Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Source of Change

“…apart from me you can do nothing.”
 (Joh 15:5 ESV)

            As we approach another new year, we once again hear people speaking about resolutions.  And I think that most of those who make resolutions are well-intentioned.  They recognize certain changes that need to be made in their life, and they set out to make those changes.
            That being said, I’ve never been a big fan of resolutions.  In fact, I can’t recall that I’ve ever made one.  And the reason is simple.  Even though I certainly recognize my flaws, and even though I know many of the changes that need to be made in my life, I also recognize my inability to make these modifications.
            The reason for this is simple: I’m a sinner.  And we can see the sway that sin holds over our life all throughout Scripture (Romans 3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 14:12, Romans 7:14-25, etc.).  We also see in passages, like the one above, that only in Christ do we have the means to overcome our sin.
            This verse comes from Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.  He tells us in this passage that, unless we’re in Christ, we can do nothing.  If we’re separated from the vine, we can bear no fruit.  If we’re cut off from Christ, we’ll simply wither and be cast into the fire. 
            This is the concept from which the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is drawn.  It says: “We admitted that we were powerless over drugs and alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
            It rightly tells us that the first step to making a change is admitting that we’re powerless to make that change.  And it’s this that leads us to the source of change, which is seen in the Second Step: “Came to believe that God could restore us to sanity.”
            The same thing is true of any sin with which we struggle: Gluttony, gossip, taking God’s name in vain, etc.  We are powerless to overcome these sins by our own power.  It’s only as we come to understand our weakness that we discover the source of help.  And that source is Christ.
            We see this again in Galatians 5, starting in verse 16: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
            Our sin results from the flesh.  It flows from the desires of the flesh.  And, left to ourselves, it will control our life.  However, the fruit that God desires in our life flows from the Spirit.  It’s produced by the Spirit of God in our life.  It’s by his power, it’s by his leading, that we’re able to bear fruit for God.

            So, as we face the New Year, and as we think about the changes that need to be made in our life, let us not strive to accomplish them by our own strength.  If we do, we will only fail.  Let us instead admit our lack of power over sin.  Let us look to Christ for forgiveness, and for the power to overcome our sin.  Let us trust in the Spirit of God to produce his fruit in our life.

Monday, December 29, 2014

With no one in the sound booth yesterday, our message did not get recorded.  Sorry!  However, with Lent beginning on February 18th, let me encourage you to check out my newest book, Reflections on the Passion.  It's a great way to reflect upon the sufferings of Christ and the blessings he provided for us.  It's also a great way to examine ourselves as we prepare for our Easter celebration.  It's available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback formats.  Click on the link to take a look!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sharing the Message of Christmas

            One of the familiar stories of the first Christmas is that surrounding the shepherds, who were tending their flocks by night.  An angel appeared to them, saying: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds then went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. 
            Even though we’re familiar with this account, it’s the next part of the story on which I’d like to focus.  After they found Jesus, we’re told, the shepherds made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 
            Reading this story, in Luke 2, we might understand this phrase to mean that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph the message they’d received from the angels.  However, we’re told in the next line that all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  This suggests that the shepherds shared their experience not only with Mary and Joseph, but many others.
            What a great example for us, today.  We know that we’ve been called to share the gospel with all people.  However, few of us are faithful in this calling.  We’re typically content to keep the good news of Jesus to ourselves.
            Like the shepherds, we too should gladly go and share the message of Jesus’ coming with those we encounter.  As the angel proclaimed, it is a message of joy for all people.  It isn’t intended for only a select few.
            This is especially easy during the season of Christmas.  It’s easy because, even though it’s often neglected, the reason for the holiday is widely known.  And it provides us with a simple outlet to share the message of salvation.  As we sing the Christmas carols, proclaiming Christ’s birth, and as we recount the Christmas story, we share the gospel with those around us.
            As we look throughout the Old Testament, we see that this was one of the main purposes for the celebrations God instituted for Israel.  Not only was it a remembrance of the salvation God had provided them.  It was also a means for them to pass the message on to the next generation and to others in their community.  As they celebrated their redemption, they shared the good news of God’s salvation.
            Even though Christmas is a ripe time for us to share the gospel, it’s not the only time.  This is a message that we should joyfully proclaim each day.  It’s a message we should gladly proclaim that we might glorify God for what he’s done for us.  And it’s a message we should gladly proclaim that others might hear, believe, and confess faith in the Savior.

