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12.11.2018

Gospel Fluency

Greetings All,

     Today's "thought" comes from a book entitled "Gospel Fluency" by a man named Jeff Vanderstelt.  It has to do with putting the Gospel into practice, or developing Gospel-like habits in our relationships. Not simply believing the Gospel and leaving it at that, but living in such a way as to help make Gospel-driven people more believable. This selection has to do with drawing out what's deep in the hearts of people. His point is well taken.  Enjoy.


Listen and Learn

     "Proverbs 20:5 says, "The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out."  We need to become people of understanding -- people who seek to understand others before we expect them to understand us and what we believe.  We need to learn how to ask more questions and draw out what is deep inside people's souls. We need to learn to slow down and listen closely to the longings of their hearts. We need to learn their stories. In short, we need to care more about winning people to Jesus than about winning arguments. Gospel fluency isn't just about talking.  It's about listening as well. This requires love, patience and wisdom. Jesus was so good at this.
     Whenever I consider how I can grow in being a person of understanding who listens well, I think of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  It was high noon, when the sun was at its hottest.  There was a reason this woman was getting her water at this time of day.  She chose a time when no one else would be at the well.  Nobody went there in the heat of the day. But she probably wanted to avoid running into one of the wives of the men with whom she'd been sexually involved. She had five husbands, and the man she was then involved with was not her husband. However, Jesus didn't start with where she was wrong. He actually started in a humble posture of receiving from her.  He asked her for water, and she poured out her soul. 
     I've found that starting with a posture of humility, standing in a place of need, and having a heart that is willing not only to give answers but also receive insight, creates a welcoming place for people to open their hearts. The more open we are to listen and learn, the more likely people are to be open as well.  If you look at the story closely, you discover that Jesus continued to make very short, provocative statements that invited more conversation.  He was drawing out, little by little, the longing of her soul.  He was a master at drawing out the heart... I'm amazed at how often well-intentioned Christians overwhelm people with a barrage of words. We go on and on about what we believe and what they should believe, assuming we know what others think, believe or need.  I often find that we are giving answers to questions people are not even asking, or cramming information into hearts that are longing for love, not just facts.  We fail to listen. We fail to draw out the heart. And we miss opportunities to really love people and share the love of God with them They also miss out on getting to hear what's going on in their own hearts.
     I have found that when people, including myself, are invited to say out loud what they believe, they come to realize something is wrong. This is why counselling is a busy enterprise. People have no one to listen to them  They need to speak out loud what is going on in their hearts, and the only way some can do so is by paying a counselor to listen.  I'm all for counseling, but I've spoken with many counselors, and most of them agree that if God's people would slow down, close their mouths, open their ears, and listen, many people wouldn't need counselors.  Jesus slowed down, drew out the heart and listened. As he did this at the well the Samaritan woman's heart spilled out. And as it did, he guided her in a process of confession -- not just of her behaviors, but also of her beliefs. She had been looking for love in all the wrong places, and had clearly misunderstood God and how he interacts with us as humans. As Jesus engaged and listened, he was able to show her how he could provide what she thirsted for most. He could lead her to a well that would never go dry, providing an unending supply of soul water. He was the water that would deeply satisfy her soul. 
     The love she was looking for was standing right in front of her. And the God she should worship would go with her wherever she went. He wasn't on this mountain or that.  He said he wants to come to human hearts like an unending stream of water that refreshes the soul. She believed Jesus, and then went to tell her whole village about him. That's what you want to do with good news -- share it with others.  When people really grasp the good news of Jesus, satisfying the deep longings of their souls, it's hard for them to keep it to themselves."
     A friend of mine used to enjoy pointing out that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason -- so that we would listen twice as much as we talk.
     He had a point.  Too often we seek to talk when we need to offer people the gift of listening, and nowadays it is a rare and scarce gift.  As the author goes on to point out: "Francis Schaeffer said, 'If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first fifty-five minutes asking them questions, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth."  Yet, regardless of the specific ratios or percentages of time, we should in the very least make it our aim to spend more time earnestly listening than talking.  That's how we become people of understanding, as Prov. 20:5 puts it, who aim at drawing out the deep waters in a person's heart.  Maybe we could all give this a shot at one of the upcoming holiday parties or events. Two ears, one mouth.  That's a good ratio.  Let's do it.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff


12.04.2018

Tortured for Christ

Greetings All,

     This week’s “thought” comes from a man whose faith and commitment to Jesus I have admired for years.  Shortly after I came to Christ 38 years ago, I headed to the Dominican Republic as a short-term missionary.  At one point I came across a book in the mission’s library.  It was Richard Wurmbrand’s autobiographical sketch of the 14 years he spent in a Communist prison camp in Romania for being a Christian - “Tortured for Christ.” 
















