Being Ananias

Ananias doesn’t get a lot of sermons done about him. I’ve never read a bulletin article about him. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of a church named “St. Ananias”. But he played a key role in one of the most important events of Gentile Christianity; Ananias was the man who baptized the apostle Paul. And there’s some important things we can learn from his brief but crucial mention in the Bible.

Getting a Scary Assignment
Saul of Tarsus had quite an anti-Christian reputation. It may have not been widely known that Saul had held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, but word of mouth had already carried the news among the disciples of Jesus in Damascus that he was on his way to the city to arrest, imprison, and persecute anyone who had believed in Jesus. He was clearly someone to avoid at all costs. And Ananias had planned to avoid him.

That is, until the Lord came to him with an assignment: “‘Ananias…Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:10-12). But Ananias objected, “…Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name” (Acts 9:13, 14). Can you blame him?

Can you identify? Of course, we seldom get an assignment from the Lord so fraught with danger, but we still have a similar assignment that tends to scare many of us almost to death, “Go make disciples…”

Showing Faith and Showing Up
Brave Ananias, however, didn’t make excuses, didn’t put it off, and didn’t wait for someone else to do it. Ananias takes, no doubt, a deep breath and heads off to Straight Street, asking for a certain Judas with a guest named Saul. He acts in faith, not knowing exactly how it would turn out—he might have been walking right into martyrdom for all he knew.

Of course, it could be argued that the Lord gave him extra motivation: “…Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15, 16). But who’s to say that the person that you need to speak to about the Gospel won’t also have a very important purpose in the Lord’s plan.

Showing faith and showing up is all the Lord is looking for from us, too.

Showing Love
Knowing who Saul of Tarsus was, knowing what he’d done, knowing why he’d come to Damascus, it’s easy to imagine that not only was Ananias anxious, but perhaps even a little angry. But none of that showed. Notice that he laid his hands on him (in a healing way) and said, “…Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17). Brother? Regain your sight? I can only imagine how those gestures of love from one of those “hated Christians” must have effected the now conscience-stricken Saul.

And there’s another great lesson here, too. Love is the key to effective evangelism. Love for the sinner; love for the Savior; love of God’s grace. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Following Through
Once telling Saul what he needed to do to be saved (“Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Acts 22:16), Ananias baptized Saul and it is implied that he fed him (v. 19). But there had to have been more, because Ananias would have been the only disciple of Jesus who would have trusted him, at least at first. Ananias introduced him to other Christians, who fellowshipped with Saul and gave him at least encouragement, if not a few Jesus-stories, before he began proclaiming Jesus as Lord in the synagogues in Damascus.

The lost need the message, certainly, but they also need you. You. Your care, your fellowship, your introductions to brothers and sisters, your encouragement, your help, your friendship.

There’s no doubt about it, the Lord chose the right guy, when he chose Ananias. A man of courage, faith, love, and follow through.

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A Cappella Obedience—What Happened?

For the first 1000 years after Jesus came and established His church, all those who claimed the name of Jesus worshipped the Lord in song with voice only. This was not simply a tradition, but rather was it was practiced as obedience to the Lord’s com- mand on the basis of the meaning of the Greek word used in Scripture—we’d spell the word in English “ado”.

The apostolic church (from the church’s beginning to about 100AD) understood the word as meaning vocal singing only. The patristic church (about 100AD to 451AD) understood “ado” the same way, never used instruments, and rebuked the few in this era who attempted to introduce them. It wasn’t until about 1000AD that the Roman church began to use instruments. The eastern church (still largely speaking Greek) continues to understand “ado” (to the present day) to mean to sing vocally only. And when the Protestant Reformers (about 1500AD forward) led men out of Roman Catholicism they, studying and understanding the Greek, uniformly rejected instrumental music until about 1800AD. No small wonder, then, that vocal only singing became known as a cappella (Latin for “in the manner of the church”).

So what happened? How did we get to the point where churches of Christ, the Greek Orthodox Church, and a few others are the only ones who don’t use instruments these days? The attempts at justification have been many.

“It sounds good”—There’s really only one word needed to refute this reason, “irrelevant”. Be- cause what’s pleasing to man is not always pleasing to God. When God declares His command and preference (a cappella), the loving disciple gladly just obeys.

“Instruments were used in the Old Testament”—Of course; and so were animal sacrifices, food restrictions, Sabbath observance, and other shadows of Mosaic Law. But we are under a new covenant. A famous theologian put it simply, “Musical instruments, in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, or the restoration of the other shadows of the Law.”

