Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Church

Volume 3 No. 153 July 25, 2013

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St. George Church, Manjapra
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Foreword

Bible Readings for This Sunday (July 28)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_10th_sunday-after-pentecost.htm

Sermons for This Sunday (July 28)

Sermons for Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_10th-sunday-after-Pentecost.htm

Genealogy of The Word 'Church'

In the Bible the word "church" never refers to a building or to worship services held within the building. It always refers to the assembly, group, or congregation of called-out ones who belong to the Lord, worship Him, and fellowship with others of the same mind. ...

Featured: Orthodox Church: House of God - One Body And One Spirit

The house of God is the Holy Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, which the Lord Jesus established on earth when he began his economy of salvation in the flesh calling people saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). ...

The Role of Laity in Orthodox Church

Firstly, the very least that any laypeople who call themselves Orthodox can do, is to come to services, to support their local church in presence and prayer. At many services parishes churches are half-empty. And once at church, people should not stand passively. They should pray. ...

The Church of the Living God

God loves the church. He has great plans for the church. And even though we have failures and problems, God still loves the church. He will never abandon the church as His way of reaching & influencing the world, & nor should we. My text today calls the church, "the church of the living God." Our God is called "the living God" some 30 times in Scripture. He is not a dead idol. He is real, & very much alive, and His church should be a living, vibrant force for good in this world.  ...

A Serving Church

Maybe sometime after the death and resurrection of Christ the disciples would look back and remember that evening when Jesus' washed their feet. Maybe they looked back upon that action with a greater and deeper appreciation for the fact that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The greatest act of serving others occurred when the Son of God came to earth, stooping low to conquer our sins by dying on the cross for our salvation. ...

Peter's Confession

 Jesus himself told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). Yet, he sent the Apostles in his name, telling them to announce, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Luke 10:9). Yes, the kingdom of Jesus is not an earthly, temporal kingdom. It is an eternal kingdom, a kingdom without end, one not bound by time and place. His kingdom, his reign, extends beyond that of Israel. ...

What Does the Bible Say About Church Membership and Attendance?

A branch that is detached from the vine quickly withers and dies and is only good for the burn pile. If it remains attached to the vine it continues to be fed, nourished, thrive, and most importantly it bears fruit. Apart from the vine, the branch can not ever produce fruit. The analogy is that a church member detached from the vine, that is the church that Jesus Christ built, can not grow and produce fruit. ...

Health: Potential Cause of Depression Identified

A protein involved in synaptic structure has been identified as a potential cause of depression, a finding that according to researchers has "enormous therapeutic potential for the development of biomarkers and novel therapeutic agents." ...

Recipe: Orange and Spinach Salad

Family Special: When God Hides From US

The ups and downs of pastoral ministry are echoed in Psalm 13. Among the delights of praise, we hear a litany of despair. Where is God when one of us gets a bad report from the doctor? Where is God when a marriage breaks under the stress of unemployment? Where is God when a spouse dies? ...

About Malankara World

Foreword
Happy Birthday!
 
Happy Birthday HB Baselios Thomas 1 Catholica Bava on his 85th birthday. The birthday was celebrated in Puthencruz on Monday, July 22, 2013 in the presence of a huge crowd of faithful and dignitaries.
 
Also celebrating birthday on Monday, July 22 was HE Yeldho Mor Titus, Archbishop of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America. His eminence's birthday was celebrated at the 28th Annual Family and Youth Conference of the Archdiocese held at Dallas, Texas from July 18-21.
 
Malankara World sends our congratulations and prayers to HB and HE.
This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (July 28)

Sermons for This Sunday (July 28)
This Week's Features

Genealogy of The Word 'Church'

by John W. Ritenbaugh

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18, New King James Version

In Matthew 16:18, the word Jesus used for "church" is ekklesia (Strong's #1577), and it is so translated in the King James Version 115 times. This Greek word means "an assembly" or "a group of people called together for a purpose." It contains no implication at all of sacredness or holiness.

In practical usage, it commonly identified people called by a magistrate for a public service of some sort. This is how it is used in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41:

Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. . . . But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. . . . And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

Each time, ekklesia is translated as "assembly" and names what could easily be described as a mob of excited and confused people. However, the writers of the New Testament clearly agreed this was the word that best fit the groups of Christians called of God for service to Him. How did it come to be translated as "church" when the word "assembly" fits more accurately?

This change apparently has its beginning in another, far different Greek word, kuriakos (Strong's #2960). Kurios, the Greek word for "Lord," is easily recognizable as the root of kuriakos, which means "belonging to the Lord." Curiously, according to Joseph T. Shipley, author of The Origins of English Words, pp. 183-184, the root of kurios and kuriakos literally means "to bend or curve."

In the course of time, kuriakos was picked up by the Scots as kirk. Shipley shows that kirk and kuriakos share the same root. In the Scottish language, kirk indicates a place or a location, as in a building belonging to the Lord. The kirk became the place where the assembly bent before God in reverence, as in prayer, appealing to Him; or bent looking upward in praise of God; or where God bent in extending mercy.

As more time passed, the English pronunciation of kirk changed to "church." Thus "church," which indicates a building, a place where God is worshipped, gradually evolved to include, not just the place, but also the people who worshipped there and the worship services too. The modern English Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary reflects this in its definitions for church:

"1. A building for Christian worship.
2. Regular religious services.
3. A local congregation of Christians."

We regularly use all three in our everyday speech and writing, allowing the context to indicate which is intended.

However, in the Bible the word "church" never refers to a building or to worship services held within the building. It always refers to the assembly, group, or congregation of called-out ones who belong to the Lord, worship Him, and fellowship with others of the same mind.

Source: Is There a True Church? - The Berean

Featured: Orthodox Church: House of God - One Body And One Spirit

by The Patriarchal Journal

The house of God is the Holy Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, which the Lord Jesus established on earth when he began his economy of salvation in the flesh calling people saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). On this matter the Apostle Paul says: “urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:12).

So, all of us are invited to be living members in the sacramental body of Christ which is the church: obedient to the Lord Jesus who is the head of the body, in harmony with each other like the members of one whole body to be of one heart and spirit. Yes, the Lord Jesus had established his church on the basis of faith in him, that he is the Son of the living God. God announced this subject on the tongue of the chief of the apostles, Saint Peter, who said to the Lord Jesus, “You are Messiah the Son of the living God.” So, he blessed him saying, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17,18).

So that the church would remain steadfast and unshakable in the Lord, the Lord promised to send them the Holy Spirit to be a guide and teacher for them and to remind them of everything the Lord said to them. As a fulfillment of the promise of the Lord the Holy Spirit came down on the followers of the Lord Christ and their number was about 120 persons both men and women. They were gathering in the Upper Room in one heart and one mind in intense and continuous prayer and fasting. The atmosphere flared up to the heat of their faith. The Holy Spirit descended as tongues of flame then settled on each one of them and they started talking in different languages.

After pride had confused the tongues of the people of Babylon in the past, humility unified the tongues of the Lord’s followers in the Upper Room. The mission of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, is also to protect the disciples from idle talk and errors, to speak through them and to remind them of everything the Lord Jesus said to them. The Holy Spirit also gave them courage, wisdom, understanding and comprehension to be able to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ — above all witnessing with superior courage seen when the Apostle Peter in one sermon drew to the faith 3,000 persons. This was how the church was born. The Holy Spirit lead it on the way of life and guided its shepherds to the truth. He is the one who chooses them as it says in the Acts of the Apostles where Luke the Evangelist said: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3). And by the guidance of the Holy Spirit the apostles established churches of new believers and appointed priests and bishops for them and the believers devoted themselves to hearing the teaching of the Apostles, sharing and breaking of bread and prayers (Acts 2:42): “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32).

Those churches preserved intact the faith that they received from the apostles. They maintained excellent conduct and behavior befitting the gospel of Christ and spreading the good news, and chose for themselves servants put in place by the apostles. We read in the epistles of Paul about the command of the apostle Paul to his two disciples Timothy and Titus to establish priests in every place.

The first church was characterized by steadfastness before the challenge of circumstances, presented martyrs on the altar of the love of Christ and waited for the second coming with hope and faith.

