Who Has the Final Say?

When it comes to your beliefs, morals, and practices who has the final say?  There are at least three choices – your heart, the culture, or God.  If we are Christians, we may instinctively say, “God” of course.  But your life and actions will reveal the true source of your standards.

YOUR HEART

We’ve all heard “be true to yourself,” “follow you heart,” “do what feels right to you,” “do what makes you happy.”  These are all well-intentioned sayings, but if we truly did was what “right” to our hearts, the results could have major consequences.  Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it.”  Our hearts are prone to wonder.  Our hearts can deceive us.  Our hearts can mislead us.

Your heart cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6

CULTURE

Sometimes it’s easy to look at popular public opinion, political views, or celebrity endorsements to see the moral landscape of our cultural.  It’s easy to understand and accept these viewpoints as we are always inundated by them.  It’s easy to go along with what our friends believe, what our family thinks, what our peers suggest.  When we let the culture have the final say on what to believe or practice, we will find that our beliefs and practices will constantly be changing because there is no grounding, no truth, no standard on which these belief systems are based off upon.

Our culture cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“See to it that no one takes you capture by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Colossians 2:8

GOD’S WORD

The Word of God is our standard for truth, morality, and beliefs.  There is no other standard outside of God and His Word.  When we disagree with what the Word of God says, the problem is always with us – our hearts, our culture.  There is an ultimate standard for truth, and it’s found in God’s Word.  If you want to know what to believe or how to live, you shouldn’t look to the world, but to God’s Word.  This can only happen through regularly immersing ourselves in God’s Word.  This takes effort.  You will not drift into a biblical worldview, you must pursue it by reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, meeting together with other believers, and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.  We cannot spend our time reading the opinions of others and being engrossed in what our culture tells us and then expect a biblical worldview to happen because we claim Christianity.  God’s Word needs to be in our minds daily as we battle though all the other truth claims that our world or our own hearts may throw our way.

God’s Word has the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

“Your word is truth.” John 17:17b

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

Learning Leads to Living

This week I want to share with you an excerpt that I read from my wife’s, Rachel Noble’s blog. I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me:
It’s funny how Paul begins most of his letters with such rich theology and then only after he has displayed these sometimes difficult theological topics, that he then says “therefore – live this way.”  I think this pattern teaches us that LEARNING is what is suppose to LEAD us to Godly LIVING.

Every Christian is a student of God’s Word.  Some are good students and some are bad students.  But we are all called to study God, read God’s Word, know God, deal with the difficult passages about God, so that we truly get to know Him.  Not doing so, is sin for the Christian.

Without knowing God, our moral efforts mean nothing.  God is not pleased with piousness that doesn’t reflect the gospel.  Just look at the Pharisees.  They were pious, “moral,” and they followed the rules etc.  But to what end?  Without the redeeming love of Jesus as reflected in the gospel, our works mean nothing.

Good morals are the overflow of our relational knowledge of God.  Being told to obey God or “follow rules” is not what makes people follow rules, knowing God’s Word is what produces obedience to God.  Good works should be spilling out of us if we continually learning about Him.  We are to love God with all of our MIND (Luke 10:27).  Not just our emotions or affections are involved in loving Jesus, but our minds as well.  God gave us minds so that we can use them to think about Him, to learn about Him, to grow in our knowledge of Him.

What makes us want to obey God?  What fuels a desire to follow Jesus?  Knowing Him!  Growing up in church and getting formal Biblical training through going to Bible college has made me realize that the more I learn about Jesus, the Bible, and theology the more I want to follow Him.  The more in depth I know His Word and learn about Him, the more it pushes me to live for Him.

I’ve heard it said that we are to try to live a moral life that pleases God, then once we master that, if we have time, we can study theology.  This could not be further from the truth!  In fact, the opposite is true.

Learning theology leads to Godly living.
Learning about the cross leads to Godly living.
Learning about the Levitical system leads to Godly living.
Learning about the life of Paul leads to Godly living.
Learning God’s Word leads to Godly living.
Learning about the miracles of Jesus leads to Godly living.
Learning about the book of Amos leads to Godly living.

No matter what book of the Bible I read, no matter what theological topic I study, learning and studying it stirs in me a longing for God and a desire to spread the gospel.

