Thursday, November 28, 2013

"The Art of Thanks-giving ... Why only those who know Jesus can really DO it!"

You've seen the ads for blood donations:  "Give the gift of life!"  I used to donate blood because I have a rather rare blood type and it always made me consider the person or persons who might receive my blood.  It was a very humbling experience to think that in giving a small amount of my blood God might use me to quite literally save a life.  I could have said, "Someone else will do it," but then I would have missed the opportunity to be an instrument of God to touch the life of another human being in a way that really made a difference.

So it is with those who know Jesus Christ!  The Bible tells us that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22), because the life of a person or an animal is in the blood.  The writer of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament sacrifices did not cleanse the conscience of the worshipers because it was not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.  The blood of the sacrificial animals could not "atone" for sin ... could not pay the penalty for sin before a holy God.  Rather, they pointed to the perfect sacrifice that Christ would make.

Jesus "entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood ..." (Hebrews 9:12).  Because Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who took upon Himself a human nature through His birth, He offered His blood as the perfect sacrifice for sin and now all who receive Him as their Savior and Lord are washed, cleansed, made perfect in God's sight through faith.  HIS blood gives us LIFE ... eternal life - spiritually and, when He returns, physically.  We, of all people, have reason to give thanks for our God and Father "has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

As you give thanks, first on the list should be Jesus, our Redeemer, who purchased all who believe to be His very own.  "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (I Peter 1:18-19).  Give thanks for God's marvelous gift of life through Jesus Christ, who gave His blood that YOU may live!  But don't stop there ...

Our calling as believers in Jesus Christ does not stop when WE are saved by His blood.  In a remarkable statement shortly before He ascended into heaven Jesus said to His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me.  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.  And surely I will be with you until the very end of the age"  (Matthew 28:18-20).

We who have received God's grace, who have been born again by the Spirit of God, who by faith have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, trusting in the shedding of His blood for forgiveness and life ... WE are now called and sent into the world as "ministers of a new covenant" (II Corinthians 3:6).  We are now Christ's "ambassadors" (II Corinthians 5:20) ... sent out into the world to proclaim LIFE in HIS blood!  WE are called and sent to GIVE the gift of LIFE!!  It is not OUR blood that we offer, but the blood of Jesus, and all who receive our message will live FOREVER!!

THIS is the "art of thanks-giving."  As with a rare blood type, only certain people can give blood to others.  God knows who they are.  We are sent to offer Christ's blood to all, knowing that those who have been chosen to be part of God's family will receive God's gift of life through the blood of His Son.  Others will reject our message and reject God's offer of life, just as the bodies of some will reject your blood or mine.  God knows those who are His and He has determined to use US ... to use you and me who know and love Jesus, to be His instruments to offer the blood of Christ to others.

The humbling joy and satisfaction of donating blood is surpassed by the joy and satisfaction of giving the gift of life to another human being!  Who is it that needs to hear the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, from YOU??  Thanksgiving is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a tradition and people celebrate it in different ways.  But thanks-giving is a privilege reserved for those who know Jesus.  Only we can offer thanks to God by giving hope to others through the Gospel of Jesus.  Every time we share the good news with another person there is a possibility that the angels will be rejoicing over one sinner who repents and believes and is saved, receiving God's gift of life.

Will YOU be an ambassador for Christ?  Will you be a minister of God's new covenant, confirmed through the blood of His Son, Jesus?  Give thanks to the Lord, today, for He IS good!  Then give God's gift of life by sharing the good news of Jesus' blood shed once for all on the cross for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe.  Who knows what God will do because YOU gave thanks by engaging in the art of thanks-giving!

Be an instrument of God to touch the life of another human being in a way that really makes a difference!  You'll be glad you did!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"The New Vocabulary ..."

"Inclusive" ... "Inclusivism" (is that even a word???) ... it all sounds relatively harmless.  The Church of Jesus Christ should be inclusive, right?  God calls people from every nation to follow Christ.  By His grace, forgiveness and life are offered to all through faith in Jesus.  So what's wrong with being inclusive?

Nothing ... EXCEPT, those who use the word today have changed the meaning to something God never intended.  "Inclusive" has been hijacked by Satan and those who claim to be speaking for God.  They are saying that God's love includes all people, whether they confess their sins and repent or not, whether they believe in Jesus or not, whether they believe in anything or in nothing!  And the worst part of all this is that these are people who CLAIM to be Christians!!

