A Lesson From Latin America
One of the things that has always impressed me about Latin America is a distinctive feature of its architecture. Many of the roofs are flat and made of concrete. I suppose that there is nothing all that distinctive about either of those things. The distinctive feature that I have in mind is the steel rebar that usually sticks out of the roofs at each corner and at intervals in between. The rebar detracts a little (okay, a lot) from the beauty of the structure. Why then do they leave it exposed? They leave it exposed because they hope to one day add on to the structure. The exposed rebar will give them a place to tie the new part to the old part. Perhaps, they don’t need the space at the moment, but anticipate needing it in the future. More likely, they are out of money at the moment and must put off additional construction until they have it.
Personally, I love to see the rebar; especially, on church buildings. It means that the brethren aren’t finished yet. It means that they have hopes and dreams of bigger and better things. Of course, these hopes and dreams must be combined with asking and seeking. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Mt. 7:7-11). As you know, we serve a God who can do more than we can ask or think. Paul wrote, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). Often, we don’t have what we need or what we want because we do not ask. James wrote, “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (Jam. 4:2). To receive, we must ask. To find, we must seek.
Not only must brethren add asking and seeking to hoping and dreaming, they must add planting and watering. Paul wrote, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it” (1 Cor. 3:5-10). To reap, we must plant and water.
Let’s learn a lesson from our brethren in Latin America. Let’s leave a little rebar sticking out to let everyone know that we aren’t finished yet. Then, let’s combine our hopes and dreams with asking, seeking, planting, and watering, that God might give the increase.
“Six Days” Is Not Complicated
In a variety of ways, certain skeptics of the Bible attempt to take some of the simplest teachings of the Bible and complicate them to mean something they do not, and they seek to use their so-called “scholarship” to convince individuals that their conclusions are sound. This is true of a variety of Bible teachings, but consider for a moment the days of creation.
On the very first page of the Bible, readers learn about the creation of the universe and everything in it. The Bible plainly teaches that all of this transpired over a period of six days. Unfortunately, those who consider themselves “to be something” take the simple and argue that it is not so simple. Attempts have been made to identify the “days” in Genesis 1 as long eons of time and not actual 24-hour, literal days. But read the text for what it says.
In verse 5, God defines what a day is. “So the evening and the morning were the first day.” The Bible uses these words numerous times in a literal way just as we use them today. A “day” is made up of two parts: evening (a time of “darkness”) and morning (a time of “light”). A simple, unbiased Bible reader will understand this to be a 24-hour day.
Verse 5 also begins to number the days—“the first day,” “the second day” (1:8), “the third day” (1:13), etc. Except in areas of figurative, prophetic language, when “day” is preceded by a numeral in the Old Testament, it is always a 24-hour period. God was numbering the days for us.
In verse 14, God distinguished the word “days” from the word “years.” If the “days” of creation were actually “years” (as some suggest), then what does the word “years” mean? These words are used in the very same way that we use them today. If not, the passage is nonsensical.
If there was eons of time after the creation of the grass, herbs and trees on the third day, how did those plants and vegetation survive the years upon years of darkness (with no light) and the eons of time before insects were created to pollinate them? They could not have survived.
The text in Exodus 20:8-11 is God’s clear commentary on the creation. It is so easy to understand. “Remember the Sabbath day” (a 24-hour period). “Six days you shall labor,” for six 24-hour periods. “The seventh day is the Sabbath,” which is a 24-hour period. Having used the word “day” three times with a literal, 24-hour meaning, God then says, “For in six days the Lord made” everything. Those were six, literal, 24-hour days. The Bible makes that very plain! Only man could try to make that complicated!
There are no eons of time in the literal, 24-hour days of creation! The Bible makes that so simple to understand!
Will You Enter The Promised Land?
From the time that Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, God started making promises to them that He repeated for the next 40 years. Many of those promises centered around the land that was promised to Abraham and how God was going to give it to Israel. Regarding the vile, sinful inhabitants of the land, God time after time promised Israel, “I will…drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you…I will drive them out from before you…For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you” (Ex. 23:27-31). A year later, God promised, “I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite” (Ex. 33:2). Forty years later, the Lord still promised, “The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you…He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites” (Deut. 7:22; Josh. 3:10).
So, why is it, when we turn to read about the conquest of the land that we repeatedly read statements like the following? “The children of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maachathites…the children of Judah could not drive them out…they did not drive out the Canaanites…they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland…Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites…Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants…Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites…Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants…Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants…Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants…” (Josh. 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; Judg. 1:19-36).
What happened? Why didn’t God keep His promise and drive out all of these inhabitants as He said He would? God specifically said, “I will never break My covenant with you” (Judg. 2:1). Read that again. Throughout the forty years leading up to the conquest of Canaan, God had repeatedly warned Israel, “You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land” (Judg. 2:2; cf. Ex. 23:32; 34:12-17; Deut. 7:2). Keep reading Judges 2:2 where God says, “But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this?”