     It was the first Christian book I ever read cover to cover in one sitting, and I have given out many copies to friends ever since! The two stories I share today were related by Wurmbrand to a friend, and are samples of what you will find in that book.  They come from the most recent “Voice of the Martyr’s” magazine.   Enjoy.

     Story #1:

     “Richard once overheard a conversation between a pastor named Simeon and a thief named Cunia.  Every day Cunia stole Simeon’s eyeglasses and then offered to return them in exchange for the pastor’s supply of sugar. Pastor Simeon never complained, and then one day he said to the thief, “I will give you the sugar gladly. You don’t need to blackmail me by taking my glasses.”  “Why don’t you get angry with me and report me?” Cunia asked.  “Because I want you to become a better man,” Simeon replied, “I love you.”
     “Nobody loves me,” Cunia said.  “I am a thief.”  “It is Christmas -- Jesus’ birth,” Simeon continued.  “He loved thieves so much that He likened Himself to a thief who comes in the night.  I too have learned much from thieves.  You are passionate in your trade. You go to great lengths to get money. You suffer repeatedly, but, once freed, you revert to stealing. You are a model of perseverance.  Like you, I too like gold. I have chosen as my eternal abode a city where even the streets are paved with gold. Jesus came from there to enrich us. There is no need to steal anymore.”  He went on to tell Cunia about the Son of God who was born in a stable to save us...
     Wurmbrand said of Pastor Simeon, “On Christmas the Son of God was made a man that we might become children of God. His aim has been fulfilled. There are real children of God.”

     Story #2:

     “On Christmas Eve, while Richard lay in bed, an abbot named Iscu lay in another bed on his right, awaiting death from the tortures he received. The abbot was serene knowing he would soon be with Jesus in heaven…  On Richard’s left was another prisoner – the man who had tortured Iscu.  His comrades had turned on him and he too had been imprisoned and tortured.  Distraught by his deeds, this man woke Richard during the night.  “I have committed horrible crimes,” he confessed. “I can find no rest. Help me,” he pleaded.
     Just then, Iscu called two other prisoners to his side to help him. Leaning on them, he slowly walked to his former torturer and sat down on his bedside. “You were young and did not know what you were doing,” he said, caressing the man’s head. “I forgive you and love you, as do all the other Christians you have mistreated. And if we sinners who have been saved by Jesus can love like this, how much more is He ready to erase all the evil you have done, to cleanse you fully. Only repent.”
     In that common cell in which there was no privacy, Richard heard the torturer confessing his crimes to the one he had tortured…  Both men died that night, on Christmas Eve.  It was not simply a commemoration of the event in Bethlehem. It was Jesus being born in the heart of a criminal.”

     Such a degree of love really is amazing.  Who could explain it except as the fruit of a very real and true faith in Jesus Christ.  And what a blessing it is for those who have messed up so badly to discover that salvation is by the grace of Jesus, and therefore no one is too far gone to be beyond the reach of God’s power to redeem. Not even a man who had tortured and brought great pain and suffering to many.
     It is a matter for great praise that forgiveness is not earned, but as the Gospel proclaims, is a free gift of grace to those who cast themselves upon the mercy of Jesus and take eternal refuge in the blood that was shed to satisfy God’s just wrath against sin.  A Gospel promise that is to all who will turn in faith to Jesus and leave their life of sin behind -- regardless of how terrible that past life of sin may have been.

     Blessing the Name of him who came and took on flesh that first Christmas, Pastor Jeff