            

Monday, December 22, 2014

As we continued in our series, The Names of Jesus, we heard that Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. We saw that he is uniquely qualified to advise us in all matters of faith and life.  And, for this reason, he is the one to whom we should turn when seeking answers.  He's the one to whom we should turn when seeking direction in life.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus Blesses the Lowly

            As I consider Christ’s birth, the words of Mary stand out to me.  In Luke 1, starting in verse 46, she says: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
            There’s a theme that runs throughout her song of praise that is echoed by Jesus several times during his ministry.  We see that the Lord exalts the humble and brings low the proud. 
            Mary begins by praising God for looking on her humble estate and blessing her.  Although we haven’t been blessed in the same way as Mary, although none of us have carried and given birth to the Savior, this is a statement that is true also of us.
            Jesus came into the world for the humble.  His mercy is for those who fear his name.  This is true from generation to generation.
            Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Jesus came and gave his life for the sin of all people.  God's desire is that all should repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.  And Jesus offers his forgiveness to all people.  However, it’s only those who see their low condition, it’s only those who understand their sin and their need for salvation, who’ll receive this blessing.
            This brings to mind the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus made this statement after being criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners.  He was criticized by those who believed themselves to be righteous.  And his point is clear.  It’s the sick, the sinful, who need help and not the righteous.
In saying this, Jesus wasn’t stating that those criticizing him were more righteous than those with whom he ate.  According to Scripture, we are all sick.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:10). All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  However, it’s only those who realize they’re sick who will seek the help of the doctor.  It’s only those who are sick who will receive the help that a doctor can offer.
The same message is contained in the words of Mary.  Those who are exalted will be brought low.  This isn’t because they’re unable to receive his blessing.  It’s because they think so highly of themselves that they will not receive his blessing.  But those who are lowly, who see their need for salvation, rejoice in the gift Jesus brings.  They see their need for salvation and they gladly receive it.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, may we see our need.  May we understand the salvation we require, as well as the salvation Jesus offers.  When this is true of us, we can, like Mary, rejoice in his mercy.  We can rejoice in the fact that we too will be called blessed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Yesterday, I delivered the third part of our Advent series on the names of Jesus.  We looked at Isaiah 9, where Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.  The first minute or so of the message didn't get recorded, but most of it is here for you.  To stream or download the message, click on the link.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Coming of Jesus

As I shared in my last post, the message of Christmas is that Jesus was born into the world to save us from our sin.  He came to give his life on our behalf that we might receive the forgiveness and the salvation of God.  
This brings to mind the words of Jesus in John 3, starting in verse 16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
These words are comforting because, when we think of our sin, the coming of God seems rather scary.  The thought of standing before God, the one who knows our every thought, action, and intention, seems absolutely terrifying.  It seems this way because we know our guilt.  It seems this way because we know the punishment we deserve.  
Our tendency is like that of Adam and Eve in the garden.  As they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, they hid themselves.  They hid themselves because they’d eaten from the tree which had been forbidden to them.  And they understood the consequence of their actions.
Recognizing our guilt, we too try to hide from God.  We are like children, scared at our parents' coming, because we have violated their commands.  We know that we deserve punishment, and this is what we expect with their arrival.
However, even though we deserve God’s wrath, Jesus' coming was for a very different purpose.  We're told that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  We're told that God did not send his Son to condemn the world. Jesus came that the world might be saved through him.  He came that those who believe in him will not perish.
What wonderful news this is in the face of our sin. And only when we recognize our sin, only when we recognize the punishment we deserve, does this message fill our hearts with joy. Jesus came for those who are undeserving of life.  He came for those who are unworthy of such a sacrifice.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On Sunday, we heard part 2 of our Advent series on the Names of Jesus.  We talked specifically about the name Christ.  We learned that this name is a title, meaning Anointed One.  And we learned that the Anointed One, foretold in the Old Testament, was to be the Savior and King of God's people.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."”
(Matthew 1:18-21 ESV)

            Most of us remember the Christmas story.  We remember how an angel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of the Most High.  But we also learn a great deal when we look at the story through the eyes of Joseph.
            He was betrothed to Mary.  But, when she was found to be pregnant, he planned to divorce her.  And the reason for this is obvious:  He knew that the child was not his.  But, as he considered these things, an angel appeared to him in a dream.
            The angel reassured Joseph that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t the result of any unfaithfulness on her part.  And, for this reason, he was not to fear taking her as his wife.
            However, the angel also shared with Joseph what this child would accomplish.  He was told that, when this child was born, he was to give him the name Jesus.  This name means “The Lord Saves,” or “The Lord is Salvation.” And he was to do this because the child would save his people from their sins.
            This is one aspect of the Christmas account that often gets lost in the shuffle.  We learn that Jesus was born into this world because of our sin.  He came to save us from our sin.
            We see in this message our need for a Savior.  We are a sinful people who deserve only the wrath of God.  And this would be our fate were it not for Jesus.
            This is a truth that many of us are reluctant to receive.  We’re willing to concede that we’re far from perfect.  However, we think of ourselves as good people.  And we tend to think that we deserve the salvation and blessing of God.
            In fact, we tend to think that it would be unjust of God to condemn us.  We tend to think that it would be wrong of him to send us to hell.  After all, how could a just God condemn a person who is good?
            Unless we realize our condition, the message of Christmas is absolutely meaningless.  Unless we see our sin, the penalty we deserve, and our need for a Savior, we cannot receive the message of Christmas.  Instead of rejoicing in a salvation that we could not attain by our own power, we’ll only continue in our effort to save ourselves.
            However, when we truly understand our lost condition, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.  It’s only then that Christmas becomes more than just a fun holiday.  Our heart can’t help rejoicing the undeserved salvation God has provided for us.

