What to Give for Christmas

What to Give for Christmas

Every year for Christmas we try our hardest to find the perfect gifts for the people in our lives. If I am to be honest, I am a little frustrated by the whole idea of the holiday in our American context. I know, I know. I really don't want to be a Negative Nelly, but I hate the obligation to buy gifts. I despise buying all the junk for others and loading up junk that we received that is just going to fill up the house. I hate spending money on plastic stuff that is here one day and gone the next, when we could put it to better use. And, more than anything, I hate swapping money! All that most of us do is spend $30 on folks who are going to spend $30 on us. I get you a gift card, and you get me a gift card. Some have resorted to simply writing a check to their family members! Really?!? Is that what this is?

Well, I don't have any simple answers to all of these problems. Maybe they are not issues for you and yours. If that is the case, you are blessed! Ok, I've been a Negative Nelly. My rant is over. How about Positive Polly?

In John 4, Jesus meets with "The woman at the well." Do you remember what He tells her? He says, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water . . . whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

What if we gave Living Water this Christmas? What if we decided to do a little brainstorming, got creative, and gave a little effort to bless people with not just material things but everlasting things?!? I'm not talking about making a donation to the TV preacher so that you can get a little bottle of miracle water (people really do that?). I'm talking about having Gospel conversations. I'm talking about spending some time with people and pointing them to Christ. Give Living Water this Christmas, and get creative with it! Let me know what you come up with!

Three Ways You Can Show Appreciation for Someone

Three Ways You Can Show Appreciation for Someone

We are entering into the holiday season with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year all coming up. Do not let this time of year go by without meaningful conversations, acts of generosity, and special times with families and friends. Before we know it, we will be past this season again. This holiday season, consider showing appreciation to someone. Maybe your spouse has been working extra hard for the family, or a coworker has gone out of their way to lend a hand to you, or a friend has been there with you through a hard time. There are all kinds of reasons to be thankful and people we should thank. Lots of times we say, “Thank you” in passing or let them know we appreciate them in the heat of the moment, but going out of your way some time after or at a random time to show your appreciation can really mean something. Consider these three ways to show appreciation, or let them be ideas that get your mind thinking on the subject:

(1) Send a handwritten card to someone. In a world of technology and screens, there is something unique about getting a card in the mail and seeing someone’s handwriting. It is so rare that I almost feel today what I felt as a kid when I actually got something in the mail. In the midst of a sea of bills, getting a card is heartwarming and downright exciting. Also, don’t be one of those who buys a preprinted card and simply signs your name. Take a few minutes to write something deliberate and meaningful.

(2) Invite them over to your house for a meal. We ought to be living out life together as families and church families. Spend some time with people! Slow down one evening and cook a meal for a friend. Be a neighbor to someone. Do you remember what it’s like to host someone? What a wonderful thing it is to share a meal with people you care about and you appreciate. If inviting folks over and hosting is too difficult, considering taking that friend out for lunch. Take them to the Mexican restaurant, spend $5 on them, and enjoy a good conversation.

(3) Give them company out somewhere. Hey, there are plenty of people who would love for you to join them for their hobby. Maybe you could go to a walking park with a friend, or you could go shopping with someone who usually has to do it by their self. All you would have to do is say, “I know you like to do ‘whatever,’ could I join you next time?” How enjoyable would that be? And it is such a thoughtful gesture!

Don’t let too much time pass before you show appreciation to someone. This time of year is a great time to do it, and there is no better day than “Today.” Of course, these three suggestions work for not only showing appreciation but also just to brighten someone’s day or week. Consider doing one of these for someone you know as an act of kindness!

What is a Healthy Church? Part 2

What is a healthy church? Part 2

Last week I put forward five aspects that must be emphasized and nurtured in order to foster a healthy church. Those five attributes of a healthy church were: (1) Strong leadership, (2) Biblical teaching, (3) Vibrant prayer, (4) Genuine membership, and (5) Outward focus. Now, let me say again that these are not the only aspects that are important, or even all those that are essential, for a healthy church, but these are some of the primary ones. Let me add just a few more today before leaving this subject:

6. Multigenerational
While many churches today are heavy on one age group, we must be different. For example, most established, more traditional churches are primarily made up of folks who are 60 years of age or older; on the other hand, most new church plants are made up of people 35 years of age and younger. Most people do not think anything of this trend (unless it is the older churches which are shrinking smaller and smaller, and they are worried that they are going to “die off” without another generation to keep the church alive). Most people are comfortable with this situation and actually prefer to socialize with people who are like them, including their age group. The question becomes: Is this healthy? I would argue, “No.” I can argue this from the practical side as well as the biblical side. So, let's take the biblical side: From the Old Testament to the New, from Proverbs to Titus, we are reminded over and over again how healthy it is for older men to mentor younger men and the same with the women in the congregation. So, a healthy church will have a multigenerational makeup, a heavy emphasis on mentoring, and a focus on the youth of the church.

7. Ongoing discipleship
Much like the last point and others before it, a healthy church is one that pursues the Great Commission by making disciples. We are to make new disciples as well as continue teaching longtime followers of Christ. The church is a teaching institution because God is a speaking God. He has revealed Himself, His will, and His plans in His holy word, and we are to make it our business to mature in it by devoting ourselves to learning and teaching it. Discipleship is a lifelong pursuit of God through the Bible, and a healthy church is one that knows this truth.

8. Long-term pastorates
The last point that we can make before leaving the subject of healthy churches (and this list of eight is certainly not exhaustive) is to say that the pastor does have an important role to play in the health of the church. None of us would deny that a minister can certainly have a negative effect on the church, some of us have experienced that firsthand, and, if that is true, then he certainly can have a positive effect on the health of the church as well. Many studies have shown, and it should be common sense, that ministers must commit themselves to the local church for the long haul. Only when this dedication is present will the minister and church grow together, stick to the plan of biblical ministry, and really learn to love one another. If the church is looking for a new pastor every 2-3 years, then the church is “starting over” every 2-3 years, lots of times with heartache and turmoil.

