Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Plodding Through His Word


If there is one thing as a church that I would encourage you to consider doing this next year it would be to invest time into reading God’s Word each day.  Some of you may have never read the Word of God from cover to cover.  I believe you would find it to be one of life’s rewarding achievements!  He longs to speak to us and challenge us through His Word and yet many of us never hear from Him personally. 
David says in Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your
truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”  This is one of my favorite verses in the book of Psalms that convicts me of the need to be in the Word of God.  I walk best and understand His truth when I am spending time in His Word.  I am so much more resolved to stay focused on what really matters when I am consulting Him each day.  God’s principles serve to keep my heart from entertaining ungodly thoughts and actions.  I want the undivided heart for God alone that David speaks about!  This happens when we are strengthened by God; there is no supplement that can replace what He gives us to function each day.
We have posted five different reading plans on our web site in order to help you spend time in God’s Word.  Perhaps reading through the New Testament alone would be a great accomplishment for you.  Ask a friend to walk this journey with you and ask them to help keep you accountable.  If you forget a day then just pick up the next day. 
Imagine what Maywood could look like if the entire membership was spending time reading God’s Word and praying to Him each day.  Satan would be defeated in so many areas of our life.  Many of us would not look the same at the end of the year and some folks may never recognize us.  Let’s give God the liberty to chisel away at us this next year in order that we could begin to look more like Jesus Christ.
Word of God Speak to us!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's In a Name

A name says a great deal about a product, a place, and even a person.  Names are typically chosen carefully to reflect the character and quality of things and individuals.  This was especially true in the days gone by, and significant names were given to the Christ Child to demonstrate His character.

In my reading today one name that stands out is found Luke 1:32.  The angel continues his summary of the person and work of Christ: he says, “He will be called the Son of the Highest.” “Highest” was simply a title for God, clearly indicating that no one is higher than He is.  Mary and other righteous Jews were familiar with that title because it is used throughout the Old Testament.  In fact, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek term used by Luke is one many of us know: El Elyon, which means “God Most High.”  That title refers to God’s sovereignty and the fact that no one is higher, more exalted, or more powerful than He is.

To identify Jesus as the Son of the Highest is to declare that He has the same essence as the Most High God. Hebrews 1:3-4 says this about Jesus:  "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs."  Jesus told His disciples, “‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9). And He boldly asserted to His Jewish opponents, “‘I and My Father are one’” (John 10:30).  Gabriel announced, and the New Testament confirms, that Jesus unquestionably was and is worthy of His divine title, because He truly is the Son of God.   

Take time to study the various names of Christ and God in Scripture to learn more about their character and attributes.


 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Mystery of Immanuel



I appreciate reading David Jeremiah in how he reflected on the beauty of the name Immanuel.  He says, “of all the names of the Lord Jesus that were given to Him for His time on this earth, this one is my favorite.” The name Immanuel, which being translated, is “God with us.”

As Christians, we sometimes feel that in order to really appreciate our faith, we need to understand everything about it. But the more I study the Gospel, the more I become aware of the vastness of truth that I do not comprehend. The one thing I will never comprehend is God becoming a man. But I must not put myself in a corner and say that in order for me to appreciate and believe it, I must completely comprehend it. Paul seemed almost overcome by the thought of it when writing to his young friend Timothy. In 1 Timothy 3:16 he wrote, “And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” Paul was saying to young Timothy, “I can’t explain this. But let me just tell you this. There is no controversy at all about it. Without controversy, great is the mystery.”  How do we explain godliness?

Isn’t it wonderful to be able to pause for a moment and reflect on the mystery and the wonder of our God? Wondering at the Christ Child. Wondering at Immanuel. Wondering at God manifested in the flesh. God became a man—like our own children, you, and I.

Writer after writer has tried to help us understand the majestic mystery of God manifested in the flesh. For instance, C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote these words: “The second person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many pounds. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body.”

I’m not so sure anybody would have ever crafted such an amazing plan for the incarnation of Christ? Would we have made that plan to rescue lost mankind? Would we have sent the Redeemer in a manger, wrapped in strips of swaddling cloth? Would we have had Him born in a stable built for animals? Would we have had His first visitors be the despised shepherds of the hillside? It is a mystery beyond mysteries, a story written by the finger of God, and one that we will never comprehend. But it is also one that we should always appreciate.  

