Tuesday, December 30, 2014

15 Questions to Ask Yourself In 2015

"Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless you fail the test." -Corinthians 13:5 (HCSB)

The New Year celebration is a time of reflection.  I would encourage you to set some goals for your walk with Christ this year.  Here is a list of excellent questions to reflect on in 2015.  Please note that Don Whitney is to be given credit for writing these questions, and I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase them. 

1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?
11. What's the most important decision you need to make this year?

12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what's one way you could simplify in that area?

13. What's the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?

14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?

15. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year?

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Can Shepherds Show Me at Christmas?

The first sermon I ever preached in church was on shepherds. It was Christmas time and remember thinking about how they get little attention from most people and there is much we can learn about God and proper response to God from these shepherds of old. Luke 2:16-20 records their role in the nativity story. The occupation of shepherds was a great training ground for some of God’s leaders in the Old Testament. For example, David and Moses were both shepherds before they lead God’s people. Here is the example that I see from the shepherds on that first Christmas:

1. Be Faithful- In Luke 8:2, these shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. We can be easily distracted and tired missing opportunities God has given us. We should remain faithful especially when we are tired.

2. Be Followers- In Luke 2:15, their response to the good news was “Let’s Go See.” The Good news was given to them by the angel and their response was not to forget it and move on, but to follow wherever it leads with urgency.

3. Be Forthtellers- In Luke 2:16-17, the bible tells us that after seeing Jesus, “they reported the message they were told…”. And what is the reaction of the hearers? It is “all who hard it were amazed.” This Christmas bring glory to God by explaining why Christmas is so important for mankind. Explain to all that will listen that Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died as a perfect sacrifice so that we can have a reconciled relationship with God. I can think of no better give to give for Christmas than the gospel explained clearly.

So in conclusion, let’s all be more like the shepherds, but maybe without the smell of livestock! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Top 10 Bible Verses You Will Never See on a Christmas Card!

It is Christmas Time again, and we will all be receiving Christmas Cards. Many of these cards are written with good intentions of warming the heart with a reflection on God. I have to say I do take issue with many of these cards. It seems these warm fuzzy Christmas cards don't really highlight the fullness of the God of the Bible, showing us a limited perhaps even distorted attribute of God as revealed in Scripture. So I have made a list of the top ten scriptures you will NEVER find on a Christmas Card. While there are many more that could have made the list, this should be good enough to get us to reflect on the fullness of God! Here we go:

10) Luke 14:26

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.”

9) John 14:24

“The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me.”

8) Matthew 7:21

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

7) Luke 2:14 (THE FULL VERSE! The underlined part is usually omitted from Christmas cards!)

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!”

6) Hebrews 10:31

“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!”

5) Matthew 5:29

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

4) Revelation 19:16

"On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."

   Note: This is an image of Jesus as a tattooed warrior king! It would make an interesting picture for this Merry Christmas Card to say the least!

3) Isaiah 45:7

"I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things."

2)Exodus 15:3

"The LORD is a man of war;

the LORD is his name."

1)Matthew 10:34

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Note: The little baby Jesus grew up and said these words!

Let us not be lulled to sleep by half truths or distorted images about the God revealed in Scripture during Christmas. Instead let us fully embrace God as He has revealed himself through Scripture. Have a Merry Christmas and praise be to our Holy, Sovereign, Loving God forever and ever amen!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Tithing a Commandment for New Testament Believers?

““Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!”

You ask: “How do we rob You?”

“By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions.””
–Malachi 3:8

The Old Testament clearly hands the command to tithe. A tithe is giving ten percent of all that one received from God back to Him. The instruction was to bring that amount into the temple which paid for the priest’s salary, provided a form of society for the poor, and functioned similar to a state tax for the nation. Today, the temple has been replaced by the church for New Testament believers. In addition the replacement of the temple many social safety nets are provide for the poor or disabled though the government, instead of the church. The theme of cheerful giving is a thread thought the Word of God. Let me remind you of a few things about tithing:

1. Jesus praised tithing in Luke 11:42.

Even though He was rebuking the Pharisees, he praised the fact that they did give their 10 percent to the temple. He rebuked them on the fact that that was all they would give. To the Pharisee giving was an item on a checklist to prove righteousness.