After reading this article and the previous one, would you consider committing a certain amount of time to prayer for the health of our congregation? Maybe you could commit to praying about all eight of these things over the next eight days. Or, maybe you would devote yourself to praying for our church at noon every day for a month! If you’re willing and want to share your experience, then let me know. I’d love to hear about it!

What is a Healthy Church?

What is a healthy church? Part 1

There are several aspects of church life that are required to be obedient to the Lord and to foster a healthy congregation. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few non-negotiables if we want a healthy church:

1. Strong leadership
While common sense and practical thinking dictates that any group needs strong leaders, the Bible makes clear what the Lord wants for His people. The apostles have taught us what kind of men to look for to lead the church. They are to be well respected inside and outside the congregation. They are to be godly men, full of the Holy Spirit, proven, trustworthy, servant-leaders, fully devoted to and involved in the life of the church, and so much more. Without strong leadership, the church will stumble around at best. The Proverbs teach, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Or, as others have creatively noted, “A mist in the leadership is a fog in the membership.”

2. Biblical teaching
We have a deep conviction which is, once again, backed up by practical experience- The Bible is the Word of God, and the people of God need to hear the Word of God to live and mature. How is it backed by experience? The churches and denominations that have abandoned the Scriptures in favor of motivational, self-help speeches, entertainment, and the like are the ones that, over the long-haul, are declining and dying. Jesus is the one who said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” A lot can be said about this point, but let me leave one more comment- Memorizing every single detail that is taught is not as important as yielding to the Word of God over and over again. The Lord forms and shapes our souls this way.

3. Vibrant prayer
Many churches are missing this vital aspect to their life and ministries. While we need to hear God speak to us (from His Word), we also need to speak to Him. The New Testament even instructs us to pray without ceasing. Prayer is many things, but, maybe most simply, it is voicing our faith to the Father. We ought to give thanks to Him, praise Him, voice our trust in Him, bring our problems and worries to Him, and we ought to ask for needs to be supplied, both for ourselves and for others. We need to do this individually, but praying together as a church is a blessed, wonderful, and beautiful activity.

4. Genuine membership
This point brings together several Christian responsibilities. So many Christians in America are neglecting their duties to the local congregation. A Christian who is not loyal to the local church is like a fish out of water; that fish is going to have a hard time surviving! So much of the biblical, Christian life is lived in and through the church; it is experienced as a part of the life of the church. As you know, I could go on and on about this point. If you want to talk about it, let me know. P.S. I love our church, and I love being a member of it!

5. Outward focus
The last point that I will share for now (because there are so many others we should mention) is that we are blessed to be a blessing. We are to be fruitful and multiply, and in this present age we do that by sharing the Good News. We cannot think of only serving our own interests and monopolizing the Gospel. We must get out to share and to serve, to serve and to share. The Great Commission is labeled so for a reason. We are to be selfless, just as our Master was selfless and sacrificial.

So, in conclusion, we ought to get to it! We all want health for ourselves, our families, and our church. Health is something that needs to be nurtured, promoted, and protected. With your own health, there are certain things you need to do to bring about these things. And, we should think in terms of all the different aspects of health. We want strong spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. Sitting at home eating chips and watching TV all day will not nurture, promote, and protect our health. As a matter of fact, laziness or negligence will only injure our health. All of this is true of the church as well. We cannot sit idly by and expect our congregation to be healthy. We must pursue health. We must all work together to bring it about. We need to promote and protect these five things and more! If we do, the Lord will bless us and work in and through us to be a blessing to one another and others!

Going into All the World, Especially Our Own Community

Going into All the World, Especially Our Own Community

Most everyone knows the Great Commission, and every Christian should certainly know that mission that the Lord left for the church as He ascended back to His place in glory. In Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus famously said to His disciples, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. . . ."

The challenge for most of us is actually being obedient to this call to make disciples of all the nations. I mean, most of us are not going to travel the globe and share the Gospel. Now, many of us do support foreign missionaries, through the church and/or independently. That is a great ministry, but it doesn't seem to completely fulfill the call on everyone of our lives to be an active part of making new disciples. So, how are we able to take a more active role in disciple-making?

Let me suggest that we ought to be sharing the Gospel here in our own communities and neighborhoods, workplaces and recreation centers. Along with opening our mouths and proclaiming the Christian message, we must seek to build bridges and open doors. Standing on the corner and shouting is most likely not going to be very effective. Thus, we must seek to foster relationships, serve the community, and show the love of Christ as we interact with others.

Of course, we expect this of one another individually, but we are also trying to provide opportunities to do these things as a church. For example, just in the past pew weeks, we have had a Prayer Walk for the Town of Rural Hall, and we are also serving the community on Saturday as we man a water station at Town Hall for the annual Flat & Fast 10K/5K hosted by the Rural Hall Area Business Association to support Rural Hall Elementary School for student programming and incentives.

The Prayer Walk, which several people supported, was a wonderful time of fellowship, exercise, and, most importantly, an opportunity to stand in the gap for our community before the throne of God while standing in the midst of our community. We hope to continue this special ministry into the New Year and possibly carry it out quarterly.

The water station this weekend will provide us the opportunity to meet new people, foster relationships, represent the church and Christ in the community, and serve the community selflessly.

My conviction is that these are the types of things that we need to be involved with in order to "build bridges" and "open doors" for the Gospel to advance in our own community and to make new disciples.