“It’s just a tradition”—Merely calling a cappella song in worship a tradition, doesn’t make it so; and mis-labeling it as a tradition betrays either a dangerous weakness of Bible knowledge or a straightforward attempt to dismiss a Biblical teaching. Traditions are man-made rules, and therefore dismissible. Commands (and this is a direct command: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16,17), and therefore not dismissible. Singing a cappella is the Lord’s command, not a tradition.

“God didn’t say we couldn’t”—Specific commands automatically eliminate all other possibilities, and “ado” is a specific kind of singing, eliminating other kinds. Can you imagine how big the Bible would be, if God had to list all the specific things He doesn’t want us to do?

“There are harps in Revelation”—Yes, but in three of the four places they are mentioned, the references are 1) scenes full of imagery, symbols, and apocalyptic language, and 2) always in Heaven (not earth). The other is in reference to the secular world. Using Revelation to justify instruments in worship in the church is a mishandling of Scripture.

And it is no small matter. It is a fellowship issue. Practically speaking, those who obey the command to sing a cappella in worship will have difficulty worshipping in the same assembly with those who are using the instrument. But even beyond this, the Scripture teaches, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds,” 2 John 1:10, 11.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Let’s love Jesus with our obedience.

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What’s a “Salvation Issue”?

Denominational theologians use the phrase in the religious world to try to smooth over the deep doctrinal divides between religious groups. Sometimes even leaders in the Lord’s church have used the phrase in an attempt to avoid splits and divisions. But what is it?

The phrase “salvation issue” (never used in Scripture) refers to teachings about how to become a Christian. In the denominational world “salvation issue” usually refers to “believing in God the Father and Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God”. All other teachings get demoted to the “they don’t matter” category, because they’re not “salvation issues”.

In the Lord’s church there are those who will sometimes defend a controversial teaching by suggesting to everyone that it is not a “salvation issue”. And this is precisely where faithful disciples need to ask the question, “How would the Lord define a ‘salvation issue’?”

There are three categories into which most Christian teachings will fall: traditions, opinions, and commands.

Traditions are a set of teachings that leaders pass on to their students to help them keep God’s law, and they can be very helpful (1 Cor. 11:2 / 2 Thess. 2:15 / 2 Thess. 3:6) as long as they aren’t being taught as God’s commands (Matt. 15:1-9).

Opinions (aka, judgments, liberties, or even conscience) include a wide range of persuasions that we humans hold about how to obey the Lord; they can include tastes, cultural norms, human “think-so”, scruples, or someone’s experience-informed conclusions.

We are allowed by God’s word to hold traditions and opinions as long as they lie within the boundaries of God’s pattern and don’t become divisive. But as we hold them we must remember that traditions and opinions—according to the Lord (e.g., Matt. 15:1-9 / 1 Cor. 8-10)—are not binding and can be altered or changed.

To illustrate, we are commanded to meet on the first day of the week, but each congregation has its own traditions about meeting times and meeting places. Some congregations (for example, Italians) hold to a tradition that uses fermented wine for the Lord’s supper, while others (for example, the U.S.) hold to a tradition of unfermented “new wine”. And some hold the opinion Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated, while others do celebrate. These traditions and opinions are not matters upon which our salvation might be endangered—“salvation issues”.

Commands, on the other hand, are a different category. A command can be recognized through direct command, necessary inference, or approved example; and once a command is given through God’s word, it is neither changeable nor optional. It simply needs to be obeyed. And obedience is important (Matt. 7:21ff). The very definition of sin is disobedience to the Lord’s command (e.g., Lev. 26:21; Isa. 42:24; Rom. 6:16).

And obedience to the Lord’s commands is why the meaning of “salvation issue” needs to be reexamined by those who use it. The Scripture teaches us: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26. Willful, deliberate disobedience in a Christian, according to this very clear, inspired verse, will result in no further forgiveness for sins. This makes the many Biblical teachings beyond “faith, repentance, confession, and baptism” into “salvation issues”, too—including some of the hotter worship topics of our day, a cappella singing and male leadership.

While some might want to limit “salvation issues” to only what one must initially do to be saved, the rest of God’s will cannot be demoted and dismissed so quickly. The truth is that obedience is a salvation issue.

Park Linscomb

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Who Has the Words of Eternal Life?

Jesus had been teaching, healing, and feeding the people. His fame had spread all over Galilee, and tremendous crowds were following Him. But many were following for the wrong reasons; they wanted to make Him a political king, because He fed them. So Jesus found it necessary to winnow out those with the wrong motivations by teaching “hard” things. And it had the desired effect; for this reason, the Scriptures say, many stopped following Him (John 6:66). And then Jesus asks His closest disciples (the twelve) a curious, but necessary question, “…You do not want to go away also, do you?” John 6:67.

