalmist’s statement in Psa. 119:105, is that every time we open God’s word and live by it our path will be enlightened by it.  On the other hand, the opposite is also true.  As long as we leave God’s word closed, we will continue to be enshrouded in the darkness of sin.

These truths prompt the question, “When is light not light?”  The answer, of course, is obvious.  Light is not light when one fails to utilize it.  In the physical realm we have no problem understanding this.  After the sun goes down we instinctively turn on the lights in our houses, offices, or places of business.  We turn on the lights on our cars when we drive at night and when clouds and rain darken the skies.  We would not think of trying to drive at night, to read a book, or to work on some project after dark without first turning on the lights.

At the same time, however, countless numbers of us are trying to walk through the darkness of life without the benefit of God’s light, His holy word.  Obviously those who have no interest in spiritual things are walking in darkness because they have rejected God and His word, or have no knowledge of either.  Many of these, though, when introduced to the light of God’s word, eagerly take hold of it in order to shine it on their path.  We see this attitude portrayed in Eastern Europe where Bibles were outlawed under the Communist regimes that formerly ruled these nations.  Today, Bibles are eagerly sought and welcomed in many of these nations.  In other places, like the Bahamas, the government often requests Bibles in order to distribute them in their schools, where part of the curriculum involves reading the scriptures.

Sadly, in the United States, where there are more Bibles per capita than anywhere in the world, our government is doing all it can to remove God’s light from our culture.  In addition to this, many of our people walk in the darkness of sin while the light of God’s word sits unopened on their bookshelves.  This great nation, which once shined the light of God’s word into the world, is becoming increasingly dark with sin, because God’s word lies unread and unfollowed by our people.  Even among professed Christians the light of God’s word is often unused as we stumble along in darkness.  Truly, light is only light when we use it.

Hate Speech?

On November 7, 2013 the United States Senate passed a bill entitled, the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”  This bill, if approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the President, will prohibit businesses from refusing to hire, or from firing, employees based upon their sexual orientation.  If enacted, this bill will grant protected status to homosexuals equal to that which has previously been established for ethnic minorities and women.  It will also have the force of legitimizing homosexual behavior by giving it legal standing in our judicial system.  This has been a goal of the homosexual lobby for many years, and it is now closer to reality than ever before.  Most Americans are unaware that this bill has been introduced in one or both of the houses of Congress nearly every year for about thirty years.

According to proponents of this measure, religious organizations and certain members-only clubs or organizations are exempted from the law’s provisions.  So also are businesses with fewer than fifteen employees.  This exemption was written into the law to garner support from conservative members of Congress and as a preemptive move to negate any objections from conservative religious groups.

As with most aspects of the liberal agenda, this law has much wider ramifications in its practical application, especially with regard to our First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of religion.  This law, when taken in conjunction with current laws regarding so-called “hate speech,” will have the practical effect of silencing any public criticism of homosexuality.  Thus, if a preacher proclaims the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior, he may find himself prosecuted for “hate speech,” and he and his congregation sued for discrimination against homosexuals.  The final passage of this law is uncertain at present, but the full-court pressure by the homosexual lobby will not let up until it becomes the law of the land.

This law brings to light a fundamental truth of scripture.  It is that when we speak the truth, we are going to make enemies in the world.  When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he chastised them about their drifting from the gospel he had preached to them.  In Gal. 4:16 he said, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”  The implied answer, of course, was that he was not their enemy, even though they acted as if he were.  By telling them the truth he was being more of a friend to them than if he ignored their errant behavior.  And this is the principle that must guide us today in the face of things like ENDA.

In Prov. 6:16-19 Solomon wrote of seven things God hates.  Each of these things is a behavior, not a person.  The same may be said for God’s view of homosexuality.  Homosexual behavior is identified as an abomination in Lev. 18:22.  It is called a detestable act in Lev. 20:13.  Homosexual acts, along with a number of other sinful deeds, are practices which make one worthy of spiritual death according to Paul in Rom. 1:18-32.  This is God’s decree on this subject, but it is not “hate speech.”

The truth is that homosexual behavior will condemn one’s soul.  To point out this truth is not hateful, and it is not discriminatory.  It is, in fact, the most loving thing one can do.  We must no more withhold the truth about this sin than we would about lying or murder or sexual immorality between heterosexuals.  To warn a sinner of the spiritual consequences of his behavior is what God has done from the beginning of time, and it is what we must continue to do today, no matter what the laws of men may say.

I’m In The Lord’s Army!

One of the favorite Vacation Bible School songs for generations has been, “I’m In The Lord’s Army!”  Many of us remember singing it as youngsters many years ago, and are thrilled when we hear our children and grandchildren sing it today.  This is one of those VBS songs that must be sung while standing so we may “march in the infantry,” “ride in the cavalry,” “shoot the artillery,” and “fly o’er the enemy.”  It is of little wonder that young people have loved this song for generations.

Sometimes adults are dismissive of the songs our children sing.  While we enjoy the tunes and the enthusiasm of our children as they sing, we give little thought to the truths that are taught by them.  We may eagerly encourage our children to sing these songs, but refuse to do so ourselves.  It is as if adults believe that these sweet songs have no bearing on their lives, or perhaps are somewhat beneath our dignity.

In the case of this particular song, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.  This is a song whose theme is very apropos for adults, and is entirely biblical.  The apostle Paul used the imagery of a soldier a number of times in his letters to Timothy and to the church in Corinth.  In 2 Tim. 2:3, 4 he said, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”  He used similar language in 1 Cor. 9:7, where he said, “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense?  Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it?  Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?”

His point in each case was that he was a soldier of Jesus Christ, and so are all those who have put on Christ in baptism (Gal. 3:27).  Because we are soldiers in the Lord’s army, we must expect to engage the enemy in combat.  Paul spoke of this combat as fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 1:18), and he reminded Timothy near the end of his life that he himself had fought the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7).  The fact that Paul had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith insured that he would receive the crown of righteousness at the end of time (2 Tim. 4:8).

We who are Christians are soldiers in the Lord’s army, and we are in a spiritual warfare against the forces of evil, which are led by Satan himself.  In Eph. 6:12 Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  This means that our struggle is real, even though it is not fought with conventional weapons.  It also means that the consequences of this struggle are far more serious than in conventional warfare.  In the Lord’s army we are in a battle for the eternal destiny of our souls, and for the souls of our families, friends and neighbors.

Like soldiers in our armed forces, who take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, we have taken an oath of allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ and to His word.  We did so when we obeyed the gospel.  We have foresworn ourselves to be faithful to Him and to His word until we pass from this life.  Our term of enlistment is until death, and the promise of our Savior is that if we are faithful until death, He will give us the crown of life.

Unlike human warfare, we know the outcome of our conflict.  The Lord will be victorious in the end, and so will the faithful of His army.  For this reason, let us enthusiastically declare, “I’m in the Lord’s Army!”