Loving Those Who are Hard to Love

Loving Those Who are Hard to Love
(Matthew 5:43-48)

There are some of us who may have had “enemies” at one time or another.  Maybe there are some who are “going to battle” with family or coworkers or neighbors even right now.  There are times when we can do the best we know how to get along with others, and, yet, there are some people who cannot help but pit themselves against us.  Jesus has taught us clearly, here, about how to handle those situations and adversaries.

However, I would say that most of us would not title anyone in our lives as an “enemy.”  And while we may not have enemies, we all certainly have at least a few people in our lives who make our job of loving them very difficult.  Let’s argue from the greater to the lesser, then.  If we are called on by our Lord Jesus to love our enemies, then we undoubtedly expected to love even those who only make it difficult.  I have experienced this situation numerous times as a family member, as a church member, and even as a pastor.  There are just some people who want to make everything difficult, including their relationship with you (and probably most everyone else in their lives).

Now, after setting the audience for these applications from Matthew 5, let’s go ahead and admit right up front- Hatred comes fairly easily to most people.  When operating in the old, sin-nature, a person’s gut reaction to persecution, misuse, or even the smallest resistance from someone is often to get angry, hold a grudge, gossip, seek revenge, or any of the like.  Love, alternatively, considers others, rather than just oneself.  Love involves both emotion and action toward others.  One writer put it well, “On the one hand, we are to be passive with an enemy, through nonretaliation.  On the other hand, we are to be active with our enemies through love” (Moore).  And another great quote on this subject says something like, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; but to return good for evil is divine” (Carson).

Of all the ways that we can practice love for others, prayer is one of the most loving things we can do.  Holding someone before the Father is a godly practice with practical value but also fulfills the commands of Scripture.  Prayer seems to be a great remedy for hatred.  How can you continue to hate a person for whom you diligently pray?  Also, I think that the Lord will consider our prayers and continue to work in the heart of the other person as well as in our own heart when we genuinely seek His will for our lives generally situations like these specifically.

So, after thinking about this passage briefly, we can conclude at least a few things: The passage applies to dealing with enemies and those who are hard to love; hatred is a default human reaction; but love is required from followers of Jesus; and one of the best ways to love those who are hard to love is to pray for them—regularly, specifically, deeply.

The Simple Christian Life

The Simple Christian Life

Our thinking about the church has been SIMPLE:
We want everyone to have opportunities to worship, fellowship, learn, and serve. To do this, we have maintained that Sunday is the Lord's Day. So, we have not expected you to be here several nights a week like most churches of the past generation. We just expect one day—the Lord's Day.

We also encourage everyone to be a Plus One Member.
Morning Worship + One Class + One Ministry
We want everyone to be here each Sunday for Morning Worship at 11:00 AM. Then, you have two options for classes- The BLEND at 10:00 AM or Evening Ministries at 6:00 PM. Lastly, we want you to serve in a regular, ongoing ministry capacity- kids ministry, nursery, communion preparation, grounds keeping, greeting, praise team, missions team, The BLEND set up/clean up, property maintenance, building projects, community outreach, sound room, music, office help, visitation, and many, many other opportunities. So, we would be happy to see you at all three Sunday times and Tuesday Bible group, and we would be glad to have you serving in multiple ministries, but we encourage everyone to be a Plus One Member at the very least.

The motivation for the SIMPLE scheme is to honor the Lord's Day, but also to free you from the burden of planning, stressing, feeling guilty, etc. about coming to the building several days a week. However, this SIMPLE model is not meant to make us lazy Christians the other six days a week. On the contrary, we should use this freedom to meet folks for lunch, visit a nursing home, invite people over for a meal, help others out on your off days, host a small group in your home, disciple and be discipled, reach out to others intentionally with the Gospel, and on and on and on.

Of course, we should also use the other six days to work, rest, spend time with our families, go to little league games, and volleyball, and soccer, exercise, read some books . . . you know. . . .

All in all, we want to be a church that Gathers and Scatters with purpose. We Gather for worship, fellowship, learning, and to serve our church. We Scatter to live, to work, to rest, to nurture and serve our families, and to reach our communities in Christ-centered, Gospel-grounded ways.

Let’s be SIMPLE.
Simply loyal. Simply faithful. Simply serving. Simply loving.

A Pastor's Note to a Young Family Considering a "Bigger" Church

A Pastor’s Note to a Young Family Considering a “Bigger” Church

Guest Article Written by Will Jacobs


I want you to know that I sympathize with you and your wife’s situation. I also appreciate you being honest with me about your struggles and potentially seeking another church with a better equipped and vibrant youth program. Your child is definitely at an age where he is most vulnerable to either positive or negative choices, and seeking a community of peers that will help him in the right direction is not only wise but biblical (Psalm 1)! As you wrestle and pray through this very important decision let me offer some helpful insights/suggestions/observations, for what it’s worth.

1.   No matter the vibrancy and health of a church youth program, nothing will transform your children’s lives more than you and your wife.

The Bible greatly emphasizes the important role of the parents in the lives of their children. Deuteronomy 6:1 and following speaks of the parents as the primary teachers of their children. Proverbs, for example, is an entire book where a father seeks to pass on godly principles to his son. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 6:1-4, admonishes dads to “instruct their children in the way of the Lord.” Along with that, Titus 2:4 speaks of the importance of the mom loving her kids. One of the major confusions among Christians today is that many understand churches to be the primary spiritual teachers of their children. But, in actuality, the church is simply meant to equip the family (see Ephesians 4) and supplement the parents so they can train their children well themselves. The parents are supposed to be the primary spiritual leaders and teachers of their children.

2.   If you and your wife are not 100% devoted to the local church in attendance and service, it doesn’t matter how great of a youth group you find for your child—he will most likely leave the church after he is out of the home.

