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Greetings All!

     Not too long ago I was speaking with a group of college-age Christians when I brought up the topic of sanctification. There was dead silence.  “What’s sanctification?” one boy asked.  “It’s being set apart for God, or as belonging to God,” I said. “It means growing in holiness.”   Since they still looked a bit confused and didn’t totally understand the term holiness, I said: “You know, like growing to be more godly or coming to reject sin more and more. Seeking to do what Christ wants and resisting the things of the world.” 
     Yet, try as I might to explain it, it was a topic they found hard to grasp.  And these weren’t unbelievers or non-churched people, they were churched people, one young man being a pastor’s kid.  So, I figured that if they struggled with the concept of sanctification, maybe others do as well.  And if so, to help remedy that lack of understanding, I offer these quotes on sanctification from well-known Christians.  I trust they will help!  Enjoy!

     "There are three things which the true Christian desires in respect to sin: Justification, that it may not condemn; Sanctification, that it may not rein; and Glorification, that it may cease to be."       Richard Cecil

     "I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: If I was saved by my good works – then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through.  I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God's infinite cost – then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."    Tim Keller
     "Associate with sanctified persons. They may by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy."    Thomas Watson

     "The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are co-workers with God. We have the promise of God's assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work (Phil. 2:12-13).”    R. C. Sproul
     "Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart, this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness.”     Charles Spurgeon

     “Is my wife more like Christ because she is married to me? Or is she like Christ in spite of me? Has she shrunk from His likeness because of me? Do I sanctify her or hold her back? Is she a better woman because she is married to me?"    R. Kent Hughes
     "The one marvelous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh. Sanctification is "Christ in you."... Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy; it is drawing from Jesus the holiness that was manifested in Him, and He manifests it in me."  Oswald Chambers

     "The sanctified body is one whose hands are clean. The stain of dishonesty is not on them, the withering blight of ill-gotten gain has not blistered them, the mark of violence is not found upon them. They have been separated from every occupation that could displease God or injure a fellow-man."    A. B. Simpson

     "Those who have been justified are now being sanctified; those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified."   F.F. Bruce
     One of God’s primary purposes in the life of everyone He saves is to restore His sin-damaged and sin-fractured image within us.
     This is one of the three primary aspects of “salvation” which includes: 1st) JUSTIFICATION or being saved from the wrath of God against our sin, and brought into a pardoned, reconciled, or right standing with God, by grace, through atonement and faith in Christ or His blood (Rom. 3:21-26).  2ndSANCTIFICATION or being saved from the power and personality-distorting effects of sin in two ways: In an immediate way at the time of our conversion (definitive sanctification), and then in a gradual way for the remainder of our lives (progressive life-long sanctification) where God conforms us more and more into the likeness of Jesus, who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His being" (Heb. 1:3).  And 3rd) GLORIFICATION or being saved from the indwelling presence of sin within us all together at the time of our death and/or resurrection.
     So, "salvation" is to be saved from sin’s penalty (justification) and power (sanctification) and presence (glorification). It's one of the reasons you can't really speak about salvation from a biblical perspective without speaking of sin!  It also explains what Richard Cecil means in the first quote, and why F.F. Bruce can say what he says in the last quote. "God chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in Him"  (Eph. 1:4) and "predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).  That was His eternal purpose for us, and it always involves sanctification!

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff 


Simple Church

Greetings to All and Prayers for a Happy New Year!

     As we begin the new year, I thought I would start us off with a call to return to simple.  Simple and uncomplicated ministry.  Ministry as Jesus did it.  Ministry stripped off all the ways we try and make it more complex than it really is. Spirituality that's focused on the important.  Being the Church Jesus wants us to be.

This was driven home to me in a book recommended by a close friend: Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  It is a straightforward and down to earth appraisal of how ministry should look. How Jesus intended it to look. If you happen to be struggling with the church as it often is, and want to consider it from a refreshing perspective, I would encourage you to pick up this easy to read book. As you go through it I am sure you will likely find yourself saying on many occasions, "Yes, that IS how it should be."   I offer this excerpt as a mere taste of what is in the book. Enjoy.

