Get out of the cave.

Last weekend, my wife and I took our children to Carter Caves and toured Cascade Cave.  The guided tour was 75-minutes long and included 225 stair steps.  Our children loved it, and we did too.   At least, the older two that stayed awake.  Our youngest fell asleep towards the end and was carried through pretty much the entire trip.

When we came out of the cave, our signal returned to our phones and messages and voicemails came on them.  We missed a lot of what was going on and valuable communications.  The experience reminded me that we can enter into spiritual caves in our lives.  The cave is not evil itself and is something that somehow provides protection and a place of solace.  However, it is not a place we are meant to stay.  Let’s look at a couple passages of Scripture to learn more.

David.

1 Samuel 22

David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

3And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. 4And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold. 5And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.

Elijah.

1 Kings 19

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? 10And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? 14And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. 17And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 18Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

The Rest of Us

John 16:33 reminds us, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  I am thankful that God has provided grace that is sufficient for all our needs.  Thankfully we can experience His grace during our times of grieving and other overwhelming emotions.  While our feelings can betray us, we must still understand that God has created us with these capabilities.  Emotions are just some of the ways the Lord has given us the power to cope with all the ups and downs of life.

However, as far as the emotions associated with sadness and anger go, we must not stay there too long.  In the passages above, we see that David and Elijah went to the caves in time of despair and depression.  However, both were not there for very long.  It allowed for a moment of profound soul-searching.

We can do this deep searching of the heart during this time because typically we find seclusion.  For Elijah, it was a time where God could speak to Him in a mysterious, yet miraculous way.  Saints of old have called these times the dark night of the soul.  These are times when we feel withdrawn and numb in our emotions.  Communication with God may be foggy at best.  However, it is during these times that we can hold on to God’s Word alone by faith and in the end find out that He still reigns.  This is the peace that Jesus talked about in John 16:33.  We can have trouble and should expect it.  However, we can overcome and have peace because of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death.  That triumph extends to every arena of life.

So great a salvation.

We have been given a great salvation.  However, it can be neglected.  Which means what to the believer?  Let’s search this out.

“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

First, why is this salvation so great?  We will find the answer in the previous chapter.

Salvation begins not with us but the incomparable majesty of the Son.  The glory of the Son far beyond the Old Testament prophets and high above the angels.  Jesus is the only begotten of God, meaning one of a kind.  He is uncreated and eternal present before the creation of the world.  And, He is the one who sits at the right hand of Heavenly Father.  

It is Jesus that has purged us from our sins.  We see this referenced in chapter one and a deeper dive in the second chapter begins to open this more fully.  They center on the truth that Christ became flesh, dwelt among, died for our sins, and rose victorious.  Christ became as one of us to die and cleanse us thoroughly from our sins.

What does it mean to neglect?

It is a moral and spiritual command that we pay attention to what God has said.  Our response is a matter of ultimate blessing or loss.   As the Hebrew writer will explain, we need to be more careful than those at Mt. Sinai who heard the words of God through the angels and the holy man Moses, for we have the Son of God!  They listened to the word but did not mix it with faith.  That is not our path.

How prone we are to “neglect?”  It is so easy to treat the things of God as if they were unimportant, to become occupied without comforts and the affairs of this life.  We wouldn’t want to offend others who have their own believers. We don’t intend to deny the faith – we are just taking it a bit easy and being a bit reasonable.  The writer warns us that such an attitude leads to eternal loss. We shall not escape.

Give a more earnest thing to the things we have heard.

We must wholly commit to learning the Word of God.  We do this through personal and congregational study.  However, it is more than gaining knowledge.  The believer needs to proceed further into the application of the Word.  The sincerity of faith will move us past intellectually discussions and empty feelings.  We must seek to live after God as he taught us to in the Scripture.

Foundational and Functional Values

There are many ways to describe the culture of a church.  But, what about the values of a congregation?  An organization’s values are those underlying assumptions that guide the decision-making and actions taken.  Many times values are put into competition with one another.  As though one category is more desirable than another.  Terms such as maintenance vs. mission or traditional vs. contemporary are used to note these distinctions.