Life is about the gospel and living  it out is what happens when you truly study theology.  If you are struggling to “do the things you want” and not do the “things you hate” (Romans 7:15-16) then these are the things that have helped me:

1.)  Study God’s Word – don’t just read it, study it.  Use commentaries, lexicons, etc.  Actually study it as if you were in Bible college.  🙂

2.)  Read Theology Books – Piper, Sproul, MacAurthur, Chan, Platt, Grudem, Carson, Chandler (and so many others)
3.)  Engage in Church – don’t just sit in the pew then go home.  Talk with your fellow believers and pastors.  Engage in real relationships with them.  They will teach you.  

Live for Jesus – it’s the only way to truly live.

3 Ways to Pray For Your Student This School Year

Can you believe it, in just a few weeks school starts again. Vacations, beach trips, and sleepy summer days are coming to an end and will soon be replaced by hectic schedules, extracurricular activities, and early mornings. As the business of life returns here are three ways you can pray for the students in your life:

1.They Grow in their Knowledge of Christ

The school year brings new classes, new teachers, new material, homework, papers, exams and lots of opportunity for learning. An increase in knowledge is a certainty for each student this semester. And for many parents and students a like an emphasis will be placed on good grades, and rightfully so, but of all the knowledge to be gained this school year, let it be your prayer that the students in your life would gain knowledge in Christ above all else. In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul prays that the church of Colossae would increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Our prayer for our students should be no different.

We ought to pray that our students would have a love for God’s Word and a discipline to study it well. We should pray that they would have a desire and commitment to regular church and youth group attendance where they will be taught the Word of God faithfully week in and week out.

We all want our children to do well in the classroom and to increase in their academic knowledge, but let it be our prayer that they would increase in their knowledge of Christ first and foremost.

2. Grow in Sharing Christ

In elementary school many students are required to share something from home with their class for show and tell. Middle and high school students are often required to share a class project or book report with their peers. Many students share germs, lunches, and telephone numbers. Lots of sharing takes place at school, but let it be your prayer that of all the things your students are sharing that they would be faithful to share Christ with those around them.

One of Paul’s requests to the Colossian church is that they would pray for God to open doors for him to share the gospel (Colossians 4:3). This is a great way for us to pray for our students.

3. Be a Light in the Dark

We live in a dark world filled with evil and our classrooms are no different. Our students have a great opportunity to share the light of Christ with those around them (Matthew 5:16), but it is no easy task. There is opposition and there is temptation at every corner. We need to pray, as Paul does in Colossians 1:10, that our children would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work.”

There are many things to pray for this school year but be sure to pray these three prayers for your students regularly.

Confess Even If You’re Not Wrong

There is a prayer in Nehemiah chapter 1. This prayer is a response to Nehemiah hearing that tragedy has hit his homeland, Jerusalem. This prayer of Nehemiah is filled with praise, petition, and confession. Part of his prayer goes like this: “I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:6b-7).

Nehemiah acknowledged that he and the people of Israel had sinned against God. It’s interesting to notice that Nehemiah says “we” as he confesses sin. He doesn’t just look introspectively and confess his own personal sins. He confesses the sins of Israel corporately. He confesses the sins of his people as a unit.

Confession of sin is something we should be doing regularly. Most of the time when we do this, we are looking inwardly as to what we need confess, what we need to work on, what we need to improve. The thought of confessing to God the sins of others may seem like a foreign concept. But we are all a part of a larger body. We are all part of a family, church, city, and nation. The sins of each of those communities are sins we need to confess to God. How often do we think of ourselves in terms of family, church, or nation, and not just an individual when it comes to confession of sin? When Nehemiah confesses some of these sins, these are things that he, individually, may or may not have done, but nevertheless, he is part of Israel, so he confesses them to God. Nehemiah lumps himself in with Israel and confessed their sin corporately. If we live in community with our family or our church family, this community mindset should be seen in our prayer and confession as well.

We may or may not be guilty of certain sins that our family, church, or nation are guilty of, but we are a part of that community and as community members we go to God and confess the community’s shortcomings.

Imagine you are having a family get-together at a public park and one of your family members gets into an altercation with a stranger over who saw an open picnic table first,  and after they have argued for a few minutes, you notice that your family member has now shoved this stranger to the ground. You run in to stop the fight. You send your family member away and you begin to apologize to the stranger for what has happened even though you had nothing to do with it.

Why? Because you are a part of the community that has harmed this person and you feel a sense of guilt and responsibility. The same is to be true in the communities in which we belong. We are to realize when the community that we belong to has failed God and confess those failures to Him.