Satan, the enemy of good, opposed the Holy Church and tried to storm its steadfast castle and penetrate the rows of its bold soldiers by planting enticements and thoughts of pride and contention for power. But, the Lord protected his church and promised saying: “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). So the Lord appointed pure apostles as protectors for the church. When riots broke out in Corinth, for example, the apostle Paul wrote to them saying, “Now I appeal to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (I Corinthians 1:10). This oneness of mind and opinion is the magnanimous doctrine and principle of good Christian behavior and the church continues to establishing a message of repentance all over the world.

Yes, strange opinions had emerged in the church on Christian thought. Schisms increased dangerously at the dawn of Christianity and were about to afflict the church at its beginning, but Christ protected it and “the gates of Hell did not prevail against it” because “God is in its midst of it, it won’t be shaken” (Psalm 46:5). By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by the power that was given to them from the Lord, the apostles decided on the canonical holy scriptures. In the council of Jerusalem in the year 51 A.D. they solved the problem of the entry of the gentiles into the Christian faith. They did not need to be circumcised or become Jews first. During that council the apostles proved that they could be unified by the Holy Spirit, the One leading to the truth. They dared to write to the believers from the nations saying: “we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials” (Acts 15:25,28).

Therefore, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by impartiality and self denial, the apostles were able to solve the problems by the divine power they took from the Lord Jesus. They removed evil from among them (I Corinthians 5:13) cutting off the way of all who would be seduced by the base self that entices to evil, who would tear the sacred body of Christ and who would distort the true teachings of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote on that matter to the believers in Corinth saying, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:10-13)

This is enough for us to take a lesson and admonitions from the apostles who protected the faith and preserved correct conduct and directed the believers to be for Christ alone. All the apostles and fathers were servants of Christ and his ambassadors on earth telling people his heavenly message and directing them to look to him to receive salvation.

Alas, the church, the house of God, has been divided against itself and without the mercy of God what the Lord said would have been fulfilled: that every kingdom divided against itself would be destroyed. (Luke 11:17) But God protected his inheritance and inspired its fathers across the age to endeavor for its recovery. Though most of those attempts met quick failure because the church was not in one heart and one spirit. But the spirit of the world entered it - the spirit of pride and contentions for power - and the conditions of true love were not fulfilled. Wasn’t it in the name of Christ the savior of the world who promised his disciples saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) But if we got tired the whole night as Peter and his friends did catching fish, our efforts would come to nothing unless we obey the orders of the Lord and do them.

We thank God who inspired some of the pious at the beginning of this century who facilitated the holding of meetings between representatives of different Christian groups and several denominations. The World Council of Churches was established in the middle of this century. Then the Second Vatican Council was held. Informal theological discussions that began between theologians from several churches were changed into an official dialogue and there was an announcement on the unity of faith in the doctrine of incarnation and redemption. Common declarations were signed between the heads of the churches. The dialogue is continuing on several subjects to solve the problems that the schisms left behind across the ages and generations. The leaders of the churches are exchanging visits and meetings in a spirit of love and tolerance.

Leaders of unity, the great heroes of the faith, are offering their constructive undertakings by placing road signs along the way to unity and persisting in prayer for the sake of reaching it. They encourage the blessed people to share with them the prayers and persistently endeavor to spread love among members of the churches who are members of the one church that the Lord Jesus established and is head of. What we need now is patience and expectation as the nations expected the coming of the savior, the hope of the nations, and He came! As we await his second coming, not knowing when he will come, he has commanded us to wait and to watch because we don’t know in what hour our Lord will come. (Matthew 24:42) Also, we don’t know when the will of God will be fulfilled as we reach the pursued aim when the unity of the Christian churches is fulfilled.

The schisms have lasted for several centuries, more than fifteen centuries, so we should not be anxious if the time for Christian unity is delayed. As we are walking on the straight path that leads to it, God willing, the way of love, tolerance and meekness and humility and continuous ardent prayer until that day, let us take as a motto the golden rule in which the Lord Jesus summarized his law saying: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Let us pray that the Lord grant us to be witnesses of that day, the day of Christian unity, the day that the Lord has made, to rejoice, and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24) Amen.

Source: The Patriarchal Journal; Vol. 32 – March/April 1994 – No. 133/134. Page 137-141

The Role of Laity in Orthodox Church

by Priest Andrew Phillips

In order for a parish to start, three spiritual things are needful: faithful people; God's blessing; the permission of the local bishop. Three practical things are also needful. These are: a group of people who wish to start a parish, including at least one who can sing; public-access premises to hold church services (private premises discourage visitors and encourage a ghetto mentality); a priest. Their importance is in that order, with the priest coming last. For example, if a group of faithful who have some musical ability have premises with public access, then sooner or later the local bishop will find them a priest, if only once a month at first, and later he may even be able to ordain a suitable candidate for the priesthood from among the faithful themselves.

In our interactive age, some are critical that Orthodox laity appear to have no role to play in church life, and seem to be mere passive spectators of services. This impression is sometimes founded in reality, but only in dying parishes where laity may indeed have reduced their role to that of passive spectatorship. It is not the natural role of laity. Laypeople can only be passive if they wish to be passive. If there are individuals who complain that laity have no role in Orthodox parish life, then they are complaining without reason.

Today, for example, many Orthodox parishes in the West have a younger priest who is often exhausted because outside services he also has to earn his living in a full-time secular job. This is either because the laity are too few in number to support him, or else too ungenerous to pay him a stipend whereby he could work fewer hours in a secular occupation. At the same time, within parishes there are retired laity who have time on their hands and nothing else to do. Such priests are only too glad if laypeople pull their weight. It must be a matter for concern if they do not carry out many of the tasks incumbent on them for which a priest is not essential. If a priest working full-time elsewhere scarcely has time and energy even to devote to services, including baptisms, weddings, funerals, house-blessings, confessions, memorial services and services of intercession, then most certainly the laity should be supporting the community by carrying out other tasks. What are they?

Firstly, the very least that any laypeople who call themselves Orthodox can do, is to come to services, to support their local church in presence and prayer. At many services parishes churches are half-empty. And once at church, people should not stand passively. They should pray. And then, where are the acolytes? Where are for the candidates to be reader, subdeacon, deacon and priest? Where are the people to see to the sale of candles and prosphora? Where are the people to blow out candles at the Six Psalms, light them again at 'God is the Lord' and see to guttering candles? Where are the people to bake the prosphora? Where are the people to bring wine to church? (Eucharistic wine should be unadulterated, sweet red wine - speak to the priest, if you do not know what sort to bring). Where are the people to welcome newcomers and visitors? (Not bully then or interrogate them, but welcome them!). Where are the people to man the bookstall? Where are the people to write parish bulletins and service timetables? Where are the readers to read the Psalms, the Prophecies and the Hours? Where are the bell-ringers? Who prepares the boiling water before the Liturgy? Where are the people to light the lamps before the service begins? (A person complained in one church that olive oil was not used for the lamps. He was told that the church would be happy to use olive oil, providing that he bought it and came early to services to trim the wicks and light the lamps, making sure that he did not spill oil anywhere. After this, he stopped complaining!)

Secondly, there are all the activities outside the services. Where are the people to do the sewing? (I know churches where there are no covers in the different liturgical colours for the lecterns, no tunics of different colours for the altar-boys, and even no vestments of different colours for the priest - there is no-one to sew them). Where are the people to clean the church and the church-hall once a week? (Especially, where are the readers to clean the altar, if the priest has no time?) Where are the people to paint? Where are the people to do the church garden? Where are the people to prepare coffee and tea after the service? Where are the people to prepare food for the parish feast and Easter? Where are the people to see to the children and teach Sunday school, if the priest has no time? Where are the people to visit the sick, if the priest has no time? Who is the prison-visitor in the parish, if the priest has a full-time job and cannot manage this?

Thirdly, there are the organizational tasks and financial sacrifices. Where the people to organize meetings and pilgrimages? Where are the candidates for churchwarden, treasurer, secretary, auditor? Where are the members of the parish council? Who will see to administrative tasks and go to the Bank and the Post Office? And where are the people who are willing to donate money in collections and parish contributions so that the parish can live?