One article has shown that “82% of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home attached great importance to their beliefs. It also found that children who were active in their congregations while growing up tended to be religiously active as young adults. It was parents engaging with their children about their faith that made the difference.” Thus, a constant self-examination of both you and your wife’s devotion to Christ is very important. You must ask the questions: If the kids were not in the picture would this still be a major concern for us—would we still have a hunger and desire to be committed to Christ and His church? I believe if you and your wife’s devotion to Christ is primary, then your children will follow. Discipleship is “caught” as much as “taught.”

3.   Youth DO need good and godly people around them, even peers.

While I believe youth programs are not necessary for kids to grow in their Christian faith, I do believe surrounding them with Christian influences is necessary. The apostle warns us in one place, “Bad company corrupts good character.” So, your child needs Christian friends and acquaintances rather than being out on his own or wandering into a bad crowd. However, if kids have godly parents who exemplify and emphasize holiness, and they are involved in a church where the people surround him with love and support, I truly believe this is a sufficient influence for his Christian development. Yes, Christian peers of the same age can be beneficial (and they seem to naturally come given time), but what is necessary is the example of godly parents, a godly church, and peers to show your child how to live.

4.   As long as you and your wife are devoted to a Bible-believing, God-honoring, Christ-exalting local church (and find one with a youth program you feel is more beneficial to the growth of your children), then you have my full blessing to go to that church (not that you need my blessing).

The selfish part of me would obviously desire that you stay with us, but I ultimately want to see the spiritual growth of your family. I understand that at our current stage as a church we are unable to provide families with some of the options other churches have available. I am confident that as we grow numerically we will be able to offer more opportunities for our kids, but as of now we simply do the best we can with the resources we have. Thus, if you prayerfully decide to devote yourselves to another local church in order to help your child in his Christian walk, then, by all means, do so. We will be 100% on your side and praying for God to use whatever church you join to assist you in training your kids in the instruction of the Lord.

Explaining the A-C-T-S Prayer Guide

Over the summer, we have shared in three gatherings--Ladies Night, Guys Night, and The BLEND--the information that will follow. In case you were not present for these discussions, we wanted to share the message again, here, in the Midweek eBulletin. We want you to be encouraged and empowered to approach the throne of grace with confidence. Speak to the Lord and experience Him working in your life!

We all know that one of the best spiritual disciplines is prayer, and yet many of us do not pray enough. We all will probably admit that we fall short in our devotion to a life of prayer. Maybe one of the main reasons that we do not pray is because we do not know how to pray. How do we even get started? What should we include in our prayers? What shape should our prayers take? How do I get into a routine? Am I good enough to pray? What does the Bible say about prayer?

Well, we can’t answer all of these questions at once, but we can talk about some basics, and we should start by saying that any and all of us can pray. As a matter of fact, we must pray!

When a little girl starts to take dance lessons, she starts out by learning the basic forms, but, of course, the basics are something you use for the rest of your dancing career. A young ballerina learns good posture, tip-toeing, how to curtsy, and first, second, and third positions. These are the basic forms that she learns when she is first starting out, but she will certainly do them even if she becomes a professional dancer. Likewise, when a little boy learns to play basketball, he learns basic forms life boxing out for rebounds, triple-threat position, and following through on his jump shot. And, again, even if he becomes a professional, he will continue to do these basic things throughout his playing career.

In the same way, prayer can take basic forms. We could look to certain verses like Philippians 4:6 for the basic components of prayer. Or, we could consider the form of the Model Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Yet, these parts and forms may be hard to remember. Let me recommend an acronym that may help: A-C-T-S. The Bible teaches us in several places that we should do certain things in prayer, and this acronym pulls a lot of them together: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Tips for using the acronym:
(1) Read a psalm or some other passage to begin your prayer time
(2) Quote the Scriptures in your prayers and claim God's promises
(3) Be specific for each of the parts (A-C-T-S)

Why should we adore the Lord? For what are things to praise God?
>>> He is our Creator, Provider, Defender, Redeemer, Loving, Gracious

What sins or weaknesses do we need to confess?
>>> We should name our sins plainly and specifically. Ask for help.

For what can we thank our Heavenly Father?
>>> Salvation, His Goodness, Family, Church, Work, all specific blessings

Is there anything we need God to supply for us or those we know?
>>> God cares for all. Ask him for daily bread, jobs, reconciliation, etc.

Common Questions- Memory Loss and Faith

As a pastor, there are some questions about life-matters that come in quite regularly. I was recently asked one of those common questions that I have actually gotten a few times over the years. The question goes something like this: I know a family who is struggling with a loved one who has memory problems. The person is not who he/she once was (and, in some cases, the person's personality can completely change). What does the Bible say about these types of issues? Can my loved one still be saved, even if they do not have an active faith anymore? Are there any Bible verses I can read to get any help?

This is certainly a big issue. More and more families are facing these diseases associated with memory loss. I am persuaded that these are the worst types of diseases, and sometimes they can persist for many years. As big of an issue as this is, there are many conversations that need to be had, but maybe I can provide a brief response here to put us on the right path for our thinking on the subject.

The first thought that comes to mind is the narrative about Abraham's dialogue with the Lord in Genesis 18. In verse 25 he affirms that the judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. We certainly trust that God will always do what is right in the end. We can never doubt that, not even for a moment. We cannot entertain for a second that God may do wrong. He is just and holy in all His ways. He WILL do what is right (and what is not right now will be settled on the Last Day). Those with dementia/alzheimer's/etc., in my opinion, will not be held accountable for their actions during that period of time with the disease, like others would who have full mental health.