Confession of sin, both corporate and individual, should be a regular habit in our lives. When we confess our sin to God, we are acknowledging that we are wrong, and we are showing God our great dependence on Him.

For the unbeliever who confesses his sin and turns in faith to Jesus, he is acknowledging his wrongdoing and his great dependence on God for salvation. He is acknowledging that he is a sinner and that he cannot save himself. He is completely and utterly dependent on the work of Christ on his behalf for salvation. For the believer, confession of sin shows his great need of sanctification. He is acknowledging that although he is redeemed and his salvation is secure, he is not where he needs to be.

Confess sin regularly.

Pray the Bible

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life”. – Jonathan Edwards

“Prayer can never be in excess.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Certainly, prayer is a critical part of the Christian life. However, if you’re like me, you tend to struggle in couple areas of prayer:

First, we often pray only for temporal things rather than eternal ones. We pray for safe travel, food to nourish our bodies, exams to be passed, and for illness to go away. There is nothing wrong with praying for these things. But in addition to these, we should also pray for spiritual matters. We should pray for unbelievers to come to faith, discipleship opportunities, spiritual growth in our lives and in the lives of those around us, These things, and more, should be our primary focus in prayer, but so often we spend more time on temporal prayer requests then we do eternal ones. This should not be.

Second, we get distracted in prayer. We start to pray, we don’t necessarily have a direction that we’re headed, then we lose concentration and begin to think about other things derailing us from quality time with God.

How do we combat these two areas of struggle regarding prayer? One great way to combat these things is to pray the Bible. The Bible is filled with wonderful prayers. We have the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we have numerous prayers from the apostle Paul in his epistles, we have Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, we have Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, the Psalms are filled with prayers. All throughout the Bible we find prayer. We would do well to use these prayers as a guide for our own prayers.

Praying the Bible is critical. In fact, John Piper put this way. He says:

“Praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.” – John Piper

It is important that we make a regular habit of praying the Bible. It will help us both with the content of our prayers and our focus while praying.

We Do What We Value Most

We do what is important to us.

In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.

In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.

From this parable we can see two things:

First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.

Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.

We do what is most important to us.

We make time.

We find a way.

If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.

Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.

We Need Reminding

In Psalm 103 we see David repeatedly using the phrase “bless the Lord, O my soul”. To “bless the Lord” was to “praise the Lord”. So, David was exhorting himself to praise God. He was trying to stir up in himself praise and adoration for God.

And the way David motivated himself to praise God was to remind himself of who God was and what God had done for Him. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v.2). There is a real correlation between blessing God and remembering all His benefits (provision, mercy, sovereignty, etc.).

So often the reason we are not satisfied in God and therefore do not praise Him as we should is because we forget all His benefits. That’s why David proclaims, “Let my soul not forget the benefits of God” because when we forget all that God has done, we don’t rejoice in Him as we should.

When it comes to God, forgetfulness equals joylessness. And we are a forgetful people. We forget to turn the lights off, take the trash out, pay the electric bill, etc. These are things that we forget. And so often when we forget there are consequences. Some are small and insignificant, others are big and costly, but there are often consequences to our forgetfulness. And when it comes to God the consequence of forgetfulness is joylessness. When we are not reminded of who God is and what God has done for us then it’s easy to become discontent and depressed in life. The joy of the Lord is missing because we’re not dwelling on Him.

David stirs himself up to praise and adoration for God by reminding himself of the benefits of God.

We too need to regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us. It is crucial in the pursuit of joy that we regularly read God’s Word, listen to Biblical preaching, and have godly mentors in our lives to remind us again and again of the benefits we have in Christ.

 

3 Ways of Encouragement

I just celebrated my one year anniversary at my new job.  For my anniversary my co-workers got me a balloon, a cannoli cupcake (which was delicious), and a card.  The card was filled with kind words and thoughtful messages.  It was really encouraging to know that others cared about me and appreciated certain characteristics that the saw in me.

After receiving that card it got me thinking, “Are we as Christians as encouraging to each other as all the unbelievers in my office are to me?  The people who wrote me this encouraging card are not Christians.  They do not have the love of Christ in their hearts and yet they wrote and said such encouraging words.  Sometimes those outside the Christian faith can be more loving and encouraging than those inside of it.  And that should not be.  The world should not outdo us in love and encouragement. We have experienced the love of Christ and have been given new hearts and affections.  We should be noticeably loving and encouraging to those around us.

