Hebrews: Church Leaders

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“So you want to do something in the church,” the Pastor said.

“Yes, sir!” the man answered.

“What do you think you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“We could use some help in the youth department.”

“Hmm. Teenagers are not really my thing.”

“Okay, we need people to help with cleanup after Wednesday night suppers.”

“Oh. Well, I was thinking of something . . . more . . . I guess, more important.”

“Well, tell me what you have in mind then.”

“I want to be a deacon – you know, hand out the bulletins and take up the offering.”

“Being a deacon is much more than that, it’s a calling from God. Deacons are spiritual leaders in the church.”

“Yes! I can do that – I can be a leader.  Go call the rest of the guys to come lay hands on me!”

I may have embellished this conversation just a bit, but the truth is, a lot of people want to be leaders in the church. But leadership is not something to be taken on a whim; it is a holy responsibility and should be approached with reverence – and a calling. The author of Hebrews addressed “the laying on of hands,” as part of the ”elementary teachings” of the faith (6:2). This is a practice within the church of conferring a spiritual office on someone who has proven their call to leadership, usually as a pastor, elder, deacon, or other position of ministry.  It expresses the gravity of the role they are assuming in the church.

Paul warned Timothy to be careful in selecting leaders for the church in Ephesus. He counseled him not to appoint out of partiality or favoritism then added, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Timothy 5:21-22). Church leadership should never be handed out as favors and candidates for church leadership must prove their calling and fitness for service. You’ve probably seen the damage that can result from ungodly leaders – they can destroy a church and people’s lives.

What should we look for in a leader? The Bible gives us a great example in Acts 6 through Stephen who was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), “full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8), and spiritual wisdom (v. 10). He knew the Scriptures well (I once had a deacon ask me where in the Bible is the story of the Little Drummer Boy). Stephen died defending the name of Christ. That’s a man who is called to serve the church. Beloved, we must be wise in choosing leaders and wise in whom we follow, lest they lead us right to the gates of hell.

Rock Solid Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary, I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures, and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I believed and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically.  I found some things that needed to be challenged and changed, and some things that needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church, and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through God’s Word and His Spirit. You need to find out if what you believe is really true.  Because that’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  Beloved, you need to be sure of your faith and your convictions. You need to be certain that you have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for.

To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

Heroes of the Faith: Stephen

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I want to be like Stephen. Stephen was a disciple of the Lord in the first-century church. He was one of seven men chosen as the church’s first deacons. His story starts in Acts 6.

I want to be like Stephen whom the Bible says was full of faith (v. 5), the Holy Spirit (v. 5), God’s grace (v. 8), God’s power (v. 8), and wisdom (v. 10) And it showed. It showed in his service to the church as he ministered to the widows in need. It showed as he “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (v. 8). And it showed in the way he faced opposition. The unbelieving Jews dragged him before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews who hated Christ) and charged him with blasphemy. Standing before his accusers, Stephen had an other-worldly expression about him. “His face was like the face of an angel” (v. 15)

I want to be like Stephen because he was full of holy boldness. He did not cower or shrink back but told the story of Israel, a stiff-necked people who had rebelled against God for generations. The same people who rejected God in the flesh (Acts. 7:1-53). You’re probably not surprised to learn that Stephen angered the religious leaders, even though he simply told them the truth. He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death (v. 57).

I want to be like Stephen because Jesus was pleased with him. As he faced his “punishment,” he was given a glimpse of the Lord in all His glory. Christ stood to receive His into the fullness of His Kingdom (vv. 55-58).

I want to be like Stephen because, even in his death, he was a man of godly influence. Standing among the crowd, “giving approval to his death,” was a young man named Saul. You may know him better as Paul – the persecutor of the Christian church who became the church’s first missionary.

I want to be like Stephen who was the first martyr for the Christian faith. To the church, he died a hero. To the world, he died a fool. But to the Lord Jesus Christ, he died a good and faithful servant. And that’s all I want to be.

Worship the King!

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What kind of faith must you have to chase a star for two years and hundreds of miles based on an ancient prophecy? The wise men – Matthew calls them “Magi” – traveled what scholars suppose to be about 1,000 miles “from the east” (Matt. 2:1), most likely ancient Persia, or our modern Iran. They were probably devout scholars who studied ancient holy texts of many religions. The writings of the Jewish faith – which would include prophecies of a special King – would have likely come to them via Daniel’s time in Babylon. Through their studies, they came to recognize that the star that rose at a specific time signaled the birth of this very King. So they set out on a long, difficult journey with gifts fit for royalty.