            

Monday, December 01, 2014

Yesterday, with the start of Advent, we began a new series of messages.  We're looking at the names of Jesus, and what they reveal to us about him.  In our first message of the series, we learned that Jesus is Immanuel (God with Us), and why this is so important to us.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving - Part 4

            As we approach our Thanksgiving celebration, I’ll close my look at thankfulness with one more thought.  This thought comes from Ephesians 2, starting in verse 8, where Paul writes: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 
            What we see in this passage is that salvation is a gift of God.  It’s something we receive by grace.  In other words, it’s an undeserved gift that God has given us.
            It’s an undeserved gift because we are all sinners.  And, because of our sin, the only thing we deserve is death and hell.  Yet, in spite of our sin and the punishment we deserve, God loved us enough to send his Son into the world.  Jesus loved us enough to give his life in our place, paying the penalty of our sin.  God loved us enough to offer his salvation to all people through faith in Jesus.
            Most of us believe that we’ll be saved in the end.  We believe that we’ll go to heaven.  However, this belief is based entirely upon our actions.  We believe that we’ll be saved because we think of ourselves as good people.  We believe that, over all, we’ve done more good than bad.
            However, as this passage tells us, our salvation is not our own doing.  It’s not the result of our works.  And, for this reason, we can’t boast in any way.  None of us can rightfully claim that we have earned our way into heaven.
            The only one who can take credit for our salvation is the Lord.  Were it not for him, none of us would be saved.  Were it not for him, we would be lost forever.
Even though it bruises our ego to hear of our sin and our inability to save ourselves, it’s a message that we need to hear.  Unless we realize this truth, we can’t receive the good news of the gospel.  As long as we try to save ourselves, we will not look to Christ for the salvation he’s already provided.  We will not receive his salvation for what it is, a gift freely given. 

Knowing this, we should be eternally grateful for the gift of Jesus.  We should be eternally grateful for the gift of salvation.  And, as we take time to thank God for his many blessings, this should be at the top of the list.

Monday, November 24, 2014

While we live in this world, we greatly value our physical body.  But, as we're confronted with death, our attitude changes.  We begin to act as if the spiritual is all that matters, disregarding the body.  However, the salvation of God means not only that we'll go to heaven at the time of death.  It means that, one day, our body will rise from that grave.We fail to realize Our Hope of the Resurrection.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

            As we continue to reflect upon the blessings God has given us, we come to our material blessings.  Scripture teaches us that our wealth is something that’s been given to us by God.  And it also highlights the danger of thinking that it’s something that we’ve earned or acquired by our own abilities.
            In Deuteronomy 8, starting in verse 17, he says: Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
            In a land like Israel, where there was an abundance of the resources needed by the people, God knew that they would be tempted to take credit for everything they acquired.  They would be tempted to think that they had obtained material possessions by their own strength and effort.
            This is a temptation for us as well, especially in a country like the United States.  We too have an abundance of the resources we need for survival.  We’ve become wealthy and prosperous.  And we often begin to think that we’ve gained this wealth by our own abilities.
            After all, we may say, it’s we who worked hard for a good education.  It’s we who put in long hours at work to earn our pay.  It's we who climbed the corporate ladder.  It’s we who make decisions regarding how we handle our wealth. 
            Because of this, God’s reminder to Israel is something to which we should pay close attention.  He reminded them that it’s he who gave them the power to get wealth.  In other words, without his help, without his power, they wouldn’t have gained ownership of the things they now possessed.
            Again, the same is true for us.  If the Lord didn’t bless us with our talents, if he didn’t bless us with wisdom, if he didn’t bless us with strength and health, we wouldn’t be able to work and to prosper.  We wouldn’t be able to gain wealth.  So, in this way, all that we have is a gift of God.
            And not only is this true.  It’s also God who provides the resources by which we profit.  As we’re reminded in Matthew 5:45, it’s he who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall.  As we’re reminded in Psalm 147:8-9, it’s God who prepares rain for the earth, makes grass to grow on the hills, and gives to the beasts their food.   As we’re reminded in Genesis 1, it’s he who created the world and everything in it.

            So, as we thank God for his blessings, let us thank him for his provision.  Let us thank him for the material blessings he has provided.  Let us acknowledge that, apart from him, we would have nothing.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Everything we have in this life has been given to us by God.  We've also received a very specific calling from the Lord.  So it only makes sense that we would use the blessing, given to us by God, to fulfill our calling.  However, we often try to separate our faith from the rest of our life.  Our faith doesn't truly direct our use of the blessings God has given us.  We aren't Faithful in Everything.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trusting God When It Doesn't Make Sense is on sale, in kindle form, for only $0.99.  If you haven't yet purchased your copy, now is a great time to do so.  It is also available in paperback.  However, I'm unable to offer the sale price in that form.  To view this book or to order, just click on the link.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thanksgiving - Part 2

           As we approach Thanksgiving, and as we continue to think about the many things for which we’re thankful, we come to the topic of children.  It’s often said that children are a blessing.  And, Biblically speaking, this is absolutely true.
            In Psalm 127, starting in verse 3, we read: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
            We also see in Scripture that, when God blessed his people, he did so with children.  God’s promise to Abraham included the promise of numerous descendants.  And his promise to Israel continued this theme.
            In Deuteronomy 28, God shared with Israel the blessings they would enjoy if they were faithful to him.  Among these blessings was that God would make them prosper in the fruit of their womb.  If they were faithless, he promised his curse.  And one of these curses was upon the fruit of their womb.
            When we go back to Bible times, we see that the people believed this.  It was an honor to have children.  A large family was considered a sign of God’s blessing.  However, being unable to bear children was often viewed as a disgrace.
            We know that some people, for various reasons, are unable to conceive.  And this certainly doesn’t imply that they’re outside of God’s blessing.  He can bless us in many ways.  However, their understanding of children is much more consistent with Scripture than our own.
            We seem to believe that you can have too much of a good thing.  We believe that children are a blessing, but we don’t want God to bless us too much.  We view too many children as a hindrance to our financial well-being, to our recreation, and to our sanity.

            However, recognizing what God’s Word says to us about children, let’s thank God for the great blessing he’s given us.  Let us recognize that our children (and our grandchildren) are a gift from his hand.  The Lord has graciously provided my wife and I with six children.   And, even though it can be challenging at times, each one of them is truly a gift from God.    

Monday, November 10, 2014

We're promised in Scripture that Jesus will return for us, that we might be with him where he is. We're promised that he's coming soon.  So, as believers, in Jesus, we eagerly expect his coming. We're Living with Expectancy as we anticipate the fulfillment of his promise.  However, if we're not prepared, if we aren't expecting his coming, we'll miss out.  The door will be shut and we'll be excluded from the blessings he's prepared for his faithful.  To stream or download the audio file, click on the link.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

            As we enter the month of November, a time of year that we associate with Thanksgiving, I thought we might consider some of the blessings God has given us.   We can’t be exhaustive, of course, because everything we have is a gift of God.  We would have nothing were it not for his work in our life.
Even though it may seem rather basic, the first blessing of God that we’ll consider is life itself.  We remember from the beginning of Genesis how God created the first couple.  We remember how he formed Adam from the dust of the earth, breathing into him the breath of life.  We then remember how, from Adam’s rib, he formed Eve.  This, of course, was the beginning of mankind as a whole.  They are the father and mother of us all.
This tells us that we’re not a random accident.  We’re not the product of chance.  We exist because God created mankind.  We exist because he gave us life.
            However, God didn’t stop there.  When God formed Adam and Eve, he didn’t simply begin a biological process that’s self-perpetuating.  He continues to actively create each life that enters this world.  As we read in Psalm 139:13, For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.”
            This is a beautiful picture of God’s creative work.  Those who knit, as well as those who enjoy the work of those who knit, value the hands on nature of this process.  Each piece is the result of their handiwork.  And, in the same way, we are the result of God’s handiwork.  He has personally made us.  He personally knits us together in our mother’s womb.   
            This isn’t a cute story, like that of the stork who delivers babies to couples.  We all know where babies come from.  God did set a process in place when he created the man and the woman.  However, this doesn’t mean that God is now inactive.  Each child that is conceived is his handiwork. 
            And not only did God create us.  Not only did he give us life.  We find in Scripture that he continues to sustain us from day to day.  Without his active work in creation, we would cease to exist, along with all things.  As the apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-16, speaking of Jesus: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

            For these reasons, we should remember that God is the reason we exist.  We should remember that he is the giver of life.  And we should thank and praise him for this precious gift.

Monday, November 03, 2014

We talked yesterday about one of the main tenets of the Reformation, that we're saved through faith alone.  As we looked at Galatians 5, we learned that we are free from the Law and that we're to submit to it no longer.  We also saw that, if we look to the Law for salvation, we have been Severed from Christ.  To stream or download this audio file, click on the link.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