11.27.2018

Attitude Adjustment

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought," which comes to you from F. Congreve, has to do with a commonly needed "attitude adjustment" in the believers heart and mind.  For as believers in Jesus we can sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking (because of the sinful things we did in our past) that we should not be joyful. That joy would be wrong.  That being joyful would somehow imply we didn't take our past sins seriously enough. But often just the opposite it true.  The sense that we must remain sullen comes not from the fact that we haven't taken our past sin seriously enough, but that we haven't taken divine forgiveness seriously enough!  For if we are forgiven - truly forgiven by God - how can we not experience joy, even despite the sinful things we may have done.
     Hopefully today's thought will reinforce that truth.  If God has forgiven your sins there are only two reasonable responses: 1.) Tears of joy and gratitude (Luke 7:38) and 2.) smiles of joy and gratitude.  But never should the knowledge of our gracious forgiveness lead to a conscious attempt on our part to repress the sense of joy that should follow!  For as Paul says, "Blessed is the person whose sins are forgiven; whose transgressions are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him" (Rom. 4:7-8).  Enjoy.
     "The feast which Levi gave to our Lord Jesus on the occasion of his conversion (Luke 5:27-35) is such a cheerful metaphor of the Christian life.  It is a festival of joy and gratitude for a conversion.  We are sinners forgiven - abundant reason for perpetual praise.  A feast represents a forgiven sinner's whole course; he is embraced, welcomed home, and has brought more joy to heaven than there was before.  His sorrow for sin is not a mortified, humiliated, angry disgust with himself.  It is a humble, hopeful sorrow always 'turning into joy'.  So, if his very sorrows become the material for his joy, his life may be represented by the feast Levi gave to the Lord, who had forgiven and called him. 
     "But I am unworthy of joy," says the forgiven sinner.  "I am willing to work and suffer if need be. I don't deserve joy."  That is the sentiment true of a pagan, but it contradicts the whole Creed of the Church - "I believe in...the forgiveness of sins."  So, our life ought to be full of the joy of grateful love; the remembrance of sin means the remembrance of the love that called us out of our sins and forgave us our whole sin-debt.
     And notice that Levi did not just make Jesus a feast, he made Jesus a great feast.  It is not that we are to be cheerful for our own gratification.  Our life is to be full of praise and thanksgiving, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord - for the honor of Jesus.  Levi made the great feast for Him.  Our habitual joy is due God, and honors God, and our joy means not simply a reflection of the joy of God, but is the joy of God... If we are sinners forgiven, we ought to behave as forgiven, welcomed-home sinners. People crowned with wonderful love in Christ. We should cheer and encourage everyone around us, who often go about so heavily because we have reflected our gloom upon them instead of our grateful love, hope and confidence."
     It's a thought worthy of prayerful consideration!

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

11.13.2018

Our True Identity in Christ Jesus

Greetings All!

     This week's thought has to do with who we are in Christ.  It underscores our true identity in Christ Jesus and can help us when we "feel" otherwise. We often have a heavy (even sad) sense of who we feel we are, or how we "think" God must view us, so it's good every so often to be reminded what God says about us, and how He views us in Jesus.
     The list below itemizes in "first-person language" who you really are and what you enjoy in Christ.  You can’t earn these qualities. They are a gift of God's grace to you as His blood-purchased and Spirit-born child. These traits are yours simply because you were born again into life with Christ. There is nothing you can do to make these characteristics more true of you, though you can make them more meaningful and productive in your life by simply choosing to believe they are true of you (After all, to believe them is to believe the Gospel).
     One of the best ways to grow and mature as a believer is to continually remind yourself who you are in Christ and what things are yours by virtue of being His child.  The more you understand and affirm who you are in Christ, the more your life and behavior will reflect the reality of your true identity in Him.  So, believer, take a moment to see if how you view you lines up with how God views you!  Enjoy!

I am a child of God (John 1:12).
I am a branch of the true Vine through whom the life of Jesus flows (John 15:1, 5).
I am a friend of Jesus (John 15:15).
I am justified (pardoned and counted totally righteous in God sight) because of Christ (Romans 3:24)
I am no longer a slave to sin, God has broken it's dominion or oppressive rule over my life (Romans 6:6, Galatians 5:1).
 I am free from any and all divine condemnation (Romans 8:1).
I am a fellow heir with Christ, loved as fully by God as Jesus Himself (Romans 8:17).
I am entirely accepted and acceptable in God’s sight because of all Jesus did for me (Romans 15:7, Ephesians 1:6).
I am a saint, washed and set apart for God (1 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, and Colossians 1:2.)
I am righteous, sanctified and redeemed, because Christ Himself has become for me my righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).
I am a temple of the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in me (1 Corinthians 6:19).
I am joined to the Lord Jesus and one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).
 I am a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I am the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I am one with all who are in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
I am no longer a slave, but a child and an heir who's soul cries out, "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6-7).
I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:3)
I am one chosen before the creation of the world to be holy, and blameless before God (Ephesians 1:4).
I am redeemed and forgiven for all my sins by the grace of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 2:13).
I am one who God predestined in love to be a grace-adopted child in His family (Ephesians 1:11).
I am sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13).
I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13).
I am God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).
I am a member of Christ’s body and a partaker of His promise of love, care, provision and salvation (Ephesians 3:6, Ephesians 5:30.)
I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
 I am chosen of God, holy and dearly beloved (Colossians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 1:4).
     Should you struggle to accept these things are true of you, pause and remember: These are not earned rights, privileges, or positions, they are yours as a gracious and free gift through Jesus.  Read and re-read them if you must, and if you struggle, pray that God might so impress and imprint them upon your soul that they become a given and accepted part of your self-awareness and identity in Jesus.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff