Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Calling

So this week I did something that took me way outside of my comfort zone. On Sunday I told my church that I believed God was moving in my life to preach. This was one of the scariest declarations I have ever made because there are many things that go along with it. That one decision will affect the rest of my life and the lives of my wife and two daughters. If you will give me a minute I would like to lead you through the steps that led me to that declaration.

Over the past several weeks and months God has been moving in my life to do more. For many years I have stood and taught God’s word both at my church and surrounding churches. I have wrote this blog and thousands of you have read my words. I work with the children in my church on a weekly basis. I have been rather busy, but still there was something more that needed to be done. I can’t explain this feeling other than a pressing burden to do more.

In an effort to discover what it was that God wanted from me, I contemplated many things. Was God wanting me to change jobs, change churches, change ministries. I would drive to work and visualize myself going from church to church sharing the scriptures with his people. I just knew that I wanted, and should do more but there was nothing more that I could do in my current position. I would even teach to the congregation at my church lessons like, “What is God calling me to do?”

Little did I know that God was about to drop a bomb on my settled life and shake it up. Saturday night I was laying in bed and thinking about all of these decisions and trying to decide what it was that God was wanting from me, and then it happened. (My wife says that she could see the moment it happened because the look on my face changed so dramatically.) God showed me that the thing He wanted me to do was the thing I was so sure He did not want me to do, preach. Wow is all I can say!

That night I called my pastor, prayed, fretted, prayed some more, fretted some more. I don’t think I slept much at all that night. The next morning I was even more scared than I was the night before. Could I really do this thing that God was impressing upon me? I had determined within myself to go to church that morning, listen to the message my pastor brought and just see what happened. Sounds like a good plan right?

Well my plan didn’t go so well. We opened up the service by singing “How great thou art.” By the end of the first verse I’m crying. By the end of the song I know what is coming, but I’m still holding on. Then it happened. One of our deacons got up, and not knowing a thing about my situation quoted Proverbs 3:6 which says “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Boom! I’m done. I’m on the altar and like they say, “The rest is history.”

You may ask, “What was the sermon you were supposed to sit through?” My pastor preached on the lad with five loaves and two fishes. He talked about giving what you have to the Lord and allowing Him to use it for His service and glory. He even talked about the reluctance the young boy may have had before he gave his all to the service of the Lord. (Yeah I never would have made it through that message.)

So here I am scared to death. Questions have come and gone over the past several days. The devil has tried to sap every last bit of joy from my life. But I have written three sermons already. I will be preaching my first message on July the 7th and believe God has given me a word for that night. I took a step of faith and that is what I will continue to do, take one step of faith at a time.

Well if you’re still reading and with me let me ask you a question. What does God want from your life? I understand that everyone can’t sing and everyone can’t preach, but everyone can do something. Maybe you are reluctant to take that first step of faith. Trust me I understand. I know how scary it is and I know the doubts the devil will plant in your mind, but that’s why it’s called faith. How about you take this step with me?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let me ask you a question

Galatians Chapter 3

Paul ended the previous chapter by explaining that if we add anything to the finished work of Jesus Christ then we are frustrating the grace of God, and Christ has died in vain. In this chapter Paul does a beautiful job of explaining how an individual is saved. If you are saved this morning then you have been saved by faith in Christ alone.

Dr. Wiersbe was recorded as saying that the 60 verses that make up the third and fourth chapters of the book of Galatians are the strongest of all of Paul’s writings. This makes sense when we realize that he was in the middle of a war. These false teachers were using any means necessary to capture the churches in Galtia and therefore Paul cannot pull any punches. In these two chapters he proves the doctrine of salvation by faith and faith alone.

Paul begins chapter three by asking them several questions. I want us to look at the questions Paul starts the chapter with, and maybe ask ourselves the same questions. If you are thinking of leaving a church that is teaching and preaching the truth then you should definitely ask yourself these questions.

These people are being foolish and not using their mind. Verse one begins with our first questions. “Why aren’t you using your mind?” The root Greek word in this first statement is “nous” and it means your “mind.” Paul is saying you are not using your mind or your head.

He follows that question with another one. “What has gotten into you?” “Who has bewitched you?” Jesus Christ had been clearly presented to these people, they have trusted in Christ, and by so doing it has changed their lives. If what they believed changed their lives then what are they doing turning from that truth?

The same thing happens every day today. I once heard a false television minister make the statement that most of his followers were former Baptist church members. That is a terrible statement. This means that his followers are people who once heard, and knew the truth. These people have been “bewitched” into following someone else.