Finding a particular chapter and verse that would serve as a proof-text would be difficult for this or any number of things. There are many issues in life in which we must think through the situations and respond to them with theological answers informed by what we know about the God of the Bible. We know a lot about God from His special revelation in the Scriptures, and some of those things are that God is, of course, loving, compassionate, gracious, and always does what is right. So, take heart! Trust the God of the Bible on this subject and every other!

Reminders and Tips for Personal Evangelism

Reminders for Evangelism

1.  We cannot save, only God can

2.  All will not be saved, but some will

3.  Our responsibility is to share the gospel not to convert people’s hearts

4.  We should be intentional but not to the point of anxiety. We must trust God in evangelism. The whole task of world evangelism does not fall on one person.

5.  Stick to the main point, and don't let folks sidetrack you. Jesus is the real issue. Who was He? Why did He come and die? Did He rise again?

6.  Don't be afraid to get to the point quickly. Friendship is important. But beating around the bush is not good for anyone

7.  Pray for opportunities. Look for natural opportunities (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, folks out in public). Take those opportunities when they come. Do not wait!

Practical Tips for Personal Evangelism

1.  Relationships are important. Think of those you already know who are not believers. In what ways can you pray for them and minister to them?

2.  Based on the first one, who are folks already within your sphere of influence that you can build a relationship with of ministry and evangelism?

3.  Turn average conversations into gospel conversations. Steer conversations onto more meaningful paths.

4. Go out of your way, even out of your comfort zone, to reach people with the good news. Be a blessing to others!

5.  Think of ways to build bridges with folks. What are some things that we all have in common?

    A. There is something that is “just not right” in the world.

    B. None of us are who we want to be, much less what God demands.

    C. Most people have hope for life after death

Guaranteed Gospel Progress (summarized version)

Have you ever wondered about the future of evangelism?  What kind of progress are we going to make for the Gospel in the years ahead? Will we see converts? Will folks continue to accept Christ? The outcome seems bleak, doesn’t it? Even before I offer some practical helps with personal evangelism, I think it is important that you go forward with assurance. The following list offers seven guarantees for continued Gospel progress even in the 21st Century. The Christian can take these scriptural references and go forth to evangelize their neighborhoods, cities, and nations with confidence.

#1 Jesus stated unequivocally that the harvest truly is plentiful (Matthew 9:37-38).

#2 Christ promised that there would be other sheep brought into His fold (John 10:16).

#3 When we evangelize, we go in Christ’s authority (Matthew 28:18) and His presence is with us (Matthew 18:20).

#4 The Lord would not command us to do something that cannot be accomplished (Matthew 28:19).

#5 The Holy Spirit comes alongside us. He testifies even as we witness to Christ (John 15:26-27).

#6 The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11).

#7 The Gospel is power (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18) and so is the presence of the Holy Spirit as we declare the truth of Christ (Acts 1:8; 4:33).

As a way to conclude this article, let me give you a bonus encouragement in your own personal evangelism and support of world-wide evangelism. In the Great Commission, the Lord commanded us to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). When the Apostle John received a vision of heaven, he saw/heard those in heaven singing a new song with the lyrics, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10, emphasis added). Here is the connection that is to be made, the encouragement to continue evangelizing with confidence, and the guarantee of continued Gospel progress: what Christ commissioned before leaving earth is ultimately seen fulfilled in heaven. There will be a great multitude of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues who will accept Christ as both Lord and Savior, and one day we will all be gathered before the throne of God and before the Lamb to shout together, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

For a more expanded article, search for this title on www.progressandjoy.org

What Evangelism is Not

What Evangelism is NOT But May Include

Last week we shared a list of reasons of why we should tell others about Christ. Before discussing what evangelism is in another post, we would like to share a list of what evangelism is not. Too many people confuse some wonderful things for evangelism when they are not. Many things may enhance evangelism or be included in it, but those things in themselves are not evangelism. Here is a list:
  1. Apologetics (defending the faith)
  2. Telling what God has done for you
  3. Social action
  4. Political action
  5. Letting your lifestyle speak for itself
  6. The results (you can’t save anyone)
  7. A program
  8. Inviting people to church/event
  9. Someone else’s duty/for paid staff
  10. Something to be done without preparation

Why Should I Tell Others About Christ (Evangelism)?

Why Should I Tell Others About Christ?

From time to time, we should be reminded of why we do (or should do) certain things in our Christian lives.  We have recently posted, again, a list of reasons for pursuing holiness in our walk with the Lord.  Today, we would like to share a bullet-point list of why we should tell others about Christ, also known as "evangelism."  Why should we evangelize?
  1. For our God’s glory
  2. The Lord’s Great Commission
  3. It is commanded specifically throughout the New Testament as well as assumed in all the letters
  4. To save others from the wrath to come
  5. To save others from the pollution and devastation of the present wicked age
  6. To give others hope for the future
  7. To represent our Lord and Savior
  8. Principle from Jesus: It is more blessed to give than to receive
  9. Out of godly love and compassion
  10. We just can’t help it!

Wheat in the Midst of Weeds

Wheat in the Midst of Weeds

As I came to conclusions for the Parable of the Weeds, I had jotted down a few sentences which I did not share publicly. I would like to take this brief article to share those thoughts. When studying this particular parable, one quickly begins to understand that Jesus is calling on us to be faithful even in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. The Bible teaches this in multiple places, and the Parable of the Weeds adds another dimension to this teaching.

For example, we are to be wheat in the midst of weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43); salt in a flavorless society and light in a dark world (Matt 5:13-16); stars in the night sky (Phil 2:15); in the world but not of the world (John 17:15-16). In more straightforward language, the king says, “Do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path” (Prov 1:15); and the apostle says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2).