Another word that has been twisted to mean something other than the biblical definition of the word is "faith." While the Bible defines faith as a knowledge of the truth concerning Jesus Christ that leads to trust in and service to Christ, the new definition for faith is so vague as to be utterly meaningless.  I continually read about "people of faith" as being those who believe in SOMETHING.  I have said for years that everybody has faith in something.  For some it is faith in a god of their own making … like the faith of Muslims in Allah.  For others it is faith in their religion … like Buddhists, Hindus and many who call themselves Christians.  It is faith in an institution or in a process of steps that lead to greater enlightenment and personal spirituality.  For many, the object of faith is SELF!  They are the cynics of the world who have become disillusioned and who in their foolish pride believe they can count on no one but themselves.  Eventually, these are the hopeless who lose themselves in the darkness of a world without hope.

Faith, you see, is only as good as its object.  Faith in the God of creation, who made man in His image and who sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem those whom He chose to belong to Him and to transform them once again to the image of His Son, is the only "faith" that leads to eternal life.  True faith, biblical faith, God-given faith is NOT inclusive.  While the Gospel of Jesus Christ OFFERS forgiveness and life to all, it must be received and the faith that God works in His chosen people through His Spirit by the hearing of His Word is the only faith that delivers anyone from the kingdom of darkness and brings them into God's kingdom of light.  THIS faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).  THIS faith "comes by hearing the message of Christ" and believing it (Romans 10:17).

Over and over again today we hear of all "faiths" coming together to celebrate their "faith."  From the World Council of Churches to the Pope to the leaders of many denominations, the call going out is to be "inclusive" and to accept the "faith" of others as valid expressions of a "seeking after God" that are all acceptable and praiseworthy.  And if you or I speak out against such foolishness, there is another word that has been redefined that is used to describe us:  Judgmental.

Have you noticed how often Christians who actually believe the Bible to be the Word of God are called "judgmental."  Whether it's television talk-show hosts or religious broadcasters, the consensus seems to be that telling people that there is ONE way to God and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ is being judgmental.  Instead, we should just let people believe what they believe.  In fact, we should respect what they believe and try to find what we have in common in order to unite all of mankind in a universal "faith" that may lead to world peace and unity.

All of this redefining of terms makes it vitally important for true Christians to understand what these words and others mean and to be intellectually critical when listening to people talk about their "faith" and being "inclusive."  This is not something new.  What IS new is that so many leaders and others in the visible church are accepting the new vocabulary and allowing more and more people to be deceived into believing they have "faith" when the truth is they have been led astray and are following the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the believers in Corinth:  "I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (II Corinthians 11:3-4).  Remember what Paul wrote to the Galatians:  "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8).

That doesn't sound very "inclusive," does it?  The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is NOT inclusive in the way it is being defined today.  Seventeen years ago the denomination of which I was a part presented a paper, written by a professor of theology, which discussed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic world.  The paper contained much that was true from God's Word concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God.  But the conclusions drawn at the end of the paper made the rest of it null and void.  The author stated that "we cannot know the limits of God's grace" and therefore it may be that God will save most people, or even all people, whether they have heard of Jesus or believed in Jesus or confessed Him as their Savior and Lord or not.

As a regional gathering of pastors and elders met to discuss the paper, I shared at length before all those present that we needed to take a stand for truth against those in our midst who would "preach another gospel."  It was the only time I had ever been at such a meeting where the majority of those in attendance clapped in approval … but the next year at a broader denominational gathering, the paper was approved anyway.  At the initial meeting a pastor came up to me and stated, "So, you're an 'exclusivist.'"  I responded, "As opposed to what?"  He said, "Well, I'm an 'inclusivist.'  I believe that God can save whomever He wants to save."  Try as I might, I could not get him to understand that that was precisely the point:  GOD has determined that He will save those whom He has chosen … AND He has determined HOW He will do that:  through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing about the new birth, which leads to true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  He just looked at me.  He didn't get it … and he was preaching his "inclusivism" to the church he was serving and people were listening and saying nothing.

At Lighthouse Community Church Nondenominational we proclaim the one message that has the power to save sinners:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Whoever believes is saved from God's wrath and is part of Christ's true body.  Whoever does not believe will be condemned … not by us, but by God Himself.  Telling people the truth is not being judgmental.  Telling people that faith in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ leads to eternal death is not being judgmental.  It is the most loving thing we can possibly do.

Don't fall for the new vocabulary.  Allow GOD to define the terms you use to explain what you believe.  His Word is true and Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him … by faith in His finished work on the cross.  "Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 4).  Be strong and courageous, for the LORD Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress and in the end, GOD WINS!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Why do people go to church?"