Have a Christ-Filled Christmas with Immanuel! ~~Pastor Gary

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gospel Centered Life


I’m not sure about you, but each day when I wake up my feet hit the floor running with so many things that I need to accomplish.  Of course, the most important things that I should do are a challenge to complete due to unexpected phone calls, emails, or incidents throughout the day.  Life never seems to unfold the way that I anticipate.  I’m sure that if we sat down together we would all identify only a handful of things that really matter each day to truly accomplish.  All of the other things could probably be tossed out and deemed insignificant.
Let’s name those things that are TOP priority together.  Time with God in His Word just seems like the right and best thing to do each day.  The question is “how do I plan on it happening each day”.  Perhaps we could catch a verse on the Christian radio station as we travel to work or we could wake up fifteen minutes earlier to spend time alone with Him because we can’t make it without Him.
We would probably agree that praying is the lifeline that keeps us going all day long.  However, our praying may seem like tiny little fragments of time that we talk to God behind the steering wheel, in the rest room, or when a tense moment arises throughout the day.  I believe we would agree that God desires and deserves meditative prayer in order to seek His heart and praise His name.  If the quality of our relationship with Him is revealed by the time we spent with Him it could be embarrassing to us all.
I believe that it goes without saying that God has placed us all on a mission, which is to share the Gospel message (Acts 2:32-37).  Each day is a new opportunity to carry the Gospel a little further than we did yesterday.  Each day has new faces and ways to share the Gospel.  The question is, “is it a priority for me to share”?  If so, who and when was the last time we shared it with another person?  When our feet hit the floor in the mornings, might we ask, “who can I share the Gospel with today”?
These three spiritual disciplines:  time in the Word, time in prayer, and sharing the Gospel should be on the to do list each day.  In fact, they should occupy the top three lines of that list.  In essence, since we have been touched by the grace of God in our own lives, some other things just really don’t seem as significant.  When we focus on these top priorities it is amazing how God manages the other things for us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Power of a Thank You

Probably one of the best things my parents instilled in me was to have a thankful heart for anything that someone did for me or gave me.  I was encouraged to always say "thank you" for the smallest of things and if I wasn't sure if I said it then I should say it again to be safe.  Please know that I'm not saying I'm the best at being thankful but I always strive to let people know how much their kindness means to me.   Every time someone gives me the smallest gift I try to make a note on my list as a reminder to send them a thank you.  In fact, I carry thank you cards in my backpack so if I have a few moments somewhere I can send one off.

Over the years, working with the youth at the church I would always try to tell a young person how much it meant to me that they would tell me thank you.  In essence I was thanking them for thanking me.  Sounds goofy I know but I believe it is that important as it honors others.  When we would have a youth event at someone's house I would always tell the kids to make sure they said thank you to our host three times--my thinking was they might say it at least once.  We were always welcomed back and it helped that we really cleaned up after ourselves.

God esteems a thankful heart and desires that we express gratitude towards others (Ephesians 4); however, consider how much HE wants to be thanked in the following verses. 
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
  • Ephesians 5:20 "Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"
  • Psalm 136:26 "Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever."
  • Psalm 106:1-2 "Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?"
  • Psalm 100:4 "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!"
  • Psalm 136:1 "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever."
This Thanksgiving, may I challenge you in two ways:
      1. Share around the table how you are thankful for one another.
      2. Spend time this week just thanking God for being your God.
A thankful heart is spiritually healthy!  It pleases the heart of God and encourages the hearts of one another.  With so much bitterness and negativity around you, don't underestimate the Power of a Thank You.  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog today ; )

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The IMPACT of the Gospel


The Gospel is not just a message we share with those who do not know Christ.  And, it is so much more than a get out of Hell free card!  The Gospel is what should give believers purpose each and every day.  The Gospel is the ongoing message that God loves us and desires us to walk in ways that please Him alone.  The decisions Christians make each day should speak loudly about the life-changing Gospel that has touched their lives.  Christ made it possible, by the giving of Himself as the only acceptable sacrifice, for all mankind to be brought into communion with God.  In fact, the Gospel not only brings a sinner into relationship with God, it is the work of the Gospel that collapses walls between enemies and allows them to enjoy one another’s fellowship—not just tolerate them!  This indeed is the mystery of the Gospel that the apostle Paul described.  I hope we all believe in the power of the Gospel since there is NOBODY we can’t forgive because of how the Gospel has changed our lives.
As Christians, our hearts should long for the words of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:15-17).  However, in order for that to happen we must be spending time in the Word.  The early church was marked by its desire to know God’s Words and His Words served as the FOUNDATION of this first church. The Gospel not only creates a desire to know God through His Word more, but it prompts an uncommon love and concern for others (Acts 2:42-47).
The very first church not only set a pattern for future churches, but it established high priorities for God and others.  The church celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, prayed together, praised together, and they were very in tune with one another’s needs.   This type of love for one another demanded a loose grip on their personal schedules, priorities, and possessions.  The community that was observing this Christian behavior was “favorably” impressed and many of them were coming to know Christ, being added to the church regularly (day by day, Acts 2:47).
We can be guilty of building a church on the wrong foundation and preaching Gospel-light messages that don’t bring salvation or lasting change.  Programs and fanciful methods do not necessarily equate God’s glory being radiated from His church.  However, churches built on the authority of God’s Word, praising and proclaiming the saving Gospel, caring for one another, and all in prayerful dependence upon God are prepared to grow for His glory.  Healthy organisms always experience growth and so it is with spiritually healthy churches!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Gospel of the Church


