The Equipping Word

the blog of Dr. Benjamin M. Foxworth
pastor, Bethel Baptist Church, Vandalia, IL

The purpose of this blog is to equip the saints for the work of service (Eph. 4:12). This will not be a digital soap box in which I will offer political rants or hammer home personal opinions about topics in the news. This blog’s whole purpose is to use the word of God and personal reflections to encourage, equip, and edify the body of Christ – the church. Anything other would be to waste an opportunity afforded to me by the grace of God. May you be equipped to serve the Lord for His glory!

 

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Weeding Sin

August 16, 2019  ●  19-32

We had taken a long weekend to attend a family reunion up in Wisconsin. When we returned I noticed that weeds had overtaken both our front and back flower beds rather quickly. It does not take long for a garden or a flower bed to get infested with weeds. We can pull and rake and mulch and put down weed-blocking cloth to try and cut down on the presence of weeds. However, weeds are relentless and even with our best efforts weeds still persist in trying to gain an opening. Like weeds, sin in the life of the Christian can be relentless too and must be guarded against.

If we, as Christians, do not take care of our lives spiritually, sin, like weeds, will creep in and take over. Jesus taught His disciples about the penetrating effects of sin:

Mark 8:15: And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

The apostle Paul taught this same truth about the penetrating effects of sin being compared to leaven (yeast):

1 Cor. 5:6-7: Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.

Do not take offense at the fact that Paul referred to us as, “a new lump”, he was making a point about the penetrating effects of sin. Guarding against the penetrating effects of sin means we must be aware of some important facts about our own lives:

  1. We are all sinners with a sin nature (Ex. 32:22; Rom. 5:19).
  2. We are tempted daily to sin (Matt. 6:13; Heb. 4:15; Jas. 1:13-14).
  3. We must rely on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit daily to combat temptation (Eph 6:10-18).
  4. We must stay vigilant about the attacks of the enemy on our walk with the Lord (Eph. 5:15-16).
  5. In the power of and reliance on the Holy Spirit, temptation can be defeated (Jas. 4:7).

Weeds are a fact of life when it comes to gardens and flower beds. We can work hard to get rid of them, and for the most part we can minimize their presence. But occasionally there is that persistent weed, that “volunteer” tree or bush that tries to get a foothold in the flower bed through a crack in the sidewalk or through a tear in that weed-blocking cloth. A tear or a crack is all a weed needs. The same is true of sin. When there are minute “cracks” in our spiritual armor, when there are small “tears” in our spiritual condition, sin will try to creep in and take hold. Our lives need constant spiritual care just as our gardens and flower beds do. Be vigilant, walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and know that no sin, no temptation can overtake the presence and power of God.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Wireless With God

July 5, 2019  ●  19-31

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2b)

We live in a world dominated by wireless communications. Regardless of whether you use texting, Snapchat®, e-mail, Twitter® or other methods, our world is dominated by wireless communication. It is interesting to read some of the books of the New Testament because many of them were actually letters written to either specific churches, a group of churches, or individuals. Think about it, a world with no electronic communications whatsoever. The Book of Romans, for example, was a letter, written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome. This letter was given to a woman named Phoebe to be taken to the church and read to them (Rom. 16:1-2). The Book of Revelation, written by the apostle John, was a letter addressed to seven specific churches, to be read to them, in what we know today as the country of Turkey (Rev. 1:11). However, from the beginning of time, the ultimate in wireless communication has always been prayer (Gen. 4:26).

Regardless of where we go or what situation we are in, we are always connected to God through prayer. God is always on-line and waiting to hear from His children. Unfortunately, this most critical facet of the Christian’s life is left untapped.

Jesus taught His disciples about prayer because He was a man of prayer Himself.

Luke 5:16: But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Luke 6:12: It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.

When Jesus taught His disciples on prayer, He taught a truth that is often missed. In Matthew 6:5-9 Jesus said, “When you pray” (v. 5), “But you, when you pray” (v. 6), “and when you are praying” (v. 7), “Pray then in this way” (v. 9). Notice what Jesus was saying? Jesus never for one moment thought His disciples would not pray! He was not telling them to pray, He was instructing them on how to pray and what their prayers were to include.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); “I want men in every place to pray” (1 Timothy 2:8). James wrote that, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)

The purpose of prayer is for the people of God to reorient their lives to the will of God, allowing His Holy Spirit to transform them day by day into vessels He can use. Prayer must take priority in our lives if we hope to see God work through us and the church. In order for prayer to be effective, we must be willing to pay the price.

Paying the price means you hold prayer as more important than other things in your life. Paying the price means you understand that not to pray makes the Christian, and the church, spiritually weak and ineffective for the kingdom of God. Paying the price means you will set aside as much time as needed every day for spending time alone with God, and for Him to speak to you.

Many people have a hard time praying, not knowing where to start or what to include in their prayers. Others think they have to use King James Version language in their prayers, such as, “Oh Lord, thou art a wonderful God.” Who talks like that? Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer is also communion with God, being still and allowing God to speak to us.

There is no one formula for praying and there is no set amount of time someone is to be in prayer each day. I simply tell people they need to pray daily for whatever needs to be prayed for, however long that is. Jesus gave His disciples some guidelines in Matthew 6, and those guidelines are good for us to follow (but not pray exactly what Jesus told His disciples because He did not tell them to pray that specific prayer):
Honor God as holy (v. 9)
Pray that His will be done (v. 10)
Ask God to provide for your needs today (v. 11)
Ask for forgiveness, and be forgiving (v. 12)
Pray for strength through temptation (v. 13)
Adoration of God (v. 13)

Here is another easy way to structure your prayers, using the word ACTS1:

  • A – adoration. Begin by praising God.
  • C – confession. Proper prayer includes confessing our sins before God and asking for His forgiveness.
  • T – thanksgiving. Find things to thank God for.
  • S – supplication. What are your requests before God?

I have also found it useful to divide my week up into specific prayer days. Here is what I pray for:

  • Sunday – the church services, the messages, decisions
  • Monday – the preaching ministry God has entrusted me with
  • Tuesday – our deacons
  • Wednesday – the youth ministry, our Wednesday night service, TeamKid
  • Thursday – our Sunday School teachers and Director by name
  • Friday – my family
  • Saturday – Sunday’s services, personal preparation for delivering those messages.

I read an article from crosswalk,com written some years ago on prayer. Included in this article was some information on roadblocks to prayer from Dr. Mark Johnson, chief psychologist at the Central Jail Complex of Orange County California at that time2:

  • Disobedience. Why should God give you His ear when you have chosen to plug yours to His commands and His leading?
  • Secret sin. Why should God offer a helping hand if you’re holding one behind your back clutching sin?
  • Stubbornness. Why should God give in to you while you are refusing to give in to Him?
  • Self-indulgence. Why should God pour out His favor if you have decided to keep all of it for yourself?
  • Mistrust. Why should God answer prayer if you continue to mistrust Him and remain a doubting Thomas?

The Christian that does not pray becomes a spiritually weak Christian, and is missing out on some wonderful communion with God. The Christian that does not pray is unprepared and unequipped to serve and live for God on a daily basis.

I want to encourage you to establish, along with your daily time in God’s Word, a prayer time as part of that quiet time. Learn to pray without ceasing, pray with and for your friends, your church, your family, and for God’s will to be done through you.

Without prayer the Christian life, robbed of its sweetness and its beauty, becomes cold and formal and dead; but rooted in the secret place where God meets and walks and talks with His own, it grows into such a testimony of divine power that all men will feel its influence and be touched by the warmth of its love. Thus, resembling our Lord and master, we shall be used for the glory of God and the salvation of our fellowmen3.

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1
The prayer acrostic ACTS is not original with me, I do not know where it originally appeared.
2 “Roadblocks to prayer”, www.crosswalk.com, Aug. 21, 2000 (internet, accessed July 2, 2019).
3 “Christ Commanded Us To Pray”, E.M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer, Book Five: Purpose in Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 365. I would highly recommend you buy of copy of this book, it is an incredible resource on prayer!

The Blessings of Gathering

July 2, 2019  ●  19-30

Ps. 84:1-2: How lovely are Your dwelling places, o Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

God has made us a people who gather, a people who congregate. When we distance ourselves from gathering with other brothers and sisters in Christ we miss the blessings God has in store for us because we gather.

First there are the blessings of PLACE. The blessings of PLACE are realized as we gather as a family of faith with other brothers and sisters in Christ in the space God has given us. God has blessed us with great facilities, and while the church is not the building, we are blessed because we have a place to gather.

Second there are the blessings of STRENGTH. The blessings of STRENGTH are realized through the strength we receive from one another by encouragement, prayer, and the sharing of burdens.