The same is true of the modern day movement. Most people you find in these movements were once found in a Baptist church. I believe there are several problems that contribute to this problem. I believe that many people have turned away from the truth because of a group of Pharisaical Baptist. This group has hurt an untold number of believers. These believers will no longer be a part of the Baptist church because of the way they were treated by these men.

The other problem is these people are leaving the truth they once held for something new and different. Everyone wants something new today. People are not satisfied with their homes, their cars, their cell phones and they certainly are not satisfied with their churches any more. It has become part of our culture to constantly want something different. It is my opinion that the church has to evolve over time, but should never change. We can’t be stuck in the days gone by, but at the same time should not be willing to change our standards to suit the times. Some sadly leave the truth in order to seek out something different.

In verses three Paul wants them to begin to think about what they are doing. If they were saved by faith in Christ, are they now going to be so foolish to turn away from what saved them? If they began in the Spirit then why not continue in the Spirit. When a human child is born they have all they need for life. The doctor does not say to that child, “You were born into this world but I’m going to need you to obey these rules to keep on living.” As ridiculous as that sounds it happens in churches every Sunday.

“I know that you were born of the Spirit, but I need you to follow these rules to stay saved.” This message has been proclaimed from many pulpits across America. The trouble is that my flesh has never done anything but let me down. If you are honest you will say the same thing. In fact if you differ you are a liar according to 1 John. This church was made up of sinners and they could not live up to the standards God had set forth. So are they now on some higher plane that they are going to be capable of doing what they could never do before? Of course not!

Next we see that this church had suffered for their salvation. In these days it cost you something to be saved. If they turn their back on what they believed now then all of that suffering would be for nothing. “Did you suffer in vain?”

Paul now asks in verse five, “What about the miracles that were done among you?” Paul had preached among them the gospel. Paul was an apostle, and as such had performed miracles among them. Did Paul do this by the power of the Holy Spirit or by the Law?

The truth is that the reason these men were able to perform miracles was because God was giving them signs to prove their message was true. You have to understand that the people that Paul preached to were in many cases Jews who keep the rituals of the Law. Now a missionary was telling them that what they had done for generations was null and void. This was hard to swallow therefore God would allow them to perform miracles to prove their message was coming from God.

This is not the case today. In fact it seems that most of these sign gifts began to fade with the fading of the apostles, and with the writing of the New Testament. This does not mean that we are not seeing miracles performed every day. God is still performing miracles within lives.

“Do you really believe the miracles in the bible?” a skeptic asked a new Christian who had been a terrible drinker. “Of course I do!” the believer replied. The skeptic laughed. “Do you mean that you really believe that Jesus could turn water into wine?” he asked. “I sure do! In my home He turned wine into food and clothing and furniture!”

These people knew all of these things. They had trusted Christ. They had believed the report of Paul. They had seen the miracles. In spite of all of this they were contemplating turning back to the Law. No wonder Paul asked “What has gotten into you?”

So, that is my question to you today. Those of you who are thinking of leaving the truth that changed your life. Are you willing to turn your back on the truth?

In the remainder of the chapter Paul will use the example of Abraham to show them once again that they are saved by faith and faith alone. In our next blog we will look at these verses.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The unsung hero of the church

Last night was the first night of vacation bible school at my home church. It is always fun to get together with a group of kids and teach them about Jesus. It’s also a lot of stress and work to get everything together for vacation bible school. You have to paint signs, decorate the church, prepare lessons, decide on stunts and skits, and fix snacks. With all these things on my mind I laid in bed last night thinking about the workers in our church and all they do.

Over the last twenty years I have been a part of a local church. My opinion of church works has been cultivated somewhat. Let me explain what I mean. When I was a younger Christian I was very enamored by those men and women in the church who seemed to be giants. These were men who preached great sermons, groups that sung great songs, and individuals that seemed to always be doing something that you could point to and say, “Wow!”. I would look up to these people, and many times rightfully so. They were my heroes.

In the last several years I have changed some of my opinion. In the last several years I have started to notice, and look up to those church members that silently work in the church without ever getting attention or glory. It has become my opinion that the backbone of the church is a group of silent Christians who love God and faithfully serve Him. These are men and women that do things that never get noticed by others, but without their work the church would fall apart.

I thought about my own ministry. God has allowed me to lead the youth program in my church. Each Wednesday night we take the children and teach them separate from the adults. This is a wonderful blessing, but it is a job that I do not do alone. Every Wednesday night three other adults go down stairs with me and the kids. These three individuals don’t ever seem to get the pat on the back, but they are invaluable. Without them the work could not be done.

It has become my opinion that we will be shocked when we stand before God on the Day of Judgment. I think we will be shocked because there will be men and women who the world has never heard of, but God has heard & saw their faithful labor. While they did not receive the pat on the back for their labor here, these men and women will receive rewards at the hand of Christ.