Some may object that these are all menial tasks. We do not think so. These are essential tasks for if they are not done, a parish cannot live. A church cannot function if these tasks are not carried out. A church cannot live without bread and wine. If people want a community, then they have to work for it to create it. As they say: no pain, no gain. Today, especially in Western countries, many people seem to have adopted a Welfare State mentality, a consumer mentality, towards the Church. As a result they expect church services and activities to be laid on for them, as if it were their right. This is totally unrealistic. We have to combat the mentality which says that 80% of church activities are carried out by 20% of the parishioners and the remaining 20% of activities are carried out by the other 80% of the parishioners. To paraphrase an American President of some forty years ago: 'Ask not what your parish can do for you; ask what you can do for your parish'. There is nothing so dispiriting as entering a church which feels neglected and unloved by its own supposed members. Such churches close down. As our Lord said: 'Let the dead bury the dead'.

Finally, there is the one activity which we have not yet mentioned, in which most laypeople can participate: the choir. In principle, everybody should sing in church. In reality, of course there will always be some who do not wish to sing and really cannot sing. Nobody should ever be forced to sing. On the other hand, the reality is that in many parishes, the choirs which sing on behalf of all the people in response to the priest, are often very small. People should be encouraged to sing. Even those who are not musical can learn to 'sing along' in certain parts of the services, in a low voice. Here one of the problems is that bigger parishes, and especially Cathedrals, tend to have semi-professional choirs and paid 'choir directors'. This tends to exclude ordinary lay participation. Although parishes do need people to lead choirs, the tendency to have 'choir directors' seems to me to have a secular origin in the mentality that church singing is a 'concert'. It seems to me that we should speak not so much of choir directors, but of choir leaders.

True, every parish choir should have as large a musical repertoire as possible. One convert who came to our parish was astonished by the melodies he had never heard before. He had honestly thought that all parishes sang the same melodies, because at his church they only ever sang the same melodies for everything! On the other hand, most of the melodies sung should be fairly simple, so that they can be picked up by most people. Though the melodies should change, they should not change too often. There must be some continuity. Again every choir leader should ideally have one or two deputies. No parish should be dependent on one person. Others should learn how to sing and lead the choir. In the same way as any parish should eventually be able to provide a parish with a deacon and possible a second priest, so others should come forward to provide a parish with choir leaders.

Here above are some considerations about the role of laypeople in contemporary Western Orthodox parish life. We pray that they may bear fruit in the hearts of those who read them.

The Church of the Living God

by Dr. Stephen Felker, Colonial Heights, VA

Scripture: I Timothy 3:15-16

Introduction

I grew up in a church-going family. I have gone to church all my life. I probably have never missed more than 2 Sundays in a row. There was a time when I didn't love going to church. The church I went to as a teenager was formal and spiritually dead. But ever since I started going to a Baptist church, I can say that I have loved going to church.

I want to tell you who else loves the church. God loves the church. He has great plans for the church. And even though we have failures and problems, God still loves the church. He will never abandon the church as His way of reaching & influencing the world, & nor should we.

My text today calls the church, "the church of the living God." Our God is called "the living God" some 30 times in Scripture. He is not a dead idol. He is real, & very much alive, and His church should be a living, vibrant force for good in this world. On this anniversary Sunday, let's see what we need to know and do to be the church that God wants us to be. First, we need to understand:

I. THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH

What is the church? Is it the building where we meet? Is it just another human organization?

Are we nothing more than a religious social or service club? Some today seem to expect the church to be an entertainment club! But what does the Bible say? This is what we know about the nature of the church from our text. First of all:

A. The Church Is a Called Out Assembly of Believers

That's the meaning of the Greek word translated "church" (ekklesia), which was used of any assembly that was called together for secular or religious purposes. But we are going to focus on the biblical meaning of the word. First, it means:

1. We Are Called to Salvation

We have responded to God's gospel call to salvation. And only those who have responded to the Gospel call are to become members of a church.

When I was 9 years old I began to sense that God was calling me to be saved, to give my heart to Jesus. But at that time I said no. But by the time I was 12 years old, that call of God came again, and I said "yes" to Jesus. I answered the call and asked Jesus to be my Savior. Then I joined His church by baptism.

Are you among those who have answered the gospel call to be saved? Have you responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit? Have you joined His church? If not, you can take care of that today.

2. We Are Called to Assemble on a Regular Basis

Believers are to gather each week to worship God, receive exhortation from God's Word, and go out to serve Him. Hebrews 10:25 says that we are not to be "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…." I'm glad we have a TV ministry, but it is no substitute for the church. We are not only called to salvation, but we are also called to gather together for worship on a regular basis.

So the church is a group of believers who have been saved, and who gather for worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service. But we also see in v.15 of our text that:

B. The Church Is the House of God

Paul is not referring to the church building here. The New Testament church did not own buildings that they called churches, though the Jewish temple was called "the house of God" (Mt. 12:4; 21:13; Lk. 6:4; 11:51; John 2:16-17, etc.). Instead, Paul may be comparing the church to the household of people who belong to God (cf. Mt. 10:6; Luke 1:27, 33, 69; 2:4; 11:17; Acts 2:36; 7:42, etc.).1

This reminds us that when you are saved & become a member of a church, you become part of the family of God. You have a church family. My church family means a whole lot to me. How about you? And who is the head of this household? God is the head. Christ is the head of His church. Since it is God's house, let us obey His instructions for the church. We'll talk more about that in just a moment.

C. The Church Is a Living Church

As Paul says in the last of v.15, we are a part of the church of the "living God." If we are the church of the living God, then we should be a living, vibrant church. Jesus said in John 14:19, "Because I live, you will live also." The Church is also called "the Body of Christ." If we are truly connected to Christ by salvation, we are indeed a church that is alive, for Christ is alive! There ought to be life and energy when we gather for worship.

On the other hand, if a church is dead, or if a church dies & closes its doors, it gives a bad testimony to the world. Years ago it was said that God is dead. Well, when you visit some churches, you would get the impression that their God is dead. But the true church is alive and vibrant, because we are the church of the Living God. While God lives, a local church may die, but His church universal can never die. No matter how much they may persecute the church, the church will never die, for it is the church of the living God.

If church is boring, or if you are dead and unresponsive in your worship, then perhaps the problem is not with the church, but with you. How can you desire to go to church, and seek the things of God, if you are still dead in trespasses & sins (Eph. 2:1). If you're not saved today, may God help you to receive new life in Christ!

Once you become a member of a church, and understand the nature of the church, next you need to know:

II. THE CONDUCT OF THE CHURCH

When you are at home, or school, or at work, there are certain standards of conduct that you should follow. The same is true of the church. So the Word of God gives guidance concerning proper conduct in the church. Paul says in v.15, "but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God…." "Ought" (dei) is literally "must," what is necessary and right. There are certain standards of conduct that are not optional. Evidently, Paul was concerned about the conduct of some people in church. It can be quite embarrassing how people act in church.

One general principle to follow is this: We must not treat the church as a common place, a common organization. It is special and holy. What may be appropriate in a common, secular gathering of people is not necessarily appropriate during the worship of our God, who is holy. You should not treat the worship service like a ballgame. Don't wear a ball cap into church. Don't bring food into a worship service. Don't surf the internet on your smart phone, or text your friends. Can't you set aside common activities for about and hour & 10 minutes on each Lord's Day, and engage in holy worship unto God? And unless you have a good reason, don't disturb people by walking out, especially while someone is speaking or singing. If you need to slip out, do it during congregational singing, or the offering.

Parents, you have a responsibility to teach your children how to conduct themselves in church. Back in the old days, when a child acted up in church, mom or dad would see to it that they lived to regret it!