In a pastoral leadership course I took in undergrad, we discussed this dichotomy and the group created two lists of values.  I recently came across it.  The list looked at the values of churches but focused on a healthier set of categories.  The terms used were foundational and functional.   If memory serves me correctly, there were ten students in the class and the professor.  We had students from different denominations and pastoral experience.  This is the list we made during a single class meeting.

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 4.09.34 PM

The table itself brings back good memories of that class.  However, it also reminds me of the need for good teachers who help students get past misconceptions and see things at a deeper level.

While there are indeed some issues on both sides of the table, reasonable thinking would see both sides having desirable values.  We certainly need the timeless foundational values that center around doctrine and the Christian faith.  At the same time, the functional or operational values note that while the message does not change, the method does.  Our local churches would benefit from a healthy dose of excellence.  If we continually pursue mediocrity or worse, our ability to lead people to Christ and disciple them is severely impacted.

Are there other foundational or functional values you would add?

Camp Meeting Time! 5 Reasons for going to Camp Meeting.

Last month, I posted a blog that shared the top responses of why people go to youth camp (check it out here and my reasons here).  This month is our annual camp meeting.  I love camp meeting personally. In 2017, I wrote on how to pray and get involved (click here and find the 2018 schedule here).

This time around, I am sharing the 5 top reasons shared for going to camp.  In order of least to most:

Staying at Camp

Why do we go camping in any form, really?  To get away from it all.  Several responses noted that staying in the dorms and campers was a highlight of their year.  There is no better safe space than a sacred space like the Church campgrounds.

The Food

Yeah, this is a typical activity for us.  Where Christians meet, Christians eat.  There is actually some scriptural background to this thought in that Jesus ate his regular meals is the same pattern He shared the Last Supper.  But, I that’s not what I’m writing about.  Instead, the food at Church camp is fantastic.  And, my favorite dish is the ribs that they make.  Yum!

Physical and Emotional Healing

These comments focused on the truth that getting away from discouraging environment allows for spiritual healing.  The atmosphere at camp is transformational and healing.  Not only have I seen broken lives healed, but I have also seen broken bodies healed at camp.

Seeing People Saved

The greatest type of healing is when a person receives salvation.  Camp meetings have always been evangelistically geared.  This reason and the next were mentioned by every person.

The Services

In some form or fashion, the services or at least parts of the worship gatherings were brought up.  The preaching, singing, and everything else in between was central to each respondent.    I have to agree.  There is nothing like camp meeting services.  Believers from different churches and even denominations gathering together to worship Jesus Christ through word, testimony, song, and more.  Nothing can beat it.

God can revive us!

Our congregation is concluding our spring revival services.  We typically take an opportunity twice a year.  These multiple services are a call to our people to set aside more time for attending corporate prayer, singing, and preaching.  Revival week is a call to other individual spiritual disciplines as well.  We typically do revivals in Spring and Fall.  After the frigidness of winter, it is a time of refreshing time in Spring.  After the busyness of Summer vacations and school beginning, fall provides a time of refocusing of our priorities.

However, revival is not associated only with a series of meeting at the local church.  Revival can come in various ways to believers in groups or in solitude.  Revival happens at anytime and anywhere because, in our broken world, we get tired, lose focus, and need help all the time.  Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, reminds us that we serve a God who faithfully revives His people.

“Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  -Is. 40:28-31

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” – Is. 57:15

By reading those Scriptures, it becomes clear that God will revive those who are willing to follow Him.  When we feel spiritually weak, we must examine our self and see if we have allowed pride or any other hidden sin to creep in and have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2).  We can experience revival is we wait on the Lord by seeking His will and following His lead.  We can experience revival when we are humble before God.  We can experience revival if we confess our sins to Him because He is faithful to forgive (1 Jn. 1:9).  God can revive us!

The Lord is my Shepherd – Psalm 23:3

So far, we have seen that in the Lord, we do not lack in the first verse.  In the second verse, we find provision and rest.  As we continue, we see restoration for our souls.

