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12.06.2016

Living a Life that Makes Sense

Greetings All!








This week's "thought" comes to you from Francis Chan, and is taken from the book, "Passion(a collection of different articles focusing on living the Christian life in earnest).  This excerpt comes from the chapter by Chan entitled, "Living a Life that Makes Sense."  It speaks of how Chan, a well-known pastor here in the U.S., learned to be bold in speaking the truth, and consistent in living out his faith, from members of poor and persecuted churches in India, China and Thailand.  His words are very challenging yet inspiring. Enjoy.

     "I've heard stories -- you've probably heard them as well -- about Christians overseas. I've heard stories about the underground church in China, for example. Or stories of people in India who give their lives to Jesus and literally sacrifice everything... I've been hearing these stories all my life, and I finally reached a point where I decided that I had to see for myself.  I had to meet some of these Christians around the world. I had to know if they were for real.  So I spent a few months overseas with my family. I didn't do this because I was godly; I did it because I knew I wasn't, but I desperately wanted to be.  I looked at my life and saw that I was lacking boldness. I didn't have the guts to say everything God wanted me to say.  So I wanted to learn from Christians who were bold enough to follow Jesus no matter what it cost. 
     We traveled first to India and I had an opportunity to to speak to a huge group of people there. You have to understand -- these people were the persecuted church. Many had watched family members be beaten to death for their faith. And there I was, standing on stage in front of all these people.  I didn't know what to say to them.  I told them that what I really wanted to do was hear their stories -- and that's what I ended up doing.  I listened to a woman tell me about how she came to know the Lord. As soon as her village learned that she was a Christian, the whole village came to her hut. They brought decapitated lizards and told her that she and her husband needed to drink the blood and convert back to Hinduism. They gave her an ultimatum. She had to deny Jesus.  At this point in the story the woman looked at me and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't deny Jesus." So she grabbed her Bible and she and her husband just ran. The whole village had rejected them -- they would be killed -- so they ran into the jungle to hide. She was pregnant with their first child at the time. So as they hid in the jungle, her husband helped her deliver their first child. They were desperate for food for themselves and this newborn baby. But God provided. He got them through it. This woman told me, "We weren't going to deny our Lord. I just held on to my Bible. I would not let any of them take my Bible from me. That was the only thing we grabbed, and we ran."  I talk to a woman like that and I think, 'That's a life that's worthy of the Gospel. She understands that Jesus is all that matters. Her manner of life is worthy.' 
     I talked to another guy who showed me the scars on his head and his back. He told me that within a few months of becoming a believer, a huge group of people surrounded him and started beating him. He was thinking, "Okay God, this is it. This is the way it's going to end. That's ok. I'm not going to deny you."  He told me he was able to crawl away, but looked back and watched the crowd beat his friend to death. He endured all this, and he had only been a follower of Jesus for a few months!   I talked to so many people who went through these kinds of things, that I finally asked one of the leaders, "Don't you have any people in your churches who just call themselves Christians but don't really live it out?" He just looked at me and said, "That wouldn't make sense. [Over here] If you call yourself a Christian, you automatically lose everything. Why would someone volunteer for that if they weren't serious?" He told me his story -- that when he was eleven years old, he gave his life to Jesus.  He told me, "I still remember coming home and telling my dad. It was pouring down rain outside. I told my dad that I was a Christian, and he took everything I had and threw it outside into the mud. Then he looked at me and said, "Don't you ever call me Dad again."
     Think about it. This is an eleven year old kid!  What would you have done? He said, "I went over and picked my Bible out of the mud, along with a few other items, and I just wandered around looking for somewhere to go."  He eventually became a pastor, a husband, and a father. Twenty years later he even reconciled with his dad, who became a believer himself.  That is powerful stuff!  I hear these stories and I can't help but think that his manner of life is worthy of the Gospel...
     Then we went to China. We visited part of the underground church where they train leaders... They asked me why it was so strange to hear their stories. I had to explain that things are different where I come from. I told them that most Americans talk about the church, but they're referring to a building.  I explained we have a ton of these buildings, and you can choose which one you want to attend. Then I told them that people might attend one for a while, but when when they find another with better music, they'll switch. That's when these students started laughing hysterically.  I swear I wasn't trying to be funny. Some times you're saying something serious and everyone thinks you're joking.
     I kept going. I told them that if one church has better child care than another, then a lot of parents are likely to switch. The students started laughing harder.  I explained that sometimes people will switch if the service times are more convenient, or if they like one speaker better than another. The students were dying with laughter.  I felt like I was doing a comedy routine. But all I was trying to do was explain the American church to the underground church in China.  As they were laughing I realized they're right.  It doesn't make a lot of sense.  I look at their lives and everything makes perfect sense. I look at our lives and I wonder...  When we hear stories of Christians overseas, we think they're weird. But we're the strange ones. This is how Christianity works around the world, and we're over here in America getting caught up in our consumer-driven approach to church...  Where is the manner of life that lines up with the Gospel?"
     In my trips to India I have seen the same.  I've spoken with people who have really suffered for Jesus and the Gospel. I prayed with one woman who had all her possessions thrown into the street and trashed, and was then threatened to be burned alive -- along with her children -- if she told another person about Jesus. But she wasn't going to stop.  "It would be an honor to die for Jesus," she told me.  I felt like a midget among giants.  I also saw poor pastors who traveled hours to attend a conference, and others who bore in their bodies the scars they had received for being faithful to Jesus.  It all made sense.  It all made so much sense.