Notice again that Paul says "I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself…." He is talking about this letter to Timothy. So let's see a few examples of proper conduct that he gives in this letter. First, we should:

A. Engage in Peaceful, Godly, Reverent Living

In chapter 2, v.1 Paul encourages us to pray for others, and give thanks to God when we gather for worship. We'll talk more about that later. Then he says in the last of v.2, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." "Quiet" refers to an absence of outside disturbance, while "peaceable" refers to an absence of inner disturbance. We should live that way both inside and outside the church. The church is no place for arguing & fighting. No church is perfect, so while there is a place to express disagreement, we should do so in the right way, and in the right spirit. Other Scriptures back up what Paul is saying here. 1 Thess. 4:11-12 says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands... so that you may behave properly toward outsiders." We must never attempt to disrupt society by creating disturbances. The church is not to be a political agitator, perceived as an enemy to national security or peace. Instead, Christians are to be model citizens, a quiet peace-loving people.

B. Dress Properly for Worship

I preached about this last Sunday night. But most of you did not hear that sermon, and let me summarize. In v.9 Paul says, "in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation…." The word translated "in like manner" (hosautos) shows that Paul is continuing his remarks about conduct in connection with public worship. He gives instructions to the men of the church in v.8, and then to the women of the church beginning in v.9. So Paul says in v.9 that women are to dress "in modest apparel." The Greek word for "modest" (kosmios; KJV "shamefacedness") actually means "well arranged, orderly" and thus appropriate. Furthermore, in v.10 Paul says that women should put on what "is proper." What you wear should be seemly, and fitting for a Christian woman, or young lady when you come to worship.

Then in the middle of v.9 Paul uses two words to describe what is appropriate for Christian women. First, they would dress "with propriety." This word (aidos) probably refers to dressing with modesty, reverence (see Hebrews 12:28), and with due regard for others. The other word (sophrosune) for proper dress is "moderation," which refers to "good sense, soundness of mind, and self-control." Ladies, you should dress sensibly & with discretion. Exercise some restraint. Don't put on something that would cause your husband or father to exclaim, "You are not going to wear that are you? Are you out of your mind?"

What would be improper, and not sensible?

First, I believe it is improper for a woman to dress in such a way that you provoke lust in a man, especially at church. Women should not dress in such as way that men are distracted from the Word & worshipping God as they ought! Surely you know what I'm talking about. The more skin you show & the more skin-tight your clothing is, the more a normal man is going to be provoked to lust. That's just a fact. So be sensible, and think about how you should dress, especially to church.

Secondly, I believe it is improper to wear clothes for the purpose of showing off. I believe it is proper to dress nicely when you come to worship the King of the universe. And we all like to receive complements. But don't over do it just to draw attention to yourself. Worship is a time it should not be about us, but about God, about the Lord Jesus Christ. May our attention be upon Him!

Furthermore, Paul says in v.10 that you should dress in a way that "is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." How you dress should not contradict your profession of Christ, but confirm the message that you are a godly woman who loves God and does good works. If someone were to see you in your Sunday clothes out in public, would they tend to conclude that you are probably a Christian by the way you dress, or would they see no difference between you & an unbeliever?

Then Paul adds something else about proper conduct in church:

C. Elect Leaders Properly

In chapter 3 Paul gives instructions about electing leaders in the church. We are not to elect leaders based on popularity, or good looks, but based on their Christian character. Pastors must also exhibit giftedness in teaching. Some churches elect deacons based on how successful they are in the business world. We are having deacon nomination in May, and deacon election in July. Be sure you read over vv.8-12 before you nominate or vote for a deacon. Paul says we should know how we are to conduct ourselves in the church of the living God. So I hope you have a better understanding of the nature of the church, and the conduct of the church. Now let me share with you:

III. THE WORK OF THE CHURCH

What is the work of the church? What are we supposed to do? First, we should:

A. Preserve & Uphold the Truth of God

The last of v.15 says the church of the living God is "the pillar and ground of the truth." Though many today deny the concept of absolute truth, the Bible confirms that God has given His truth to His Church. Jesus said in John 17:17, "Your word is truth." My Bible does not just contain truth; it is the truth. I'm not talking about the fluctuations of personal & worldly opinions, but I'm talking about the eternal word of God. The apostle Peter affirms the Old Testament quotation, "The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25).

We have received the truth from God in His word, and the church is to uphold the truth, and stay true to the teachings of God's Word. Paul mentioned this work of the church because he could foresee the rise of false doctrine. He wrote in 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." Just as Paul predicted, cults & false religions have arisen through the centuries. Then Paul said in Acts 20:30, "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves." Indeed, since the 1950's theological liberalism has trickled into our churches, and for the past 40 years it has become more like a flood. I am referring to the type of liberalism that denies the Word of God, the Bible, as being completely trustworthy.

In light of this tragic reality, the Holy Spirit led Paul to compare the church to a "pillar," like the pillar of a temple.2 Paul does not intend to teach that the church is the source of truth, or the church establishes what is truth. Instead, as the pillar supports the roof, so the church supports & lifts high the glorious truth of the gospel. If pillars are the means to the continued existence of a building, so the church is the means to the continued presentation of the truth to the world. The church does not manufacture the truth; we simply have a supporting role in proclaiming the truth.

And if we do not preserve & proclaim God's truth, who will? The Government will not. Most of the educational systems of this world will not uphold God's truth. Business will not. The secular media will not. So the church must uphold the truth. The belief of God's truth by people in this world is largely dependant upon your instrumentality. The church is to be the one place where people can go to hear the truth.

Our Christian & Baptist forefathers defended the truth years ago. The doctrines which we preach to you are doctrines that have been baptized in blood—swords have been drawn to slay the confessors of them. They were called to maintain the truth when they had to die for it. Many of us are cowards compared to them!

So what are we to do? We should defend the Truth, & hold fast to the truth. Paul wrote in 6:20, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust…." Regardless of how the world changes in their morals, beliefs, and values, we are to remain true to the Word of God. We are to guard and preserve the truth of the Gospel, and the moral truths of God as well. If we do not believe & defend the truth of God's Word, nothing else will really matter. All that we believe & do is based on the Word of God. We should also defend the truth against false doctrine. Back in 1:3 Paul told Timothy to remain in Ephesus that he "may charge some that they teach no other doctrine." Of course, there will always be those who oppose the teaching of God's Word as truth. So Paul said in 6:12, "Fight the good fight of faith…." May God always raise up those who will be faithful to His Word, and who will speak out against the heresies of our day. May God give us courage to stand up for the right!

We should not only uphold the truth, but the work of the church is also to:

B. Share the Truth of God

What good is it to uphold & defend the truth if we do not share it? We are not to put our light under a bushel. Jesus said we are to be the light of the world. So let us share the truth of God with two groups of people. First, share the truth of God:

1. With Unbelievers

In 1 Timothy 2:4 Paul says that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Right here in 3:16 Paul affirms some basic truths of the Gospel. He says, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory." The words, "without controversy" means this is what is confessed by all true Christians. Most all scholars recognize this as an early Christian hymn.3 The order of each phrase is not fully chronological, but poetic. This hymn begins with Christ's lowly birth, and ends with a reference to His glorious ascension. Jesus must be the theme and focus of our message to the world. Let us proclaim that Jesus is God's Son, manifest in human flesh. Why did He come? Paul said in 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He did that by dying for our sins on the cross. Yet His enemies proclaimed that He died because of His sins, so our hymn also proclaims that he was "Justified in the Spirit." I believe that is a reference to the resurrection. By the power of the Spirit the sentence of death was reversed, and God thereby proclaimed the innocence of His Son (Rom. 1:44). Then the hymn also speaks of His resurrection when He was "Seen by angels." Angels announced His resurrection. Then the hymn proclaims our mission. He was "Preached among the Gentiles." Then the hymn proclaims our Lord's victory when we sing Christ was "Believed on in the world, [and] Received up in glory." Christ ascended to the right hand of God.

Do you believe what you read in v.16. If so, confess your faith by saying "Amen." There was an elderly gentleman who was hard of hearing. In fact, he was so hard of hearing that he could hardly hear what was going on. Yet he kept coming to church. So someone said, "Friend, why do you still go to church even though you can't hear what is going on?" He said, "It's because I want everyone to know whose side I'm on."