Commanded to Encourage 

The Bible commands that we encourage each other.   Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and then again he reminds them to, “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  The writer of Hebrews thought that encouragement was so important that he commanded his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).  The book of Acts is filled with examples of the early church encouraging each other in the faith (Acts 13:15, Acts 16:40, Acts 18:27, Acts 20:1-2).  Encouraging those around you is commanded, but how can we do this?

How to Encourage

There are at least 3 forms of encouragement: compliment, good news, and motivating. Each of these are important ways we can encourage others.

  • Compliment and Appreciate – You can encourage someone by appreciating characteristics, abilities, and accomplishments that you have noticed in their life.  You might let them know that you are impressed by their athletic ability, proud of their work ethic, or that you love their sense of humor.  There are numerous ways that you can encourage others by complimenting them.
  • Share Good News – Good news can lift your spirits and encourage: You go to the doctor and find out that the cancer is gone.  Your boss calls you into his office and let’s you know he is going to give you a raise.  You get your report card and your grades are good.  This kind of news is encouraging.  Certainly, we are not always able to share this kind of dramatic news, but as opportunities arise we should seek to share good news with others.
  • Motivate and Support – You can encourage someone by pushing them to do their best.  When I have a workout partner, I am typically going to have a better workout than when I am alone.  I am motivated to try harder and lift more because I have someone spurring me on to do better.  I am encouraged to work harder in a way that I wouldn’t be if there was no one there pushing me.  We can encourage others in that same way in multiple areas of life.

It is good to encourage one other in these ways, but as Christian it is even more important that we encourage each other in the faith.

Encourage in the Faith 

  • Compliment and Appreciate – Paul would regularly compliment his readers by appreciating their godly characteristics and ministry accomplishments.  He boasts of the Roman believers’ faith that was “proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8).  He spoke of the Ephesian Christians’ “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15).  He compliments the Philippian church because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5).  When a church was doing something well, he let them know about.  He wanted them to be encouraged in their Christian growth and ministerial pursuits.  We too should compliment other Christians when we notice their godly character and ministry efforts.  We want them to be encouraged by the work God is doing in and through them.
  • Share Good News – In his first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul tells his readers that when a believer passes away they should not mourn like the world mourns “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).  The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for the believer.  There is eternal life and unending joy in the presence of God. This is the hope of every believer.  After sharing these truths with the Thessalonians, Paul then tells them to “encourage one another with these words” (Thessalonians 4:18).  This good news is meant to be shared as a means of encouragement.  As believers we can encourage each other by sharing the good news of God’s Word with one another.
  • Motivate and Support – The Author of Hebrews commands his audience to consider how they can “stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  As a form of encouragement the Hebrew Christians were to stir each other on to love and good works.  They were to motivate each other in the Christian life.  We too are to consider ways that we can help other Christians grow in their walk with Jesus.  We might ask that they come with us to a Bible study, or read a theology book along side of us, or join us as we evangelize the lost.  There are endless ways that we can encourage other Christians to move forward in the faith, we just need to resolve that we will.

The Bible calls us to encourage one other in the faith.  Find someone who you might encourage today.

 

 

3 Reasons to Attend Church Regularly

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

The Reason for the Season

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well.  But so often we fail to miss the reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends today do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

Are You Suffering?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.

Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.

How Do You Train?

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

 

I recently read that Olympian Michael Phelps, when competing, would train for 5 -6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He put a lot of time and effort into his Olympic training. It certainly paid off. He has won numerous gold medals and is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.

 

We may not be at the level of Michael Phelps, but we regularly train ourselves. We have training at work. We have training at school. We take courses that train us to be financially stable. We go to the gym to train. We go to the soccer field or the basketball court to train. We spend a lot of time training ourselves to better in many areas. These things are good. You will notice that Paul, in the passage above says that, “bodily training is of some value” (v8).  There is value to our training. It is good to improve ourselves at work, school, and the soccer field. It is good to go to the gym every now and then. We are called to hard work and to do things well and training is a part of that.

 

Although Paul says that “bodily training is of some value” you will notice that he says, “godliness if of value in every way” (v8) and therefore he says to “train yourself for godliness” (7). We spend a lot of time training ourselves in many ways, but how often do we train ourselves in godliness? Is this something we even consider?

 

As a people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been changed from the inside out our thoughts ought to be on the eternal rather than the temporal (Colossians 3:1). Our desire to be more like Christ should be stronger than our desire to be successful, athletic, good looking, etc. The goal in the life of the believer should not be physical, financial, or mental fitness, but spiritual.

