In the time of the Old Testament, a wall defined a city. The outer wall of a city was the first line of defense against incoming threats. If you did not have a wall, you did not have a city. If a church is like a “city”, as Jesus describes it, then it’s important that we keep the walls up. What are those walls? Not barriers, so that we can hole up and hunker down like a physical wall. The structures that form the borders of the church are the standards of righteousness—faith in the character of God and in His precepts, and the confidence that comes from trust in His grace. All Churches of Christ are meant to be fortified with truth, faithfulness, unity, respect and above all love for God and for our fellow man.
What happens when these structures are falling apart, broken in places or left in ruin? What happens when the principles that outline the church are in disrepair? When the Jewish people were in captivity and their culture had become leavened with sin, God longed for someone to “stand in the gap.” Amidst politicizing, selfish ambition, pride, idolatry, sloth, distrust in Him and all manner of sin, the Lord desired fervently that someone would have the courage to do right. In Ezekiel 22.30 the Lord said “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”
Fast forward now to today. What is the manner of the world in which we now stand? Politicizing. Selfish Ambition. Pride. Idolatry. Slothfulness. Distrust in God. We can’t close our eyes, plug our ears and say “Lalalala I’m not listening.” This is real. It punches holes in our walls. How does the church respond? Well, sometimes we retreat inward and sit in the comfort of our four walls…without noticing the gaps. We see our broken walls and leave them unattended. Sometimes worse, we just run for the hills and abandon our family.
Let it no be so. The church is meant to be a haven for love and a shining light for the grace of God. Let those principles be the walls that outline this church…and when those lines are broken, where the gaps are—YOU be the one to stand. Standing in the gap means extending a hand of forgiveness, opening our hearts, praying for an enemy and showing grace to all. Remember the One that stood in the gap for you and follow Him.
- Cain Atkinson
The first step in making positive changes in your life begins with a decision to stop doing the things that are leading you in the wrong direction. While that may sound overly simplified, the power of denial is amazing. We all deal with this. You are not alone. As we begin the new year, what are some things you are trying to improve in your life? Maybe you need to:
- Get a handle on your finances.
- Become more fit and lead a healthy lifestyle.
- Work on strengthening your marriage and family life.
- Deal with recurring spiritual weakness and temptation.
What decisions do you make on a daily basis that enhance the problem you are experiencing? Usually, the majority of these choices are small. But, the effect of many small things leads to big challenges. Challenge yourself to become more aware of each decision you make. Does it lead you closer to your goal or farther away? Stop what you have been doing, and go the other direction.
Here are three principles you can use to keep yourself motivated as you move away from where you are presently and become the person you want to be:
Accept responsibility for your choices - even the sinful ones. If you are headed down the wrong road, stop living in denial. Do not lie to yourself. Do not shift the focus onto someone else. If you are struggling spiritually, stop moving away from God and turn around. Invite God into your life. Refuse to allow your emotion and embarrassment hold you back from what you know you need to do. The prodigal son blew it, Luke 15. But, when he came to his senses, he came home to the loving arms of his father who welcomed him as a forgiven son, Luke 15.11-24. Own up to the situation and come home. Let the loving arms of your eternal Father surround you and feel the warmth of His gracious touch.
Understand your existence is about God - not your selfish ambitions. God determines your purposes, not your own personal desires. In day to day life, Paul successfully exemplified this, Galatians 2.20. Jesus set aside His personal wishes in order to accomplish God’s redeeming work of mankind, Luke 22.42; John 5.30; 6.38; 12.27; 17.1-3.
Never push God out of your life. Even if you’ve made disastrous mistakes, you can always come back to God. In this life, you can never drift outside of God’s reach. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them, Hebrews 7.25. Develop the kind of heart that is always ready to repent.
— Matthew Allen
Have you been reading in your Old Testament much lately? If you have, and you start digging around, there’s no doubt you would eventually run across the term “high place.” Well, what exactly is a high place? 1 Kings 13.23 is one area where this term is used. For they also built themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree. The words ‘high place’ is used together 117 times in the Old Testament. These high places were centers of pagan idol worship, and an absolute abominations to the Lord. These high places were not the places He had desired to receive sacrifice, and certainly not a place to sacrifice to other Gods.
So, naturally God did not want these things to be upheld. Numbers 33.52, He tells them “demolish all the high places.” This was a stark warning to the Jews that pagan style worship would never be acceptable in the sight of God. God knew how mixing worldliness in with His people’s culture would corrupt their minds and the society and cause them to spiral into sin.