Polls and studies have been done and are being done to figure out how to appeal to people and to get them to come to church.  Questions are asked to see why people go to church and why they don't.  Church growth experts expound about their "findings" and tell those of us involved in ministry what we need to do to "attract" people.  And frankly, I don't care … and neither should you!  The whole idea of "going to church" often reveals a shallow understanding of what the Church is.  Those of us who by God's grace know that the Church is the Body of Christ, made up only of those who have been born again by His Spirit and who gather to worship, to fellowship and to serve in the name of Jesus Christ may say that we are "going to church," but we realize that the Church is people and what we mean is that we are going to where the Church is gathering.

Why do other people go to church?  I won't take the time to rehearse the myriad of reasons that people have for attending church gatherings, but it is clear that for many it's for all the wrong reasons.  The reality is that there is only one reason for gathering as the Church, whether in a small group in a home or in a larger gathering:  to set our minds on  the one true God, the God who is our Creator and who has revealed Himself through creation and His Word and through His Son Jesus Christ, and then to draw near to Him through faith in Jesus and to be instructed by His Spirit through His Word.  That may include singing, praying, giving, testifying, and enjoying the fellowship of other believers, but it is focused on God and His truth.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to his young friend, Timothy:  "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Only thirty short years following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of His Spirit there were false teachers all over the place IN the church.  How much MORE is that true today.  What Paul predicted when he wrote to Timothy is a reality today.  In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:  "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  … Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Timothy 4:13,16).  This is how important the preaching and teaching of God's Word is … it means salvation, eternal life to those who hear and believe!

THIS is why people SHOULD go to church:  to hear God's Word preached and taught in its fullness.  Any other reason is secondary.  The songs that are sung and the prayers that are offered should direct people to the truth of who God is, what Jesus has done and why we are thankful to Him.  Our praise and our worship should be a response to the truth that God has revealed in His Word.  The gathering of God's people is not a social club.  Biblical fellowship, "koinonia," community, is not built around common likes or dislikes, or shared interests in the things of this world.  Biblical fellowship is the sharing of one Spirit and one Lord.  "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:3-6).

"Going to church" is gathering with the "saints," those made holy in God's sight through faith in Jesus Christ, those washed by His blood, who gather to worship their Father in heaven and to "feed" on His Word. It is a sacred assembly every time we gather together and every true believer must want to be a part of this true fellowship.  John wrote, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3).

Why do you "go to church?"  My constant prayer for Lighthouse is that the focus of our attention is always on the God who created us and who redeemed us through the blood of His own Son.  We are HIS and we exist for His glory!  That reminds me of Psalm 100:  "Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the LORD is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."  THAT's why we "go to church!"

Much is being written about the church these days by those who don't seem to know what the Church is all about.  Most of it is negative and people inside the church are trying to figure out how to change their image.  I thank God for what He is doing at Lighthouse and I pray and trust that He is doing it elsewhere, too.  God is gathering a remnant … a gathering of people who humbly confess their sin and their need for a Savior and who place their faith, their hope and their trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life.  We have nothing else to offer but the truth of the Gospel, the good news that is offered to all and that is received by faith.

We are not trying to "market" the Gospel.  God needs no help.  He has determined to use the preaching and teaching of His Word to accomplish His purpose to build His kingdom … to gather some from every tribe, people, nation and tongue to know, to love and to serve Jesus Christ.  God spoke through the prophet, Isaiah, and said, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out from My mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

If you "go to church" for any other reason than to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" through the hearing of His Word being preached and taught, then you need to examine your heart in the light of God's Word and see if you are going to please yourself or to worship the One Who alone is worthy.  And if you are not hearing His Word when you go, you need to examine where you are going and why you are going there.  Not all "churches" are the same.  In today's world you can go on a congregation's website and discover very quickly what they believe and what value is placed on the Word of God.  If you find that you are "going to church" for all the wrong reasons, earnestly ask God to direct your path and do not rest until you find a place where you hear God's Word proclaimed … where the message doesn't just start with reading a verse or two, but where the whole message comes from the living Word of God.  Settle for nothing less.

May those of us who preach and teach be found faithful.  James wrote, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).  If the preacher or teacher you are listening to does not preach and teach God's Word, RUN!!  Don't worry about hurting feelings or leaving friends, just run.  Read your Bible.  Study God's Word.  Check out everything that is being said and if it is truly God's Word, then don't just listen to it, take it to heart and ask God to help you DO what He says to do.  Your life will change because your heart will change because your mind has changed.  TRUTH sets you free!!

I hope you "go to church" this week and that by the work of God's Spirit, through His Word, you are or will become a member of HIS Church!!