Over the years there has been much talk by pastors about the poor spiritual state of their local churches.  Questions are asked, “How can folks behave or live in this manner?” and “Why do folks show no urgency to personally share the Gospel?”.  These are indeed fair questions and many more could be asked.  We could suggest that there is no accountability, they have never been taught Biblically, leadership has done a poor job, or that sin has just entered into the church—these could all be true.
Almost all churches require that an individual desiring to be a church member be a professing Christian—after all that is the Biblical pattern found in Scripture (believers were added unto the church—Acts 2:41).  The Bride of Christ (the church) is comprised of those who have placed their faith and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and those believers should be living in obedience to the Word of God which gives proof of that conversion (Eph. 5:1-19; Matt. 7:15-23).  This is why it is so important to understand that Biblical repentance reveals itself in a new way of life and a putting to death of the “old man” (Romans 6:1-7; Gal. 2:20).
One of the challenges is that the church has allowed non-believers into membership and I believe it occurs for lack of knowledge of what the Gospel of Christ is truly about.  PLEASE know that I welcome non-believers to church and we are talking membership.  The church leadership, in most churches, is responsible to hear the testimonies of those desiring membership and to make sure there has been a salvation decision.  It is difficult to argue when somebody says that they’re a Christian or that they have asked Jesus into their hearts.  Might there be value in defining the Gospel to that individual?  Some people live very upright lives and don’t know the first thing about the Gospel, which makes it difficult.
The Gospel is the engine of the church that drives all the church does.  Scripture is also clear that nothing happens without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).  The church needs a clear understanding of the Gospel:  that all men (and women) are sinners, condemned to an eternity in Hell, separated from a Holy God, unable to save themselves, but Jesus Christ (the Son of God, the sinless, perfect sacrifice) died for all sinfulness and that those who repent and put their belief in Him can have forgiveness—this is how we are drawn into a relationship with God.  God can finally accept us because we are now dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Without a Biblical basis for what the Gospel really is it becomes a matter of personal morality and any behavior can be justified.  A life of obedience, beginning with baptism, gives proof of the Gospel change that has occurred (Acts 2:36-41). 
As Christians, we cannot afford to disguise or sugar coat the Gospel to get others to accept it—getting others to accept it is God’s job.  We are to live as empowered witnesses of the Gospel—after all, we have first-hand experience (Acts 1:8).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spirit Empowered Church

As pastors, we understand that one of the greatest tasks that we have is to train God’s people to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13).  It is a never-ending task as people continue to come to know Christ as Savior.  However, one of my greatest concerns is that this work is often done within our own power, wisdom, and strength.  Christians can be consumed at striving to accomplish great things for God apart from the empowerment that He continually provides through His Spirit. 

The promise of God’s Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ (John 14) was meant to indwell believers as they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9).  Christ’s desire is that His followers accomplish wonderful things for His glory.  However, the same Spirit that leads, directs, empowers, enlightens, convicts, protects, and secures believers is too often not acknowledged or embraced in the Christian walk.  The Spirit is the power for this new life.  He begins a lifelong process of change as believers become more like Christ (Galatians 3:3; Philippians 1:6). Those who receive Christ by faith begin an immediate, personal relationship with God and it is the Holy Spirit who works in them to help them become like Christ.

                   
I stand amazed at how the Spirit unites the Christian community in Christ (Ephesians 2:19–22).  In the series that we are currently studying, The Church in Motion, we see this week that those onlookers of Christ’s new church stood in amazement at the work of the Holy Spirit in the believers (Acts 2:1-13).  It may sound child-like but that is the type of church that “I want”—for His glory.  What truly marked the church for greatness was an unusual unity that could only come by the work of the Holy Spirit.  The great tasks that the church would accomplish came through keeping in step with the Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:25).  

 The coming of the Holy Spirit to the church at Jerusalem was only the beginning of many great miracles to come.  God’s Spirit would work in hearts to transform believers, convict the world of sin, bring Jews and Gentiles together, serve as a Counselor to believers, bring unity in the church, empower the church to do great things in the community, help believers to understand the truths of God’s Word, and so many more!


The CHALLENGE remains:  We strive to work independently from the Spirit of God!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Church in Motion


I must tell you that I’m honored to be a shepherd of God’s flock at Maywood.  There is no other job that I would rather do besides shepherd!  Please pray for this transition into lead pastor and as I pass along other responsibilities and give myself to sermon preparation, leadership development, and to creative ways of developing the vision of Maywood.  In no way could I do the work of this ministry without other shepherds and great leaders that I labor with.  God has equipped Maywood with a wonderful team of men who are committed to having their Lord glorified through the advancement of the Gospel.  Each week I’ll strive to have a challenge for Maywood in the Newsletter and my blog site called The Shepherd’s Corner.  This can be found on the front page of our church web site.
For the next six weeks we will be examining The Church in Motion as seen in the book of Acts.  As a young boy, God instilled a love for His church within me through parents who made it a priority to be at church several times a week.  Although there were times that I thought there were better things that I could be doing I found the church to be my real passion.  Our family knew where we belonged on Sundays and Wednesdays and we were often the last ones out of the church building.  The fellowship was so sweet and I longed to grow in God’s Word. 
I believe God’s church is the agency that He works through today and it is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).  He makes His glory known through the church that Christ died for and allows believers to play a significant part in it (Ephesians 1:12).  The church is both an organization and an organism.  It was designed to thrive as we function according to God’s Word.  God’s church is intended to be an exciting place of lively worship—certainly not dead.  I believe that it is the Gospel that propels the church to be the church in the community.  Praying, planning, teaching, and intentionally sharing the Gospel must be a top priority to us individually and as a church.  Christianity in North America is growing at one of the lowest rates in the world.  Our own Jerusalem (Rockford) must be evangelized by us individually!  My heart rejoices to know that God promised and delivered the power necessary for us to be that witness (Acts 1:8) in our community!  Please, let’s commit to doing it together! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Learning to Just Wait on God