Third are the blessings of TRUST. The blessings of TRUST come from the lives and testimonies of others as they share how their trust in God helped them gain the victory through life’s difficulties.

I want to share with you 10 powerful statements we make when we regularly gather as a people of God:

  1. I am a child of God and love being in His presence with His people.
  2. I have been powerfully saved by Jesus Christ and am part of His family by faith.
  3. I enjoy being in the company of other brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. I understand being a church member has responsibilities and I want to be used of God.
  5. I want my family to be spiritually prepared for the attacks of Satan.
  6. I have a great high priest in Jesus Christ who is acting on my behalf before God the Father.
  7. I am not ashamed to be associated with others members of my faith family.
  8. Gathering as a people of God is important to my family and I.
  9. My regular presence in God’s house is a testimony to God’s saving grace in my life.
  10. The teaching and preaching of God’s Word is indispensable for the spiritual health and growth of my family and I.

I want to encourage you to allow God’s Word to equip you to understand and realize the blessings of gathering as a people of God. Use the following verses to help you gain an understanding of the importance of regularly:
Ps. 35:18; 73:15-20 / Acts 4:32

The Bigger Picture

June 4, 2019  ●  19-29

1 Cor. 3:6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.

1 Cor. 3:9: For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

How many muscles does it take to pick up a glass of water? Quite a lot. According to one biology teacher you have muscles in the hand that are gripping muscles, muscles in the arm that are pulling and lifting muscles, and muscles in the shoulder and chest that are pulling and lifting muscles as well. All those different kinds of muscles are all involved in the simple task of picking up a glass of water. That’s how God has designed the human body, many different parts performing many different individual tasks to complete one overall task, such as simply picking up a glass of water.

The church functions in the same way as the human body in many respects: the church is made up of many members as the human body is made up of many different parts.

The church can perform many different ministries because of the contributions of its many members just as the human body is able to perform many different tasks because of the functions of its many parts.

The church is part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda much as the human body is part of a much bigger picture called life. When it comes to the church, the part I play and the part you play are equally important because God has placed us here for His purposes.

The church in the Greek city of Corinth had what we would call, “issues”. The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote the church to address some of those issues. We know of these issues by how Paul addressed them in this letter: divisions in the church, immorality, improper relations between men and women, sacrificing to idols, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, the gospel, and collecting money for missions. In the first nine verses of chapter 3, Paul gives us a great picture of what it means to be part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda. Every member of every Christian church is involved in the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda.

I. God expects us to grow as part
Go back for a minute and notice 1.10:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The church at Corinth was not a unified church, they had allowed divisions to separate them in the church. Notice what Paul wrote in v. 10: “that you all agree”. Now we don’t know how many people were in the church at Corinth but think about it. Let’s say there were 20 people in the church. How hard is it to get 20 people to all agree about something? On some issues probably not too hard, on other issues probably difficult. The problem at the church in Corinth is they were identifying with  certain people, possibly the teachings of certain people. Some were identifying with Peter, some with an apostle named Apollos, others with Paul, some were even trying to take the high road and identify with Christ as if they were the more spiritual ones. Look 1:14:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.

Paul was tired of their divisions, he wanted them to be unified. That’s why in 3.1-3 he is giving them a hard time because they had not progressed in their faith, they were not moving to spiritual maturity. Notice v. 3: there was jealousy and strife among them. Paul was trying to get them to understand that as they grew in their relationship with Jesus Christ, issues such as jealousy and strife should be dealt with and not become an issue, but apparently, they were. Paul called them infants in Christ because they had not progressed in their faith. The writer of Hebrews gives us this same picture of believers that had not progressed in their faith when they should have progressed further:

Hebrews 5:12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Being part of God’s bigger picture means God has so designed us to grow, not to stay the way we are. So how do we grow? Through studying His Word, applying His Word, through prayer, worship, and service. God has given us everything we need to grow as mature believers in Jesus Christ because He has work for us to do. That work is part of His bigger picture.

II. God uses us as part of the bigger picture (vv. 4-6)

I want you to notice one very important word in v. 5: SERVANTS. Based on studies by scholars, this word is where we get our word DEACON from. Scholars write this word can also mean a person who renders helpful service, a minister in the church, or a waiter. You get the picture; a servant is someone who – serves. And notice how Paul described their service in v. 6:

I planted, Apollos watered.