2. All your blessings are from God. (1 Chronicles 28:29)

In 1 Chronicles 28:29, King David prayed and said, “everything in the heavens and on the earth belongs to you.” The principle is that anything you have is a gift from God. Your abilities, health, skill set/trade, and opportunities are all gifts from God. Just think if you had been born in 12th century Mongolia on a random mountain top would you have all you have today?

3. We have been given more privileges and responsibilities than Old Testament Saints. (Hebrews 11:13)

The saints of old lived by faith, but had a forward looking faith to the fulfillment of the promises of God. We have many more privileges than the Old Testament Saints. We know Christ, we have the completion of the Word of God, and we have the Holy Spirit dwelling with us daily to help us! Therefore, we should give at least what the Old Testament saints were expected to give, even though it is not commanded.

4. Give from a heart of gratitude for the salvation we have been given (2 Corinthians 9:7).

The apostle Paul never asks for a tithe to be given in the New Testament, instead he implores them to give from a heart of joy and gratitude. We should give from a heart of joy, not expecting a return. Remember God loves a cheerful giver!

No, tithing is not a command, but it is a guideline to check the blind spot of greed in our life. Should we settle for a lower bar of giving than was expected in the Old Testament?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Does How I Worship God Matter?

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from you hand.” - Malachi 1:10

In 21st century America, we tend to be very individualistic. We think in terms of what we like, want, and our rights. Sadly this attitude gets applied to our attitude when we worship God, thinking sincerity is the same as obedience.  Remember we can sincerely want sin!  We should be quick to remember several things about worship. 

 First, worship is not just music, but a lifestyle. We don’t simply worship on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights, but we worship when we parent our children, marry our spouse, work at our jobs, and how we treat those we live around (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Second, let’s remember the point of worship is to glorify God not appease a guilty conscious. In ancient Israel, they were bringing their left over livestock that they didn’t want to continue on in breeding. Instead of giving God their best, they simply gave him their leftovers. The call in the above passage is for believers to give God the best of their lives. Giving our best to God includes our finances, abilities, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and love.

Third, I would add that this is best done in community with other believers. God has called us to worship privately and publicly with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). In the Old Testament times, the people would gather once a year or more for all day public readings of the Word of God. We are called to worship in a covenanted community called the local church. A place where the people are committed to Jesus Christ first and to one another as well.

Finally, what you do during your private worship effects worship at church. If we do not labor in preparing our hearts at home through the word, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines, our attitudes during a worship service will be effected and has the potential to disturb the body of Christ. In the Old Testament, Achan’s private sin cost Israel 36 soldiers' lives as they went to battle in Joshua 7. When we sit in a worship service and ask questions like, "How does this suit me?" or  "Am I satisfied with the music, does it make me feel good?"  or "Did the pastor make me laugh, cry, and think all at the same time?"  A negative, judgmental attitude causes great harm and division to the body of Christ. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, does this honor the Lord? Does this draw attention to God and away from men and women? Are any commands or principles of God being violated by this action in the service? Our worship should be geared toward pleasing God with our best privately and publicly, so yes how I worship God does matter to God and my church family!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is It OK for a Christian to Marry Someone Who is Not a Christian?

“11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” –Malachi 2:10

There could be no more fitting book to end the Old Testament with than the book of Malachi. It shows that the worship of God has been restored externally, but internally selfishness reins! It is the same selfishness that was planted by the serpent in Genesis 3:1 when he challenged God's authority with this phrase, ““Did God really say…””.