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3

This verse is about restoration and not just a refreshing as with the previous verse.  It’s the difference between an invigorating soda in one instance and the doctors working to restore a patient from dehydration.  The severity of our circumstances requires a more profound work when we come to this verse.  

Jesus Christ is the only one who can bring complete restoration to our lives.  Isaiah 53:6 reads, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  It is through Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension that we have this faithful promise. 

What is this restoration of the soul?  In the context of shepherds and sheep, it is speaking about a lost sheep being restored to the sheepfold.  The parable of Jesus from Luke 15 comes to mind:

4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

This restoration speaks of our justification.  It is a change of positions.  Such as from sinner to saint, from lost to found, from orphaned to adopted, from death to life.  It also speaks powerfully to our moments of weariness and straying.  There are times when life brings us so low, and we succumb to our temptations.  It is at these times we find God restoring our strength and faith.

We also see that “He leads me in paths of righteous, for his names sake.”  As we live as believers, our aim is become more and more like Jesus.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about his excellent name.  Psalm 25:4-5 records a beautiful prayer in this same mind, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Still, God’s grace to us is his namesake.  It’s not selfish, it’s scandalous.  His name is on the line.  How far would you go out of your way for a person like you?  God gives us mercy when we are undeniably guilty.  God had displayed His love through His Son even when we were sinners.  God’s actions are considered foolish by the world, but they are lifegiving.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”  The Lord has went out of His way (which is actually His way) to restore us to Himself.

Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23:2

Scripture Reading Challenge (#33)

One of the most familiar stories of the Bible is that of David and Goliath.  This is a story of a young teen facing impossible odds and through the grace of God was victorious.  The stance that David made is admirable.  The faith that he displayed is inspirational.  The commitment he had to God is challenging us to us.

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-18:16

The Spirit can leave a person. Saul is a testimony to this. Scripture reminds us,“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:30‬). The Holy Spirit is the testimony to our soul that we are a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Saul grieved God so deeply and for so long that the Holy Spirit moved away from Saul.  This is the sad condition of many people, and like Saul, they do not repent of their secret or open sins and errant thinking.  Instead, the chasm between them and God widens.

God will raise up leaders after his heart.  The Scriptures substantiates our hopes at this point.  These leaders may not always replace toxic leaders, as in the example of David and Saul.  They may challenge leaders in the wrong, they may only offer a new direction to follow, or they may inspire and bring hope to those while enduring a difficult situation.  God would remove Saul from leadership and David would step up into the position of king.  However, David was leading the people long before he was king.  You lead from proximity and manage from a position.  David spent time with the people while Saul became separated.  Leaders today must guard their relationships if they hope to remain a good leader.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#32)

Did you know that Israel was tempted in keeping up with the Joneses. They were still on the roller coaster of morality and obedience that we found in the book of Judges. Even Samuel, who was a great person, could not keep his children in the fear of the Lord. The people who had not given themselves over to other forms of worship asked Samuel for king. God was not pleased with this but gave them a king. He would eventually use the kingship of Israel in his plan of salvation beginning with the second king. However, God gave them the king they wanted. This is the beginning of Saul.

Read 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27

There is more to be said about wanting to be like someone else. As a nation, Israel wanted to be like the other nations that had kings. There is nothing wrong with being unique and not copying what others are doing. At this time Israel was a theocracy, meaning that God was understood as their sole ruler. They wanted a monarchy, a visible representative of God’s authority in human flesh. Samuel represented God’s holiness, and now Saul would represent God’s divine rule. We can look forward from this point to where the fullness of God was wholly invested in Jesus. In fact, the Greek title, “Christ,” or Hebrew title, “Messiah,” means the “anointed one.” Jesus was the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.