One of the hardest things in my life is learning to wait!!!!  I really do not like lines.  To let go of what we could never control in the first place is a great step of wisdom and Christian maturity. Letting go demonstrates a great trust in God's ability and in His sovereign hand.  It accepts His plans as being better than what we could ever desire.  I'm saddened to say that too often my greatest comfort comes when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and when I have a firm grip on my present circumstances.  Many times I've hung on to things that I wish I would have never clung to.  Looking at a clock and knowing that there is an end to what I'm going through can sustain me at times, but what if God did not have an end in mind.  What if His answer for me was to wait a little longer because it was best for me?  Could I still trust Him to be God and in control?  Learning to trust the character of God for who He says He is and for what he says He can do brings a supernatural peace that passes ALL understanding.  

As I pray today in my prayer journal for churches and leaders around the country I'm reminded of Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  Great things begin to happen when we wait and petition the Father for His best for us all!  Spending time alone with the Father forces believers to examine where they stand before Him--I always need this! 




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moving Forward

One of the most difficult things that people will always struggle with is relationships with others.  Why can't people just see things the way they should be seen?  At least I find myself asking that question too many times.  My life and my world usually makes good sense to me--hopefully to my family as well.  At times, others have crossed the line and have been offensive to me and I have done the same to them--some times unintentionally. 

God places such a high priority on relationships, especially amongst His children.  He tells us in Matthew 5:23-24 that when we come to worship Him and are aware that our brother has something against us, then we are to leave our gift at the altar and go to him and make it right.  In other words, clean up your relationships with your brothers and sisters and then you are ready to worship Him. Christ doesn't focus on who was right and who was wrong but challenges the one that stands to worship Him to reconcile with his brother--even if his brother is at fault. This is not always easy but there is something to be said for a heart that comes to God in pure worship--it clearly meets God's desires.  It is the pure in heart that see God (Mt. 5:8).

Over the years I've encountered a few folks who like to tell people when they have been offended.  Sometimes my mere presence has been offensive.  The reality is that they were really not offenses they just didn't like what was being done.  Some times they may be small offenses that people don't even know about.  1 Peter 4:8 says that "love covers a multitude of sins."  I believe Scripture let's us know that we can forgive our brothers or sisters in Christ without having them crawl back to us seeking our forgiveness.  I can forgive freely because Christ has forgiven me freely.  Don't get me wrong, there are times when offenses need to be clarified and made right in order for relationships to be restored.  I find great freedom in placing an offense at the foot of the cross, never to pick it up again.  Can we just let it go and move on?  I believe this is what Peter was intending here. 

Can I challenge you to ask God to reveal to you a relationship that needs to be restored?  Pray about this matter greatly!  Then, seek reconciliation by humbly going and asking for forgiveness of that person.  Don't seek to explain yourself or to justify your actions--just seek their forgiveness.  If they will not forgive you, forgive them and move on.  You will no longer remain in bondage and are free to worship the way God desires.  I have heard it said that there is no softer pillow than the pillow of a clear conscience. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Feeling Empty

I've been reading and studying the Psalms for my personal time and it has been very encouraging and yet challenging.  At times it almost seems like David insults God by asking Him "where are you" or "do You even care about my predicament."  Although I've read the Psalms many times, I wait for God's hand of correction or stern voice to come down and rebuke David--after all, he deserved it.  Of course it's easy for me to have the answer when I'm not the one going through the trial.  Through David's time alone with God, his perspective was brought back to God.

According to Scripture, David struggled with loneliness and times of feeling very empty in his heart.  Opposition from others and a lack of peace with circumstances was a regular part of his life.  It was typically during those times of struggling, frustration, and feeling lonely that David would recall God's faithfulness to him (read Psalm 13).  We can often allow the busyness of the moment and the pressures of life to squeeze God out.  We, along with David can allow our circumstances to be bigger than the God we serve.  It would appear from reading Scripture that God intentionally places us and keeps us in certain situations in order that He can have our full attention.  It is during these times that we can hear best from God.  At times, it would appear that the only way God's Spirit pierces our spirit is when we have nothing else to hang onto.  It would make the most sense to seek God early and first in order to understand His purposes for our lives rather than for Him to cause us to slow down.