I can’t help but wonder about the specific reason that Jesus said this. The fact that Jesus asked this question in response to so many walking away makes me suspect that Jesus realized the social impact that this mass exodus was having on the apostles. Maybe it was the look of disappointment on the faces of the apostles that so many were leaving. Maybe the apostles were getting too excited about the numbers, the size of Jesus’ movement, the prospects of a physical kingdom—and then watched as Jesus deliberately said shocking things that sent lots of them home. Perhaps Jesus’ words had shocked even some of the apostles enough that, especially combined with the crowds leaving, they had begun to wonder if they hadn’t made a mistake about Jesus being Messiah.

Thank God for Peter, who gave the right answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” John 6:68.

Relationships are powerful things in our lives. Whether marriage, children, family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbors, or society at large; our relationships are all powerful influences in what we think, how we feel, what we do, what we accept, and what we reject. Consequently, they can either have an influence for good in our lives or be a stumbling block for evil.

In 40 plus years of ministry I’ve observed with heartbreak as husbands and wives were being led away from the Lord because of an unbelieving spouse; as parents deserted the Lord, because their children left Him; as children followed a worldly path, because parents were weak and uncommitted in their discipleship; as Christians left the faith, because friends or colleagues tempted them and scorned them when they resisted; and even as church leaders have strayed off course, because society doesn’t accept Jesus’ teachings as they are given to us in the Bible. Satan has many proxies in this world, who he uses to great effect in his war against the Lord’s people.

It is the reason why the Lord forbade marriage to foreigners (Deuteronomy 7:3). Why Israel was forbidden to make any covenant with the Gentiles (Exodus 23:32,33). And why Paul warned the Corinthian Christians about being bound together with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Those with whom we associate can strongly influence us.

This is, of course, not to say that we shouldn’t have any association with unbelievers at all; how else how could we share the Good News with the lost?

But it is to say that we as Christians need to steel ourselves against the influences of the world around us, and we must be the stronger influences. We need to stand convinced that the Bible is right and that what the world proclaims is not. We need to remind ourselves that our loyalty must be to the Lord first and foremost, far above all other ties. We need to remember the words of the Peter not only when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life,” but also when he said, “…We must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29.

It’s a common parent / child scenario:

Child: “But mom/dad everybody’s doing it!”

Parent: “If everybody jumped off the bridge, would you want to do that, too?”

It’s an answer that should ring in our ears especially, when it comes to spiritual matters: “If everybody jumped off a spiritual bridge, would you want to do that, too?” Hopefully, not.

Jesus may not have the key to popularity, but He does have the words of eternal life. Follow Him!

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Waive the Hearing?

A southern fellow was brought before a judge on the charge of beating his wife.

“Sam,” the judge started, “you are accused of beating your wife; do you have anything to say?”

Sam replied, “Well, I guess I plead guilty, and I wanna waive th’ hearin’.”

“What do you mean, you waive the hearing?” the judge asked puzzled.

“Well, judge, I mean I done it and I jus’ don’t wanna hear any more about it, that’s all!”

Acts 24:25 tells the story of Paul speaking to the Roman governor Felix…“But as [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’” The subjects Paul spoke on hit a little to close to pained conscience of even this pagan Roman governor, and he, too, just didn’t want to hear any more about it.

Too many times we’re like poor old Sam and governor Felix, when it comes to our sin; we did it and we don’t want to hear any more about it. A bad conscience will do that to us. Men’s guilty hearts feel the weight and seek to escape it by shoving it to the back of their minds, telling themselves its all OK, and “You just need to stop judging me”.

The truth is this: silencing the sources of correction doesn’t solve our sin problem any more than plugging our ears, when a doctor comes in to the examination room and says, “We found something.”

What does solve our sin problem? Confronting our guilt, confessing our sin, and coming humbly and obediently to Jesus for forgiveness.

Are you trying “waive the hearing” of Biblical teaching about sexual morality? Honesty? Marital obligations? Attitudes? God’s way of salvation? Or even in the category of religion, baptism, attendance, Biblical worship, or church leadership?

We may waive the hearing here and now in this world, but there’s coming a day when we will stand before the great Judge, Jesus, and we will not be able to waive the hearing anymore—nor the consequences. Listen now and correct now; you’ll be glad you did.