Jesus taught this principal in Matthew 6. He taught us to give, pray, and fast in secret. Those that work in the open receive their reward when everyone sees them, but those that work in secret will receive their reward from Christ. I can also think of a few Christians who think that they have to be in charge of everything that takes place, and makes sure everyone knows that they are the one that did it. According to Jesus in Matthew 6 that person receives their reward at their own hand.

So if you are the silent church member, who cleans the church, prays for the preacher, fixes a snack for a child, or paints a sign for VBS this blog is for you. You are more important than maybe you realize. God notices your labor of love, and one day will reward you for your labor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Fight for Faith. A Journey through Galatians (Chapter 2 b)

Galatians Chapter 2

Paul’s experience in Antioch

The church in Antioch was different from the one in Jerusalem in that it was a mainly a Gentile church. I want to explain something before we move forward that I think is important. It was the tradition of many churches in this day to have a feast before they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. (You might remember that Paul had to fuss at the church in Corinth because of the way they were acting at this feast.)

In any case these people would get together and eat. It seems that there were two tables at the feast. One was the Gentile table and the other was the Jewish table. The difference being that the Gentile table had things on it like meat that had been offered to idols. It also had things like pork and other animals that Jews did not eat. The Jewish table would be kosher.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the things that these Gentiles were eating. In Jesus Christ they had the liberty to eat what they pleased. The Jews however were not able to break away from the days when they were in bondage to the Law of Moses, and because of this weakness they could not enjoy their liberty. The reason I know that the Gentile table was okay was because that is where Paul ate.

Well one day Peter comes to visit the church in Antioch. At the feast Peter is presented with something that he has never really had before, Gentile food. I believe Peter was one of those who were still living in a certain amount of bondage.

In my mind I can picture Peter trying pork chops and bacon for the first time in his life. I bet he loved them. Who doesn’t love bacon? Everything is better with bacon. Peter is really enjoying himself eating with Paul and the Gentiles.

The problem is that one day some of the Jews came down to visit, and when they showed up Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles and returned to the Jewish table. He was ashamed of the liberty he had been enjoying thereby setting a double standard before these believers.

By returning to the Jewish table he was saying that living in the liberty of Christ was wrong. When this happened Paul says that he confronted him face to face.

Before I move on and we beat up on Peter too much let me ask you a question. How many of us are truly living examples of what we know as bible doctrines? Peter stood up for this type of living in Acts 15. After his experience in Acts 11 at the house of Cornelius he was called on the carpet before the Jews and he defended himself. The problem here is that Peter’s freedom was threatened by Peter’s fear.

Peter was a very impulsive man. One moment he is cutting off a soldier’s ear for trying to arrest Jesus and the next he is denying he even knows Jesus. Peter could walk on water one moment and be drowning the next.

For Peter to fear was one thing but for his fear to be brought out in the public was another. If Paul had not confronted him these false teachers could have used this as an example of proof for their false teaching.
It is funny how people teach and preach that a man or woman must keep the law or live without sin in order to maintain their salvation. The reason this is funny is because outside of Christ no one has ever been able to keep the law. These Jews were teaching a works salvation, but they were not able to keep the law themselves.

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law.”

This includes the Law of Moses as well as any other legal system. If a person says that you have to join a certain church, speak in tongues, be baptized or any other work in order to obtain salvation they are preaching a false doctrine.

In Hebrews we are given a record of Christ offering his own blood upon the mercy seat in heaven. Let me point out a verse to you.

“When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;”  Hebrews 1:3

The fact that Jesus sat down after presenting his blood tells us that the work was finished. If there was more work to be done then Jesus would not have sat down, he would have kept working. When Jesus died for you He did everything necessary to purchase your salvation.

Paul even says that “we” had to leave the law in order to be justified by Christ. The “we” in this verse are the Jews. The Jews had to turn from their works to faith so that they could be saved.

The Paul finishes with a pretty clear statement.

“for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

The word “justified” means to declare a person right. Let me give you a definition of this word. “Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ.”

We are declared right by Jesus Christ. The wonderful thing about Christ is that when He saves us He not only removes our sin, but He also adds His righteousness to our account.

If God could have saved us by any other means then He would have done so. The fact is that the death of Christ was the only way for us to be justified.

In the garden Jesus prayed “if it be possible let this cup pass from me.” There was no other way therefore He willingly laid down his life so that you can live. That was enough for God and it should be enough for us.

In the next chapter we will be given a biblical example of a man who was saved apart from the works of the Law. This man simply placed his trust in God. By doing so God placed righteousness on his account.