Making God Our Top Priority By Derek Long

      God expected the Israelites to be completely loyal to Him and Him alone. He told them, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, our of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord you God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:2-5). In the New Testament, God continues to expect us to put Him first. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God must take priority over family responsibilities and even ourselves. Luke 14:26 says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”          How can we make sure we are making God our top priority? Let’s examine a few areas where we need to examine our actions and determine if God is being placed above all else. We will not willfully forsake the assembling of the saints and times of worship if we are putting God first. The Hebrew writer instructs us, saying, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). When we put other
things before assembling with other Christians to build them up and strengthen them, it is an indication God is not being put first in our life. If we allow family activities, work
responsibilities, recreational pursuits, etc. to stand in our way of assembling with the saints, we are not putting God first. God instructs us to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), give of our means (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), sing to one another (Colossians 3:16), pray collectively (1 Corinthians 14:15-16), and hear His word be taught (Acts 2:42). If we decide something is more important than obeying these commands of God, then we have decided not to put God first.
      We will not neglect to pray if we are putting God first. The Bible teaches us to “pray without ceasing” and to be “continuing steadfastly in prayer” (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12). How often do we pray? Do we simply pray when we go to bed and before meals? Is prayer a common part of our life? A failure to pray may indicate a lack of trust in God and an arrogance which thinks we can handle things on our own. Prayer is a means by which we can cast our cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7) and deal with anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). How often do we feel overwhelmed in life and think we have to handle the situation all by ourselves? If we are not an individual who is given to prayer, it is a good indication God is not coming first in our lives.
      We will be diligent in studying the word of God if we are putting God first. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Do we go days, weeks, or months at a time without picking up our Bibles to study them except when going to services? If God is our top priority in life, learning about Him and discovering His will for us will equally be important to us. Let us, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2)! We will spend our time in carrying out God’s will if we are putting God first. If God is first in my life, I will make time to speak to the lost about the gospel (Mark 16:15). If God is first in my life, I will find time to help restore the lost (James 5:19-20). If God is first in my life, I will find time to visit widows and orphans in their trouble (James 1:27). If God is first in my life, I will help bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). When God is not first in our lives, our time will be spent entirely on ourselves. We will do the things we want to do. We will spend our time living for pleasure and entertainment. A great way to tell where our priorities are is to look at what we spend our time doing! Hopefully we will all examine our lives (2 Corinthians 13:5) and if God is not first we will put Him first in the time we have left upon this earth!

Words From Keith and Debbie Crews

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved (2 Thess 2:9-10).
We must love the truth.  God has always put an emphasis on truth.  Be honest and tell the truth.  God’s word is truth (John 17:17).  Some people want to be deceived because it suits their interests (2 Tim 4:3-4).  Some people deceive themselves.  Do not be deceived.  Search the Scriptures for truth.  Do not believe every thing you hear.  Search the written word of God for truth (Acts 17:11).
Keith

Blog Post By Gary Henry

Salvation . . . y Mas!

Sometimes, I guess, doing the “same old thing” is not enough. In California recently, I noticed that CVS Pharmacy has opened a new group of stores branded “CVS Pharmacy y Más.” In Spanish, of course, y más means “and more.” The new stores are doing well, apparently.

It occurs to me that churches are also doing the y más thing. In fact, I know very few that aren’t doing it. In the world today, consumerism has gained a nearly total dominance in our minds, and it is difficult for us even to think outside the box of this mindset. In religious and spiritual matters, areas where you would think consumerism has no relevance, churches not only think in terms of marketing but even outdo businesses at their own game. And I am not talking about denominational churches that have joined the “church growth” movement. In this post, I’m concerned with the number of “our” congregations that cater to members who would not worship there if there wasn’t a good bit of y más going on. It’s time to admit it: the gospel is no longer enough. What used to be extras have become essentials, if a church expects to grow.

The gospel has become a generic “commodity” (ordinary, uninteresting, and of low perceived value). Offering the gospel is not nearly enough anymore to make a church a place that people would want to go to. Today, it’s all about the extras . . . the y más. Acting like consumers, people typically go to church where they find the extras they want. “The gospel? Well, yes, you can get that in several churches near us. But we’re looking for a church where they also have __________ .”

Some will say they despise this kind of thinking, and they have in mind mega-churches that draw crowds with rock-band music, rock-star preaching, and rock-arena church buildings. But that doesn’t worry me as much as my brothers and sisters who will often drive right past a sound congregation that desperately needs their help in the Lord’s work in order to worship with a group that offers “more” — more youthfulness, more friendliness, more married couples with children, more enthusiastic singing, more interesting preaching. Worship . . . y más. In short, a nicer “experience.” After all, in a consumer society, it’s the “experience” that counts. Starbucks succeeds by brewing up an experience, not just coffee. The NFL succeeds by putting on an experience, not just an athletic competition. And churches succeed by providing an experience, not just the gospel. It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

And what about us as individuals? Are we content with salvation or do we require salvation y más? How honest are we about what really attracts us? Is it the gospel itself, or is it the extras? In a day when so many interesting temporal things often accompany the Christian’s hope of heaven, how many of us would continue to do what we do (and worship where we worship) if the extras were taken away?