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“Watch Over Your Heart”

As Christians we often find ourselves like Paul in Romans 7—wanting to do right and finding it sometimes difficult to do. We struggle and struggle, but it often feels like “3 steps forward, 2 steps back”. Despite our earnest desire to do right, we don’t; and as we go to the Lord in repentance for forgiveness, we can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with us.

The Scriptures teach us that it is a matter of what’s going on inside: our thoughts, our ideas, our fears, our urges, our pride, our anger—all the stuff going on inside of us that we often don’t pay close enough attention to.

And it is the very reason why Jesus spends so much time in the Sermon on the Mount talking about the internal issues of anger, lust, intentions, love, greed, revenge, pride, materialism, and worry. They are all internal, heart issues that are at the root of our sin.

And it’s why the book of Proverbs tell us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23, NAS95. Watch over your heart with all diligence—pay steady, unwavering attention; because these thoughts—good or bad—will become actions.

A deacon called on frequently to pray at prayer meeting always concluded his prayer, “And now, Lord, clean all the cobwebs out of our lives.”

Everyone knew what he was talking about, a request for the Lord to forgive all the little sinful words, attitudes, and deeds, that we all let accumulate in our lives.

But finally, it got to be too much for one of the brethren, who had heard him say that prayer so often. And one Wednesday night, just after hearing those words again, he jumped to his feet and shouted, “Don’t do it, Lord. Kill the spider!”

The brother had a point. If we kill the spider, the cobwebs go away. If we kill the sinful thoughts, the sinful words, attitudes, and deeds won’t come back, either.

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Giving Glory to God

Glorifying God is  not something that ends at the conclusion of a worship assembly. Giving glory to God for a Christians is a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day endeavor.  But how do we do this? Some believe that it is done by peppering our speech with a lot “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord”. I’d like to suggest that there are other even more effective ways of doing this.

Evangelism—This is the most obvious way in which we may glorify God, by talking to others about how much He has done for us and all of mankind through the cross. How He has saved us and how He can save others, too. Glorify God through the telling of the Gospel.

Speech—But there are also other kinds of words that can give glory to God: kind words, gentle speech, clean expressions, and wholesome exclamations. The kind of words that are devoid of using the Lord’s name in vain, or of vulgarity, or of gossip, or lying, or dirty jokes (Eph. 5:4). People can tell a Texan by his speech (I know), and so also one’s Christian speech will give away one’s belief in God. When people notice, tell them it is because of the Lord.

Attitudes—God will not be glorified by grumpiness, vengefulness, snootiness, impatience, curtness, or judgmental attitudes. Such attitudes have given Christianity and the Lord a bad name. Especially when worldly people are jovial, friendly, understanding, patient, loving, and pleasant to be around. When people wonder how you could be so upbeat on a cold, rainy day, tell them that it’s the Lord in your heart—glorify God. (Php. 2:5ff)

How We Dress—I’ve seen a lot of dress that glorifies a lot of bad stuff: sensuality, anarchy, obscenity, liquor, pride, and worse. But the Lord can also be glorified by what we wear and how we wear it. Modesty, appropriateness, and righteousness (if you’re wearing a t-shirt with a message on it) all give glory to God (1 Tim. 2:9,10). When people ask why you dress this way, let them know that the Lord is your fashion consultant.

Possessions—Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 9:13) that their use of their monies for support of the poor in Judea would glorify God, and the way that we use our money and other possessions today still can glorify God or embarrass Him.

Entertainment—What would you deduct about a person who often views “adult” movies, listens to “gangsta rap” without conscience, and wouldn’t think twice about skipping church for something fun? Worldly? Fitting in? What would you deduct about a person avoids “adult” movie ratings, prefers wholesome entertainment, and refuses to skip church for a sports event or special concert? Different? A prude? Get the point? Even your entertainment can give glory to or dishonor God. If your entertainment choices are wholesome, people are likely to ask you, “Why?” Because of the Lord, of course.

Secular Job—The New Testament commands a good work performance of disciples, because it reflects well on the Lord. “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” (Titus 2:9, 10).

Neighborhood Relations— What image do unbelieving neighbors have of the Lord and His church? They get one from you, you know. What have they seen? Neighborliness, friendliness, faithful attendance, sound morals, Bible respect and knowledge? Is God glorified in your neighborhood?

Home—Here we sometimes let our light go dim, we become “ourselves” and God fails to be glorified in front of our children, parents, and spouses. Even here we should glorify God with a civil tongue, right behavior, integrity, and love (Eph. 5:22ff).

Are you glorifying God in your everyday living?

Park LInscomb

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