 The issue that the people of God faced then is the issue we face now. The Word of God has always forbidden the mixing of those who have professed the one true and living God of the Holy Bible with others. While some have tried to use Old Testament passages like Malachi 2:10 to promote racial purity that is a misunderstanding of the text. The bible is not concerned with racial purity, but with his people being pure in the faith. To marry outside of the faith was a sin then, and is a sin now. To marry outside the faith is a sure way to be pulled away from God. It is important to note here that your choice of a spouse is considered part of your worship to God. Worship is not something that we do only on Sunday Morning, but worship is all-encompassing in our lives. True worship must be faithful in our marriages, because that is the place where new people will be created and taught who or what to worship.

The New Testament calls it being “unequally yoked” in 2 Corinthians 6:14. It is the idea of oxen who pull in two different direction and therefore become useless for the task. Even within the Christian faith two believers may be unequally yoked to a degree, perhaps one is called to missions and one is not. All expectations and calls should be talked about and explored before the commitment of marriage is made.

For those of you who are in a marriage with an unbeliever, you do not have a get out of marriage free card (1 Cor. 7:14). You are still called to love your mate as outlined in Ephesians, just as Christ loved the church or as the church is to love Christ.  Two sins don't make an act of righteousness nor worship.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How Should We Think About the Brittany Maynard’s Assisted Suicide and the “Right to Die” issue?

On November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old women terminally ill from brain cancer, chose to end her life. My heart goes out to her family as they grieve this devastating loss. Her death has sparked a national debate on the right of terminally ill patience’s to seek medical means to end their lives early. Brittany made her choice to die a public issue in order to leave a legacy behind, since she had no children. 

First off, if you are going to submit yourself to the idea of killing yourself to avoid suffering, then you must fully believe that suffering is meaningless. Let me remind you what we are instructed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:12-13 which reads:

“12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory.”

The Bible makes it clear that suffering is a part of God’s plan for everyone’s life. Many times sufferings are what God uses to draw people to Himself. God does not ordain suffering in the world or in people for no reason. Suppose that Brittany had taken treatments for her cancer and met a follower of Jesus Christ, who shared the gospel with her and encouraged her in a place that only they could understand. 

Suffering is not pointless, there are lessons to be learned by the person in the sick bed, and by those who are their caretakers. We need to do all things to the glory of God, which includes dying a hard, death full of suffering. We should not seek to short circuit God’s plan for our lives, especially the end!

As I think through this I am reminded of two deaths from the Old Testament, King Saul vs. King David. King Saul had his issues, he hid on his promotion day, prophesied for the Lord, was plagued by an evil spirit, killed priests of the Lord, and sought help from a witch to call Samuel back from the dead. At the end of his life in 1 Chronicles 10, he would rather die in his delusions about who he is than face reality as a king, so Saul throws himself on his sword and kills himself.

On the other hand, King David, a murder and adulterer, was willing to repent of his sins. King David is found withering away on a death bed in 1 Kings 1, and I would argue that this is God’s mercy to David. David is reminded in his old age and sickness of his frailty and dependence on God.

This debate scares me as a pastor. It starts to question “quality” of life. As one wise author once said, “quality is meeting expectations”. If that is true, the question should be asked, “What is your expectations for your life?” Someone may have a “quality of life” on a deathbed that could never be learned in a healthy body, through learning to be more like Christ in suffering. Brittany’s very public death opens a Pandora’s Box on who should live and who should die. Who should decide what the expectations of life are other than God?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Surviving the Holidays

I wanted to let everyone know know about a special event we have coming up this Sunday Afternoon.  The event is called Surviving the Holidays.  It is called Surviving the Holidays.  Please click the link below for more information

Click here for more information.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie Review: “Heaven is For Real”

I have been asked several times about my opinion of the movie Heaven is for Real so I took the time to watch the DVD. I will start out with what I liked about the film. 

