Friday, January 31, 2014

About Elders 1/31/2014

"Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your  fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,  shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." 1 Peter 5:1-4

Very recently, our congregation, by the will of the Holy Spirit, installed two new elders.  They are both men of good report, qualified according to Scripture, leaders, servants and hard workers in the vineyard of the Lord.  We praise God for them and for the work they have voluntarily undertaken.

There are three men, however, who were already in this capacity who have served the congregation for many years.  And while we are thankful for our new servant leaders, our gratitude for those who have stood for so long is overflowing.

Beloved, being an elder in the church can be daunting, thankless, heart wrenching, unpopular, difficult, time consuming and even dangerous.  This is so because they are charged with oversight.  They are often analogized as shepherds of the sheep.  And if you know anything about sheep, you know that they (we) can be unruly, obstinate, combative and subject to wander off.  The task is made particularly difficult in this day and age because so many believers treat the church as some sort of quaint organization with flexible rules and leadership that you can choose to observe or not.

Of course being an elder is not all doom and gloom.  There are an exceeding number of positives associated with the office and function.  First, it is a special calling from God for men who have the capacity and desire to accomplish it.  The joy of leaving the 99 to successfully bring back the one who has wandered off is unsurpassed.  Being with members in their time of need can be very fulfilling.  And simply doing the will of God in all of its definitions and permutations provides purpose, peace and rewards.

So today, special recognition and thanks is given to Grant, Charlie and Gary for all that they have done, are doing and, as they continue as elders, are yet to do.  With the help of God, as elders, shepherds, overseers, presbyters, pastors and bishops (all Scriptural synonyms for the office), you have guided our congregation through times that have been both challenging and prosperous.  We would not be where we are or who we are as a body without your efforts.  On behalf of the entire congregation, thank you for all of your efforts.  You are an amazing and valuable gift.

And as a church family, we look forward to what John and Ron, our new elders, will add to our spiritual lives.  We know that the new team will lead us even closer to the Throne.  May the Lord bless all of you, your wives, your families and all of us.  The journey begins anew.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wrestling With Faith 1/29/2014 (rp)

"Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:24-26

Jacob was facing the daunting task of encountering the brother whose birthright and blessing he had stolen and then escaped.  In the ensuing time period, he had prospered mightily under adverse conditions.  Having fulfilled his obligations to his father-in-law and built his family, it  was now time for him to find a place of his own.  To do so, it was necessary to cross the territory of his estranged brother and he was fearful.  Having isolated himself, he was accosted by an unnamed and unidentified angel (Hosea 12:4) with whom he wrestled and won.

Beloved, there are many quiet moments we endure before facing daunting tasks or situations.  These situations can challenge our faith mightily.  We ask both ourselves and God, "Why am I in this situation?  Why is this happening?"  We are often unsure of what to do and sometimes find it difficult to determine even what is real.  At some point, we must come to a decision about whether we are going to trust God or go it alone.

There are a variety of opinions surrounding the meaning of Jacob's wrestling match.  For our purposes here, it is submitted to you that it is not unusual to contend with our faith, but as with Jacob, we should always seek the blessings associated with it.  This is a stark reminder that the Lord is always aware of our plights because He is ever with us.  If we would but stay in the fight, we will prevail against doubt, despondency and faithlessness, and we will be blessed.

Scripture reveals that the very next morning, "Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept." Gen 33:4



Monday, January 27, 2014

GPS 1/27/2014

"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Josh 1:8-9

One of the greatest pieces of technology to come along in a great while is the GPS (Global Positioning System)  By acquiring a device that connects with satellites orbiting the earth, anyone can determine where they are just about anywhere on the planet within about 3 feet.  More importantly, if a person needs to get from where they are to where they want to be but do not know the way, simply type in the destination and the GPS system will trace out a path to get them there by the shortest route possible, as long as the directions are followed.

Technology that precedes the GPS that we know today is the GPS (God's Positioning System) that has always existed.  It was the system that Abraham used when he left Macedonia to get to the land promised to his descendants.  It was the system that the Hebrews used to escape both Egypt and the slavery they endured there.  Unfortunately, they decided to stop using their GPS just as they approached the land promised to them.  This resulted in them becoming "lost" and wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

Beloved, GPS is still available to us today.  It is known as the word of God.  We are encouraged to read it and study it every day.  In it we find truths such as, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105) and "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding but acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight," (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Further, we are told that it is strong enough to be able to be relied upon and firm enough for us to draw strength from it.  The added benefits are that we will be successful in our godly endeavors and prosperous in our lives.