All of us have a ministry to fulfill. The point is not what we are producing because we have not been called to produce results. Our call is to be obedient to what God has called us to do – and that is serve. God has called us to serve through prayer, through the gifts He has blessed us with, through sharing the gospel. We plant, we water, but it is God who blesses with results. What we do is not half as important as the fact that we are serving. And notice the very important statement of Paul at the end of v 6:

BUT GOD WAS CAUSING THE GROWTH.

That’s right – God causes growth. I can’t cause the growth and you can’t cause the growth. There are literally thousands of books on the market about how to, “grow your church”. But I want to remind you of a very important statement Jesus made in the Gospel of Matthew:

Matt. 16:18: I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Two important statements by Jesus in this one verse:
1, He said it was HIS church, not mine or yours;
2. He said HE would grow it, not Lifeway, not the Southern Baptist Convention, not the latest and greatest church growth fad.

So, if the church belongs to the Lord and if He is the one responsible for building it, then what are we supposed to do?

1 COR. 12:18: But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

You are here for God’s purposes, not yours. Think about a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all on a table. As you work to put those pieces together, each piece forms a part of the finished puzzle. Each piece is shaped differently and has a part of the whole picture on it. This is the church. Regardless of whether you are a deacon, Sunday School teacher, VBS worker, or handing out bulletins or taking up the offering, you are part of God’s bigger picture. And it all counts.

Praying for someone for 30 days to trust Christ is part of God’s plan; teaching Sunday School is part of God’s plan; serving as a deacon is part of God’s plan; serving in VBS or TEAM KIDS is part of God’s plan. Don’t think that what you are doing for the Lord is not having any effect because it is. You don’t know how God is working and I don’t know how God is working. Just remember this:

PS. 121:3-4: He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

God is always at work, so while you may not always be able to trace His hand, you can always trust His heart.

III. God rewards us for our part in the bigger picture (vv. 7-8)
v. 7
Notice what Paul said about serving the Lord:
The part he played was no more important than the part Apollos played, and the part Apollos played was not less important than Paul’s part. Think about this for a minute: Paul was called to be a missionary and church planter. Paul planted churches throughout southwestern Turkey and in Greece. Paul discipled, Paul pastored, Paul proclaimed the gospel everywhere he went. But in Paul’s own words, what he did was no more important that what someone else was doing. Even towards the end of ministry as church planter and missionary, listen to how Paul viewed his life:

ACTS 20:24: But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul knew that what he did was no more important than what others were doing.
v. 8
HIS OWN REWARD: what is that reward? That’s God’s business, but I can tell you what some of those rewards are if you are serving the Lord:
1, Your faith has been increased;
2. You have been obedient to serve through the gift(s) God has blessed you with;
3. You may have had the opportunity to share the gospel;
4. You have been actively involved in the mission of your church;
5. You have proven the importance of a church united behind a common cause.

You and I are part of the bigger picture. That picture includes growing in our walk with the Lord, being servants of the Lord, and the privilege of God involving us in the bigger picture.

IV. God has designed us to be part of the bigger picture (v. 9)
Notice what scholars have written about the language Paul uses in this one verse to help us understand our part in the bigger picture:

FELLOW: someone who labors with another; a helper; or to work together. This word is where we get our English word ‘synergy’ from, which means to work together.

FIELD: literally it means cultivated land. What is the difference between pasture and cultivated land? Cultivated land is something you care for in terms of planting. A crop is planted in cultivated land, the farmer waters it and plants it and tends it so that it will produce a crop, so that it will produce something. The same is true of us. It is God who prepares us and cultivates us so that through the power of the Holy Spirit we will bear spiritual fruit for His glory.

The pasture is simply meant for grazing of livestock. The pasture serves a purpose just like the cultivated field serves a purpose. But here Paul likens us to the cultivated field that God is tending and watering and caring for so that fruit will be produced.

BUILDING: something made by God; something that is built up, with the emphasis on the building.

1 PET. 2:4-5: and coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stone, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

It is God who has put us together, filled us with His Spirit, works within us to produce spiritual fruit, and it is through us that God works for His glory. There are only two types of people who come to worship on Sundays:

1. Those who are part of what God is doing;
2. Those whom God wants to be part of what He is doing.

I am a part; you are a part; we are all part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom agenda of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

I want to encourage you to allow God’s Word to equip you in understanding your part in the importance of serving God for His glory; Romans 12:4-8 / 1 Cor. 12:1-30 and Eph. 4:11-16 are great places to start.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.