Saul looked the part of a king. At least in everyone’s eyes. He was bigger than anyone else and God even gave Saul a heart to lead. Apparently, Saul could even preach, to the surprise of everyone. However, when it came time to announce him, we are given a hint about his true character and why God had to work in giving him a new heart. First Samuel 10:21-22, noted that after Samuel proclaimed Saul as king, they couldn’t find him. God answered their prayer and told them, “he heath hid himself among the stuff.” Deep inside this man who would be king, was major personality issues that would continue to surface. He did not have courage in several occasions when leading his army. He was jealous, angry, and conniving. He would even compromise his integrity and the Word of God by seeking help from a practitioner of the dark arts. God worked on his heart in the beginning and gave him a fresh start. It was hopeful, but, Saul would not always seek the Lord and it ended up costing him the kingdom.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#31)

The story of Samuel is one of my favorites.  Here is a man who both began and finished well.  That is a rare feat among today’s leaders and even many of the leaders in the Bible (of course not all the leaders in the Bible are trying to be good).  However, Samuel is one whose life is thoroughly committed to God and even more, during a time when it seems God was no longer working with Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21

It is no wonder that Samuel turned out to be such a great follower of God.  Look at the example that was given to him as a child.  Hannah’s approach to prayer and praise before God is worth noting and modeling.  Fervent in prayer and quick to praise.  Many times we are apathetic in prayer and slow to worship.  Probably, much faster to complain.  We should learn more from Hannah.

Hannah had a severe burden on her heart.  In ancient times, being childless was considered a curse, and today it is no less heartbreaking.  The Scripture does not hide this reality.  In fact, through the many inclusions of this issue, it may be one of the most noted effects of the fall of man.  But notice, the Scripture changes tune after Jesus.  The last barren woman mentioned is Elisabeth (Luke 1:7 & 36).  There was another miracle birth from a couple in their old age.  Then, through Mary we see Jesus, and that was a miraculous conception all by itself.  But, the picture is painted all through Scripture, that God is greater than any barrenness.  I know there are not many words of comfort for someone having difficulty to have children, but remember this, God is on your side.  The Lord was able to create a man without anyone else, and he created a woman using only a man.  Jesus was born of just a woman.  God gave children to couples beyond their childbearing years.  I believe God’s message to women is the same thing He told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  Keep your faith in God, and He will make something beautiful happen.

Samuel received his calling from God amazingly and audibly.  The calling is not the only thing I notice.  It’s the age of Samuel.  He was most likely around the age of twelve.  God can and will work with young people.  It is also great to see Eli recognize and respect this about Samuel (even when Samuel told Eli that he and his sons would no longer be priests).  As a pastor and professor, I am always reminded of the openness youth have in following God’s leading into new methods and areas of ministry.  We could shut them down for fear of them getting hurt or messing things up.  Or, we can bless and empower them to get things done.  I choose to bless and empower.

The last thing that jumps off of the page is that there was no open vision in the land (1 Samuel 3:1).  Meaning, there were no prophets with a fresh word from heaven.  First, it was as though God was silent.  But, we see God is moving and working in the life of Hannah and Samuel.  So, we learn that when it seems God is silent, he is still working.  Secondly, it could also mean that the teaching of God’s Word was not up to standard.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  These verses imply there was no available teaching or preaching.  We know for sure that Eli’s children were not doing the right thing as priests.  However, Eli seemed to be complacent and by his silence and inaction, permitted this dearth of God’s Word.  Oh God, do not let us be silent in our words or actions but let us declare you faithfully through our words and deeds!

Scripture Reading Challenge (#30)

This short book in the Old Testament is the first of two books named after women in the entire Bible.  One may wonder why she is included in the Scripture.  After all, she is not of Hebrew descent but was brought in through marriage.  However, through her story, we see the faithfulness to God and God’s grace.  We also learn that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s story.  Finally, we know how God works through families and salvation history.  Ruth would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.

Read Ruth 1:1-4:22

Isn’t it amazing that such a sad beginning to this tale ends up with a beautiful love story?  And, all the way through it, we see God’s hand orchestrating events.  The Lord is present in the painful situations and the pleasant ones.  I am reminded of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  You may have heard the cliche phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”  People may even reference this verse.  I think that is a  wrong interpretation of Romans 8:28.  Instead, it seems to say that things can happen without reason, at least for those not seeking to live in the Lord.  Instead, we should say, “everything can have a holy purpose or else it happens in vain.”  Ruth demonstrated that even the death of her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, could lead to God’s glory through faithfulness.  May we be found faithful and find handfuls of purpose along the way (Ruth 2:16).