How can we expect God to direct us or add His blessings on our lives when we fail to seek and acknowledge Him?  I believe this is insulting to the God we say we serve.  Sometimes our struggles last much longer than we feel we can bear, but God wants to bring healing; and it is often through times of difficulty that we see Him best.  God's Word is a healing balm to our souls and provides the comfort we often overlook.  Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."  David declares, "The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you (Ps. 9:9-10).  God loves us more than we could ever know and desires that we seek Him (Mt. 6:33).  Our circumstances may not change overnight but the strength to carry on with the right perspective will.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Stormy Days

There are times when no one else knows the depth of pain, discomfort, and emptiness that we feel inside.  At times the path seems so lonely and it can be so long.  Having a firm grip on troubling circumstances sure feels comforting and yet contrary to what God wants us to experience.  I believe with all my heart that God wants to bring a calm assurance to us and that regardless of the storm in our lives He will provide the grace to see us through.  The longer I live and grow in Christ, the more I understand that my wanting to be in control robs God of being the One He wants to be to us.  He wants to be our strength, joy, confidence, rock, shield, and deliverer in the very time of need.  My limited grip of the circumstances can not compare to resting in the palm of His hand.  Why would I be so foolish to desire any other security in this life?

I was just reading Psalm 84:11, "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless."  At times, all I can see is the storm and the crashing waves when I need to see God!  The more I understand Him and His ways through Scripture the more I wonder why I ever wanted a good grip on the circumstances myself.  The greatest blessings come to those who are walking with God and trusting Him in difficult times.  There is a peace that comes in the midst of the most troubling storms of life that we can not explain.  Jesus Christ wants you to have peace and confidence in Him today.  Might we consider transferring our grip to His full control?

Enjoy walking in the confidence that He brings!

Pastor Gary

Friday, August 8, 2014

Daily Planning

It has been almost seven weeks since I've started my sabbatical and I thank the church and its leadership for granting me this refreshing time.  I've been working on a great deal of school work since I've started and I have spent some precious time with my family.  I am bringing to completion my current doctoral seminar and hope to work on the completion of my ordination with the Free Church before returning.  This will mean writing another twenty pages to be added to my doctrinal statement.

In the midst of all my planning each day to juggle all the things I see as important, I regularly ask myself, "why am I here"?  The easy answer is to say "to glorify God" and that would be correct but how do I glorify Him.  Most Christians live a very inward focused life and spend almost all of their time time around only Christians, perhaps signing up for another Bible study group or discussing the value of theology.  The greatest theology Jesus Christ asks us to share is called the Gospel, found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  When was the last time we verbally shared the Gospel (that Jesus Christ died and rose again to forgive sinners) with another person.  The reason I ask is because this is living out our theology.  Jesus Christ clearly tells believers what their lives ought to be immersed with.  We often pray for the lost but do we share the Gospel with the lost--I mean ourselves and not a missionary or a pastor?  We can live moral lives and feel good about ourselves but I don't believe God feels as good about us as we do ourselves especially if we don't share His plan of redemption.  Plain and simple, when was the last time we told a lost person about the One who came to save their soul from Hell?  Is it part of our daily practice or planning?  Wouldn't it be great if we were obsessed with  sharing this Good News to the point that we awoke each day with our day built around this mission.  Imagine what our churches would look like if we not only believed the Gospel but SHARED the Gospel???  WOW!

Each day I strive to spend time with God first, reading His Word, and praying through my prayer journal which serves as a great start.  I am personally working harder each day to bring the Gospel to each person I connect with because they are not coming to me to hear the Gospel--besides, Christ told me to go and tell and not for others to come and listen.  I don't want to fulfill the Great Omission, NOT sharing my faith.  This is the largest job we have been commissioned to do.  One characteristic of inward focused churches is that the programming serves only us which leads to declining churches. The church has neglected its calling and we are the church.  Sometimes we allow ourselves to be busy just going to church but we need to be the church to a lost world--share the Gospel.

Genuine Christians who are obedient, according to Scripture, will verbally share the Gospel to a lost and dying world--if they really understand the Gospel!  Let's be careful not to pomp ourselves in how spiritual we are if we are not sharing the greatest, transforming news that Jesus Christ died for sinful man.  Please email me if you would like to share how God is opening doors for you to share the Gospel.  This would encourage me and others as well!

Together for the Gospel,

Pastor Gary

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Learning to Pedal with Christ

My church has graciously granted me a sabbatical after ten years of ministry.  The time could not be better as I am working on completing 2500 pages of reading and much writing for a doctoral seminar in just a week.  It has been a refreshing time of prayer, reading the Word of God, and being challenged by many authors without the  daily pressures that ministry can bring. Please know that I am privileged to labor with you and I pray for you all daily--know that I miss you a great deal.

My prayer and hope as a pastor is that as fully devoted disciples of Christ we are exercising obedience, growing in our faith, and sharing the Gospel with the lost in order that God is glorified and pleased with us.  I'm learning more and more that this requires less of me and more of Him.  Jesus Christ wants me to learn the secret of doing ministry with Him and not just for Him.  He wants me to know Him personally and enjoy a sweet relationship in His presence.  I came across this poem recently and I pray that it will serve to strengthen you as it did me.

The Road of Life

At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge
keeping track of the things I did wrong,
so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognized his picutre when I saw it,
but I really didn't know Him.