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff


11.29.2016

Set Apart -- Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life

Greetings All,

     Our culture has now begun the countdown to Christmas.  It's a mere 26 days away!  And the message we hear from almost every sector is: Get busy buying!!
     This 'thought' does not specifically address Christmas, but it does deal with an issue (because of our culture) that's been forced upon Christmas  -- the holiday as a way to spur the economy and generate wealth.  Christmas, whether we like it or not, is now one of the primary economic indicators in the American year.  A "good" Christmas is often said to be one where people are willing to spend and buy or part with their wealth. Jesus may be taken out of the celebration, and the carols that proclaim the true reason for the holiday are more and more suppressed, but I can pretty much guarantee you that as long as money can be made from observing that day, Christmas will never be done away with!  In fact, it seems that every year our culture tries to start the celebration earlier and earlier!
That said, I wanted to share an excerpt from the book, "Set Apart -- Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life," by R. Kent Hughes.  He was pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the classes I took with him when studying for my doctorate.  This thought will probably not be one of the most popular I have posted. Why?  Because it addresses (I believe very accurately) the Bible's view on wealth. If you disagree (and surely some will) please look at the references he quotes and check to see if he was true to them in their context. The topic of "wealth," of course, had to be addressed in his book, because it really does contribute to the worldliness and spiritual apathy of the Church. Read the Old Testament and you will see that some of the times the people of God strayed the most from their God were the times they prospered most.  And if nothing else, consider what our Lord Jesus says about this topic as we approach the day set aside to honor His incarnation. Enjoy.