We should not only share the truth with unbelievers, but also:

2. With the Saved

Back in v.2 of chapter 3 Paul says a pastor should be "able to teach." In 5:17 Paul says that teaching elders should "labor in the word and doctrine." Clearly, we are to teach & share with Word of God to make disciples & help believers grow in their faith. In fact, in 4:6 Paul refers to the fact that believers need to be "nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine…."

Finally, I will focus our attention on one more work of the church:

C. Give Priority to Prayer

In 2:1 Paul says, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men." We are to be a praying church, and Paul indicates here that this is of first importance. Jesus said in Matthew 21:13, "My house shall be called a house of prayer…." In v.8 we see that the men of the church are to take the lead in setting an example in prayer. On this anniversary Sunday I want to challenge the church to be even more of a praying church. Pray in your S.S. classes. Pray with us in the worship services.

Pray with us at the Wednesday night prayer meetings. More of you men could join us for prayer on Friday mornings. Perhaps a group of ladies would form a prayer group. One of the most important works of the church is prayer!

Conclusion:

We can grow stronger if we remember what our church is supposed to be and do. We are not just another social club. We are a called-out assembly of believers. We are the household of God. We are the church of the living God. We are His church. Let us conduct ourselves according to directions found in His Word. If we do not please God, we will not enjoy His power & blessing. And let us recommit ourselves on this anniversary Sunday to doing the true work of the church: Uphold the truth, share the truth, and intercede for others.

Footnotes:

1 But on the other hand, he may also be comparing the church to a house by way of illustration. For example, just as a house has a builder, even so God is building His church on this earth. Jesus said in Mt. 16:18, "on this rock I will build My church…." And the apostle Peter said, "you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…" (1 Pet. 2:5). And there is never a child of God brought into the Church by man's contrivance or man's persuasions; each precious stone is added by God's call, & God's saving work. We are but instruments in His hand as we proclaim the Gospel, and witness for Him. So let's build God's church by praying unto God to save souls, and add to His church. 1 Cor. 3:6 expresses this truth with a different metaphor, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase."

2 That would have special significance to those in Ephesus with Timothy. Ephesus was the home of the temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It had 127 pillars. Some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.

3 The six parts are balanced and rhythmic and the ends of the Greek verbs are very much alike.

4 "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."

Sources:

William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters to Timothy, Titus, & Philemon (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975);

Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957);

William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: 1-II Timothy, Titus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1957);

Larry Pierce, Online Bible [CD-ROM] (Ontario: Timnathserah Inc., 1996);

Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Expository Encyclopedia, Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 93-104;

Donald A. Ward, Commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Waco: Word Books, 1974);

Kenneth S. Wuest's Word Studies From the Greek New Testament: The Pastoral Epistles in Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952).

Other sources listed in the footnotes. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

© Dr. Stephen Felker

A Serving Church

by Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD and Rev. Rich Stratton
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY

Gospel: John 13:1-17

1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him,
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God,
4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.
5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Introduction:

One of our members called me last Monday morning and said, "Hey, I've got to tell you something I saw on a church marquis. He said the sign read, 'The Christian life is like tennis: you can't play unless you serve.'" How many tennis players are here this morning? That's true, isn't it? A tennis player isn't playing tennis until he gets into the game and he's not going to have much of a game if he doesn't know how to serve well. The Christian life is just like that. Jesus has been teaching us that Christianity is all about serving well. We're not really living the Christian life if we're not "in the game," and we're not going to "play well" if we don't know how to "serve well." Christianity is all about serving, and serving well.

Now our passage this morning is going to help us "improve our serve." So we're going to take some lessons together. Let's learn some lessons this morning about serving, lessons that will help us improve our serve. Number one:

I. Serving is a Matter of Love (v. 1)

We've seen the theme of love occur each week that we've talked about serving. It is love that motivates us to be salt and light in our community. It is love that propels us to greatness when we have a servant's heart. It is love that causes us to look for ways we can serve our neighbor. Serving is a matter of love.
Verse one introduces the story where Jesus serves His disciples in a practical way by washing, cleaning, and drying their feet. I really like the way verse one sets up this act of service. I mean, John could have begun the chapter by just getting right to the action, describing what Jesus did. But he sets it all up by reminding us that serving is a matter of love.

1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

Two times we read the word "love" there. The Bible says, "Jesus loved His own (that is, His disciples) who were in the world, He loved them to the end." The faithful love of Jesus Christ for His own, for His children, for believers and followers of Christ. You know, it's true that "God so loved the world." He loves in a general way, but He also loves in a particular way. I do, too. I can say, "I love all children," but I have a particular love for my own two children. God loves His own in a special, particular way. If you are His child you can thank your Heavenly Father that He loves you in a special, particular way, loving you as His very own.

And note that Jesus' love is not hindered in any way by the horrible circumstances that would soon befall Him. Verse one says, "Jesus knew that His hour had come (and) that He should depart from this world to the Father." Think of it! Jesus knew what He would soon face in just a few short hours. He knew Judas would betray Him. He knew that Peter would deny Him. He knew that the rest of the disciples would abandon Him. And He knew that He would die a horrible death of crucifixion. And yet, we read that "He loved His own who were in the world (and) loved them to the end."

Some translations (NIV, NLT) have the last part of verse one reading, "He now showed them the full extent of His love." And that is what Jesus will do next. He will show His disciples the full extent of His love by serving them in a very practical way.

Serving is a matter of love. Remember the "Great Commandment?" Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

We serve well only when our acts of service are motivated by love, love for God and love for others. If we're just serving because we feel we "have to," we're not going to have much of a serve, kind of like a tennis player just hitting the ball because someone else forced him into the game. How different that is from a tennis player who loves the game! He gets into that game because his love for the game compels him to play and be his best. Similarly if we, as Christians, are just going around doing acts of service because we feel we "have to," we're not going to have much fun and we're not going "to play" very well, either. What a drudgery! But our acts of service become joyful and worshipful when we are motivated by the love that God has shown us. It's really simple: just remember how God has loved you, and continues to love you, and that should fill you with so much happiness and joy that you will just naturally want to show that same love to others.

If we're going to improve our serve then we need to remember that serving is a matter of love. That's lesson number one. Lesson number two:

II. Serving is a Matter of Lowliness (vs. 2-11)

We've seen this principle before, too, especially a couple of weeks ago when we read Jesus' teaching about "Greatness and the servant's heart." Jesus says in Mark 10:43-44, "Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all."

The disciples were tempted to think of power and greatness the same way you and are I tempted to think of power and greatness. The worldly way of calculating greatness is to ask how many servants a man has under him. The Christian way of calculating greatness is the other way around: "Given that you are merely a humble servant, how may people do you serve?" That's the spirit of lowliness. Lowliness is not thinking less of yourself, lowliness is just not thinking about yourself. Lowliness is the spirit of serving others.

Lowliness is what Paul has in mind in Philippians 2:3-4, where he says, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."

Jesus models this lowliness here in a very practical way. Let's look more closely at the story.

2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him,
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God,
4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.
5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

Before we read on, look again at verse 3. The Bible says that Jesus knew that "the Father had given all things into His hands." So while Jesus has authority and power over all things, He still serves others! He's still willing to get down on His hands and knees and perform a menial slave task for others. And it's not just any slave task but the task of washing someone else's feet and I don't know about you but I'm not even really thrilled about washing my own feet. I just have a thing about feet and my foot aversion comes from when I was in school at Campbellsville College. There was a guy who lived in our dorm named Jason Green and he lived up to his name. His feet stank so bad that when he came back to his room after a day of classes and kicked off his shoes I could smell "the Green fog" within minutes and I lived the next floor up. I could not imagine ever getting close enough to those feet to wash them. But Jesus demonstrating His love for his disciples and teaching them what it means to love others washed there feet and would have done so even if they had been "foggy feet". Serving is a matter of lowliness. Now Peter doesn't get this at all:

6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?"