We are to be different. We are to be set apart to serve the Lord in the midst of those who are hostile to His reign. That is why endurance is needed. We must be prepared and alert to fight off the pollution of this present, wicked age and the deceptions of the devil and his demons.

It is time that we awake from our slumber and carry out in our lives what we confess with our mouths. There is no excuse for spiritual weakness and faithlessness due to laziness, apathy, unpreparedness, or any of the like. We must unleash our faith. The same old drudgery is not getting us anywhere. We are not living in the kind of freedom that the Spirit is offering us in the Gospel. Therefore, let us wake up; live by faith; experience the fullness of life in Christ; be prepared, alert, and all the more fruitful as wheat in the midst of weeds!

To Be or Not To Be . . . A Church Member

To Be or Not To Be . . . A Church Member

To be a church member is not to be a member of a club, something like a golf club, or a Moose Lodge, or a YMCA even. Those organizations have their places in society, but they are not analogous to church membership. To be a member of a church means that you are a part of something, obviously. But, more than that, when you belong to a church, you are part of something bigger than you, something bigger than your life, something that the Lord Himself has created.

To be a church member means you are committed to the Lord, attempting to please Him in every way, knowing that you were bought with a price—the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Church membership also means that you are responsible for others. You are bound to them by Christ—He is the glue. You must pray for others, care for others, love others, worship with others, and so much more within the context of a local congregation. To be a Christian in isolation, forsaking regular gatherings with the church on the Lord’s Day is to be a fish out of water. Yet, on a more positive note, what a wonderful thing it is to join with fellow believers to praise our Lord and Savior and to love on one another! How often are you missing out on these things?

To be a member of a church is also to submit to leadership and to not only be accountable for others but to be accountable to others as well. Your leaders should know for whom they are responsible. Are they responsible for you? Do they know that they are responsible for you? Are you allowing them to shepherd your soul? They will have to give an answer to the Lord on the Last Day for those who have been entrusted to their care—are you making it difficult on them? The Bible teaches that we are to be loyal and even submissive to one another, our leaders and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. To be a disciple is to be a learner. We ought to be learning about the Lord, life, faith and salvation from our leaders as well as from our fellow Christians in the local church.

Some of these things about church membership are not so clearly taught in the New Testament precisely because membership was assumed in the apostolic age. Every believer belonged to a local body! So, where are you on all of this? Have you made your identification and allegiance to the local church official by making your desire to be a member public? What about those of you who are already “members”? Are you living up to that high calling? Are you at least attempting to fulfill your duty as a member of a local church of the Lord Jesus Christ? To be or not to be a church member—THAT is the question.

Christians, Living Stones for a Spiritual Temple

Christians, Living Stones for a Spiritual Temple (1 Peter 2:4-10)

In previous weeks, we have seen Christ figured as the Chief Cornerstone and the apostles as the foundation of the church. Now Peter turns his attention from Christ to the church, in 1 Peter 2:5, and continues the imagery of a building project, calling us living stones.

Notice that in verse five the apostle says that the church is being made into two things based on our association with Christ, the Living Stone: (1) a spiritual house (or, a temple for the Spirit to dwell) and (2) a holy priesthood. This is for the purpose of offering up spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God. We are living stones, no doubt, because we have put our faith in the resurrected Christ. His resurrection life becomes ours (Schreiner). Like stones which are stacked together, we are being built together to form a spiritual house, a temple for God Himself to come in and dwell. The old temple pointed to the church, which is the new, spiritual temple. Not only are we the temple, but we are the priesthood. This is a major distinction of the Protestant Reformation—the priesthood of all believers. I am no closer to God than you are. He does not favor the prayers of a pastor more so than the prayers of those in the pews.

What does a priesthood do? They offer up sacrifices to God. My question is, what are spiritual sacrifices? First of all, even the Old Testament begins to tell us that God desires something beyond law-keeping and the temple cult. The Lord says through the prophet in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” And Micah 6:8 also affirms, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” God does not ultimately desire animal sacrifice, we know that Christ was the once-for-all sacrifice which brings to an end the Old Testament sacrificial system and Law, but God does still desire spiritual sacrifices. So, the New Testament commands us to sacrifice things such as:
          1. Bodies offered to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12)  
          2. Money or material goods (Ph. 4, Heb. 13)
          3. Sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13)
          4. Sacrifices of doing good (Heb. 13:16)

These are the things acceptable to God. Now, does this fit with the context in 1 Peter 2? I think it does. Consider verse nine. We are all these things so that we “may proclaim the praises of Him.” I think this is our spiritual sacrifice. We are those devoted to the proclamation of the Gospel deeds of God. The sacrifice is giving of our resources to support that proclamation, giving of our time, enduring ridicule or persecution because of it, and much more. Of course, it is a small price to pay considering that Christ has gone before us, suffered, and died to absorb the sins of the world in Himself.

The Apostles, the Foundation of the Church

The Apostles, the Foundation of the Church

Ephesians 2:19-22 affirms, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

In the last edition of the Midweek eBulletin, we discussed the imagery of Christ as the Chief Cornerstone of this “spiritual temple” or “household of God.” Today we turn our attention to the foundation. The foundation in a building is set according to the cornerstone. It is measured, set against, and finds its course in relation to the cornerstone. Moreover, the entire structure must rest upon the foundation. In these ways, the foundation must be carefully laid, robust, and unrepeatable.

The New Testament affirms that the apostles are the foundation of the church (also see 1 Cor 3:10). The apostles are, specifically, those original men (minus Judas, plus Matthias, plus Paul) chosen and commissioned by the Lord Jesus Himself to be His authoritative representatives. The preaching of the apostles hurled the Gospel into the world and established the church of the living God. The uniquely inspired writing of the apostles and their close associates has given us the scriptural doctrines which have instructed the church for centuries and will until Christ returns.