Materialism
     "Tellingly, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, spoke more  about money than about heaven or hell, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Gospel of Luke... From beginning to end...Jesus views wealth as a spiritual handicap. His "woe" to the rich, his parable of the rich fool, his epigram "you cannot serve both God and money," his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, his declaration that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, and finally, the salvation of Zacchaeus who responded by divesting himself of his riches -- all testify that material wealth is a spiritual hindrance.  The evidence is that every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. Each time he teaches on wealth, he advises giving it away. For those of us who take the Bible seriously, this raises great tensions -- sanctifying tensions.
The Benefits of Wealth
     The fact that wealth is a spiritual danger in no way suggests that money is evil. Many of the Old Testament greats were well-heeled, including Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon.  And the same was true of some of Jesus followers, such as Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Zacchaeus.  Jesus' ministry was supported by wealthy women (Luke 8:2-3). Paul set the record straight in his explanation to Timothy: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." (I Timothy 6:10). Randy Alcorn summarizes, "Money makes a good servant to those who have the right master, but it makes a terrible master itself... Money may be temporarily under my control, but I must always regard it as a wild beast, with power to turn on me and others if I drop my guard"... Alan Emery, one of the founding partners of ServiceMaster, said that possessions become either idols or tools. And he has used his immense wealth as a tool to serve God, underwriting hundreds of ministries and repeatedly refreshing the saints.  A. W. Tozer, in a remarkable essay entitled, "The Transmutation of Wealth," put it this way: "Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality."
The Dangers of Wealth
     Yet the downside of wealth is well-documented. It can be delusive, idolatrous and damning... Riches can delude us into imagining that moral superiority is a matter pf homes and cars and yachts and designer labels. Timex and Rolex both end in 'ex', but the wearer of one can imagine a universe of superiority above the other.... Though money is neutral in itself, if your heart is not devoted to God, it can take on what Phillip Yancey describes as, "an irrational, almost magical power... It is a force with a personality. It is in truth, a god, and Jesus called it that."  And, of course, the delusive and idolatrous powers of wealth intensify its capability to damn the soul. The deceitfulness of riches choke out the Word (Mark 4:19). The god of riches instills pride and independence and anesthetizes the victim so that he or she feels no need.  As Jesus charged the lukewarm church of Laodicea, "For you say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17).  Such inflated spirits never get into the kingdom, and really do not care.
Handling Wealth
     Since wealth is so spiritually radioactive, a crucial question is how to handle it. And the answer begins by understanding that money doesn't belong to you. Kenneth Kantzer once said: "We must give up all our wealth. We must own nothing. We are only stewards of what God owns. The point is not that we must be merely WILLING to give it up, and then live like anyone else. Rather, we must actually give it up. We are to abandon completely any claims to the wealth of this world. It is not our own, and we do not have ultimate control over it."
      Along with this understanding that our money is not our own, we must give it away joyfully. Theologian Jacques Ellul says that the only way to defeat the godlike power that money seeks to impose on our lives is to give it away, which he calls profaning it: "To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character." This destroys its power over us. "Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence," says Ellul. Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me.  Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.  When you give generously and regularly, it frees you from the bondage of money and declares that it is not a god in your life.
     You can, of course, talk until the moon stands still about what is the proper lifestyle for a member of your church, and the result would be an orgy of judgmentalism. And if we came up with a written description, it would entrench a grace-nullifying legalism.  Yet Paul minced no words with Timothy: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."   This is the way to live -- give, give, give! "  

     Money is one of those Bible topics people like to be taught on least -- especially by Jesus!  For Hughes is right, "The evidence is that every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. Each time he teaches on wealth, he advises giving it away. For those of us who take the Bible seriously, this raises great tensions -- sanctifying tensions."  In my church growing up, you could pretty much guarantee that "Stewardship Sunday" (when the pastor spoke on giving and the needs of the church) would be one of the least-well-attended Sundays of the year!  Part of their mistake was announcing it was going to be Stewardship Sunday!  It's a sensitive topic in our materialistic culture, and those who like wealth will not like hearing Jesus speak so negatively about it. 
     The sad thing is that even people who worry themselves sick over the dangers of carcinogenics in their food, and are careful to avoid even the slightest possibility that any such contaminated product will ever touch their lips, don't give a second thought to the dangers of the spiritual carcinogens which wealth infects their soul with on a day in and day out basis.
     So how can you know if money is a "god" for you? You can get a good idea if while you read this thought you got defensive, were thinking of excuses not to do what he said, wanted to prove him wrong, enjoy getting far more than giving, or have a hard time bringing yourself to give joyfully, generously, and regularly.