            There’s a question that routinely arises when discussing faith and salvation.  Because we’re saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, people often wonder: What about good people of other faiths?
            This question is understandable.  Many of us know or have known people of other faiths.  And they’re absolutely wonderful people.  We value them and their friendship, so we can’t imagine them going to hell.  We have trouble believing that they’ll miss out on salvation because they lack faith in Christ.
            It’s also understandable because, as we’ve gotten to know people of other faiths, we’ve noticed that many of them are very devout.  In fact, they seem to be better than most Christians we know.  They are a very moral people and live out their faith in a way that most Christians do not.
            Considering this, it hardly seems fair that they would miss out on salvation.  It doesn’t seem just that they would be denied entrance into heaven while we’re accepted.  And this makes us think that God will make exceptions for these people.
            However, this question with which we struggle is a loaded question.  It’s based on a false premise.  The question itself implies something that is not true, leading us to a false assumption.  The problem lies in the words “good people.”
            The problem with this question is that, according to Scripture, there are no good people.  We can see this in numerous places.  One of the most clear is Romans 3:10-12 which says: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
            Paul, quoting from several Old Testament passages, tells us that no one is righteous.  He tells us that no one does good.  And later on in this chapter, in verse 23, he tells us that all have sinned.  He tells us that everyone has fallen short of the glory of God.
            Because all people are sinful, because no one does good, no one is deserving of salvation.  In fact, every one of us are deserving of nothing other than his wrath.  God could send every one of us to hell at this very moment, and he would be perfectly just in doing so. 
However, in spite of the punishment we deserve, God sent his Son into the world.  He sent Jesus to give his life on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin, that we might receive salvation.    And this salvation, which is available to all people, is received through faith in Jesus. 
In John 14:6 Jesus clearly tells us that he’s the only way of salvation.  In this verse, he says: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s clear, then, that those of other faiths cannot receive this blessing.  No matter what we want to believe, there is no Scriptural evidence to support the idea that people can be saved through any other faith.  Any such idea completely contradicts the message of the gospel.
However, this is our motivation to go to these people.  If they could be saved in another way, there would be no reason to go.  But since, apart from Christ, they are lost, we are driven to share with them the gospel.  We’re motivated to share with them the way of salvation that God has provided. 


Monday, October 27, 2014

Yesterday, I delivered the final message of our series, "The Nature of Faith."  In it, we saw that A Little Goes a Long Way.  The recording was started a couple of minutes late, but the bulk of the message is here.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

            “It is finished.” These are the words spoken by Jesus on the cross, in John 19, right before he died.  And this tells us that Jesus had fulfilled the will of the Father.  It tells us that his work of atonement was now complete.
            Because this is true, have you ever wondered why we’re still here?  If Jesus has atoned for our sins, why are we still living in this world?  If our salvation is complete, why must we continue to live in a world of sin?  If our sins have been cleansed, why can’t we go to paradise now? 
            I think this is addressed well in 2 Peter 3:9, where he writes: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
            We see in this passage that God is patient.  And, although we might like to experience his eternal kingdom sooner rather than later, this is yet another demonstration of God’s grace.  He’s patient because he does not want any to perish.  He’s patient because he wants all to reach repentance.
            In displaying his patience, God is giving people the opportunity to turn from their sin.  He’s giving them the opportunity to receive the salvation he’s provided for them.  And this is where the role of the church ties in.  This is where we see the purpose of missions.
            As the church, we’ve been called by God to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15).  We’ve been called by God to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  As those who have received the grace of God, we’re to share his heart.  We too are to desire the salvation of all.  And we’re to make the most of every moment that others might have the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust in Jesus.
            The question for us, then, is this: Do we share the heart of God?  Do we truly desire the salvation of all people?  Are we making the most of every moment, that others might have the opportunity to receive his salvation?
            I, for one, am eternally thankful for the patience of God.  Were he not patient, I would not share in his blessings.  However, because he is long-suffering, I was given the opportunity to hear the gospel and to trust in him.
            I now want others to have the same opportunity.  Even though it would be wonderful to live in the presence of God right at this very moment, even though it would be delightful were I now free from this world of sin, I desire that others receive the same blessing.  I am willing to endure what I must that others might not perish. 

            I pray that, as a church, this would be a desire shared by us all.  I pray that, because of the great blessing we’ve received, we’ll patiently endure.  I pray that we’ll endure that we might carry out the call entrusted to us by our Lord.  And I pray that, in this way, he’ll use us to draw many to faith that they also might share in the blessings he’s provided.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yesterday, we heard part 7 of our series: The Nature of Faith.  We learned that having faith means Submitting to Jesus' Purpose.  To stream or download the audio file, please click on the link.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
(Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