     "Simple churches have chosen to align themselves with the way God works. They have chosen to partner with the discipleship process revealed in Scripture. They have chosen to structure their churches around a simple process...  We are not claiming a simple church design is easy. There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental. Easy is effortless...  Leading a local church is neither simple nor easy, but the church strategy does not need to be complicated. The ministry design can and should be simple.
     If anyone knows simple it is Jesus. If anyone is a revolutionary, it is Jesus. He is the simple revolutionary. He stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules.  He could not stand their hypocrisy.  He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners.  The religious leaders had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose that number because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the 10 Commandments. Then they found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). They divided the list into affirmative commands (do this) and negative commands (don't do this).  There were 248 affirmative commands, one for every part of the human body as they understood it. There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. They further divided the list into binding commands and nonbinding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and ranking the commands within each division.
     Enter Jesus. Jesus has the ability to take the complex and make it simple. The prime example is Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus gives what has become known as the Great Commandment. Here is the scene. Jesus has just stumped the Sadducees. Literally. He silenced them by His wisdom (Matt. 22:34). Next up are the Pharisees. Maybe they can do a better job knocking this revolutionary down. The Pharisees gather for a meeting. They devise a debate strategy. The goal is to humiliate Jesus in front of the crowd. They choose their smartest guy, a lawyer, to take on Jesus. He asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the law. Of all the 613 commandments, he is asking Jesus for the greatest. Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend (are summed up in) these two commandments." Think about the significance of that moment. He said all the Law (and He added the Prophets) is summed up in this simple and perfect phrase. He was not lowering the standard of the Law.  He was not abolishing it.  He was capturing all its spirit, all of its essence, in one statement.  He said all of it hangs on this.  He summed up 613 commands in two.  Jesus took the complexity and the advancement of the Law and made it very simple.
     Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. In the Jewish culture, each rabbi had a "yoke" of teaching. His yoke was his instructions, his content and his message. Many rabbis put yokes of teaching on the people that were impossible and legalistic. These yokes pushed people away from the grace of God and not toward it.  These yokes burned people out and turned people off.  Jesus stepped onto the scene and said to the crowd one day: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus said HIS yoke was easy. His teaching was in stark contrast to the religious rabbis of the day. He was not offering a complicated and long set of rules, rituals, and regulations. He was offering grace. He was offering a simple relationship with God. As a simple revolutionary, Jesus was bothered by meaningless and distracting clutter.
     On at least one occasion, Jesus cleansed the temple. Many biblical scholars believe he did this twice during His earthly ministry. Mark 11 gives the account of one of His cleaning projects.  Jesus was enraged by what he observed at the temple. The temple had the appearance of being a place where people would seek God, but this was not the reality. People had lost their focus. Mark describes three areas of clutter that infuriated Jesus.  FIRST, people are buying and selling in the temple... The leaders allowed vendors to set up shop in the temple.  Historians reveal vendors were typically set up outside the temple, but (in Jesus day) the makeshift marketplace is inside the temple. Jesus responded by driving out those who were selling doves.  SECOND, money changers were exchanging foreign currency for the Gentiles. The Gentiles needed Jewish money to buy sacrifices and they were being exploited with a fee for the exchange. Instead of the temple being a house of prayer for all nations (including Gentiles) it was cluttered with people robbing them financially. Jesus reacts by throwing over the tables of the money changers.  THIRD, the temple had become a shortcut for people to pass through the city...  Jesus stopped them.
     His behavior in the temple gives us amazing insight into the heart of God. Jesus is adamantly opposed to anything that gets in the way of people encountering Him. He quoted from Isaiah that day saying, "Is it not written. 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' But you have made it a den of thieves!"  (Mark 11:17).  Many of our churches have become cluttered. So cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church. What about your church?"

     Just some food for thought as we enter the New Year and hopefully "clean out" and "simplify" our approach to God.  For Jesus wants us to know, "[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light."  He designed it that way.  He fought to keep it that way.  May He win the fight to do so in your life and in your church.
     With Prayers for a Year Where We Can Learn to Enjoy the Simplicity and Light Load of Being In Christ, Pastor Jeff


Churches In Missions

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from a newsletter I received from a man named Paul Hatmacher (seen below with his wife Barbara) who serves as president of an organization called, "Churches In Missions."   I received his Christmas Newsletter and thought that the story he shared was encouraging enough (and challenging enough) to pass it along to you.  As one who has met Paul I can tell you he loves the Lord, is full of faith, and exudes joy. This is the story of his recent bout with pneumonia just after Thanksgiving and his determination to be a missionary even in the hospital.  Enjoy.

