HomeSermon OutlinePastor's PostGod's Gift of LifeWhen We MeetChurch CalendarElder LetterWe Believe!Contact Us/Prayer


 
 
Scroll down for previous Pastor's Posts
 
  

We’ve Been Enlisted

In the tumultuous times we find ourselves in, the reality of “the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1) rings loud and clear.  Our heads would have to be buried deeply in the sand of delusion to not recognize the spiritual battle that is present.  Everything that we, as followers of Christ, stand for is being increasingly attacked.  Many churches and individuals will compromise under the increasing pressure to conform to “today’s culture”.  It is stunning how quickly many forget who they are in Christ. 

Throughout scripture there are many references to the structure and order of the military.  We are likened to good soldiers in Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4); we are told to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), prepared to wrestle against evil (Ephesians 6:12).  If you are wondering at what point and time you signed up for this post, may I remind you, you didn’t.  You were enlisted.  Much like the disciples, if left to our choosing, we would have not signed up (John 15:16).  But, God chose us (1 Peter 2:9, Ephesians 1:3-4), He equips us (Hebrews 20:21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17), and He uses us to accomplish His purposes (Romans 8:28).  We are soldiers not by merit but by divine appointment.  

The darkness in this present age is blatantly apparent, as evil is not hidden but paraded.  The need for preparedness and support is vitally important.  To be prepared we need to equip ourselves as well as one another.  We do that through personal study and prayer as well as discipleship.  Like all good soldiers we need to engage in ongoing training, be united with our comrades and know our enemy.  But, unlike any army that has ever existed, God has promised victory for those who serve Him (1 Corinthians 15:57).  The words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 offer more encouragement than any words I could ever conjure up,  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vainI pray this week that you not only recognize your privileged responsibility but also find great comfort in God’s wonderful promises of victory.  The battle is already won.                 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

Can’t Judge a Tree By Its Leaves?

As a former arborist I can recall many times in which we would be called out to remove a tree off of a customer’s house.  Normally, the tree that had fallen was never deemed a threat, as it looked completely healthy.  If the tree had shown typical signs of distress and disease, it would have likely been removed as a precautionary measure.  But, typically the trees that fell looked like they were full of life. 

The problem with these fallen trees lied on the inside.  You see, from the outside the trees looked full and healthy, but on the inside they were often hollow and diseased.  Only upon closer examination could one spot what was really going on inside.  Thus there are many trees that look full of life on the outside but they are dying on the inside. 

In this world there are many people who walk around looking like they are full of life but they are dead inside.  Instead of green leaves covering their condition, they hide behind a smile or laughter.  See, the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 talks about the former condition of those who have received salvation.  Recounting their unregenerate state, Paul notes that though they were walking the earth, they were dead because of their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2).  Paul then explains the only means by which they now have life, by God’s grace which gave them the faith to believe upon Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). 

My challenge to you is this.  Throughout your week you will encounter many different people.  The person at the coffee shop may smile and give a nod of affirmation at your take on today’s weather, or that amazing catch in last night’s game.  But, this gives no insight as to whether they are really alive, spiritually alive.  But, what happens if you ask a question like, “there seems to be a lot of people grasping for hope these days, where do you place your hope?”  Or how about asking what thing they treasure most in their life?  You may be surprised by what you receive back as an answer.  Sometimes their response might validate and give credence to the reason they seem so full of life.  Other times it might reveal the lack of real genuine hope in their life, making their need for Christ glaringly apparent. 

The point is, you cannot determine whether someone is full of life without knowing what is on the inside.  Slow down, take the time to engage a little in a conversation.  God may be providing you with an opportunity to share where true life is found (John 5:21, John 8:12, Romans 6:23).


 
By His Grace And For His Glory,

Pastor Sam         
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Casting Burdens

This week I was reminded of the familiar Psalm, one that has such sweet relevance to what we are facing as a country, rather as a world.  Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you, he will never permit the righteous to be moved.  These wonderful words will likely have us throwing out a hearty amen in concurrence.  However, I think it is common to overlook the important details that this verse contains. 

Commonly when we see the word “cast” we think of the repetitious action of release and retrieve that accompanies fishing with a rod and reel.  But, is this really what the Psalmist David was thinking when he wrote this?  Hardly, as the rod and reel had not been invented at that time.  In those days, fishing was done by means of throwing a net over the side of a boat.  In this application, the release of the net is paramount.  When the net exited the grip of the fisherman’s hands, control was relinquished.  In the same way, when we cast our burdens upon the Lord, we are relinquishing our control, which let’s be honest, we never really had a firm grip on in the first place. 

Any idea what happens when you go to heave the net overboard but don’t release your grip of control?  You go overboard right?  Much is the same when we attempt to hold tightly to the struggles that we are facing in our lives.  We find out very quickly that we cannot handle the pressures and afflictions of this world with our own wisdom and fortitude.  God wants us to trust Him and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  God desires us to recognize His glory and majesty and come to Him, bringing our cares to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  By His grace He upholds us and like it says in Psalm 55:22, the righteous will not be moved.  Let us stand in bold confidence of our Lord, that He not only has the power to deal with the problems we face, but He also has the desire to care deeply for what burdens His children.  Might I encourage you to cast your burdens to the Lord, even the ones that you have been clinging to with white knuckles.  He will provide for you and accomplish everything according to His perfect will.                           

                                                                                                                                                   

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam              

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                                  



Caring For The Bride

There was a great King and the King loved His bride very much.  In fact, His bride was the object of His affection, and He told her so.  But, the King had to go away for a long time, so He set things in order before He departed.  The King entrusted His servant with caring for His bride, a great task and a privileged one at that.  The responsibility in caring for the bride was significant, it would require careful adherence to the King’s instructions. 