Thus, we must look to the apostles for all matters of faith and practice. We tap into their authoritative ministries by engaging the Holy Scriptures. However, many ministries today have attempted to shift congregations off of their original foundation (Christ and His apostles) and onto a new foundation. This does not work but only leads to disaster. If one shifts the congregation’s foundation, or builds a new one, then that crowd has become just that, a crowd, and not the people of God, redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus. There is only one, true foundation. So then, we must be a people of the Book. We must be a people standing to learn, believe, teach, and defend the Bible as the Word of God, delivered through His apostles, and serving as the unrepeatable foundation of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone

Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone
It is really something to watch true professional stone masons in action. These guys are very fast in their work. As they build a wall, or a stone facing on a building, they take a stone from the pile, look it over to see where it would fit in any of the open spaces, and stick it in place. They then move on to the next stone. Every so often they take their hammer and give a chip here or there to shape up the stone and make it fit in certain places, but rarely do they cast a stone aside. They are so efficient in their work; they can spot weakness in a stone with one glance. They know a defective stone almost instinctively.

In the first century, during Jesus’ time, stone was the primary building material. The cornerstone was the first stone to be laid in construction. It became the foundation upon/by which all the other stones were set. The cornerstone had to be the perfect stone and set perfectly because if it was off, even a little bit, the whole building was off. Once the cornerstone was set, they could then build out from that point. There have been many cornerstones found in archeological digs in the Middle East; one was measured at 69 feet by 12 feet by 13 feet. These stones were very important in ancient architecture.

The New Testament pictures a spiritual temple with Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone. The Bible also sees the apostles as the foundation upon which the church is built. Christians, too, participate in the spiritual temple and priesthood. We may look at these three parts individually over the next few weeks, but let's begin by considering Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone.

Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; and Ephesians 2:20 all pick up on Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 from the Old Testament and designate Jesus as the Precious Stone which the builders rejected and yet God has made the Chief Cornerstone. 1 Peter 2:4 also figures Jesus this way as the foundation for the church and the Gospel. The apostle says, by inspiration, that Christians come to the Lord as a Living Stone, rejected by people, but chosen by and precious to God the Father.

A stone which was tossed away because it was considered useless is later brought back as the most precious stone. In the same way, Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leaders (and the world, for that matter) and crucified in order to do away with Him. Yet, God the Father had chosen Him as the Chief Cornerstone, and, so, He was raised from the dead on the third day. Three things are said about Christ, our Living Stone: (1) He was/is rejected by men, however, (2) He is chosen by God, and (3) He is precious. The apostles use this figurative language to demonstrate the value of Christ as the crux of all that God is doing in the salvation of souls and the gathering of them into His Church. Christ is the end-all and be-all.

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil (from an Amateur’s Perspective)

Certainly, we all struggle from time to time with the evil in this world, all around us, even hitting home when we experience a taste of it ourselves.  The problem arises for Christians when the questions arises, “How can there be so much evil in the world if God is perfectly good as well as all powerful?”  If God were perfectly good but not all powerful, then we may understand that He wants to stop evil but is not able. On the flip side, if God were all powerful but not all good, then we would realize that he does not stop evil because He does not want to even though He could.  However, orthodox Christian doctrine affirms, among many other things, that our God is both perfectly good and all powerful.  Since this is true, we are left with our original question:

“How can there be so much evil in the world if God is perfectly good as well as all powerful?”

While this seems like an insurmountable attack on the God of the Bible, the Christian actually does have a reasonable response.  To begin to understand the answer, we must put aside our emotional feelings.  This is hard to do, but once our emotions are taken out of the equation, we will be able to think clearly on the subject.

First of all, the genuine, consistent atheist must admit that there is no such thing as objective moral values and duties.  Following atheism to its logical end produces a conclusion that there are no such things as good and evil.  There is no objective basis on which to judge these things.  Nevertheless, almost everyone knows that there IS such a thing as evil.  Will anyone really deny that murder is evil?  Are there folks out there who will disagree that child abuse is evil?  Was the Holocaust not evil?  What about ISIS; is burning people in cages not evil?  Most of the world’s population will acknowledge that these things are evil and that evil exists.  And yet, no one can make these sorts of judgments without the existence of God.  Follow this logic:

(1) If we believe that there is evil in the world, then there must be good. If there is wrong, then there must be right and vice-versa.
(2) If good and evil exist, then objective moral values and duties exist.
(3) If there are objective moral values and duties, then there must be a universal, moral lawgiver.
(4) There is a universal lawgiver—God.

The theologians and Christian apologists call this line of reasoning, “The Moral Argument for the Existence of God.”  The Scriptures affirm that God exists and that He has given us standards (Romans 1:18-21).  He is holy, and, to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well.  The Scriptures even go so far as to state that all human beings have this moral law written on their hearts, even apart from the Bible (Romans 2:12-16).

Here is the argument in three simple points:

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
(2) But objective moral values and duties do exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

Now, all we have done thus far is show that the question of the problem of evil does not disprove God’s existence.  We have shown that that evil actually proves God’s existence.  So, how are we to begin to deal with the problem?

The first answer to the problem of evil is the fact of free-will.  God has created human beings in His image and likeness, and He has allowed us to freely choose to accept or reject Him.  He has allowed us to choose good or evil.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and some human beings have chosen to pursue evil wholeheartedly.  This is a horrible situation in which we find ourselves, but the alternative was for God to create us to simply be robots, programmed to only do good.  The only remedy for this horrible situation is not to deny God and pursue wickedness; on the contrary, our only hope is to trust God and wait for the appearing of His Son who will rid the world of evil and establish an everlasting kingdom of peace and all that is good.