But later on when I met Christ,
it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ
was in the back helping me pedal.

I don't know just when it was that He suggested we change places,
but life has not been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way.
It was rather boring, but predictable...
It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when he took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains,
and through rocky places at breakneck speeds,
it was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, "Pedal!"

I worried and was anxious and asked,
"Where are you taking me?"
He laughed and didn't answer,
and I started to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life
and entered into the adventure.
And when I'd say, "I'm scared,"
He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed,
gifts of healing acceptance and joy.
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
my Lord's and mine.

And we were off again.
He said, "Give the gifts away;
They're extra baggage, too much weight."
So I did, to the people we met,
and I found that in giving I received,
and still our burden was light.
I did not trust him at first,
in control of my life.
I thought He'd wreck it;
but he knows the best secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

And I'm learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places,
and I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.
And when I'm sure I just can't do anymore,
He just smiles and says. . . "Pedal"         (Author Unknown)

Prayer:  Dear God, give me the grace to pedal on and to trust you more with my future knowing that you always have my BEST interest at heart.  I'm thankful that you are my God and King!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Secret Strength

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ challenged His disciples, "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt. 6:6).  Are we to take this literally?  During seminary at Moody, the dormitory that I'd stay in had several prayer closets in the bottom of the dorm to go and pray.  It had a small bench, a ledge for a Bible, and a light inside.  I would see the light on late into the night hours at times.  I had never had a specific quiet place where I spent time with the Father but really loved the idea. 

Jesus Christ  would visit the garden of Gethsemane on multiple times during His life, which was just East of Jerusalem at the base of the Mount of Olives, to spend time with His Father.  It was a place of quietness with little or no disturbances.  It was a place where Christ was refreshed and He shared His heart's desires with God the Father.  It was a place where Christ returned with understanding and peace that only comes from spending time with the Father.  Christ's prayer ministry was essential for daily strength and He made it a priority to happen in the midst of His busy schedule.  Jesus Christ conveyed to His followers the importance of having one-on-one time with the Father.  I believe the intent of the passage is that prayer is not a production to be seen of man.  In the stillness and quietness of the soul, God's Holy Spirit who dwells within us allows us to commune with God the Father.  He petitions God for us when we have nothing to say and don't even know how to say it (Romans 8:26).  Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God as an advocate for us and he petitions the Father on our behalf when we pray (1 John 2:1).

I certainly believe in praying everywhere, all the time, and for all matters (1 Thess. 5:17).  However, God desires so much more than our windshield time behind the steering wheel of the car.  I believe, according to the New Testament, that God welcomes and desires corporate prayer.  The question remains, "what does my personal prayer time look like with God?".  Is it something that I prize, value, and look forward to?  Or, is it more of a chore and something I hope I can remember in order to sooth my conscience?  Could that prayer time be wrapped up in three prayers a day prior to the three meals that would be eaten?  Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still my soul and know that I am God,...".  The tendency is to maximize life, make the most of every hour, and not skip a beat.  We tend to squeeze in the most important things and people to us.  The tragedy is that my life can be void of true life because I fail to spend time in my secret garden (wherever that may be for you) with Him.  

God wants to answer us but we may not be spending time to share our hearts with Him in order for Him to bring the comfort and answer He wants us to hear.  Might we need to find a secret garden to spend more alone time with Him???



Monday, June 9, 2014

Inconvenient Service

Christ's perspective on serving may be a little different than what we would care to admit.  We often serve when it is convenient for us and when we can reap some benefit.  It usually has to fit our own schedule to even be considered.  However, Jesus Christ epitomized what it meant to to be a servant by surrendering His privileges to take upon Himself the form of a servant to the point of punishment on the cross.  He demonstrated the depth of His love by washing His disciples' feet as an example of true greatness.  He encouraged His followers with these words, "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10: 43-45).  True servants, according to Scripture, have others in mind before their own comfort.  Ouch!!!  In fact, the words servant and slave are used interchangeably in conveying the idea of the humility tied to service.

I write today's blog with a somewhat heavy heart.  It was not long ago that I had conversations with an individual who was very concerned about the authority they ought to have in a position compared to how they could be more effective in their serving.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the heart attitude was key to the act of service and how we relate to others (Mt. 5).  Too often (along with Christ's disciples) we can forget why we are called to serve and how we are to serve.  It is not to exercise authority, to be recognized, to be praised, or fill a void in our own lives.  Too often, because our own motives and desires get in the way we can become obstacles to service ever happening.  Believers can even sow seeds of discord in order to get their way when it comes to service.  I suppose it could be viewed as, "service on my terms only and if it makes sense to me".   However, Christ's idea was that His followers understand that Kingdom living  places others first in our thoughts and actions.   A good litmus test to test our hearts when it comes to service is can we serve if we are never acknowledged or if things don't go our way.  The disciples lost sight of the love and unity amongst themselves that should have existed while doing Christ's work.  Christ demonstrated through His own example that His kind of service forgets about what is due us as a result of our service.

