Playing Church

I recall training for the ministry and taking a class in Bible college where I heard for the first time the definition of the word “church” . It originates from the Greek ekklesia meaning “to be called out from” and I learned from that it means that a church is a group of people called out by God from the world with the mission of evangelizing the lost and edifying the saved.  That definition seems to have fallen on hard times in our congregations these days but lest we be too hard on the mega church leaders clamoring for more money to feed their massive budgets and maintain their grand buildings perhaps it would be good for a little spiritual self-assessment: am I REALLY in tune with the definition so that God’s intent is also mine?   Or am I “playing church”?  The latter is so easily fallen into and the slip can be so gradual as to not be easily detected. We are great about being self-delusional thinking because I go to church things are peachy keen.

Revisit Acts 2 and you see when the church officially began and the excitement was there, the mission was not only clearly defined it was clearly practiced too.   After Peter preached that great sermon at the feast of Pentecost (2:11-40) many accepted the Lord as their Savior and were then immersed or baptized in water to publicly identify that Jesus had saved them”  “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (vss.41-42).  

 How many churches do you know these days where you routinely hear a clear presentation of the Gospel so that people are genuinely moved to be saved?  And then how many churches follow through to disciple converts in the way the Lord wants them to go?  Namely, believer’s baptism then the COMMITMENT (a “dirty” word these days) to JOIN that group of believers??  Then being encouraged to regularly and faithfully attend steadfastly to hear teaching of the Word as opposed to a light show, concert, comedy routine, or latest lecture on some thought provoking Christian book?  Many that grace our pulpits today have stopped preaching the Word for it is not palatable to the younger generation and we need to cater to what they want rather than what they need, so say the church growth “experts”.   

But how about the attender of even good Bible preaching churches with the mission in mind and the definition down pat?  Are you regularly being a witness, sharing the gospel with the unsaved? You do remember they are going to hell, right?  Are you praying for the growth of your church, not just numerically but in quality?  Praying for your Pastor and his ministry? Encouraging him and one another by  your serious dedication to be a good testimony and pitching in wherever God would have you to build up the congregation in your area?  You should always be working on getting someone to come and working on discipling  some one who does come.  A church can be a great venue to socialize, and to find satisfaction in service but remember the definition, keep it in mind always so you dont fall into Satan’s trap of merely “playing church” !!

Finding the REAL JOY in Christmas

What a great blessing to be able to celebrate Christmas as  a true believer in Christ !  People the world over will observe this wondrous holiday and for them it will mean seeing family members again, enjoying special foods partaken of only at this season, seeing the joy on family member’s faces at the opening of a gift, or some other delightful thing.

But for the person who has been genuinely born again there is an even deeper joy !  We understand what Christmas REALLY means since we have been able to KNOW how real Jesus is, we have experienced by faith an actual relationship where we have enjoyed His peace and presence.  The Christ Who came over 2000 years ago has made a personal, very real contact with us and so even Christmas as well as life itself has taken on a whole new purpose and meaning thanks to Him !

Sadly, Christmas can be really tough even for the real Christian who has lost a loved one but the reminder of Christmas that can help anyone in such a situation is that Christmas means, for one, that this is when God came to initiate His plan to once and for all defeat even death and replace it with eternal life !  So Christmas is much more than a great holiday that evokes a lot of fond memories and special feelings, it is a time when God became flesh (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” ~  John 1:14) and was born to die that YOU might live. And not just live eternally but abundantly !!!  Celebrate Christmas then with the JOY that truly is at the heart of it !

Vote His way !

What a wild and crazy time leading up to and culminating in our election !   Seems most of America were upset with the status quo and the sin (yes, sin, a word we don’t hear much of anymore but lets call it what God calls it) of our newly elected President was “trumped” by the sin of his opponent !    Looked at biblically, most Christians have concluded he was the better choice but his flaws remind us that no man is perfect and so we should not put our trust completely in fallen men.  We are instructed to pray for our leaders  (1 Tim.2:1-4) and to remember that God removes and elevates people to positions of power (which ultimately comes from Him alone).

I looked at this election cycle and saw aside from his opponent the media was against our new President, the elite opposed him, his own party gave little to no help, and he used millions of his own money so as not to be beholden to special interests.  To his credit he slugged it out and won the victory as the masses connected with his message and opted for him as their leader.

But what really concerns me is how many Christians I know were following the narrative of a deceptive media rather than let TRUTH be their guide in how to vote.   Do not allow Satan, the world, even your own mind (flesh) to be the determining factor in any decisions you make.  How can you insure you will make choices consistent with the Lord’s will?  Stay in the Word, learn it well, apply it’s wondrous principles and you will not be duped but will walk the path God has set before you voting His way !!! “proving what is acceptable to the Lord”  Eph.5:10

Are you “studying” lately?

Well, they’re back !  The students are back to Happy Valley ready to begin a new school year at Penn State.  Soon Beaver Stadium will be roaring with the first home game this weekend too.  The seemingly perpetual cycle continues with a new freshman crop and the returnees in the upper classes striving for the coveted sheepskin at the end of their scholastic journey.

