Central Focus of Worship

What is it that you center your attention on when you join in worship on the first day of the week?  Have you given much thought to this question?  The answer is directly related to the draw that brought you to the assembly in the first place.  For example, the intellectual may be drawn by the hope of a message that is thought provoking and stimulating.  The individual who is inclined to their creative side might be most attentive to the songs that are lifted up in praise, or perhaps the music that accompanies the hymns in many houses of worship.  Sadly, there are even those in pews each Sunday focusing solely on the fact that they have succeeded in making it to yet another service, while thinking only of what they will be doing after the closing prayer releases them from their obligatory presence in ‘weekly church.’

I don’t believe any of these approaches should be viewed as the ‘reason’ for coming together for worship!  The reason for coming together must revolve around what it is that makes us who we are, not to mention being the focal point in the first century church.  We have two examples in New Testament scripture that indicate the church came together on the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7 & 1 Corinthians 16:2)  In Acts 20, Luke records an event that seems to indicate a delay in the travel of Paul and his companions at the city of Troas where they waited seven days and then intended to depart on the next day.  For what reason this delay?  The text tells us that the ‘disciples came together to break bread’ and that Paul preached to them.  Early church history tells us that the disciples were obedient to Christ’s command in remembering His body and His blood that was to be done in remembrance of Him.

My friends, Paul received from the Lord, the instructions Jesus had given to His apostles on the night He was betrayed, and this was also given to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23ff).  In his comments Paul also brings to mind what occurs during the remembering the body and blood of Jesus, when he said, “For as often as you as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  In proclaiming His death, we acknowledge our need for it, in that only in His death do we have any hope at all of forgiveness of our sin.  When we come together our focus is the same as Paul’s in that he ‘determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  Is that the primary focuses each week, for you, and for those where you attend worship? 

Copyright © 2011, Nolan P. Rutter

What of the Wilderness?

“Where is God when I hurt?”  That was the title of the lead article in this week’s Apologetics Press newsletter email.  Facebook posts were also including comments on the providence of God.  In a conversation with a fellow preacher we spoke about how he might minister to man whose wife was gravely ill, yet believed, no, knew, with all his heart that God would heal his wife.  What affect would this have on his faith in the event that his wife did not survive?  In the course of sharing some thoughts a question arose that seemed fitting, “Why did God leave Israel in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt?”  The answer leaped off my tongue before I knew it, when I said, “To teach them to rely on God.”

That conversation prompted me to consider the events of Israel’s sojourning in the Sinai and ponder some of the other lessons we can learn from it.  Any student of scripture will understand the significance of Sinai and the wilderness wanderings of Israel and how it was a stage in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to give his descendants the land he found himself in.  But what of the wilderness and it’s purpose? 

It was more than the place where the Law was delivered to Moses, not to mention the design of the Tabernacle.  The wilderness is on the way, on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  The trip from a place of oppression and slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey takes them through a place of trial and testing.  Today, we are in a type of wilderness in this world as we face trials and testing before entering the next life.

The wilderness is where many lose trust and belief in God.  The children of Israel were sent into the land to ‘spy’ it out for the people, the city’s defenses and the produce it offered.  The report given by the spies on their return was riddled with doubt and fear.  With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the men failed to believe God would deliver them safely into that land.  In today’s wilderness we have a choice to make, to trust or not to trust.  Too many today fail to believe that God even exists or that He will fulfill His promise to them.

Last, but by no means least, the wilderness is also where some grow in their faith in God.  Israel grew from little faith to the point where they were ready to enter Canaan at the leading of God.  We too, face trials and tests in the wilderness, which is life.  We can use them to build our faith to the point we are ready enter the place prepared for us by Jesus.  Which direction is your wilderness experience leading?

Copyright © 2011, Nolan P. Rutter

The Golden Rule of God

We think it humorous when someone refers to the Golden Rule as “He who has the gold makes the rules.”  It is fact that what we refer to as “the Golden Rule” is not even identified as such, in the holy writ.  This reference is one given by man, defining the guideline as one of great value, one that was put forward by Jesus when He said, “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)  It is interesting that the Law and the Prophets aspect assigned to this passage is also referred to regarding the first and greatest command.  This is a clear indication that a rule to live by today has in fact been God’s intention at least as far back as the Law of Moses. 

Is that the way you’ve understood this?  There are those today who would have us believe that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament.  Perhaps you subscribe to this belief or some semblance of it.  I would tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth.  The God who gave the Law to Moses calls for extreme response to infractions of His regulations.  At least a dozen laws called for the penalty of death for their violation, included among these were murder, rape, blasphemy, adultery, Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft…  It is my contention that the focus of mankind has always been one of a negative approach, especially in the area of law.  If you do these things, this will happen to you!  An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth and so on.  Our focus has been on the administration of the punishment rather than on the guideline itself.  Don’t kill!  Don’t steal!  Don’t blaspheme!  I think you get the picture…  Galatians 5:14 tells us ‘…the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the {statement} “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ (NAS)  Friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters, we can please God and keep His word if we will stop the selfishness that has crippled us spiritually for so long.  Can you even imagine the idea of doing to yourself that which you have no problem doing to your neighbor?  And don’t ask me “Who is my neighbor?” because we are all neighbors of one another!  Do to them what you would have them to do unto you! I believe God followed this principle when He looked upon mankind and asked, “How do I want them to treat me?”  Thank you, God, for your infinite love, grace and mercy!  Thank you for living the Golden Rule for us!  Help us to do the same to others as you have taught us!