God’s promises are always conditional. He promised over and over to drive out the evil inhabitants of the land, but those promises were conditioned upon Israel completely driving those inhabitants out and not being led astray from the Lord by them (Ex. 23:32-33; 34:12-17; Deut. 4:23-31). When Israel violated the covenant, God was not obligated to fulfill His promises. Think about that for us today. God has promised salvation and eternal life to us repeatedly, yet those promises are conditioned upon our obedience (Heb. 5:8-9; Matt. 7:21-23). May God help us to learn from Israel and obey our God, so that we can possess our Promised Land in heaven.
Many people will finish this year in a weak way. They will end on a low note. They will coast to the close. Sadly, they will likely begin the New Year, if it comes, in the same way. They will begin the New Year in a hole.
Finish Strong Physically
It is estimated that the average American gains about seven pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Seven pounds in just over a month. Wow! Why? There are many reasons. First, there are two large meals and lots of leftovers. There are holiday extras - candy and baked goods. There are office parties and get-togethers. We determine that we will shed the pounds and count the calories when the calendar changes. After all, we tell ourselves, “Just enjoy the holidays.” In addition to the food, there are the time constraints connected with the holidays. Many individuals greatly reduce or stop exercising. Why? Shopping for the holidays replaces sets at the gym. The colder days and time change likely also contribute to the stoppage. Again, we tell ourselves to just get through the holidays. After all, gyms usually offer membership specials in January. We can get started back then. Rather than doing what others do, let’s finish strong physically. Let’s push back from the table and make time for exercise. Every little bit matters. Let’s not start the New Year off in a hole. Let’s start the New Year off with some speed. Although bodily exercise doesn’t profit as much as godliness, there are benefits to it (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Let’s remember that our body is a temple and take care of it. Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Finish Strong Mentally
In addition to the physical challenges that go with the holidays (food and time), there are the mental challenges (stress and worry) that go with it. There are gifts to buy, trees and houses to decorate, extra groceries to get, meals to prepare, family and friends to host, tickets to purchase, parties to attend, presents to wrap, and a million other things. There is the stress of charging and paying off charges. There is the fear that it all isn’t going to get done or that something important has been forgotten. Many people will end the year mentally exhausted and emotionally empty. Let’s not join them. Let’s finish the year mentally strong. Let’s not be anxious. Instead of worrying about things, let’s pray about them. Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). In like manner, Peter wrote, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
Finish Strong Spiritually
Just as people get busy and quit exercising physically during the holidays, they often also do the same spiritually. They miss Bible classes and worship services (Heb. 10:25). They neglect personal Bible study (2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11; 1 Pet. 2:2). They stop praying (1 Thess. 5:17). They stop giving their time, money, and energy. They stop visiting those in need (Jam. 1:27; Mt. 25:31-40). Sadly, many people will end the year spiritually weak. They will likely begin the New Year the same way. Let’s resolve not to do either one. Let’s not be weary in well doing (Gal. 6:9-10). Let’s press toward the mark and run through the tape. Paul wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).
How are you going to finish this year physically, mentally, and spiritually? Are you going to finish strongly or weakly? Are you going to end on a low note or a high note? Are you going to coast across the finish line or cross in full stride? Remember that the way that you finish this year will determine how you begin the New Year.
There are those in the local congregation that do vital things that often go unmentioned. In this lesson, I want to sing the praises of some of them. “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:7).
Many of us come and go from church services with little or no thought that someone has to arrive early to open the doors and cut on the lights and stay late to lock the doors and cut off the lights. This is quite a commitment; especially, when some of us stay around and talk. We read several times of doorkeepers in the Bible (2 Kings 22:4; 23:4; 25:18; 1 Chron. 15:23-24; Mk. 13:34; John 10:3). There is no shame in being a doorkeeper. The psalmist declares, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God. Than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalms 84:10). To be a doorkeeper or a servant in the house of God is a good thing.
Isaiah predicted that the early would invite those of every nation to worship. He wrote, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law,And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3). In the fast-paced world in which we live, it is often hard to invite people in person. This is where a colorful, eye-catching sign is extremely beneficial. Mason Road, the road that runs in front of the church building, is a very busy road. Thousands of invitations to our services go out each week through our sign.
We are blessed to have visitors at many of our services. We are thankful for those who meet them and collect their contact information. This information allows us to thank them for coming and to invite them again. The Bible commands us to be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Taking In strangers is serving Christ. Jesus said, “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt. 25:35).
As we give thanks for other things, let’s make sure that we give thanks for these unsung servants. They serve an important function.