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Scratching Itching Ears

All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?

If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!

Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.

One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.

And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.

Application

Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.

But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.

There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.

So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!

This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.

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In addition to reviewing the once-for-all sacrifice Jesus gave for our atonement, today’s Bible reading includes one of the most compelling arguments for being regularly involved in a local church.

As a pastor, I often hear excuses from people who have no interest in going to church. One of the most popular arguments is that they can attend church online. True, you can watch any number of Bible teachers and preachers online and on TV. Some are better than others.

Honestly, you can get a lot of good Bible teaching online and on TV. But instruction and music aren’t the only reasons we go to church in the first place.

Application

Let’s go back to why we meet as churches to begin with. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us in today’s Bible reading that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together. Why? So that we can “stir up each other to love and good works” and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We all need to be encouraged. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. All of us.

I don’t care how good the preacher or Bible teacher is. You can’t be stirred up to love and good works and you can’t be encouraged with an online church experience, compared with an in-person church experience.

Besides, when you watch church on TV, you may not be watching a live-stream of a real worship service. Christian TV and radio ministries often heavily edit the content of their programs to meet time constraints. Instead of “watching church”, you may be watching a pre-packaged, edited production. I admit, before posting the audio of my sermons online, I run it through software to remove long pauses and then I remove coughs, sneezes, etc. But otherwise, I very rarely make any other kinds of edits.

Do I believe someone will be denied heaven because they don’t go to church? Of course not! There are times and seasons when it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on Sunday Morning, much less to get dressed and make it to church. And there are times when you or people around you aren’t well and need to stay home.

But one thing you don’t need to do is to try to make excuses. If you are well — and sometimes when you aren’t well! — you need to be in church on a regular basis. You simply won’t be equipped for the work of your own personal ministry without it. Also, if you aren’t there, your fellow church members won’t benefit from the spiritual gifts that God has given to you to use in your church. So for your benefit and for the benefit of your church, you need to be there regularly.

As I type this, state and county Emergency Management Officials are doing something they’ve never done before. They are canceling all meetings and activities where there will be lots of people in attendance and in close proximity. This includes area churches and school districts. As a consequence of their unprecedented decisions, church leaders are having to make difficult decisions in light of the Covad-19 global pandemic. I live in Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Texas. Both Tarrant and Dallas Counties currently have “community spread” cases of Covad-19. In other words, people who have not traveled out of the country and who have not had contact with people who have traveled are testing positive for the virus. I pastor in the next county (Parker County) to the West of Tarrant County. As of right now, no one has canceled mass gatherings in our county. But I’m sure we will have to make decisions in the coming days as the virus continues to spread. Pray for us. Pray for people in our community. Pray for God to stop the spread of the virus. This is no time to panic. And this is no time to be calloused to those in our communities with fragile medical conditions.

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waiters

In today’s Bible reading, the Apostles come to a point where they realize they can’t do it all. And that’s a good thing!

People began accusing the Apostles of overlooking the Hellenistic (Gentile) widows and giving preference to Jewish widows. That may or may not have been the case, but the accusation was made.

Rather than deny that there was a problem or telling the people to get over it, the twelve Apostles summoned the help of other believers. “We can’t do it all. Actually, trying to do it all is causing us to neglect our main calling. We need help. We — the ordained — need to delegate all of the ministry activities to you — the ordinary — so that we can dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:2-4)

At this point, the Apostles more deeply understood the ramifications of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit would empower ordinary people — not just ordained people — to do the work of ministry. The Kingdom-sized task of expanding the Kingdom of God through reaching out and equipping would require the gifts of Kingdom Citizens. For this specific task, they appointed only seven. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would serve tables. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would do menial — and important life-affirming and life-sustaining — tasks. Yes, even menial tasks require the equipping power of the Holy Spirit.

Application

No task in the Kingdom of God can be done adequately without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Kingdom Citizens. No task. Even serving food to widows.

If serving food to widows requires Holy Spirit empowerment, how much more does administering the business of the church, teaching and discipling, hospitality, evangelism, and church planting? How much more does preaching and leading of worship of the King?