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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Words From Keith and Debbie Crews

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thess 4:3-5).
Each of us should possess our vessel (body) in sanctification an honor.  Our clothing, speech, and behavior should reflect Christ (Gal 2:20).  We are not animals.  We are called to be holy (1 Pet 1:15).  We are expected to discipline our body and bring it into subjection (1 Cor 9:27).  We are to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Rom 13:14).  We are to control our passions and desires (Gal 5:24).  We are to control our tongue (Eph 4:29).  We are to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5).  We can do this if we are spiritually minded (Rom 8:5-6).
Keith

Blog Post By Gary Henry

Shutting Out the Noise

While speaking in Newark, Ohio recently, the brother who led our thoughts at the Lord’s Table on Sunday morning made some points that have stuck with me. He talked about the need for us, while observing the Lord’s Supper, to “shut out the noise.” In an increasingly “noisy” world, this is an important bit of advice.

The most obvious noise comes from our digital devices and their incessant barrage. The mass of “things to know” and “things to do” is beyond comprehension. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Just life itself, whether digital or not, is complicated. No aspect of it is simple these days. And the cumulative effect of the whole thing is that our minds are rarely free from the demands placed upon us by information, activities, and relationships. To repeat, it’s a very “noisy” world that we live in.

There is no changing the way the world is, of course. The clock can’t be turned back, and it is foolish to try. So what are we to do?

One thing we can do, as the brother indicated at the Lord’s Table, is consciously “shut out the noise” when we need to. We can deliberately reject every thought except the one we wish to be thinking about, focusing our complete (and restful) attention on that single truth or principle. I don’t say this is easy, but I say it can be done. At least it can be learned. Even if our minds are not used to being disciplined, we can start training them today. Little by little, we can acquire the ability to meditate on just one thing — and really let that one thing sink in.

Learning to “shut out the noise” takes practice and training, especially if we’ve not been making any effort to do this lately. As with any skill, we learn it gradually, starting small and then learning to take bigger steps. The growth is not immediate; it is incremental. If we can quiet our minds today for only a few seconds, the day will come — if we keep working at it — when we can do it for a few seconds longer.

But here is my point: we won’t be able to “shut out the noise” at special times (like the Lord’s Supper) if we haven’t been practicing the discipline at other times. So I recommend having a “quiet time” each day, if nothing else just for the “training” effect of it. It’s an old idea, but it’s valuable.

Granted, there is nothing specifically “Christian” about this. Buddhists and Hindus have long known the value of “mindfulness” and “meditation.” Nobody owns the exclusive rights to this discipline; it is the common property of the human race. But if it has been a tool that people in general have found helpful in their various pursuits, how much more valuable would it be for a Christian to use in pursuit of the highest of all goals. If tools take their character from those who use them and from the use to which they are put, the practice of “shutting out the noise” can be an honorable tool when used to bring us quietly before God’s throne for a few moments of rest and reflection each day.

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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Words From Keith and Debbie Crews

For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.  Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything (1 Thess 1:8).
Paul established the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-4).  The church in Philippi supported Paul when he preached in Thessalonica (Phil 4:16).  Now Thessalonica is sounding forth the word of the Lord.  Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians.  They had turned from idols to serve the true and living God (1 Thess 1:9).  Some thought the coming of the Lord was imminent and had stopped working.  Paul explains the coming of the Lord (1 Thess 4:13-18).  He says the coming of the Lord will not come unless the falling away comes first (2 Thess 2:3).  He commands those not working to go back to work (2 Thess 3:10-12).
The Lord’s church is to sound forth the word of the Lord.  It is to be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).  Preach the word for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but will turn their ears away from the truth  (2 Tim 4:2-4).
Keith

Post By Gary Henry

We Must Do More Than "Motivate the Tribe"

Last year, I came home from a preaching trip and ran into my apartment manager on the sidewalk as I was unloading my car. “Good to have you back,” she said. “I guess you’ve been out motivating the tribe?” She winked as she said that. Secular-minded and dubious about the whole idea of religion, she was saying something like this: “Gary, you’re not likely to convince anybody in the public that your message is true, so you’ve found a way to make a living just ‘motivating the tribe’ — preaching to those who already agree with you.”

This person was a friend, and her good-natured tease was not meant to offend. But it hit home. Sadly, many of us who “preach” spend little time doing anything that resembles evangelism. In a culture where it is increasingly hard to find unbelievers who will listen, it is tempting to throw up our hands and quit. What worries me, however, is that our conscience is not even bothering us much anymore. We’re comfortable being the congregation’s “minister.” The gig we aspire to would be a nice mix of pulpiteer/pastor/program director.

Unfortunately, our problem is exacerbated by the narrow partisanship in the world today, a world where people no longer talk to anybody except their tribe. In the “news” and “social media”, we no longer feel any need to interact with people who don’t agree with us. We may say nasty things about them behind their back, but we see no need to communicate with — much less persuade — them. They simply don’t count. If they don’t agree with us, they can be ignored.

In this kind of environment, our own tribe seems a very safe circle to stay inside of. It’s easy to settle for nothing more than intramural (“inside the walls”) activities. But I believe we must resist this temptation. (1) We need to keep trying to find people to study the gospel with. (2) We need to learn some “languages” different than our own (and not just linguistically but culturally). (3) We need to improve our listening skills, being genuinely willing to learn as well as to teach. (4) We need to persevere and be patient. (5) We need to preach the word of God “even if it isn’t the popular thing to do” (2 Timothy 4:2 CEV).

Evangelism must remain a high priority with us. No matter how difficult it is, we must keep trying to communicate with those around us. We must get out of our comfort zones. The Lord is not going to be pleased if we simply give up, retreat to the safety of our church buildings, and settle into a routine of doing nothing more than “motivating the tribe.” The tribe certainly needs to be motivated, and that is a part of our work, but the Lord expects us to do more than encourage one another. The world around us is like a building that is burning to the ground. Do we not care enough to try to rescue some of those who are dying? If the roles were reversed, what would we want them to do?

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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