Let's face it: Peter just said what the others were thinking. Peter is big-time uncomfortable with Jesus' washing his feet. Who wouldn't be? I mean, Jesus is—Jesus! Peter's shocked, and so are the others. And the reason they're shocked is because the structure of our world system suggests a hierarchy of authority. Great, powerful people are at the top and everyone else is below. Peter is influenced by that world system. In essence, he is saying, "Jesus, everyone knows that honorable people don't perform the menial tasks of slaves!" After all that is why Peter and none of the other disciples had gotten up to do the job themselves, they were still thinking in worldly terms of greatness and each of them thought that this job was beneath him. They were all still seeking a position of superiority in comparison to on another. But, of course, Jesus continues to teach that "His kingdom is not of this world." Christianity does not operate the way the world operates. Peter interrupts Jesus' object lesson.

Now look at verse 7:

7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this."

I really think what Jesus is saying here is, "Just stay with Me on this, Peter. You don't understand what I'm doing now, but you will when I am finished. I'm teaching you all something and if you'll just be patient, I'll explain it later." And He will. Jesus will later tell all the disciples in verses 12 and following exactly why He has washed their feet. But Peter just can't handle the thought of Jesus' washing his feet right now.

8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

That phrase there means that Peter will have no fellowship with Christ. Jesus is saying, "Peter, if you don't allow me to wash your feet, you'll be out of fellowship with Me. Your refusal will be taken as an act of disobedience and you will lose the joyful peace of walking in fellowship with Me, enjoying My presence. Hang with Me on this, Peter."

9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!"

This is so Peter! In his characteristic manner, Peter goes from one extreme to the other, like a pendulum swinging from left to right. He goes from "You shall never wash my feet" to "Wash my entire body." Peter goes from telling Jesus that He's doing too much to telling Jesus that He's doing too little. "I don't want to be out of fellowship with You, Lord, so wash not only my feet, but wash my entire body! I'm with you!"

Now it's purely speculative, but I think that reaction may have evoked a loving smile on the face of Jesus. I can hear Jesus responding in the first part of verse 10 with a smile in His voice:

10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."—

—And if there was a smile on Jesus' face at the beginning of verse 10 it quickly faded at the end of verse 10 with that last phrase, "but not all of you."

Jesus is giving two meanings of the word "clean" here. He means both physically clean and spiritually clean. The physical meaning occurs first: Jesus says to Peter, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet" because he is already "completely clean" and you all (plural) are "clean."

That's Jesus' way of saying, "Look, everyone takes a bath before going over to another person's home for a meal. (By the way, that's still a good practice today!) So they bathe the whole body. But on the way to the person's home, their feet get awfully dirty. Dirt and sand from the journey necessitate their feet being washed just before entering the house. So, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet" because "he is already "completely clean" and you all are "clean." So Jesus might say to Peter, "It isn't necessary for me to wash your hands and head. You are already clean." That's physical cleaning.

But then Jesus adds the phrase, "but not all of you," and it is at this point we understand that He is also speaking of being clean in the spiritual sense, spiritually clean by salvation. We know that because of what He says in the next verse:

11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."

So Jesus says, "You all are spiritually clean, but not all of you." It may be more helpful here to use the Southern vernacular I remember from Georgia: "Ya'll are clean, but not all ya'll are clean." That's pretty much the way Jesus is saying it—without the accent. Without the accent—"You all are clean, but not every single one of you is clean." He said this because "He knew who would betray Him." Judas was the one who would betray Him. Judas was not clean, not spiritually clean, not a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had spoken this way before about Judas, referring to him earlier in John 6:70 as, "a devil." It's remarkable that one can be so close to Jesus and still not be a true believer.

I was reading J.C. Ryle in my studies this week. I highly commend this great puritan to you for your study. We've ordered his four-volume Expository Thoughts on the Gospels for the church library. J. C. Ryle mentions this incredible irony that Judas was one of the 12, but not a true believer. Ryle's words are worth some solemn reflection. Listen to what he says we can learn from Judas. He says:

"On all the coasts of England there is not such a beacon to warn sailors of danger as Judas Iscariot is to warn Christians. He shows us what length a man may go in religious profession, and yet turn out a rotten hypocrite at last, and prove never to have been converted. He shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true."

Terrible lessons but true, indeed. Jesus says in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.'" Public worship services like these grant us the opportunity to look within and consider whether we are truly Christians, whether we have really been saved. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.'"

Serving is a matter of lowliness. While the worldly way of calculating greatness is to ask how many servants a man has under him, the Christian way of calculating greatness is the other way around: "Given that you yourselves are merely humble servants, how may people do you serve?"

If we're going to improve our serve, we're going to have to learn these lessons. Serving is a matter of love and serving is a matter of lowliness. For this reason, the third lesson is inevitable:

III. Serving is a Matter of Lordship (vs. 12-17)

And here we see the main point behind Jesus' practical object lesson. Here is the understanding Jesus promised Peter would receive later.

12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

Well, they likely haven't understood just yet, but they will when Jesus says what's next:

13 "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.
14 "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

Serving is a matter of Lordship. Jesus says, "If you're going to call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' then you'd better be acting like My students and disciples. If I'm your Teacher and your Lord, then be My students and be My disciples. Serving is a matter of Lordship."

Jesus may as well have said, "Don't even think of calling Me 'Lord' if you're not going to do for others as I have done for you." It's like Jesus says in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Serving is a matter of Lordship. We have no right saying, "Jesus is my Lord" if we do not serve others.

15 "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

Jesus is certainly not instituting "foot-washing" as an ordinance like the Lord's Supper or Baptism. While some churches today have "foot-washing services," there is no evidence in the Bible that this was ever practiced by the early church. In fact, it would likely result in just missing the point entirely. Jesus is using a practical action in His day to illustrate just one of many ways to serve others. So if I learn this lesson correctly I'll understand that my wife will not be nearly as impressed with my washing her feet as she would be in my washing the dishes! So rather than instituting an ordinance Jesus is setting an example and washing feet in a public worship service is not following that example but serving others by pumping free gasoline, cleaning their apartment building, washing their car is, bagging their groceries and letting them know how much you love and appreciate them is.

Jesus is making the point that just as He has served us, so we will serve others if we're calling Him our Lord and Master. Serving is a matter of Lordship.

16 "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.
17 "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

And so the story ends with a promise of blessing to the one who keeps Jesus' words. If you and I serve others we will be blessed. It truly is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Many of you have experienced the blessing of serving in recent days and weeks. As we continue to serve we will continue to be blessed. While the campaign is over, the Christian life continues. So keep improving your serve, keep serving others in you daily life, as an individual, as a Sunday School class, as a church and as followers and imitators of Christ. Remember that serving others is a matter of love. Serving others is a matter of lowliness. And serving others is a matter of Lordship.

Conclusion:

As we prepare to pray, we want to go back to a passage mentioned earlier and read it a little further; Philippians, chapter 2. Remember the first part?

Philippians 2:3-4, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."

Then Paul goes on to illustrate what that kind of lowliness, that kind of "putting the interests of others before your own interests" looks like. He says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (v.5) who, "made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." So Jesus demonstrates the most supreme act of serving others by dying for their sins.

Maybe sometime after the death and resurrection of Christ the disciples would look back and remember that evening when Jesus' washed their feet. Maybe they looked back upon that action with a greater and deeper appreciation for the fact that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

The greatest act of serving others occurred when the Son of God came to earth, stooping low to conquer our sins by dying on the cross for our salvation. Turn to Him this morning. Trust in Him as your Lord and Savior today.

Copyright Rev. Todd A. Linn

Peter's Confession

by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

Today, Peter confesses Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” and Jesus gives him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” with the power to “bind” and to “loose” (Matthew 16:16, 19-20).

To recognize Jesus as the Messiah is to acknowledge the truth of the words announced to Mary:

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33).

Jesus’ kingdom, then, is the Kingdom of David, Israel.

In the first reading the Lord says to Shebna, then Master of the Palace, “I will throw you down from your office” because he has become a “disgrace to [his] master’s house” (Isaiah 22:19, 18).

The Master of the Palace was the highest official in the Kingdom of Israel. He served in the capacity of what might be called a Regent, a Prime Minister, or a Vizier, as Joseph was in the land of Egypt (cf. Genesis 41:40). There was no one above the Master of the Palace but the King himself.