No Kingdom Citizen can fulfill his/her Kingdom calling without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Are you walking in His power? Are you relying on Him to guide and direct you in whatever ministry He has called you to do?

Ask God to fill you anew today. Ask for a fresh outpouring on you and your tasks for today.

All Kingdom Citizens need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit because we all leak. (Ephesians 5:18)

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)

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diamond earrings

In today’s Bible reading, we see two things that are called, “awe-inspiring”: an awe-inspiring sign in heaven (v. 1) and the awe-inspiring works of God (v. 3).

Awe is a word that is foreign to many Believers. We just don’t see things as being “awe-inspiring”.

The things of God tend to be, quite frankly, normal. Boring. Ho-hum. Have we become calloused? Have science and Hollywood so desensitized us to magnificence and a sense of wonder? If so, is there a way to get that sense of wonder back? I think there is. And I think this chapter gives us a clue how.

John tells us that overcoming Believers sang the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. In other words, they sang what’s revealed in Scripture: Moses from the Old Testament and the Lamb in the New Testament.

Reading, meditating, and worshiping based on God’s Revelation can give us a fresh glimpse of what is truly awe-inspiring. God’s Word can give us the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things to dwell on. (Philippians 4:8) As we meditate on these things, we see new facets of the things of God as a jeweler sees new facets of a diamond as she peers through a magnifying loop.

Application

When’s the last time you spent time worshiping God in song? I’m not talking about singing about God. I’m talking about singing to God. There’s a world of difference between the two. One references God in the third-person. The other references God in the second-person.

“Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4 CSB)

Note how their song addresses your works, your ways, your name. You alone are holy. all the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts. The overcomers aren’t singing about God. They are singing to God.

The next time you’re in church, note the songs you sing. If your church uses hymnals (or if you have your own), note whether the songs are about God or to God.

A few years ago, as I prepared a sermon on this very issue, I thumbed through the hymnal we used in church. I was shocked to see how few hymns actually addressed God in the second-person. Almost all of the hymns referenced God in the third-person. Now, there’s nothing wrong with singing about God. But singing about God isn’t worship.

Spend some time today singing songs to God. Use your Bible to express your adoration to the lover of your soul. Here are a few places to start. These Scriptures are examples of worshiping God in the second-person.

Psalm 23:4-5
Revelation 4:11
Revelation 5:9–10
Revelation 11:17–18
Revelation 15:3–4

The Psalms are full of praises about God. As you read, ask God to overwhelm you with a fresh glimpse of Himself and His ways. Personalize the Psalms and other passages into second-person references to God.

Finally, spend a few minutes listening to my sermon, Worship in the First and Second Person Singular Present Tense.

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scroll

In today’s Bible reading, John describes a dilemma. The One sitting on the throne holds a sealed scroll. An angel calls out, asking for someone who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals. John says he was grieved because no one was worthy to read it or to even look in it. John wept. (Revelation 5:4)

But then, someone resembling a slaughtered lamb steps forward. And heaven erupts in praise: The slaughtered Lamb is worthy!

Don’t miss this. Don’t be distracted with the creatures. Don’t be distracted with the description of the creatures. Don’t be distracted by any of it because the main idea behind what’s going on is that Jesus is worthy to read God’s scroll. He is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. (Revelation 5:12) John can’t count how many angels cried out in praise. He only says “countless thousands plus thousands of thousands”. (Revelation 5:11)

Application

If you want to go to heaven, but don’t like the idea of worshiping God, you’re going to be miserable in heaven.

When the Lamb opens the scroll, the angels sing a new song. (Revelation 5:9) Imagine an eternity of new songs.

I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say, Blessing and honor and glory and power be to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! Revelation 5:13 (CSB)

Imagine the sound of every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them praising God. Simultaneously. Awesome!

Then worship begets worship as the four living creatures approve with a hearty, “Amen” and the twenty-four elders bow in worship. (Revelation 5:14)

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