Paul too had a course he completed as he writes to us of in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”  Notice carefully those three phrases comprising this verse.  His life had been very embattled since his conversion as at first not even the disciples trusted him due to his checkered past against the church. But as he earned their trust and was commissioned to be a missionary he faced conflict after conflict while serving the Lord.  We often opt for the easier paths in life but the basis for Paul’s decision making was not personal comfort but personal conformity to the Word and will of God and now as then sometimes that means a battle.

Then he stated he’d finished his course, the path God laid out for his life. None of us does this perfectly for we can deviate from God’s will being we still have free will and a sin nature. But like Paul, following God’s will needs to be typical of us rather than sporadic.   Finally, he said he kept the faith.   Guarding this as a precious commodity, Paul knew the intrinsic value of believing what God has said to guide, protect, provide for him and hone him to be more like his Savior all with the underlying motivation that God would be honored and glorified through his one life !

Paul then said in verse 8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”    Ahh, one day those students will walk the line and shake the hand of the leaders of the university and be handed their hard sought after degree.  Yet on a significantly higher level WE who are truly saved and fight, finish & keep the faith will be awarded an unfading crown which we’ll cast before Him since without Him no one could be blessed in any shape or form.   You’re still in “school” then, friend no matter how old or young, the school we call life and so get your head in the Book and live it out for the Lord so that one day He will say to YOU “Well done thou good and faithful servant” !

WHY?

We had a great Bible study tonight. Always good to see folks eager to come and hear the Lord’s Word !   I like it when we sing the song “Why?”  before the message as the hymn asks the question about WHY Jesus was crucified and answers that He paid the ransom for ME !   I hope you have actually personalized that precious answer and been legitimately born again.  If not check out the tab on our website called “How to Get to Heaven”.  If you have, then you truly grasp the answer to the query, “Why?” !!

We were in Nehemiah 7 tonight in our study in the book about BUILDING for God.  The walls had been built at that point in this book, the gates secured but Nehemiah did not rest easy though Satan had been beaten in the previous chapter with his various schemes.  Just as we dare not become complacent in our Christian life. Nehemiah set guards at the walls, in the city itself. He did not underestimate the attempts or ability of the enemy to undo the gains made for God. Nor must we !    Erect safeguards in your life. Don’t resort to questionable behavior or put yourself in a spot to be tempted, be diligent to spend time with Christ and build your relationship with Him, regularly confess YOUR sin to stay in fellowship with Him.

Also,  as Nehemiah selected good men to oversee the new work of God we also must choose godly friends as our best friends and like those appointed leaders we also need to be “faithful” (full of faith, reliable) people who decide to rise above the norms and stand up for the Lord ! Aspire to be Christlike and not worldly.  WHY?  Because Jesus did the greatest work FOR you !  Doesn’t it then  make sense we should give our best to Him??!!!

Proud of our church !!

What a blessing to have moved to State College in the past couple of months !  Our church did something unusual in selling our existing property to come closer to the population base in our area and though some might think selling is crazy from a real estate point of view it was motivated by a love for the Lord not money or building up a physical “kingdom”.   So I’m proud of our folks.     But what about you?   How do you typically make decisions? What’s your bottom line?

Many believers like this passage written centuries ago by Solomon:  “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”    Sound advice without a doubt, being penned not only by a very wise man but also inspired by the Spirit of God !  Its purely biblical and clearly goes against the grain of the worldly mantras of following your “gut”, trust your feelings, and the unspiritual  “self-esteem” gurus.   Yet, when the rubber meets the road of life and it’s time to make choices do you make those that are more consistent with His Word or your whims?   Recently I read a fascinating quote that says, “We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us !”       Oh how we need Christians who will be guided not by the “Almighty dollar” but by the Almighty !!  So proud of our church !!!!!

LISTEN UP !!

My high school football coach was a small man but he had huge talent. He had the eye of a professional team, in fact, and was given a try out but they decided not to take a chance on him given his size.  However, we knew he “had the moves” and could still see his talent even in his later 30’s. We respected his abilities and when he raised his voice, EVERYONE stopped and listened ! He would often yell, “LISTEN UP !!!”.   But sadly, to our fault, we didn’t always listen well when he spoke to us in a normal volume as teens are prone to do.

I wonder, how well are you listening to God lately?   It was the ancient Jews reciting their “Shema” each day: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” (Dt.6:4) that was designed by God to draw to His people’s attention to Him and His Word. And there is a need to listen carefully to Him knowing we are prone to be easily distracted, discouraged, and  defeated in this old world which bombards us with so much to divert us from Him.   We know we can read the Bible and listen to Him, but maybe like the first recipients to hear from the OT prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc teach us also to listen carefully to those happenings of life God permits to rivet our attention away from things to He Who has created all things !?   That trial we so quickly wish to end and pray that it will can certainly be the Lord’s way of saying to you, “LISTEN UP !”  because you’re cruising along in life apart from Him.   He so wants you fellowship, to walk with you each day but in doing so it is vital you hear Him.