 

Here are some ways, by the grace of God, that the we can train ourselves in godliness:

 

  • Pray – Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38) and “Pray then like this… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). There is a real correlation between praying and fighting sin. To train in godliness to pray regularly.

 

  • Bible Reading – Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we are not regularly reading the Bible, then we are not equipped as for godliness as we could be. To train in godliness is to read God’s Word often.

 

  • Christian Community – The Author of Hebrews writes, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There is a way that we can be encouraged and stirred on in the Christian life though Christian community that we cannot achieve on our own. To train in godliness is to surround yourself with Christian community.

 

Of all the hours and ways, we train, let’s be sure that we work in a heavy dose of training in godliness.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Three Reasons to Preach Through the Bible

God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow. Below are three reasons why this truth changes how we preach.

  1. Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If you are like me, then your preaching tends to lean towards your favorite Biblical themes. For me it often ends up being the gospel message or God’s sovereignty in salvation. For you it could be eschatology or church membership or a million other things. Typically, we are bent to our preferred Biblical themes in preaching. If we just chose our favorite things to preach on, those few things would be all that our congregation hears. However, when we preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, we are going to preach on things that we may never think to preach on our own. This is a healthier form of preaching because it allows the church to be exposed to the whole counsel of God rather than preaching only the portion that the preacher is inclined toward. God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow.  This makes for a more mature church body.

  1. Keep Scripture in Context

When you are preaching topically, it can be easier to take a verse out of context, even if it’s accidental. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible will force you to study the context surrounding the passage. You will be doing an in-depth study of that particular passage. Since you are chronologically going through it and the context is there for everyone to see, it will be more difficult to err because of lack of study within context. Whereas, if you were to just grab a verse that seems to fit your topic and place it in your message, you may not be preaching it in the context that it was intended. Therefore, you are at risk of misrepresenting God’s Word. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

  1. Get the Full Story

The Bible was written as letters, songs, stories, etc. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I don’t think he intended them to read the first 2 verses and then read 2 verses from Exodus, and then one verse from Proverbs. When he wrote his letters, he intended them to be read as a whole unit, in context. Because the Bible was written in this form, I think it’s a good idea to preach through all that Paul intended his readers to hear. This will also help the hearer to remember last week’s sermon and put the pieces of Scripture together to flow as a unit. Preaching through books of the Bible helps this to take place.

Whether you’re preaching or hearing, may God bless you and may the whole counsel of His Word run swift into our hearts.

How Do You Pray?

Prayer is an important component of the Christians life. I recently read that Scripture records Jesus praying 25 times during His earthly ministry.  Paul discusses prayer 41 times in Scripture.  There are a total of 650 recorded prayers in the Bible. Clearly, God highly values prayer. It is regularly mentioned in the pages of Scripture and if God thinks that prayer is important, we should as well.
When you pray what do you typically pray for? If you are anything like me your prayer life can be heavily focused on the temporal and absent of the eternal. You pray for good health, financial stability, high scores on a test, and blessings for the food you are about to eat. These are our typically prayers. And certainly we should ask God for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and bring our many temporal requests before Him. We have needs and we are dependent on God.  Therefore, we go to Him for help.
However, temporal requests should not be the main purpose of our prayer life.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) our “daily bread” is sandwiched (no pun intended) between eternally significant matters.  Hallowing the name of God, asking for the kingdom of God to come, asking for forgiveness, and asking to be lead away from temptation come directly before and after the request for daily bread.  All throughout the Bible we see prayers that focus on eternal matters like glorifying Christ and seeking His kingdom.
Colossians 4:2-4 says:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
 
Paul is in prison as he pens this letter and his request for prayer could have easily been, “Please pray that I get out of here as soon as possible” or “that my time here be very comfortable”, or even “that God would avenge me and destroy my captors.”  However, that was not Paul’s focus.  His request for prayer was not personal and temporal, but on the eternally significant request that there would be opportunity for declaring the mystery of Christ.  He was asking that the Colossian Christians would pray for gospel-sharing opportunities (4:3) and for clarity in the proclamation of it (4:4). 
 
How often do we pray like this? How often do we pray for gospel advancement in our lives and in the lives of other Christians? 
 
As we regularly go to God in prayer, let’s not forget to pray for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the edification and growth of believers.  Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers that can change the world for Christ.  We can have confidence that we have a God that hears our prayers and delights in answering them.
 
Pray prayers that have eternal significance.