            We saw, in last week’s post, that God draws us to faith through the preaching of the Word.  He sends people to proclaim the gospel that we might hear, believe, call on the name of the Lord, and receive his salvation.  And this makes clear to us the importance of evangelism.
            As I look back, I can see how this played itself out in my own life.  I remember how, as my fourth grade Sunday School teacher shared the gospel, I saw my need for salvation.  I remember how I was brought to the understanding of what Jesus had done for me.  And I desired the blessing he’d provided by his sacrifice.  It was at this point in my life when I was brought to faith in him.
            The same is likely true of you.  And this is true whether you came to faith as a child or as an adult.  Even if you can’t pinpoint the exact day or moment, you likely remember those who proclaimed to you the Word of God.  You likely realize that it was in this way that you were brought to faith.  It may have been your parents, your pastor, a Sunday School teacher, or a family friend.  But someone brought to you the Word of God, giving you the opportunity to hear, believe, and receive salvation.
            We find in Scripture that God has called us, as his people, to carry the gospel to all men.  We see in the above passage that we’re called to make disciples of all nations.  We see in Mark 16 that we’re called to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  And this tells us that we are those, sent by God to preach his Word, that others might hear and believe.
            I think you’ll agree that this is a high calling.  And because it’s a high calling, it’s something that we must not take lightly.  If we fail in this task, we’re denying mankind the opportunity to hear, believe, and call on the name of the Lord. 
            Most of us recognize that this is God’s calling on our life.  However, few of us are faithful to this call.  We go about our day to day lives, keeping our faith to ourselves.  No matter how involved we are in the activities of the church, we’re unwilling to establish relationships with unbelievers and to share with them the good news of Jesus.
            We don’t want to believe that, by our failure to reach out to the lost, we’re denying them the opportunity to receive salvation.  We insist that God can use others to accomplish this purpose.  We insist that others are more gifted in evangelism.  We do everything we can to shift this responsibility from ourselves and to place it on others.
            While it’s true that some do have the gift of evangelism, this doesn’t remove the responsibility from the rest of us.  This is a calling that Jesus gave to not just a few.  It’s a calling he’s given to his church.  And, as the church, we must carry it out. 
We also insist that God can work in other ways to draw people to faith.  And we do, sometimes, hear accounts of God revealing himself to people in miraculous ways.  We’re reminded of the way that Jesus appeared to Saul as he was on the road to Damascus and, ultimately, brought him to faith.  However, this is the exception and not the norm. 
            We are God’s plan for reaching the world for Christ.  We are the ones who are called to proclaim his Word, that he might draw them to faith.  And, as those who understand our need for Jesus, as those who have received the grace of Christ, it only makes sense that we would share the heart of God for the lost.  It only makes sense that, like God, we would desire the salvation of all people.  It only makes sense that we would want them to receive the same blessing God has given us. 
                         


Monday, October 13, 2014

Yesterday we heard part 6 of our series, "The Nature of Faith." We saw that faith is not simply a one time thing.  It's not something we believe at one moment in time.  Faith is A Continual Trust.  The first few minutes of this message were lost because the record button was hit a bit late.  However, you can stream or download it by clicking on the link.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I apologize for getting this audio file up so late.  I was out of town on personal business for part of the week.  However, on last Sunday, we continued our look at The Nature of Faith.  As we looked at the account of three healings performed by Jesus, we learned that faith is The Hand That Receives.  To stream or download this file, click on the link.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

           How Does God Bring Us to Faith?

            In my last post, I brought out the fact that, just as salvation is a gift of God, so too is faith.  Faith isn’t something at which we arrive on our own.  It’s not a decision that we make.  It’s something that the Lord bestows upon us.  And this naturally leads us to ask: How does God do it?  How does he bring people to faith?
            A passage which addresses this question very clearly is Romans 10, starting in verse 11, which says: For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"”
            The apostle Paul is very clear that salvation is available to all people.  It will be received by all who call on the name of the Lord.  He then goes on to describe, by way of a series of rhetorical questions, how this takes place.
            He starts off by asking how they can call on him in whom they have not believed.  In other words, if they don’t first believe in Jesus, how are they to call on him and to receive his salvation?  His point is that they can’t.  Apart from faith, apart from a belief in Jesus, people cannot call on him.
            Next, he asks how they can believe in him of whom they’ve never heard.  And, again, the answer is obvious.  Unless they hear of Jesus, they’re unable to believe in him, to call on him, and to be saved.
            He then asks how they can hear without someone preaching.  Unless someone preaches the gospel, unless someone preaches the good news of Jesus, they will not hear.  And, because they cannot hear, they cannot believe, call on the Lord, and be saved.
            He ends by asking how they’re to preach unless they are sent.  No one can preach the gospel unless they’ve been sent by the Lord himself.  And, as believers, we have been sent.  We’ve received from Jesus the Great Commission, by which we’re called to proclaim the gospel to all nations, by which we’re called to make disciples of all nations.
            So what we find in this passage is that we are brought to faith through the Word of God.  God sends his followers to proclaim his Word, giving people the opportunity to hear, to believe, and to be saved.
            As we saw last week, the Spirit of God is involved throughout this process.  He’s the one who calls to us through the message of the gospel and enables us to believe.  So it’s through the Word and the Spirit of God that we are drawn to faith.
            As Martin Luther states in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; in like manner he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in one true faith; in which Christian Church he daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Faith – The Gift of God