Now, Hezekiah is one of my favorite bible characters. He was a righteous king that inherited a very unrighteous kingdom. 2 Kings 18.3-5 says that He did what was right in the sight of the Lord…He removed the high places and cut down the Asherah…He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that there was none other like him among all the kings of Judah… Hezekiah was awesome. He was one of the only kings to ever remove the high places. This means two things—One, Hezekiah knew the scriptures. He likely knew the principles from Numbers 33 very well. Two, he knew that he’d have to actually put his knowledge of the scriptures into action. The high places were commonly left untouched.
So, then what are the high places in your life? What are the sins that so easily beset you? Perhaps you have made an effort to remove almost every idol from your life, but one or two high places still remain. What is it? An old grudge? Sports? Lust? Pride? If it’s a high place, it’s probably out of reach to most…but you know what you’ve built and you know Christ has the power to tear them down. So, this New Year let’s be like Hezekiah. Let’s resolve to tear down the high places and never build them up again. God bless.
- Cain Atkinson
You wake up Sunday morning. Grumble at your alarm. You roll and toss about for a couple minutes hitting the snooze button. Toes hit the floor. You rub your eyes. You stumble about the house, going through the motions of your various morning routine step by step. The routine is so very ingrained that it occurs nearly on autopilot. It's thoughtless. It's pre-programmed. That's what makes it a routine. Maybe even a part of your Sunday morning routine is to load up the family and head to Sunday morning services at your local church. If it is not a regular part of your week to assemble with the saints on the first day of the week, barring special circumstance, that's certainly a problem. If it is not a priority of your schedule that on Sunday you will say "We will worship the Lord" then you'll find yourself in direct violation of Hebrews 10:25 which says "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together." Your empty space will be noticed. We will hurt for you and we will miss you.
However, perhaps you do find your way to the assembly every Sunday morning. Perhaps even every Sunday and Wednesday night. But...is it possible that the acts of worship have become just another part of your routine? Have they become automatic and thoughtless as rolling out of bed, brushing your teeth, getting dressed or tying your shoes? Is it possible that you are sitting there in the pew Sunday after Wednesday after Sunday, giving a blemished sacrifice to the Lord that is halfhearted, weak and vain? Is it possible to forsake the assembly right there in the middle of it? Is it possible to let one's mind drift during the prayer to thoughts of lunch, of our jobs and of our friends? Is it possible that we do not sing to God with focused minds, and do not make melody in our hearts? Is it possible we hear the preaching of God's word with ears that are not tuned in to spiritual truth? Is it possible that we take the Lord's supper and neglect to focus our minds on Jesus' sacrifice. Certainly it is.
Perhaps this kind of forsaking the assembly is even worse than the brethren that hardly ever or no longer darken the doors of the church building. At least with them we know. At least with them we can try to help. But to those that are physically present when we worship God, and certainly go through all the visible outward motions of heartfelt worship but are mentally and spiritually checked out...why have you forsaken us? We, as a people of God, must not forsake the assembling of the saints in any way. We should be there when we can be…. as a priority. Our schedules must be built around God. Further, we must be diligent to focus in every aspect of our worship so that we can give God the sacrifice that He deserves.
- Cain Atkinson
It might be a long way to go. In Genesis 28.12, Jacob laid his head down and saw a ladder stretching from earth to Heaven. "And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!" Let me ask you this brother or sister, you think you can climb that ladder? Are you working your way toward Heaven? Well then stop. You won't make it like that. Okay, maybe this admonition needs a bit more elaboration.
The point is often stated from Ephesians 2.8-9 that one cannot earn their way to Heaven by their own good deeds. The apostle writes to those in Ephesus reminding them of the means by which they have been saved. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." So, is this passage really teaching that there's no way for us to work our way to Heaven? Certainly. The wages of sin is death. We could never pay God back for what He has done for us. He came to earth and laid down His life so that we wouldn't have to pay that price. That's the grace that Paul is talking about in this passage. However, Paul goes on in verse 10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Paul makes clear that our purpose is glorifying God. Even though our works do not earn or merit Heaven, we were created to be living testaments to the glory of God. We are required to do certain things in order to accept the gift of salvation that God has given us. We are further not just commanded but privileged to live lives that show the love of God. That does not mean that the things we do somehow earn our way to Heaven. It’s our faith, a living faith, James 2.24, that God rewards with the crown of glory. So, while our works don't earn us Heaven, we do still have to try. We can't make it all the way. We will stumble in our obedience...but with a faithful heart, God will carry us the rest of the way.
So, how’s your work ethic…and why do you do the works that you do?
- Cain Atkinson