The King entrusted his own authority to his Master of the Palace, which is why “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). The Master of the Palace acted in the name of the King and possessed the King’s authority. To disobey him was to disobey the King.

The Lord God pulled Shebna down from his office as Master of the Palace (cf. Isaiah 22:19) because he looked to the Pharaoh of Egypt for deliverance from Sennacherib, King of Assyria. Shebna trusted in mere men and did not rely on the help of the Lord God; this is his disgrace.

Taking from Shebna his robe, his sash and his authority the Lord God entrusted them to Eliakim, making him the new Master of the Palace. The Lord further placed upon Eliakim “the key of the House of David” (Isaiah 22:22).

But what has this to do with Peter? Jesus himself told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). Yet, he sent the Apostles in his name, telling them to announce, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Luke 10:9).

Yes, the kingdom of Jesus is not an earthly, temporal kingdom. It is an eternal kingdom, a kingdom without end, one not bound by time and place. His kingdom, his reign, extends beyond that of Israel.

The Lord first made his covenant with Israel to foreshadow the covenant he would make with all of humanity. In the fullness of time, the Son of God sealed “the new and everlasting covenant” with the new Israel in his own blood. Through his appointment of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus makes clear that “the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the twelve tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.” [1] It is the Church, founded upon the rock of Peter, which is the new Israel.

We see, then, in this passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus uses three symbols regarding his Church:

Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church. It is always Christ’s Church, not Peter’s. [2]

Peter did not make the Church; he received it from Christ Jesus. Peter did not create his faith; he received it from the Father. Peter is not free to do with the Church whatever he wishes, but only what is the will of the Lord. Peter is, as it were, not the King but the Master of the Palace; Peter speaks not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ.

It was always thus with Peter and it has been thus with his successors. We speak not in our name, but in the name of Jesus Christ.

There is a valuable lesson for us in this: the Church is not ours to fashion as we wish, nor is the faith ours from which we can pick and choose. The Church is Christ’s and the task of the Pope, together with the Bishops and their priests, is to preserve the Church and to hand on the faith received from the Father. We see this symbolized in the vestments a priest wears for the celebration of the Holy Mass. Just as the Master of Palace was clothed in robes and girded with a sash, so are the priests of the New Covenant (cf. Isaiah 22:21).

All of these sacred vestments serve to depersonalize the priest; it is not the individual priest that matters, but Christ. By diminishing his personality we see not the individual priest but Christ, who is sacramentally present in him.

Through the sacred vestments we are reminded that it is not my Church or our Church, but Christ’s Church, which he entrusted to Peter and to his successors. Let each of us, then, humbly look to the Successor of Saint Peter and hear in his voice the voice of Christ. Amen.

References:

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, 15 March 2006.
[2] Ibid., 7 June 2006.
 

What Does the Bible Say About Church Membership and Attendance?

by Jack Wellman

Does the Bible say that we need to attend church? Is it okay for a Christian to not attend church? With so many TV and Internet evangelists, can they replace the local church? Is the local church irrelevant in this modern day and age? Is church membership essential to one's walk in Christ and to a person‘s salvation?

What the Bible Says About Church Membership

The writer of Hebrews clearly says that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves as is the manner of some in Hebrews10:25: "…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." In the previous verse (v 24) the writer says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Now it would be hard to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" if we are sitting at home and watching a TV or Internet evangelist. Hebrews 13:17 is an impossible command for the Christian to follow since it says to "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." You can not imitate what you do not see and you can not remember church leaders if you never attend.

Paul's Teaching on the Body of Christ (Church)

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Again, it is hard to build up the body of Christ if we are alone at home. If you read the entire New Testament, there is not one single lone-ranger Christian. You will always see the apostles mentioning the church in general. The epistles never, ever address single, solitary Christians about their walk in faith.

Paul mentions the gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians chapter 12 and includes a spirit of wisdom, knowledge, service and so on. The point is that these gifts are intended for the many different members of the church and if no one attends church they can not use their gifts or the gifts of other Christian's minister to them.

Safety for the Sheep in the Sheepfold

John 10:11-18 mentions the Parable of the Good Shepherd. This clearly refers to Jesus Christ who said that He willingly lays down His life for His sheep (v 17). He did this at Calvary. The shepherds in Jesus' time would lie down at the gate and kept the sheep inside the pen, for outside the sheep pen there were ravenous wolves that could kill them. There is protection only inside the sheepfold. Sheep are not very smart. They are completely helpless by themselves. In fact, if one falls on its back, it can not get back and will starve to death while unable to right itself. Plus the fact if it is on its back, it is easy game for anything. Sheep have been known to walk right off a cliff. Sheep are virtually defenseless. Sheep can not defend themselves. They are not very fast. But if there is a faithful shepherd, the sheep know his name. They recognize the voice and will stay near the shepherd. Jesus Christ is the Head of the church but He has appointed under shepherds to shepherd local flocks. They are still subject to the Good Shepherd to which the sheep truly belong. But a sheep outside of the sheepfold is completely helpless and vulnerable. So too is the renegade Christian who forgoes church attendance.

In I Peter 5:2-4 Peter reiterates the instructions to the pastors (under shepherds), "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

The Church is Many Members but One Body

Romans 12:4-5 is evidence that the church consists of many members as Paul says, "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." This shows that we belong to one another. I Corinthians 12:14-16 reveals that each part of the body of Christ, the church, is made up of several members; "Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body."

It would be a strange body that had an arm but no foot, or a body that had a hand but no eye. What a dysfunctional body that would be. Each member has gifts of the Spirit. Each of these gifts serves different purposes but as a whole, they make a healthy functioning body that is more effective in being the hands and feet of Christ on the earth. No single and individual member of a body is effective at home alone. It is useless of itself but when assembled together as a whole, it is able to serve, pray, build up, edify, and exhort other members of the body of Christ. The eye can not say that it doesn't need the hand, nor the foot says I have no need for the ear. I Corinthians 12:27 makes it clear that we are all part of the body of Christ, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Each one of us makes up the body but no single body part makes a body.

Jesus gives us the fitting example in John 15:1-8 where he speaks about the vine and the branches: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

A branch that is detached from the vine quickly withers and dies and is only good for the burn pile. If it remains attached to the vine it continues to be fed, nourished, thrive, and most importantly it bears fruit. Apart from the vine, the branch can not ever produce fruit. The analogy is that a church member detached from the vine, that is the church that Jesus Christ built, can not grow and produce fruit. The same thing applies with a part of the body. A foot detached from the body will die and turn gang green. It can no long walk on its own and this weakens the entire body.

Under the Church's Authority

Romans chapter 12 is the most authoritative chapter on how a church should live among the members and under the submission of those who are over the flock. Paul also addresses those who are in authority in the church in I Thessalonians 5:12-13, "Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other." It is impossible to admonish the church leadership if you are sitting at home on the couch watching a TV evangelist or listening to one on the radio or internet. These leaders include the pastors, the elders, the deacons, and Sunday school teachers. It is hard to imagine these all appearing in your home for you to admonish and respect them and their office, which is providentially God-ordained.

God has placed each one of us in the body of Christ as it pleases Him and not where we place ourselves. God says through Paul in I Corinthians 12:18, "But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." God did not place these members outside of the body nor did He intend for each member to be in single, individual homes because they can not function properly detached from one another.

The Church Christ Built

Jesus said that He will build His church (Matt. 16:18) and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Jesus' Church was built by the apostles Peter, John, Paul, and the remaining apostles. He would not build a church only to have members scatter everywhere to their homes. If you believe that church membership is optional then you do not understand scripture. Jesus will come some day and take away the church. He has a great feast prepared for the church which is described as a bride. There will be the great marriage feast of the church to the Lamb of God. He does not marry a single, solitaire member. The whole church is the bride of Christ. He marries the church and then they rejoice at the wedding feast and for all eternity.

About The Author:

Jack Wellman is a Christian author, freelance writer, and pastor at the Mulvane (KS) Brethren church in Mulvane, Kansas who raises money for the homeless, prison ministry, etc. through three Amazon books of his. Jack is presently attending seminary at Southern California Seminary completing a Masters in Religious Studies.