Here’s what amazes me about the Magi – it wasn’t curiosity that caused them to leave their homes and families for such an arduous journey. It was worship. Matthew records their words to King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him” (v. 2). Here’s the other thing that is surprising to me – He wasn’t their king. Remember – they identified Him as the “King of the Jews.” The Magi didn’t owe him homage. Why would they worship a king not their own? They realized from all they had studied that this king was worthy of worship – not just the worship of the Jews, but the worship of all men everywhere.

These Magi took ancient prophecies, looked forward, and recognized that Jesus was a unique king. In faith and awe, they set out on a long journey to worship Him. You and I have not just ancient prophecies, but we have the New Testament Scriptures that testify that Jesus is this King. We have the eye-witness of the Apostles and we have the heart-witness of the martyrs that testify that Jesus is not just King of the Jews, but King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The faith of all these should inspire faith in us. Jesus – the baby in the manger, the child in Bethlehem, the man healing lepers and raising the dead and dying on a cross and bursting alive out of the grave – this Jesus is worthy of our faith and worthy of our worship. Let’s give Him all He deserves this Christmas – and every day.

Shaken and Stirred

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Oswald Chambers said, “Beware of the danger of spiritual relaxation.”  If every day as a Christian is an easy-breezy-peazy day, then we are in trouble. Following Jesus is not intended to be some blissful nirvana. It’s a climb, a race, a battle, a challenge. It’s a step-by-step, day-by-day, prayer-by-prayer trek over desert sand and rocky mountains and treacherous trails through hostile territory. That’s the life the Apostles experienced. That’s the life the martyrs endured. Their faith was tried and tested in the fires, and it came forth as gold. The Christians with the strongest, deepest faith are the ones who defy opposition, persecution, threats, and even death for the name of Jesus. The most dangerous state for a Christian is when all is right in their little world.
Jeremiah 48:11 points this out: “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another. So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.” In making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment. During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container. After forty days the wine is “shaken up” – poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed. If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled. Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled. The Lord said the same of Jerusalem, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs . . . (Zephaniah 1:12)”
Has your life – and your faith – been shaken lately? James says, “Count it all joy . . .” (James 1:2). God is sifting out the dregs, the dangerously sweet stuff that spoils you. He is making your life an offering worthy of Christ. Is it hard? You bet. Is it painful? Without a doubt. Is it worth it? Just ask the saints who endured. They’re the ones singing songs of joy and praise around the throne.

I’m a Church-Girl

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“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25).

Because I work in a retail environment, I am required to work some Sunday shifts. I’ve worked four of the last six Sundays and one of my two Sundays off I had to drive my husband to the airport. I’ve not been in church for the past four weeks. I feel it. I feel my spirit shriveling up a little more each day for the lack of Christian fellowship, corporate worship and receiving the Word. I feel the pull of sin getting stronger. I feel the weight of the world getting heavier. I feel alone.
The writer of Hebrews understood the necessity of Christian companionship when he wrote our key verse. It sits in the middle of a passage that calls for perseverance. The Hebrew Christians were under extreme persecution from both the Roman government and the Jewish religious community for their faith. This entire book is a call to remain firm in the faith and one of the most dependable ways to do so is to stand together in one accord. The author says that Christian fellowship has several purposes: to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” to encourage one another,” and to hold each other accountable, (vs. 24, 25, implied in v. 26). Many martyrs of the faith have been imprisoned, publically tortured and put to death. But they went through those abuses united in heart and faith, and they drew strength from one another. In 1555 two faithful Bishops, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer we burned side-by-side at the stake for their testimony of Christ. As they embraced before the place of burning, Ridley told Latimer, “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either make the fire less painful, or strengthen us so that we can endure it.”
Friend, we may not be facing a fiery death for our faith (yet), but we still need one another to endure the struggles and challenges of our lives. I need you. I need your encouragement. I need your prayers.  I need your witness.  I need you to remind me to remain faithful. You need me for the same reasons. Church is not just something we do as long as the kids don’t have a soccer match or the beach isn’t calling our name on Sunday. Church – Christian fellowship – is something we need for the sake of our spiritual lives. I hope to see you in church this coming Lord’s Day.