Another response to the problem of evil is that God surely has morally sufficient reasons for allowing pain and suffering to continue in the world.  You see, not only is God perfectly good and all powerful, but He is also all knowing.  He can see the end from the beginning.  Before creation, He thought of all the possible worlds that He could create, and He chose to create this one.  For whatever reasons, He created a world with free creatures which would allow for pain, suffering, and evil.  Maybe that is the only kind of world there can be when creatures have freedom of the will.  Maybe that is the world in which the most people would come to a knowledge of the truth and to saving faith.  For whatever the reasons, even with the emotional turmoil that evil brings, we do not waver from the belief in the integrity of God.  He is perfectly righteous—therefore, everything He thinks, says, and does is right.

There are many more things that can be said on this extremely relevant and greatly important question, and we have only scratched the surface.  Maybe this article will help a little bit to move you toward some answers to the problem, and perhaps we can follow this up with some more articles.

St. Patrick, Apostle to Ireland

Patrick, Apostle to Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated this week, so I thought I would share a brief summary of his history. Many think of St. Patrick’s Day as a day to wear green, celebrate Irish heritage, and have parties. However, there is a rich story behind the holiday.

The man known as “Patrick of Ireland,” “Saint Patrick,” and “Apostle of Ireland” was English by birth (living from late fourth century into the middle of the fifth century) but was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland when he was a teenager. After a handful of years, Patrick escaped from his captors and went back to his home country. Patrick had been raised by a Christian family and later studied for the ministry, rose to leadership in the church, and even returned to Ireland to spread the Gospel of Christ as a missionary (thus the word “apostle”). Just think, Patrick returned to the people who had kidnapped, abused, and enslaved him. Can you imagine returning to the place of your worst nightmare? I don’t know about you, but I may have vowed to never enter Ireland again. And yet, Patrick went back to that pagan society with the Gospel of peace.

I think Patrick’s story beautifully illustrates Scriptures such as Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you,” and Colossians 3:12-13, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

All of us who bear the holy name of Jesus Christ are to be those who extend the forgiveness of Christ to others, even our enemies, just as we have received the love and grace of Christ ourselves. This St. Patrick’s Day think about the Gospel, evangelism at home and abroad, forgiveness, and grace. Patrick has shown us what it means to “live a life worthy of the calling we have received in Christ.” Now, let us do the same.

A Prayer for Unbelievers

Our Father in heaven,

     You are the God who creates, sustains, redeems, judges, and reigns forever and ever. You are the One who is merciful, gracious, and longsuffering. You are love.

     We confess that, as a people, we have not been fully obedient to the charge of the Great Commission to make disciples. We have not prayed for our enemies or made many overtures to reach out to those who are lost in the darkness of this present wicked age. Father, have mercy on us.

     We thank you that you have saved us and that the glorious gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ is available to any and all who will believe. You have made a people for Yourself and continue to add
to it from every nation, tribe, and tongue on the planet. What a privilege we have to be a part of this ministry of reconciliation.
We are humbled.

     To You, O Lord, we lift up our souls. For You, Lord, are good, ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. We want to stand in the gap and plead in behalf of those we know who are not saved. We call on You, the One who has done all the work, to save our family and friends who are outside of Your will presently. We bring before you those in our community—within our sphere of influence, folks we will come into contact with soon—asking that You make Your glory known to them and in them.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name; for You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God: Would You, God of the nations, continue to save sinners here in our nation? Will You save souls right here in our communities? We pray for evangelistic opportunities in Winston-Salem, Pfafftown, Bethania, Germanton, Tobaccoville, King, and here in Rural Hall. May you bless our efforts for the redeeming sake of others and for your great name.

In Christ’s gracious and powerful name we pray, Amen.

Reflections on Acts 9:10-19

Reflections on Acts 9:10-19

Someone’s past does not disqualify one from salvation or service.  Do you agree with that statement?  Well, we probably all agree with that in theory, but in practice we are quick to think or even say, “I have heard about him/her.  I doubt he/she will ever come to the Lord.”  Or, we may think something like, “Sure, you can join the church, but you will never be allowed to do this/that.” 

Many of us think we have it all figured out.  Maybe we have served the Lord for years and have forgotten how immature or sinful we were in our early years as Christians.  Maybe we were raised in the church and have not committed the “major” or open sins that get so much negative attention.  Let me remind you that none of us are perfect.  Even those of us who have been raised in church and have not committed publicly shameful deeds, do we think that we are better than others?  What if the sins of your heart were exposed?  What if the sins under your roof, behind closed doors were exposed?  Would you be so innocent anymore?  I think not.

The truth is, we all have a past.  We all have had struggles with sin and continue to fight the “flesh,” that is, the old, sinful nature.  We all are in need of a savior, the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let me encourage you to not only affirm that first sentence in theory but also in practice: Someone’s past does not disqualify one from salvation or service.  How can we believe this?  The Father made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Our past is done away with when we commit to God by faith in Jesus Christ.  He forgives us our sins and removes them from our account.

So then, when we consider this passage of Scripture in Acts 9.  Many of us think of others in the same way that Ananias’ first reacted to an urging to minister to Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.”  What Ananias said was true.  His fear was legitimate.  But that did not stop the Lord from saving Saul and using Ananias as an evangelistic tool to minister to him.  The Lord told Ananias to “Go.”  Saul’s horrific sins of his past would not haunt him in the future; they would not keep the Lord from saving him or calling him into His service.  The Lord said “Go,” and Ananias “Went.”  When we sense the urging of the Lord to minister to someone, we, too, should not reject them based on their appearance or their past.  Instead, we should minister to them and make them disciples.  The Lord will extend the offer of salvation to them in the Gospel message, and, if they respond with faith, the Lord will call them into His service.  He did the same for you and for me, why not any other person?