Joshua, one of the two Hebrews to advocate for staying the course according to their GPS 40 years earlier during their original trip to the promised land was ultimately given leadership of the people and commanded by God to always adhere to its directions upon their second approach. Joshua did just that. It turns out that he was strong, courageous, successful and prosperous in leading the people into their new land.  We likewise have a heavenly promised land.  Let us be sure to follow our GPS all the way there.



Friday, January 24, 2014

The Right Way 1/24/2014

"So Jesus said to them again, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'" John 10:7-10

If there is one thing we Americans like, it is choice.  We want to have as many options as possible.  Even among these options, we want to have the ability to customize so that our choice would be as unique as possible.  Our choices are a means of self expression and it is not unusual to pursue them vigorously.  Sadly, this is true of our religious preferences as well.  So often we choose religions, denominations and churches based more on how they make the word of God conform to us than how they help us conform to the word of God.  And while this is not about what denomination or church is "right," there is a right way.

Jesus spoke thousands of years ago about the motives of those who would come to lead God's people. Many of them were false teachers, false prophets and leaders with questionable motives.  It is these he refers to as thieves.   Paul addresses the "believer's" side of this same coin when he says, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" 2 Timothy 4:3-5.

Beloved, it is critical that we find the right way and stay in it.  There is one voice and one truth that believers must recognize and follow.  Far above and beyond the voice of an earthly minister, teacher, elder or theologian, we must draw near to the voice of the Lord.  Consider this: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world," Hebrews 11:1-2.  In Matthew 17:5, we are literally instructed by God to listen to Jesus, His own son in whom He is well pleased. Finally, Jesus says of himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me," John 14:6.

There are many voices and many paths but there is only one that leads to salvation and the eternal life that it provides.  Choose the right way.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Saying "No" to Naysayers 1/22/2014 (rp)

"Then Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.'” 1 Sam 17:33

Naysayers.  They are so pervasive in our lives, we often times become accustomed to their influence without realizing their impact.  If we were to feel compelled by our love for God to evangelize our neighborhood, someone would inevitably come along side and whisper in our ears about the likelihood of rejection and futility.  If we want to do a great work within the congregation to get us more focused on the things God would have us to do, someone will offer, "We've tried that before and it didn't work."  There is no shortage of those who are all to willing to play the role of "discourager."  They are the first to criticize and the last to offer solutions or help.

Beloved we must be on guard against these influences.  Were we to allow them to convince us to do nothing, the cause of Christ would never be served, we would fail to live up to our commitment and commission and we would cease to be the Lord's church, becoming an organization of people who play church.

David's answer to Saul was to share his experience going against the odds, the fact that God had always been with him and his confidence that he would prevail.  He said, "The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine" 1 Sam 17:37.  You have probably figured out by now that David was just a boy and the Philistine was the 9 ft giant, Goliath.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Let always remember that naysayers will come and go but that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.



Monday, January 20, 2014

A Walk to a Walk in the Park 1/20/2014

"The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat!" Numbers 11:4 (NIV)

The people of God were rescued from Egyptian slavery after toiling for 430 years.  And while it may seem peculiar for them to have been in such a state, ti was during this time that the grew from a family of about 70 to over a million people.  They also learned trades, craft, agriculture, administration and a host of other things that allowed them to become the nation God intended for them to be.  God performed many miraculous feats among the people including the plagues on the Egyptians through which they were freed, their exodus through the Red Sea which was split by the wind He sent, He personally led them by cloud and fire and even fed them in the desert with manna from His own hand.  Despite all this, the people seemed to be in a constant state of complaining, desiring to go back to Egypt...the same Egypt from whose slavery they desired to be free.

Despite the many miracles and proofs that God exists and provides, the people often could not think past their own stomachs.  Though they were given bread from heaven, those who left Egypt began to complain about not having meat and vegetables.  This was more than what was needed to spark the Hebrew complaints and laments about having left Egypt.