Overall I thought the acting was good. I like how the pastor is shown before and after the traumatic event of his son’s near death experience, the local church he pastor’s struggle with the situation, and the fact that the movie raises the question of heaven for those who reject the concept. As I watched the film, I was taken back to an event in my life as my son Asher struggled to breath in a children’s hospital. I was told at one point that he wouldn’t make it. Needless to say this movie pulled at my heart strings. I enjoyed how the pastor was shown in a positive light in the church and community. I also enjoyed seeing how the pastor struggled and wrestled with issues in the Word of God. These aspects are very true to life for all pastors and churches. Pastors are humans who struggle with situations and theology just like everyone else. In addition to this, I also enjoyed seeing how the church leaders struggled with the situation. They had given the pastor room to deal with some of his issues, but most didn’t really seem to truly grasp the struggles of the pastor and his family. It is difficult to describe the unique pressures and struggles that ministry places on individuals and families. I felt the film did a good job of showing the tension of an imperfect pastor leading an imperfect church, and in the end both coming out the better. This is a common and important concept for local churches. In addition, I also enjoyed that the question of the existence of heaven after death was raised for those who don’t believe.

Now I will move on to what I didn’t enjoy about the movie. First off, the images of heaven are not biblically based. When Colton goes to heaven, he finds himself at the church building? The Word of God makes no mention of church buildings in heaven anywhere. Even our most beautiful buildings will not even be close to what God has hand crafted in heaven. Second, the attempt at showing a “beautiful heaven” in the church building was cheesy at best, and downright not helpful. Showing angels as these star things that sing? There are many examples of angels in the Word, but none show them as this movie does. In addition to this, the overarching problem with the vision, is the lack of seeing Jesus as the crown jewel! While Jesus is part of this vision of heaven, Jesus plays more of a side character or like a glorified “table host” of cafĂ© heaven in Colton’s vision. At no point does Colton worship Jesus or show that Jesus is King, Lord, and worthy of worship (Revelation 5).

My overall opinion, take this movie with a grain of salt, the images of heaven seem more cooked up by an active four year old imagination than based in Biblical reality. I fear that our need and attention to movies and books along this line, only points to the spiritual immaturity and our addiction to “junk food” Christian entertainment instead of healthy biblical truth. Experiences never dictates doctrine, especially the doctrine of heaven. This movie is simply entertainment, not biblical reality. Keeping in mind this is simply entertainment not something to base a bible study on, I would give this a four on a scale of one to ten.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What does Hebrews 6:4-5 Mean?

4 For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, 6 and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt.

In the above passage the author of Hebrews is giving us what is commonly referred to as a “warning” passage.  Other examples of warning passages are found in Hebrews (2:1-4; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39, 12:1-29) Revelation 2 and 3, James and Galatians 4:8-11.  For many years pastors and scholars have spilled a lot of ink in a struggle to understand how the “warning” passages work with the “assurance” passages (like John 10:28-30, Romans 8:28-39, and Philippians 1:6).  I think the key to understanding the meaning to this question arises from two questions about this passage:

1. Who does it address?

2. What is the function of this warning?

When one reads this text, the simplest explanation of who it is written to would be a believer.  If you were to put this passage before a child, they would say it is written to a believer.  The language that is used here of tasted the heavenly gift, become companions with the Holy Spirit, tasted God’s word and the powers of this coming age,”  all point to the fact that we are dealing with some who have a knowledge and experience of the things of the living God of the universe.  It is also important to note that the author of Hebrews never says anyone has fallen away or in verse six the comma does not follow with the clause, “as some have done” or “since some have fallen away”.  But if that is true, and none have fallen away, what is the function of this passage?

I believe there is a weightiness involved in Hebrews 6 that is often overlooked and slighted in an effort to defend the eternal security of a believer.  I would submit to you that this passages is more than a hypothetical situation, but that this is a warning passage that is used as a means of preservation for God’s people.  For example,   if you were driving up towards Butler Bridge and you saw a sign in the middle of the road that says, “Bridge Out Ahead!”  Those of us who are able to read, would turn our cars around and take another route to preserve out life, avoiding the eighty foot plus drop into Watauga Lake.  Or if you were on a tour of the Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina, and the guide said, please do not go down into the cellar there is poison gas down there that will surely kill you.  You would heed the warning of the guide, and be very careful not to go near that cellar!  The warning is more than a hypothetical, the warning is a means that the guide used to save your life.  It is important to remember that only those who belong to God will be able to heed the warning passages God gives.  It is impossible to warn those who don’t know the power of God to be preserved (1 Peter 1:5).  There is a call from Hebrews six to be careful and take heed!

Click HERE for futher study on this passage and other warning passages!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is the Bible Reliable?

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” -1 Timothy 3:16

While there are several historical documents tests to determine the historical reliability of a document, I would like to highlight just a few for you today.  One test is called the bibliographical test. This test looks at several aspects of ancient manuscripts like how many exist right now.  In order for a document to take this test, the originals must no longer exist.  Today, we have close to, if not more than 25,000 copies of the New Testament either in part or whole.  The document that comes closest to this is Homer’s Iliad which has around 643 copies.  Another test looks at the time gap between the oldest surviving copy and the original manuscript.  Again in second place is Homer’s Iliad with a time gap of 400 years from penning of the original manuscript until the oldest surviving copy.  The New Testament has a gap of only fifty years.  There is no other ancient book that matches the textual availability and integrity of the Bible.   Time would fail me if I went on to tell you about how non-Christian historians, like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and many others document and validate the existence of the Word of God.  If you haven’t given the Bible much attention lately, I would encourage you to give the most historically reliable book of all time another look!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Are All Christians Hypocrites?

“If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 
– 1 John 1:8

In the English language the word hypocrite gets a lot of mileage! A hypocrite is a person’s whose public statements and life are inconsistent with their private life. The word hypocrite evokes a certain level of distain and distrust in everyone. What many point to as inconsistency among professing Christians is what it appears to be. Even Jesus made the point that hypocrites exist among God’s people. For example Jesus taught us the importance of prayer, fasting, and giving for kingdom advancement. Jesus also gave his harshest warnings and correction to those who did the things he taught from the wrong motivations and for the wrong rewards. Jesus discourages his followers from making long public prayers, making sure that our fasting draws attention to our self-righteousness, and parading our gifts at church and to the poor (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). Jesus calls these people out for being real hypocrites among God’s people (Matthew 23:13-33; Mark 7:20-23). While Jesus never called his disciples hypocrites, our Lord did make it clear that there will always be hypocrites mixed in among true disciples (Matthew 13:24-30).

So the real question is, how can we know the difference between a true believer and a hypocrite? Both true disciples and hypocrites have sin and inconsistencies in their life. I would encourage you to remember that perfection is the final step in the life of a believer (Romans 8:30). We are reminded by the Apostle Paul that we are being “transformed into the same image (the image of Jesus Christ) from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).” For a true disciple, one is continuing to change each day to become more like Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that while we are changing, we will still “stumble in many ways (James 3:2).” I think we must ask ourselves the following questions in order to think correctly about ourselves (Romans 12:3):
  • Do we agree with God about the sin in our life? (1 John 1:9)
  • Are we seeking to fight the sin in our life? (1 Peter 5:4-11)
In World War II, the bloodiest battles for our troops was between D-Day, on June 8, 1944, when we broke the enemies back by taking the beaches at Normandy, France and VE-Day, on May 8, 1945, when we finally defeated the axis of evil. In the same way, Christians will lose many battles and the battles will often be most difficult after trusting Jesus Christ, but if we repent of our sins and truly trust Jesus we will be victorious. So no, not all Christians are hypocrites, but we are honest in our struggle to be more like our perfect, Holy, King Jesus!