     "Speaking of the pneumonia invading my lungs one doctor said: "I've seen ugly CT scans, but yours is among the ugliest."  On the way to the emergency room, I prayed, "Make me a blessing through all this."  The way the Holy Spirit guided me was to thank everyone for anything they did and never complain, whether it hurt or not, and even when they awakened me at 5:45 a.m. to be weighed. I was in the hospital for 12 days, received excellent care and endured some of the strongest medications. But we dare not overlook the blessings that have resulted: The staff constantly asked, "Why are you so thankful and kind?"  That was the Lord's opening for me to share what the Lord means to me and has allowed me to experience.  I shared that in our missionary experiences, we were among people who had nothing, yet they showed joy and gratefulness for everything.
     I related that we had been so blessed with their care and God's blessings that I just had to say "thank you."  I related that I was cured of complaining with a chorus I learned in Sunday School. Every time I begin to complain, I sing or hum the chorus, "Count your blessings, name them one by one."  Can you believe it, for the next few days, every time one of the nurses walked by my room they hummed or sang that chorus! 
     I had the joy of witnessing to at least 4 MD's, and every nurse and aid -- and everyone said: "you are a different kind of patient."  One nurse, after midnight, checked on me and as she was tucking the blankets she began weeping and said, "my life's a mess." I invited her to return when she could and I had the privilege to hold her hands and through her tears lead her to trust Jesus as her Savior. 
     I still have a visiting nurse three times a week and a therapist twice a week and praise the Lord I am getting stronger and the x-ray I had today will reveal the pneumonia is gone... I wouldn't want to go through this again, but it taught me that being a missionary isn't just when we cross the ocean or preach from a pulpit.  We are to be salt and light whatever the circumstance... P.S. - Upon being dismissed from the hospital the Director of that division came by to thank me personally for being an encouragement."
     I share his story because as a pastor I visit hospitals a lot and often hear patients, family members, and the like, expressing just the opposite.  I myself have not always been the most thankful or cheerful of patients. Yet, Paul challenged me to consider that even my hospital stays can be opportunities to be salt and light.  Seeing his joyful demeanor (even when not feeling well) made a nurse comfortable enough to open up with him and give him the opportunity to share about Jesus and lead her to Christ. I wonder if that's not how it should always be for a believer. 
     Too often we can be so focused on the care we get, or what we think it should be as opposed to what it is (especially in light of the cost), that we are led to complain instead of thanking our caregivers.  We look to be served instead of seeking to see it as an opportunity to serve as missionaries in that place.  It would be helpful on such occasions to remember how blessed we are, and that many people around the world would give anything just to have a hospital to go to, never mind the level of care we have here in the States.  So, as a reminder of what we are called to, and the difference it can make if we just determine to respond differently, I pass his story along to you. After all, it is all about what we can do for Jesus and His kingdom.

To God Alone Be Glory,  Pastor Jeff


The Lessons of Saint Nicholas

Greetings and Merry Christmas to All!

     This week's "thought" follows the theme of Christmas. It's a selection I took from another Advent Devotional Series, this time sent out by my former alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I received my MDiv.  It was on Day 4, December 6th, and written by Dr. Ken Barnes, Associate Professor of Workplace Theology and Business Ethics.  In it he gives us helpful historical insights into the part St. Nicholas has come to play in the Christmas celebration (at least here in the States) and how we could respond to his inclusion in it -- which is not likely to go away anytime soon.

     I would like to take this time to wish all my friends near and far a Merry Christmas and pray that no matter where you are, or how busy things get, you might keep your eyes on the all-important truth the day is meant to emphasize -- the incarnation of God in Christ.  As C.S. Lewis so poignantly reminded us: "The Central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man."  What truth could be more astounding or life-changing than that?  Enjoy.
The Lessons of Saint Nicholas

“…the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” 

(Clement Clarke Moore, 1822)