Copyright © 2011, Nolan P. Rutter

Buried Believers? Absolutely!

A message that is sometimes seen on church signs reads, “Will the road you’re on lead to me?  – God.”  It is inconceivable for us to expect to arrive somewhere when given insufficient information, yet this is what many face with regard to their salvation.  Paul spoke to the church in Corinth about the Gospel he had preached to them (1 Cor 15:11) that included three elements; Christ’s death, His burial, and His resurrection.  In verses one and two of chapter fifteen Paul says this Gospel he preached is the one they received, is the one the in which they stood is also the one by which they have been saved.  Clearly, we see that Christ died for our sins (vs. 3) and there was a burial (vs. 4) and He was raised.  Without that burial there could not be a resurrection.

The same writer, Paul, spoke of a distortion of the Gospel in his letter to churches in Galatia (1:6).  That can be said of removing burial from the Gospel, making it in fact, no gospel at all.  In the following verses Paul tells us that doing so has dire consequences to include confusion and perverting the gospel, a gospel that is from a Divine source (Jesus Christ) and was not made up by men (vs. 11-12).  No human being has the right or authority to change the message, and is called on by Paul to be accursed as a result any change and eventual presentation as a ‘different gospel’.

Again, in his letter to the Romans, chapter six, Paul speaks of the Gospel as it relates to man’s salvation.  If we are to “walk in newness of life”, there is a burial called for.  The words of Romans 6:4 tell us “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (NAS)  If we desire to be united with Christ (vs. 5), we know from Paul that it happens in a burial and from this burial we ‘rise to walk in newness of life.”  Both 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6 clearly indicate that without a burial there is no resurrection.  The reason that we still have the same divisions today as there were in Christendom five hundred years ago, is that men choose tradition and the ‘wisdom of men’ over simple Bible truth.  It takes real courage to lay our own beliefs beside the ‘holy word of God’ examining them in the light of truth.

Friends, don’t get me wrong.  There isn’t anything wrong with ending up at Sonic, that is, unless you were expecting to arrive at the public library.  Will the road you’re on lead to God?  It will, if you use the directions He has provided.  Are you willing to follow them?

Copyright © 2011, Nolan P. Rutter (Inspired by notes of K. Carmichael)

Incomplete Doctrine

I was recently asked a question that caused me to consider what God’s word says about it. And well, I should.  That question was, “What about deathbed conversions?”  My first reaction was to consider every instance of these found in the Bible.  This was a problem because I could not find a single event that qualified.  You might ask, “What about the thief on the cross next to Jesus?  He was saved.”  Yes, this was a saving situation at the point of death, but it also preceded the advent of the church Christ died for and established on the day of Pentecost some seven weeks later.

The gospel of Mark tells us “he who believes and has been baptized shall be saved (16:16).”  Peter uses the wording “baptism now saves you’ in 1 Peter 3:21.  Let me ask you this.  Are you a ‘baptized believer’?  The question implies two possible conditions, the first is that one can be a believer and the second is a believer who has been baptized.  The amount of time between believer and baptized believer, as recorded in scripture, appears to be minimal.  Let’s look at a few.  Acts 2:41 records the actions of those who heard Peter’s first Gospel sermon; “those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”  In Acts 8, we find the Ethiopian encountering Philip while on his way home.  Philip began at the same text the Ethiopian was reading and began to preach Jesus to him.  In verse 36 the Ethiopian exclaims, “Look! Water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”  It was followed up on by the Ethiopian being baptized.  Read about Cornelius in Acts 10.  Read about Lydia in Acts 16:14, 15.  In that same chapter we read about Paul and Silas role in answering their jailor’s question “what must I do to be saved?”, eventually teaching him and his household, seeing them respond by being baptized (Acts 16:33).  These are but a few examples of individual conversions in the early church. 

Friend, a believer will always seek to be baptized, if they use the scripture as their guide!  This is because their belief, their faith is based on the total teaching of scripture rather than singular verses.  If we allow single verses to support a teaching when additional related passages are available as well, multiple positions for any belief will result.  Scriptures that are ignored are done so to the spiritual peril of the student.  Why?  Because this will result in man-made doctrines often contradicting and setting aside commands of God. (cf. Mark 7:7-8)  My appeal to you is to seek the whole counsel of God in His word and encourage others to do so as well.

Copyright © 2011, Nolan P. Rutter