                The focus of our messages, this past month, has been on faith.  We’ve been looking at what it means to have faith, primarily from the words of Jesus, found in the gospel of Matthew.  This focus brings up many issues that are important for us to address, which we’ll look at in these posts over the next several weeks.  The first question that comes to mind, as we think about faith, is this: How does a person come to faith in Jesus?                
There’s a tendency in today’s church to think of faith as an intellectual pursuit.  We often think that we can convince people to come to faith in Jesus.  Although apologetics is a very important area of study, and even though it interests me a great deal, this is often an improper use of this field. 
We believe that, if we can convince others on a scientific basis that creation is plausible, they will place their faith in Jesus.  We think that, if we can verify the resurrection of Jesus from an intellectual perspective, people will certainly trust in Christ.  We think that, if we can explain the Christian faith from a purely rational perspective, this will draw the masses to salvation.
We fail to remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.  In the first chapter of this book, he tells us that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.  He says that the message of the cross is a stumbling block to Jews and Gentiles alike, who are seeking miraculous signs and wisdom.  So, even though the gospel makes perfect sense to us, it’s foolishness to unbelievers.  It doesn’t make sense to them in the least.
We also tend to think of faith as a decision that we make.  We think that, at some point, we choose to place our faith in Jesus.  We think that, at some point, we make a decision for Christ.  However, this idea is directly opposed to the teaching of Scripture.
According to the Bible, faith is a gift of God.  It isn’t a choice that we make by our own power and wisdom.  The only reason we come to the Lord is because God himself draws us.  Left to ourselves, this would never happen.  As Jesus says, in John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”  
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, the apostle Paul writes: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.” So, according to Paul, our very ability to profess faith in Jesus is empowered by the Spirit of God.  It’s not something we can say on our own.
When he says this, he’s talking about a sincere confession of faith.  After all, anyone can utter the words “Jesus is Lord” in a meaningless way.  But if we’re to believe it, if we’re to genuinely confess it, this has been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We see a similar idea expressed in John 1, starting in verse 12.  John writes: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Through faith in Jesus, we’re empowered to become God’s children.  It’s a right that’s given to us as we trust in him.  And John’s careful to point out that this happened exclusively as a gift of God. 
He says that we’re born as God’s children not of blood.  In other words, our position in Christ has nothing to do with our heritage.  We’re born as God’s children not of the will of the flesh.  It’s not something that we decided or chose by our own power or wisdom.  And we’re born as God’s children not by the will of man.  Just as we didn’t make this choice for ourselves, neither did anyone else make it for us. 
This tells us that, just as we must give credit to the Lord for our redemption, so must we give him the credit for our faith.  Had he not worked in our life, we would not believe, and we would not be saved.  We can’t even credit our decision as the reason we’re saved.
The only decision we can make, as God works in our life, is to walk away.  We can choose to reject him and the salvation he brings.  This is something we can do by our own power and wisdom.
This, of course, raises still other questions.  For one: How does the Lord bring us to faith?  And that will be the topic of my next post.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Yesterday, we heard part 4 of our series, "The Nature of Faith." We looked at Matthew 9, where Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic who was brought to him.  And we saw that faith means Trusting Jesus' Power to Forgive.  This message is available to hear or download by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
(Galatians 1:6 ESV)

            At the end of October, we look back to the Reformation.  October 31st is remembered as Reformation Day.  It’s remembered in this way because it was on this date, in 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  He was concerned that the church had wandered from the gospel and was in need of reformation.
            This is a problem that we continue to see today.  It’s not new for us, nor was it new in Luther’s day.  It’s a problem that goes all the way back to the beginning of the church.
            We’re continually lured by the world, by the devil, and by our own sinful nature to a legalistic faith.  We’re led to believe that our salvation is dependent upon our actions.  We’re led to believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is not enough to secure the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
In the above passage, and throughout this entire letter, Paul is addressing a problem that had become apparent in the Galatian church.  The people were being led astray by false teachers who were promoting a form of legalism.  They were bringing a different gospel than the one the people had initially received from Paul himself.
            This was very destructive to the church and very dangerous for the individual faith of its members.  He gives them this warning in verse 4 of the fifth chapter: You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” We see from this that it isn’t a minor issue which can be ignored.  It’s not an issue on which we can agree to disagree.  It’s a matter of life and death.
            Teaching people that, in order to be forgiven, they must obey the law results in the salvation of no one.  It cannot save because, no matter how hard we try, we cannot perfectly keep it.  The law reveals only our guilt.  It reveals only our need for salvation.  As Paul writes in Romans 3:20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
            It also strikes a blow to the sacrifice of Christ.   As Paul writes in Galatians 2:21: “…for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If we could earn our salvation by obedience to the law of God, Christ’s death becomes meaningless.  There was no reason for Jesus to come into the world, and there was no reason for him to die.
            This is why Paul was astonished that they had turned from the true gospel to a different one.  Why would anyone pass up the gracious gift of God for one we must earn?  Why would they pass up his unmerited favor for something impossible to attain?
            As the church, as believers in Jesus, we must remain faithful to the true gospel.  This is why Paul says that if anyone, if even an angel, brings a different gospel, let him be accursed.  If someone promotes a doctrine that leads people to destruction rather than salvation, let him receive the judgment he deserves.
            There’s a fear by some that, if we preach the salvation of Christ as a free gift, this promotes lawlessness.  They believe that, if we preach the pure gospel, it encourages people to live in sin while they trust in Christ alone for salvation.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.
            Paul warns the people against this mindset in Galatians 5:13 where he says this: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” He tells them that their freedom from the law is not to be used to engage in sin, but that we might love one another.  In this way, he says, we fulfill the law of God.
When we receive Jesus in faith, we no longer want to live in sin.  Our desire is to glorify Christ.  We then follow him, not to receive salvation, but because of his salvation.  Our obedience is an act of thankfulness to the one who gave himself on our behalf.
So, as those who profess faith in Jesus, let us trust in message of the gospel.  Let us trust in Christ alone for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.  Let us trust not in ourselves or in our actions.  And let us faithfully proclaim this truth that others might believe and be saved.