It is through the lens of Christ's sacrifice on the cross that we can understand where we belong when ministering to others.  His sacrifice helps us to understand that everything begins with a selfless heart attitude for the sake of the advancement of His greater work.  John said it well in John 3:30, "He must increase but I must decrease."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Too often I've heard it said, "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian".  Indeed, I would agree.  However, if we understand Scripture we would also understand that Christians go to church (Hebrews 10:25).  The institution that God has chosen to work through today is the local church.  Christ gave of Himself to die on the cross for His bride, the church.  Jesus Christ prizes the church, works through the church, and is coming again for His church.  He has challenged the church to permeate the world with the saving Gospel message in order that God would be glorified.  Praise the Lord that when Christ left this earth to be with the Father that He sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and to empower us each and every day to live out our Christian life and to be able to share this redeeming message. I'm aware that the church is filled with imperfect  people (sinners, fallen short of the glory of God) who are on a journey towards taking on the image of Christ.  I also understand that some are a poor testimony to Christ and His church.  However, I'm resolute to prize the very thing that Christ died for, to esteem it, and to give myself freely to advance Christ's church.

What an amazing thought that we as Christians are a representation of the holiness of God to those we come into contact with.  It poses the question, "Do others really see Jesus Christ in us"?  The church needs to be Gospel centric in everything we do.  The Gospel is our mission each and every day.  Yet, how well do others see the church in a positive light through us?  

In the book of James, he challenges believers not to be "foolish"--or literally a hollow person, believing that by claiming to be a Christian is sufficient (James 2:20, "You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?").  Depth of Christian character and authenticity in our daily living will revolutionize the world.  I want to be the church in my community and not only attend the church in my community.  My claims of Christianity do so little apart from genuine, loving action.  My days are certainly numbered--as are yours.  I'm learning to pray as the psalmist, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).  One day we will no longer be able to labor for Christ but will have to answer for our lack of work on earth for Him.  I pray that I would live "to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12).

LET'S BE THE CHURCH TOGETHER AND MAKE THE GOSPEL KNOWN!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stepping into the Deep with Christ

I believe God's idea of completely trusting Him may look different than what we have in mind at times.  My desire is to be used by God in great ways that point other people to Him.   I want the great things in my life that God speaks about in His Word but I know it demands a faith that completely trusts Him for who He is. Sadly enough, I drop the ball at times.

I must admit that I often calculate the risks and try to avoid disaster, after all, the entire book of Proverbs speaks about the truly wise man pursues (chases) wisdom.  However, true wisdom understands that God is sovereign and that He is in control of the smallest of details (Psalm 139:1-6; Proverbs 1:7).  What about when we are called to follow Christ in ways that may make no sense to us yet it is God's plan for us.  Are we willing to trust enough in Him during those times to take Him at His word and cling to His promises?  The joy of seeing God at work in our lives may never take place if we refuse to step out into the deep and into the places we can't control. This could be areas such as service, vocation, daily obedience, tithing, honoring our spouses, or witnessing.  I suppose that is why Scripture tells us that Christians are to "walk by faith not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."  Faith in Him is essential in order to please Him.  Just because we cannot quantify something on a chart does not mean that God is not in the equation.  The greatest blessings in life often occur when we fully open our sails and hold the rudder loosely in order for God to direct our steps according to His desires.  I'm convinced that when we work to manipulate circumstances to rest in our favor that it is often to our own demise.  Simple faith in God alone allows us to go further with confidence and offers a peace that is unknown to those who do not know God.  I've come to believe that it is often our comfy lifestyles that we all desire that serves more to distract us from trusting in God's provision and direction.  One of my favorite verses is found in Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God."

Do I really need a Plan B if I truly know that Plan A (God's Plan) is best and adequate?

SONG:  Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus  

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,  Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,  Just to know, “Thus says the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!  O for grace to trust Him more!






 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Heaven

Several years ago I taught through various doctrines in my Sunday School class in a systematic manner.  I have always enjoyed systematic theology and still love to discuss it with others.  However, the greatest insight one can gain into a text, and to be very honest with the text, is to study Biblical theology.  By this I mean that one studies the doctrine fully in the context which it was written, in the very book that it was written,  understanding to whom it was written, the purpose it was written, and the issues at hand.

I always make use of good exegetical and expositional commentaries for further understanding and to confirm my own findings.  I typically stay away from devotional commentaries that give lightweight answers and skim the text.  However, having said this I never seek other texts before Scripture.  I want to stay committed to allowing God's Word to speak for itself.  It is absolutely essential to seek God's Word first allowing the Spirit of Truth to illuminate my mind and not another man's thoughts or experiences.  I believe it is important to read books of the Bible from start to finish in order to fully grasp the context, flow, and details of the text--reading multiple times like a good love letter from your sweetheart.