     We’ve no doubt all have heard the famous poem attributed to the late Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, former Professor of Greek and Oriental Literature at New York’s General Theological Seminary, entitled “T'was the Night Before Christmas.”  Supposedly written as a holiday bedtime story for his own children (he had nine of them), the simple little ditty forever evokes our popular images of Santa Claus, the “jolly old elf,” complete with his white beard, rosy cheeks, plump belly and “bundle of toys.”
     Based on convoluted versions of Norse and British folklore, the latter producing “Father Christmas,” and the ancient Dutch story of “Sinterklass” (Saint Nicholas), the contemporary version of Santa Claus is sadly quite wide of the mark. Of course, if you had grown up in an Eastern European household as a child, you would know that today, December 6, and not Christmas day, is actually the day when children receive gifts in honor of the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, the actual Saint Nicholas.
     The Bishop, it is said, was born into a wealthy aristocratic family, and upon receipt of his inheritance considered quite literally the words of Jesus: “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me,” (Matt 19:21). Legend has it that in response to God’s grace, he did just that, and gave his wealth not only to the poor,  but uniquely to poor children, especially young girls who would have otherwise experienced lives of destitution and exploitation. He was indeed a saint if ever there was one.
     So how did we go from celebrating the benevolence of St. Nicholas on his traditional feast day (December 6) to giving gifts on Christmas Day?  The answer, it would seem, rests with none other than Martin Luther, the progenitor of the Reformation itself, the 500th anniversary of which we celebrated earlier this year. As legend has it, Luther found the veneration of saints to be unhelpful and a distraction to the proper worship of Christ alone.  So, he sought to redirect the popular tradition of exchanging gifts on the feast of St. Nicholas to the feast of the “Christkind” (the feast of the Christ child), a.k.a. Christmas.
     In some respects, it wasn’t a bad idea. Surely we should focus our attention on the work of Christ and not the work of others.  But in two very important ways, it turns out to have been folly.  FIRST, it backfired quite spectacularly.  Instead of turning our attention to the great gift-giver himself, Jesus Christ, gift-giving in the form of crass consumerism has appropriated one of our highest holidays. Luther would be nothing less than scandalized to see what has become of Christmas.
     SECOND, we lost the truly inspirational story of the real St. Nicholas, whose retelling may inspire us to follow his example and use our material goods to bless the lives of others in devotion, and in response, to the grace of the “Christkind.”
     As a pastor, I know how easy it is to critique the way Christmas is observed in many places around the world (not just America). The commercialization of the holiday has spread far and wide and made it difficult to simply focus on Jesus' coming, offer Him our grateful praise, and kneel in heartfelt adoration before the One who was "the Word made flesh."  And that's the truth that's so life-changing. The other more superfluous aspects of the celebration can, and undeniably do, generate fond memories and sentimental feelings in believers and unbelievers alike. And that's fine I guess (though it can turn into idolatry when one seeks, desires, and delights in those things more than Jesus.)
     Yet, what I've found to be true is that unless our primary focus is on Jesus and the miracle of His incarnation -- what C. S. Lewis rightly calls the "central miracle asserted by Christians" -- our holy endeavors will often end by New Year's Eve, or shortly thereafter. They tend to "lose the feeling of Christmas"  once they take down the tree and put Jesus, the lights, the creche scenes, and decorations, back into the closet until next Christmas.
     That's why it's so important to remember that the truth we celebrate at Christmas is not simply for Christmas!  It's a truth that should change the way we view everything and do everything, every day of the year!  For how can one believe that God the Son, the Word (ie: the Logos, or Wisdom of God, who was with God and was God from the beginning -- John 1:1-4) actually became flesh in the Christ child and not see the incredibly profound implications that has for all of life? 
     For is Jesus was a man, and nothing more, then the rest of the Gospel story is emptied of all its life-changing power and life-saving significance. If the baby in the manger was a mere human child and no more, the story is quaint, but no more worthy of our notice than the story of any other child, born in any other place, under adverse conditions.
     Surely the Christmas celebration should involve JOY (who wouldn't rejoice that our Savior came to earth!), and it should also involve GIVING (after all, God gave His son), and it should invoke a sense of REVERENCE at the glories of heaven revealed in the birth of Jesus (as the Shepherds discovered).  But most of all (if it's effect is to be lasting) it should be centered upon Jesus and lead the heart to worship and adore Him as the Christ. For it's only when the heart is driven to kneel in worship before Jesus, and see Him as the object of that worship, that we show we really comprehend what took place at Christmas.

Merry Christmas!  Pastor Jeff