            
I apologize that our recent sermons have not been available.  After having problems in our sound booth fixed, a new one has crept up.  And this has created problems with recording.  I hope they'll be resolved this week.

Monday, September 01, 2014

I apologize for my failure to update our messages recently.  I was unable to do so as I was out of the country visiting two mission sites of the AFLC in Uganda and India.

On August 10th, I delivered the second part of our series: Acts of Devotion.  This message focused on Fellowship.

On August 17th, Pastor Nate delivered part 3 of this series, focusing on The Breaking of Bread.  This message, however, failed to be recorded.

On August 24th, Pastor Nate finished up this series with a message on Prayer.

On August 31st, I delivered a message on Mindset.  Our mindset is crucial because it determines the way that we understand everything around us.  It determines what we believe and how we behave.  This is true also of our faith.  Is our mind set on the things of man, or on those of God?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The kindle version of Broken is on sale for $0.99 for the next few days.  The paperback version is available at regular price.  

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Trusting God When It Doesn't make sense is available in kindle form for $0.99 until tomorrow morning.  It will still be on sale after that, but for a slightly higher price.  Paperback is available also, at regular price.  Click on the link to the right to purchase.  For local friends, I do have a limited number of paperback copies available if you see me.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Yesterday, we began a new series of messages at Ebenezer.  In Acts 2, we read how, on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the gospel and three thousand people were brought to faith.  In verse 42, we then see the things to which these new believers were devoted.  For the next four weeks, we'll be looking at why these things were important to them, and why they should be important to us as well.  The first topic is The Apostles' Teaching.  You can hear this message at https://archive.org/details/TheApostlesTeaching

Monday, July 21, 2014

Broken is also now available in paperback.  You can purchase a copy by clicking on this link.  Or, if you prefer, it will be available on Amazon within the week.  https://www.createspace.com/4915188
Yesterday, I delivered the fourth part of our series on Failures.  We'll end this series for now, but may pick it up again down the road.  However, in this message, I talked about the sin of Judah and the grace that God bestowed upon him in spite of his sin.  We saw once again that we're saved not by being "good" people, but by the grace of God.  This message can be heard at https://archive.org/details/Judah

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Trusting God When It Doesn't Make Sense is now available in paperback. It will be available on Amazon in a few days. Or you can follow this link to order now: https://www.createspace.com/4907727

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On the 6th of July, we heard part 3 of our series on Failures.  We looked at the life of Jacob and his tendency to seek blessing by his own means rather than trusting in the Lord.  Again, for some reason, the sound quality isn't great.  But it can be found at https://archive.org/details/Jacob_201407

This past Sunday, in my absence, Pastor Nate brought the message.  He shared how we cannot trust in our own righteousness.  We must instead trust in the righteousness of Christ.  His message can be found at https://archive.org/details/AudioRecord20140713103924

Monday, June 30, 2014

Last week, we began a new series of messages on failures.  We're looking at the great men of faith in Scripture, the ways they failed in their life of faith, and the grace of God that was given them in spite of their sin.  Last week, we talked about Adam and Eve.  Unfortunately, this message was not recorded.  This week, we talked about Abraham.  The sound quality isn't good.  I'm not sure why.  However, this message can be streamed or downloaded at https://archive.org/details/Abraham_201406

Monday, June 16, 2014

My short devotional on the book of Jonah, Responding to the Call, is currently free on Amazon.  You will be able to download it free of charge through June 17th.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IYW9MN2
After a long vacation, I'm back.  We talked on Father's Day about the God-given role of fathers.  This message can be heard or downloaded at https://archive.org/details/AudioRecord20140615104606

Pastor Nate Nash, our youth and family pastor, filled in during my absence.  His messages can be found at:

https://archive.org/details/AudioRecord20140601103902

https://archive.org/details/May252014_20140616

Friday, May 23, 2014

For the next few days, my short work titled Broken: Reflections on Humility, is on sale for only $0.99.  It will then go up to $1.99 for a few more days before returning to full price.  Check it out.  And, if you like it, please take the time to write a review on Amazon.