Just a little food for thought!  In His Service, Pastor Jeff

11.22.2016

Thanksgiving

Greetings All,

     I could not send out this week's 'thought' without offering you a few insights on the need, beauty, duty, pleasure, healthiness, and attitude-altering effects of thanksgiving. 
     It's an attitude encouraged repeatedly throughout the Bible, and is so necessary in every aspect of the believers life -- including worship. For as the writer of Hebrews tells us (12:28): "Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably..."
     Therefore I offer you these words of wisdom from various sources and authors -- the Bible, secular philosophers, inspirational speakers, Christian and non-Christian authors, therapists, and every day people. Nearly everyone who has any degree of wisdom at all knows how imperative a truly grateful heart is to a more healthy outlook and the nurturing of inner joy -- especially when that gratitude is offered to the One who gives us all good things to enjoy.
     "If you need help, ask God. If you don't, thank Him."
Anonymous

     "The more we understand God's sovereignty, the more our prayers will be filled with thanksgiving."
R. C. Sproul

     "There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy."
Ralph H. Blum 

     "If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to happiness and all perfection, he must tell you to make it a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you." 
William Law 

     "None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy."
Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
     "If there is one thing that will make all the difference to how you feel when you go to sleep and how you feel when you get up, is how grateful you are for everything that you have." 
Josh Brendan

     "Practicing gratitude is a very powerful tool to shift your attention on the things you don't have to the things you do have and this alone will make you feel better."
Noelia Aanulds

     "We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning."
Albert Barnes

     "Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action."
W. J. Cameron 

     "Give thanks not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of your life. Appreciate and never take for granted all that you have."
Catherine Pulsifer
     "When someone gives you a gift that he's already sacrificed and paid for, you don't try to pay him back; you just receive the gift with thanksgiving and spontaneously lavish love on the giver."
Ron Larson, Seeing Jesus: Restoring His Brilliance

     "Often I'll speak my thanksgiving aloud. Hearing the long list of good gifts God has given me is usually just what I need to restore my joy."
Lori Hatcher, Hungry for God ... Starving for Time

     "It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient. But a thankful heart hath a continual feast."
W.J. Cameron 

     "If there is one thing that will make all the difference to how you feel when you go to sleep and how you feel when you get up, is how grateful you are for everything that you have."
Josh Brendan
     "What would happen in my own life if thanksgiving became the main thing for me?"
John Juneman

     "A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues." 
Cicero

     "For flowers that bloom about our feet; 
       For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet; 
       For song of bird, and hum of bee; 
       For all things fair we hear or see, 
       Father in heaven, we thank Thee!" 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
     With prayers that you will truly pause, take time away from the food and football, count your many blessings, and offer to God the gratitude He above all others is worthy of and deserves.
     In His Service, Pastor Jeff



11.15.2016

Act Like Men -- 40 Days to Biblical Manhood

Greetings All!

Today's thought comes to you via James MacDonald, from his book, "Act Like Men -- 40 Days to Biblical Manhood."  A close friend who receives these "Thoughts for the Week" sent it to me thinking it would be helpful for others. After reading it I also thought it could be beneficial -- to both men and women -- though it seems to be directed exclusively toward men.
     I once spoke at a conference where a married man shared that his wife was jealous because he had a close "Jonathan/David" type friendship with another man in his church. (For those who may not know what that is, see I Samuel chapters 18-20).  She even asked him to end the relationship. Why? "Because although I've told her, she can't understand that men need deep friendships with other men."  Over the years I have come to see the truth of his statement.
     And I'm not talking of friendships that cause a man to ignore his wife and children, or skip out on his husbandly/fatherly obligations and responsibilities to them. That would be wrong.  No.  I'm speaking of the need for male to male friendships, and spiritual accountability, and camaraderie, and having each other's back, and encouraging each other to do the right and honorable thing.  The type of male to male relationships that would actually enhance the marriage and prevent the enormous amount to marital/family casualties we see happening all around us in our society today.
     One of the biggest problems today (for both men AND women) is a lack of time (or priority?) in establishing good, solid, healthy, godly, soul-nurturing, and life-sustaining friendships with those of the same gender.  As I have mentioned many times, the need for paid counselors would plummet (I'm convinced) if we just had good friends with whom we could transparently pour out the contents of our soul knowing they have our back and truly have our best interests in mind.
     But this is not about hearing from me!  Sorry!  I now defer to Mr. MacDonald who prefaces today's selection with these words: "Plain and simple, men need community with other men. Loving, you-before-me, dedicated relationship. If you have never had it, or don't really get it yet, or if you had that community and lost it, you know the cavity it leaves in your soul until you discover it again."   Enjoy.
Knock off the Lies