So today, take a moment to listen.  Pay attention to those precious words of Scripture as you read them, meditate upon the lyrics of some great hymn, gaze at the stars and wonders of creation about you. David wrote, “The heavens DECLARE the glory of God. . . ” (Ps.19:1).   Maybe we’d have more peace if we had more listening ?!!

The Day of the Lord, how do you REALLY feel about it?

Well the summer is almost shot !  Its been a nice one but kinda sad to see it getting darker earlier but that is how things go.     We have been in our Sunday mornings doing some messages and there is a phrase that has jumped out to me:  the Day of the Lord.     What does that mean? When is it? Well, the OT prophets often used it and it basically refers to that time when God will have basically said “ENOUGH, I’M HERE, GAME ON FOLKS !!”

And not that God isn’t here.  But the Day of the Lord will be when God clearly is working to the saved and lost alike for He will start to judge the sinful of this old world and usher in His kingdom upon the earth.   But the Day of the Lord has a two-fold aspect to it just as we may enjoy our summers (positive) and dread the close of it (negative).  The negative to the Day of the Lord is obviously that God will judge the world for its sin, while the positive is that the saved will enjoy good times !    So the Day of the Lord all depends upon your perspective.  If you are truly born again there is no dread for you about this time, but if you are unsure about your salvation there would be.  So where are you truly at in your heart?  Have you sincerely admitted to Him you are a sinner and asked Him to be your Savior and noticed the peace, joy and transformation a true conversion to Christ brings?  Or are you unsure?   Better be sure because just like our summer fading away fast, so too the Day of the Lord draws near with every tick of the clock.

Paul wrote, “… behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the DAY of SALVATION”  (2 Cor.6:2).  If you are sure, what about someone around you who may not be certain?  Share how you were saved with them, encourage them to trust the Lord for their eternal destiny while there is yet time,  for the DAY OF THE LORD, like the end of summer, draws near !!

Silver Linings

Last week my wife and I had to travel to her home state for a sad reason. Her mother passed on to heaven. But the wonderful thing about being a Christian is even something so sad as death still has a ‘silver lining’ as that person immediately leaves this life and enters heaven’s glory !  It is a great comfort knowing Jesus rose from the dead and that being the case, those of us who are saved will also !!   Paul wrote, “. . . to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor.5:8).

We also enjoyed the ‘silver lining’ of seeing family members and friends we hadn’t in some time.   Yet heaven will insure that for all eternity, not just a week’s stay !    And as we read Scripture, prayed and sang great hymns of the faith, my mother-in-laws’s favorite being ” It is Well With My Soul” (which we sang at her bedside as she lay dying) and at her funeral later, we took comfort in the great truths from the lyrics. Another ‘silver lining’ despite sadness.

Finally, the preaching of God’s Word and comfort of their pastor was a ‘silver lining’ too.  I was struck by something he said at the gravesite as he referenced Gen.50:26 where we find the word “coffin” used the only time in the Bible. The Hebrew word means a money or hope chest.  A box wherein we place something of great value to us.  YOU are of immense value to God, He DIED for YOU !!!    No matter what hardship you may go through today or have been going through or will go through, even death itself, the ‘silver lining’ to it all is that YOU are so loved by God and the proof will one day be eternally seen as we see and sing and serve with Him forever in the sweet by and by !!

God’s little encouragements

It is amazing how God manifests Himself to us even in the “little things” of life.   I was dropping my wife off at Walmart for a simple return and not wanting to wade through the crowds decided to drop her off while I waited in the car.  As I jockeyed my vehicle for  a strategic position to pick her up upon her exit, I parked the car exactly where Cindy would be parked.  I didn’t know Cindy was parked there but she was.

Who is Cindy?  She is a wonderful Christian woman and Mom I’d met in Walmart some time back. I’d admired her children and how well she and her husband have disciplined them as they were so well behaved. I chatted with her and them and once in while God crosses our paths.  Cindy and her family (though we do not know each other very well yet – one day we shall all enjoy eternity together and get to know each other much better) are a wonderful encouragement to me.  She may not have realized it as we briefly chatted today, but she told me she still read these blogs. That was personally encouraging and God used her !

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Note the word “consider” as the passage begins.   There must be a mental/spiritual decision to encourage someone. The real key in this (since so many dwell on themselves and don’t give much thought to uplifting others) is one’s daily walk with Christ.  He is the driving force for us to be genuine encouragers and to think how we could minister to someone. Left to ourselves we’ll fixate on us, but when we give our heart to Him we become more considerate, more loving, more caring !

People are going though a lot at times. All kinds of trials weigh us down, but a simple word may pick someone up and then God has used you and manifested Himself to them through YOU !  Cindy is a blessing to me, I can tell from knowing her just briefly she takes her role as a Mom, a wife, a Christian very seriously and works hard at them. Thanks again Cindy, God is well pleased with your encouraging nature !!  And anyone else reading out there, tap into Christ today and let Him encourage you through His Word and in turn you will look to encourage others too !!!