Beloved, these attitudes, actions and circumstances speak to us to this day.  Before we obeyed the gospel, we were all slaves to sin.  We were born with a sin nature and no way to shed it outside of obedience to the gospel.  Through Jesus, God made a way for us to be saved, just as He had done through Moses for the people of Israel.  When we obey the gospel and are freed, we are given a new life, first, of reconciliation with God and then, His provision, guidance and protection.  We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that life will somehow become a walk in the park.  This is something that God never promised, instead promising that He would be with us through whatever we may walk.  This then causes some of us to miss our lives before Christ.  We experience the desire to return to our pre-Christian activities (sin).  And it is just as tragic for us today as we observe that it was for them.

Let us continue with God at all costs, and let us not be distracted by occasional difficulties.  And though it is true that times may get rough now and then, remember that like the Hebrews, God is leading us to the promised land, a land overflowing with milk and honey.  It is a land where we will ever be with Him and then, it will truly be a walk in the park.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Disciple's Purpose 1/15/2014

"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." John 17:14-16

In this, Jesus' heartfelt yet triumphant prayer rendered just hours before his death, he is mindful of his apostles and those who would believe in him based on their words. It can first be seen that Jesus has prepared them by educating them. He taught them the word of God as it was given to Jesus himself. The Hebrews (which they were) were very familiar with God's word through what we now refer to as the Old Testament, however, Jesus came and, for all intents and purposes, updated those things written by the prophets. It was this word that he lived, breathed and taught. And it is this word that we still enjoy today.

Secondly, he acknowledges that this same word would cause real difficulties for those who embrace it. It is no secret that when one goes against the societal grain, things can become rough. Jesus challenged the status quo of not only the Jewish religious hierarchy but unrighteousness in general. No one likes their negative deeds exposed to and by the light, but Jesus is in fact that Light and called upon all of his followers to be light also. The goal was not to shame or blame but to offer salvation from the darkness. Some would be willing, and others would fight to preserve their dark real estate.

For this reason, Jesus granted ambassadorship for all who accepted him. This means that our home is a heavenly one but that our residence is an earthly one. The reason we reside is to do the work of an ambassador who represents the heavenly realm of origin. We therefore are not lifted out of our circumstances but Jesus prays for our protection within our circumstances because darkness, be it human or spiritual, means us no good.

From all of this beloved, we can derive our purpose as disciples of Christ. We have work to do. That work is sometimes unpopular and uncomfortable, but also rewarding and soul saving. We are already citizens of heaven but yet on assignment in a foreign field. Let us earnestly and enthusiastically embrace our assignment in anticipation of one day going home. Let us be one in deed and in purpose with our Savior.



Monday, January 13, 2014

One 1/13/2014

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us,so that the world may believe that You sent Me."  John 17:20-21

On the first Lord's Day of each year, we of the O'Fallon Church of Christ choose a theme on which to concentrate for the next 12 months.  This year, we have chosen the theme of "One."  Inspired by John 17:20-21 and surrounding verses, our goal is unity in spirit, purpose, action and love with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and one another.

There are many reasons to pursue such a direction but one that weighs heavily on the mind is the state of the world today.  It is no secret to anyone that Christian values are under an increasing amount of attack.  More and more it seems that society wallows in wantonness, debauchery, sensuality and greed.  Tragically, these things seem to be finding their way into the church more so than righteousness finding its way into society from the church.

Beloved, now as much as ever, it is important that those who call upon the name of Christ pursue unity.  To do so, we must first understand that unity is not the same as uniformity, unanimity or unionization.  In fact, it is the oneness of inner heart and essential purpose through the possession of a common interest or life.  For the Christian, the inner heart is belief in and adherence to the truth of the gospel, and the life is the spiritual one available only in the Lord.  Jesus said in John 17:23 that oneness yields perfection (completeness) in unity.  This indicates that in order for us to achieve our purpose, we need each other and we need to be one.  And what is that purpose? Jesus said in his prayer to God on our behalf, "...that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me," John 17:23-24.

There is much more to be said about believers being one.  Let us walk together and pursue unity in all that we think, say and do.



Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beware of Conditional Faith 1/9/2014

"The Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.' Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.'”  Job 1:8-11

We are all familiar with the massive suffering experienced by Job.  It is a biblical truth that God gave His consent for Satan to afflict him.  The reason why this was allowed makes for a very long, complex and potentially controversial discussion and is not the focus of today's message.  Instead, let us consider how suffering that is not specifically brought about by our own sin affects our relationship with God.

It is easy to praise and worship God when things are great.  When we are comfortable, fed, reasonably prosperous and happy, we give God all the praise.  But what about when we are afflicted, fired, hungry, suffering from the pain of a broken relationship or death of a loved one?  Are we so quick to praise God then?  Do we lift our hands and hearts to Him come what may?

Beloved we must be aware of the dangers associated with a conditional faith. God is not a slot machine, a genie or some mythical magical creature whose sole reason for existing is to make our lives warm and fuzzy.  He is the Sovereign Lord and Creator of all things.  Sovereign means that He is the absolute authority and owes explanation to no one.  And if we had to put a label on Him for the purposes of this discussion, He is a parent.  And as a parent, He provides for all of our needs and so many of our wants.  But He also says "no," provides discipline, tests us and sometimes puts us in the uncomfortable position of having to grow and mature in our faith in Him through difficult circumstances and situations.  We can all remember tough lessons learned while growing up that gave us a greater appreciation for our parents and the perspectives they constantly tried to instill in us.

Job remained faithful while enduring the most crippling losses imaginable. And he did so without fully understanding why these things were happening.  His attitude was exemplified by the statement, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord,Job 1:21.  From this example, we must all ask ourselves if our faith is based on comfort and things or our relationship with our Father.  Further, can our faith withstand tough times? Surely they will come.  Be encouraged to remain with God regardless of ever changing circumstances.  And also remember that Job's end was vastly better than his beginning.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Found, Not Lost 1/7/2014

"Therefore He again asked them, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said, 'Jesus the Nazarene.'  Jesus answered, 'I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,'  to fulfill the word which He spoke, 'Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.'” John 18:7-9

In John 17:1, the beginning of Jesus' most famous and profound prayer, he stated that the hour had come.  To this point, it had all been about what was yet to come but now, the hour had finally arrived.  Shortly after the conclusion of his prayer, Judas arrived in betrayal with a contingent of soldiers who desired to take him into custody.  It was at this time that his salvific work began in earnest.

Beloved, most of those of us who call upon the name of Jesus know and understand why he came: to seek and save the lost.  It was the very fact of our being lost that caused us to require salvation, which was not available through our own means.  We know that Jesus loved, taught, healed, fed, encouraged and provided an example by which we are to live, but all of this would have been for naught had he not had the desire and power to reconcile us to the God who made us.  He did this by literally dying the death that we deserved.  He willingly took on destruction on our behalf that we might live.

When the soldiers came to collect him, his first thought was to protect those that God had placed in his care.  That sacrifice not only benefited his contemporaries, but the righteous who had come before and all those who would come later that believed.  That is us.  The words he spoke are constantly being fulfilled.  To the glory of God and the praise of the Lord, we are not lost but found in Him!



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New 1/1/2014

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."  2 Cor 5:17

As we say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new, we are often filled with both optimism and determination concerning our renewed opportunity to start afresh.  We make resolutions to be better than we have been in order to become better than we are.  Whether it is to lead a healthier life, improve relationships, be smarter about finances or even read the bible more, many of us use this time of year as a point of demarcation with hopes of having accomplished our goals this time next year.

Beloved it is a wonderful thing to resolve to be better.  This demonstrates our awareness that we are but fragile creatures who are prone to make mistakes and live beneath our potential.  It is this humility that makes it possible to improve.  Without regard to the time of year, the best example of this is when we became Christians.  We clearly knew that we were outside of where we wanted and needed to be.  When we learned about Christ, each of us was introduced to a way for us to become better.  Through God's grace we were given a chance to become new.  This was not, however, a destination, but the beginning of the journey toward perfection (completion) in Christ.  We are on a path to becoming what we were created to be.

Let us then be mindful of the opportunity we have been given to be made new.  Let us also look not just to the first day of a new year but to every day we wake and draw breath as an opportunity to renew our efforts to please God and spend eternity with Him.  Surely we will become better along the journey.