Source: What Christians Want To Know! Copyright © 2010-2011 What Christians Want To Know. All Rights Reserved. 

Health Tip: Potential Cause of Depression Identified

Findings Have 'Enormous Therapeutic Potential,' Researchers Say
by Megan Brooks

A protein involved in synaptic structure has been identified as a potential cause of depression, a finding that according to researchers has "enormous therapeutic potential for the development of biomarkers and novel therapeutic agents."

Investigators at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City found decreased expression of Rac1 in the postmortem brains of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) and in mice subjected to chronic stress. They were able to control the depressive response in mice by manipulating the expression of Rac1.

"Our study is among only a few in depression research in which 2 independent human cohorts and animal models validate each other. Rac1 has enormous therapeutic potential, and I look forward to investigating it further," study investigator Scott Russo, PhD, said in a statement.

The research was published online February 17 in Nature Medicine.

Looking for Drug Targets

Rac1 is a small Rho GTPase protein involved in modulating synaptic structure.

"There is a hypothesis that depression and stress disorders are caused by a restructuring of brain circuitry," Dr. Russo explained in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

The scientists subjected mice to repeated bouts of social stress and then evaluated the animals for changes in gene expression in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), the brain's reward center.

The researchers found that expression of Rac1 was significantly downregulated in the brains of mice for at least 35 days following the end of the chronic social stressor. Rac1 was not affected by only a single episode of stress, indicating that only prolonged stressors that induce depression are capable of downregulating Rac1.

The scientists note that chronic stress in the mice caused epigenetic changes in chromatin that led to Rac1 downregulation.

They were able to control the depressive response to chronic stress to some extent by chronic antidepressant treatment. Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors were "extremely effective in both normalizing the reduction in Rac1 and also promoting antidepressant responses," Dr. Russo told Medscape Medical News.

"What we think is happening is that chronic stress leads to a lasting change in the ability of our genes to transcribe this RAC1 gene, and if you target the epigenome, you can reverse that loss of Rac1 and promote synapses and more normal healthy responses," he said.

As in the mice, Rac1 expression was also strongly downregulated in the NAc in postmortem brains of patients with MDD, who displayed similar epigenetic changes. In most of the individuals with MDD who were taking antidepressants at the time of death, Rac1 expression was not restored to the levels seen in control participants, "suggesting a need for more direct RAC1-targeting strategies to achieve therapeutic effects," the authors write.

"Currently, there aren't any approved drugs or even experimental drugs that target Rac1 that are safe and effective," Dr. Russo said. "It would be nice if we could team up with some chemists or pharma and figure out if there are some safe and effective Rac activators."

However, there are caveats to that, he said.

"It might be difficult to target Rac specifically, because it is involved in cell proliferation and restructuring so it may be difficult to get a compound that doesn't cause cancer. It might be better to screen for targets that more generally regulate synaptic plasticity. Ketamine is a drug that does this, and there is huge interest in ketamine" in depression, Dr. Russo said.

Experts Weigh In

Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, David Dietz, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, State University of New York at Buffalo, who was not involved in the research, said the study "is exquisitely well done. The researchers did an excellent job of translating their findings in the rodent model to the human condition."

Maria V. Tejada-Simon, PhD, who also was not involved in this research but who has studied Rac1, noted that her group has been "highlighting the importance of Rac1 in the brain in general, and in psychiatric diseases in particular, for a while now. Therefore, I am not surprised that Rac1 has been found to be also associated to stress disorders and depression."

"Mood disorders have been linked to changes in synaptic structure, and it is certain that small GTPases such as Rac1 have a tremendous role as modulators of these processes. However, we need to understand that alterations in Rac1 signaling are not likely to be the primary defect in mood disorders.

"Thus, targeting Rac1 to moderate clinical symptoms (while there is potential for a translational approach there) has to be done very carefully, given the broad role of Rac1 in many cellular functions involving the actin cytoskeleton," said Dr. Tejada-Simon, assistant professor of pharmacology and adjunct assistant professor of biology and psychology at University of Houston College of Pharmacy in Texas.

"The highlight of this research is in identifying a possible mechanism by which we can study pathways that are involved in remodeling of the brain; we might be able to find something a little bit more specific down the line," Dr. Dietz said.

He noted that Rac1 has also been linked to addiction.

"It's well known that there is comorbidity between depression and addiction, that one may lead to the other, so there seems to be something fundamentally related between Rac1 and these 2 psychiatric disease states."

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Johnson and Johnson International Mental Health Research Organization Rising Star Award (presented to Dr. Russo). The other authors, Dr. Tejada-Simon, and Dr. Dietz have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Source: Medscape Medical News © 2013 WebMD, LLC 

Recipe: Orange and Spinach Salad

by Dr. Shila Mathew, MD., Food and Living Editor, Malankara World

TOPPING:

1/3 C sugar
4 tsp water
1/2 C sliced almonds

Have a square of cooking sprayed foil set aside.

In a small skillet or pan, heat the sugar and water until it turns a golden color and syrupy. Stir so it doesn’t burn. Add almonds. Stir a few seconds until they are golden. Spread out onto the sprayed foil to cool.

[Note: Use a small aluminum skillet. For some reason my small 6” cast iron skillet soaks up the water and the sugar crystallizes rather than turning to syrup.]

DRESSING:

1/4 C vinegar (white, cider, etc.)
1/4 C olive oil
1 tsp orange zest
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Combine and set aside.

SALAD:

Bag of fresh baby spinach
2 oranges, peeled and sections cut into large chunks
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
1/2 onion, sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Put salad into bowl. Toss with the dressing. Break up the almond topping and sprinkle on top. Serve immediately.

Family Special: When God Hides From US

by Wayne Brouwer

Scripture: Psalm 13:1–6

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:1

There are benefits to pastoral ministry. Recently a woman wrote about how thrilled her family was to receive their green cards for permanent residency in this country. We had prayed consistently for this family and supported them through their many struggles and setbacks. Now she shared her joy with her church family.

Of course, pastoral ministry also has tough times. Once I stood with a newly married wife as her husband yelled at her, calling her every name possible. He ripped her house keys out of her hands. Later, he replaced the locks on their house and boarded up the windows to prevent her from getting back in.

The ups and downs of pastoral ministry are echoed in Psalm 13. Among the delights of praise, we hear a litany of despair. Where is God when one of us gets a bad report from the doctor? Where is God when a marriage breaks under the stress of unemployment? Where is God when a spouse dies?

One of the hardest challenges I've faced is finding God in loss. I remember sitting with a mother in a hospital, praying for the recovery of her daughter. The daughter had been married only a year. While delivering the woman's baby, the doctor nicked something with his knife. Now the young woman was fighting for her life.

Her mother was inconsolable. When we prayed, she felt no peace. Within hours, her daughter was gone. After that, the mother stopped going to church. The young husband was angry and didn't know how to care for his baby alone. Where was God?

That question is often asked in suffering or loss. And often the only answer appears to be silence. The promises of Scripture fade in the agony of sorrow. The Holy Spirit seems to withdraw from hearts that grow chilly. Where is God when airplanes crash? Where is God when a spouse is unfaithful? Where is God when a baby dies? Where is God?

Psalm 13 echoes those concerns. In verse 1, the psalmist David asks God, "How long will you hide your face from me?" But this isn't the end of the psalm. Rather, the psalmist goes on to assure us that our God, who is enthroned on high, stoops low to see and hear and know us - even when we can't see his face and his words are like a foreign language to us.

"I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation," said David (Psalm 13:5). Likewise we continue to love and trust God, not for what we get out of it right now, but because it is the only way to make sense of this life. We trust in God, not because we always feel the wonder of his divine presence, but because there is truly no one else to turn to but God. And in time we will live to say, "He has been good to me" (Psalm 13:6).

Let's Talk

  • What suffering have we known? How did it affect us? What was our relationship with God like at the time?
  • How do we know that God cares for us today? What would we say as a testimony if asked to share our stories?
  • What do we need from each other during stressful times? How can we best echo back to one another the confident testimonies of Psalm 13?

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples

About Malankara World
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