     "As I talk to men all around the world, I discover that they are not much different than we are (here in the States).  They need the same solutions, battle the same things, and believe the same lies. Earlier in this book we looked at the satanic strategy of using lies to disguise, divide, and destroy. Let's focus on that middle word of Satan's plan to defeat you. The word is "divide" and his strategy is to get a wedge between you and men who can support God's work in your life through loving mutual community.
     As always, he does this through lies. See if you recognize any of these common lies men believe that lead them to reject community and live in isolation [from each other]:
1. Nobody understand the struggles I am dealing with. 
2. I can't trust anyone. Total honesty will be used against me.
3. If someone tries to get close to me, they just want something. 
4. People like me, but they don't really know me. I can't risk total self-disclosure.
5. I've seen Christians kick a guy when he's down. No thanks.
6. Christian men are weak, crying and confessing. Oh please!
7. If I really face my secrets, the dam will burst and I will lose it.
8. What if I make myself known and the other guys don't reciprocate? 
     I hear these lies so frequently from the mouths of men that I know they are being implanted there by the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:9).  The way to defeat a lie of the enemy is: name the lie and insert the truth.  Jesus did this in Matthew 4 when Satan came to tempt Him after His forty-day fast in the wilderness. Satan urged Him to make stones into bread and Jesus said: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4). This happened two more times, and each time Jesus defeated the lie of the enemy by quoting Scripture. Can we afford to do less?
      What do you believe about loving friendship with other men that keep your areas of defeat isolated and unchanged?  Take the first lie above: 'Nobody understands the struggles I am dealing with.'  That is clearly untrue because I Corinthians 10:13 says, 'No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond you ability, but with the temptation he will provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.' In every instance we need to name the lie and replace it in our thinking with the truth of God's Word. That's what it means to, 'resist the devil and he will flee from you' (James 4:7).
      For almost fifteen years I met with a group of men every Friday morning at 6:00 a.m.  Each man would report on what he had gleaned from God's Word personally that week and then we would pray for each other. We laughed, we instructed, we carried each other's burdens, and afterward we went out for breakfast. Looking back I regret ever breaking that pattern. I have found it here and there in other ways, but never as good as that until recently.
     The reason I withdrew from formal, regular, scheduled community was that I failed to experience the two things my doctoral thesis revealed men absolutely must experience to remain in community. First, men need confidentiality. They have to believe that what they disclose will never be shared with anyone -- not a spouse, not a cousin in a far country, no one.
     Second, men need to experience mutuality.  Men need to know that if they bring you in on whatever battles they have kept secret, you won't 'leave them hanging,' or pridefully conceal the truth about your own struggles. They need you to quickly match their personal disclosure.  'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us' (I John 1:8)."

     I trust his words would prompt you, if you struggle alone and isolated (as a man) to get involved in a community of godly, transparent and trustworthy men where you can discover the blessed truth of what true Christian community is meant to be and facilitate.  If you are a woman, the same is true for you -- seek out the support of other godly women. And if you are a wife (or husband), it would be to your advantage (as well as that of your spouse) to encourage them to get involved with a group -- men with men, and women with women -- where they/you can apply the truth of God's Word to the soul in the context of confidentiality, transparency, accountability and a mutual commitment to grow into the fullness of maturity in Christ.

     And if you see that need, do not delay or put it off!   Rugged individualism and isolated independence are NOT what the Bible advocates. They are actually part of the problem.

With Prayers That You Will Determine to Make That Step, Pastor Jeff