While teaching on the doctrine of heaven I was amazed at the liberty that many authors took on the subject.  Subjective feelings ran high and steered some authors in their writings.  God has told us all that He wants us to know on every subject within His complete Word.  I'm finding that some Christians, having read recent books and having watched recent movies, are giving more credence to personal testimonies of visits to heaven and hell than what the Word of God has to say about it and this greatly troubles me.  Emotionalism kicks in and trumps Truth.  Hebrews 9:27 states, " And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,".   God's glorious plan for His redeemed people, after death, is to dwell with Him forever and He never even suggests in His word that a preliminary visit would be an option.  Scripture is too clear, "No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13).  Only Jesus Christ has been given that privilege and it was for the purpose of our salvation, sanctification, and future glorification with the Father. 

My heart breaks for Christians who measure the Truth of God's Word by subjective experience.  I believe this is what breeds Biblically illiterate Christians and proves contrary to Scripture.  Christ  states that His true worshippers must worship Him in spirit and Truth (John 4:24).  I believe that the thrust of this statement means that we are to worship Christ with our entire being and that we are to measure our worship by the fully trusted, objective Truth of God's Word--not the next fictional book or movie that proves inconsistent with God's Word.

Am I to lovingly discount a child or adult's testimony of their journey to heaven or hell--especially when they believe they can bring back proof?  Absolutely.  My love for Scripture and God's promises will always remain first and foremost against any good thought or experience.  Do I believe it actually happened?  I do not according to Scripture and I would make no apologies for holding this position.

God and His Word are sufficient for every believer and He has provided a great future for those who know Him.  Walking by faith in His character alone is the "best" life as we know it pleases Him (" And without faith it is impossible to please God,..." Hebrews 11:6). 

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:13-16, "I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.  To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.




Monday, April 14, 2014

Living in a Prison

There are times in life when we are left to feel paralyzed and even fearful not knowing how to step forward in certain situations.  At times, ignoring the issue may appear to be the best solution but it never goes away.  It is frustrating to think that some things in life seem to have a greater grip on us than we do on it.  In some cases, others have even tried to manipulate or make decisions for us, not allowing us to work with the freedom to make decisions for ourselves.  Yet, is this a choice that we have made or allowed others to make for us?

Feeling like we are boxed in or existing in a self-made prison will eventually kill one's spirit.  How is it that Christians can have so many different perspectives on a similar situation?  Why is so difficult for some people to move forward when difficulties come their way?  Have you ever witnessed someone having an excuse for every hardship they find themselves in--of course it is never their fault.  And then there are those who step forward with a positive, confident, and hopeful spirit--I love these people and they are great to be around.  I've come to believe that it is all about "Biblical" perspective.  

The psalmist, David, had more ups and downs than most anyone that I'm aware of and yet he always came back to a Biblical understanding of who God was and what He was capable of doing for him in those difficult circumstances.  I'm reminded of Psalm 142:7 where David prays, "Bring my soul out of prison so that I may give thanks to Your name."  Any time a believer in Christ fails to remember that God is infinite, sovereign, and that His Spirit dwells within them will become a prisoner of life's circumstances and others.  Many people live in this bondage day after day in self-made prisons refusing to leave, even when the prison door is left open.  Some even live a majority of their lives in this prison trying to please others and never seeking the approval of God alone.  Christ has come to set men free from the bondage of sin and the world; He has made a provision for believers to live in victory each day through Him.  His grace is sufficient for the darkest hour.

With God's help, I refuse to believe the lies of the evil one and will reject the very things the world encourages me to embrace that only bring bondage.  BIBLICAL thinking is paramount and I must understand HIS WORD.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Perfect Church

I recently read this great article from Tim Addington who happens to work with missions in the EFCA national office and he has written much on leadership.  I read his blog daily and have read several of his books.  I believe this will greatly benefit you as it did me.

Do we expect too much from our church and too little from Jesus?  I suspect that in the United States, we expect too much from the local church and too little from Jesus.  Let me explain.

Church hopping is endemic today. American evangelicals are consumers of the local church and often deeply dissatisfied with what they have. Often for good reason. We want the best preaching, the best music, the best programming for our kids and the best of everything else. And we hope that our experience will change our life with Jesus - making us happy, fulfilled, and be there for us always.

I understand the frustration. Healthy churches are hard to find and even then they don't always fill the hole in our hearts. But perhaps we are looking in the wrong place for the fulfillment we seek. Not that the local church is unimportant, it is the Bride of Jesus and we are to be connected to the Bride. We need the people of God and the community of Jesus. They are our encouragement, our help and our ministry partners.

But - if the church  becomes our substitute for our personal relationship with Jesus, if we expect that the church will fill the hole in our heart that only God can fill, perhaps our dissatisfaction comes from substituting the church for what should be a close personal walk with Jesus. The fact is, no church and no person can bring the joy that Jesus does. It can help us walk the pilgrimage of faith and we are called to walk that walk with others. The church is the bride of Jesus but it is not a substitute for Jesus in our personal lives.

We will never find the perfect church because we are in it. We can find the perfect Christ because that is who he is. We cannot  abandon the church which is the community of God but nor can we substitute the church for a deep personal relationship with Jesus. He is the source of life and satisfaction. The people of God are a necessary bonus and the church is the constant reminder of the God we worship. The church contributes to the walk we have with God but it never becomes the substitute for a relationship with the Lord of the Church, Jesus.

John 15:4-5 "Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."