 

During the time that the King was gone, the servant was diligent in keeping to the instructions and caring greatly for the bride.  The bride was appealing to the kingdom, others would recognize her beauty as she stood as a beacon of light.  But, as time went on, people appeared to become disinterested in her beauty.  The servant noticed this trend and decided to do something about it.  He thought, if I change a few things, liven her up a bit, people will be more drawn to her beauty.  The servant knew this was not as the King had instructed, but He had been gone for a long time, surely He would understand the need for change. 

 

So, the servant dressed her in a more vibrant attire to appeal to the crowds.  He changed her hair to fit in with a more modern day look.  It seemed that every time the servant changed something about the bride, the more people were drawn to her.  The efforts of the servant shifted from compliance of the King’s orders to what thing could he change next to make even more people admire the bride.  As time went on, the bride looked very little like she looked when the King left.

 

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the King is Jesus Christ and the bride is His church, the servant is the church leaders that have been entrusted with caring for the church.  I am afraid that much of what we see in the church today is a perverted image of the bride of Christ.  Far too much attention and focus has gone to appealing to the masses, compromising both instruction and obedience.  The Bible offers exhaustive teachings and commands of how to care for the church, the bride of Christ.  For the sake of attendance numbers and comfortable conversation, many have drifted far from the King’s instructions. 

 

One day the King is coming back, this is certain (Hebrews 9:28).  What will He say to the servants?  To the faithful and obedient I can guess He would say something like “Well done good and faithful servant.”  To the others I can only imagine that the rebuke will be severe.  Lord help those who have not taken seriously the responsibility of caring for Your bride.  The King is coming back and He will come to take His bride.  May we be found honoring and upholding her in the way that the Lord has commanded.        

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam 

                               

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________-                                                                                                                                    

Reformatory To Glory

My family and I visited the Ohio State Reformatory, more commonly known as ‘Shawshank Prison’.  The architectural design is quite extraordinary, as it looks more like a castle than a prison.  As we strolled through the sobering west wing cell block I noticed a book that was on display.  The book contained the names, crimes and sentences of some of the earliest inmates at the facility.  Naturally I searched the page for the most egregious crime which would of course correspond with the longest sentence.  But as I read through this list of names and violations I couldn’t help but to think of my own life.  You know, there was a time when my name was in a book just like that one.  The only difference was my offenses were many and my sentence was eternal.  I wasn’t the only one in the book either, the pages seem almost endless.  

In the case of the Reformatory, there is no erasing the names that appear in that book.  You did the crime, you served the time.  But, in God’s great goodness and mercy, He has the power to erase names and pardon sentences.  The moment God drew me to repentance, saving me from myself, my name disappeared from that book, and the charges against me were dropped.  The blood of Jesus Christ paid it all, bearing my punishment on the cross.  1 Peter 2:24 says He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  Unbeknownst to me, my name was in a different book before the world was even formed.  This book is called the Lambs Book Of Life (Revelation 13:8, 21:27, Luke 10:20).  I don’t deserve to be in this book, truth be told I deserve to be in the former.  God’s grace alone makes it possible to be changed from Reformatory To Glory.  I pray that as long as God has me on this earth, He would use me to reach others with the saving message of Jesus Christ, so that through Him, more names could be erased from that book. 

 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam   
 
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________-
                                                                       

Uncomfortably Comfortable

A few weeks ago I received the electric bill in the mail and noticed that it had jumped tremendously.  Apparently the consistency of days above 90 degrees has resulted in the overuse of our air conditioner.  So, I begrudgingly bumped the thermostat up 1 degree, not at all convinced this would remedy or even affect the outcome of the bill at all.  However, this little life moment has caused me to think about a much bigger question.  How important is comfort to me? 

There is no doubt that as a culture/society we have placed a great deal of importance on comfort.  We pay big money for beds that are more comfortable, we splurge on vehicles that offer more comfort features.  Restaurants are full of people who find it more comfortable to have someone cook for them.  Sweatpants exist for no other reason than....they are comfortable.  Now, before you get your sweatpants in a bunch, I am not suggesting any of these things are intrinsically bad.  The point is my fear is that our search for comfort has bled into all aspects of our lives.  Are there times that we don't share the gospel because it might result in an uncomfortable outcome?  Are there times that we don't confront sin in our lives because it might cause discomfort?  Are there relationships that need forgiveness and restoration, but the thought of being uncomfortable leaves us frozen with inactivity. 

In the 21st chapter of John, we see the restoration of Peter.  This is a familiar passage for most, but I think we often miss a key element in this wonderful text.  In verse 18 Jesus tells Peter that things are going to get rough.  Peter will be forcefully taken where he does not want to go, and experience things that he does not want to experience.  Essentially, Jesus is telling Peter that things are going to get very uncomfortable.  But, then in verse 19 Jesus gives Peter this instruction "Follow Me".  You see, there is great comfort in the Lord, a comfort that is like none other.  The comfort of knowing our sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ.  The comfort of knowing that God is sovereign over everything and that the work that He does in our lives is final and sufficient.  The comfort of knowing that this life is not it, that we have been promised eternity in heaven with our Father.  Jesus did not teach and preach a gospel of earthly, temporal comfort.  So to answer the question concerning comfort in my own life, I must ruminate on this understanding. 

Wrestling with this difficult question brought me to this prayer.  "Lord, thank you for being a God who is far more important than temporal, momentary comfort.  Thank you for being a God who knows my needs better than I know them.  Lord, help me to not take comfort for granted and to not seek comfort at the expense of serving you faithfully.  Lord if I need to be taken out of my comfort zone, I pray that you would do that in my life.  If it means that I would be more effective for ministry, that I would be more zealous about the things of you, then Lord that is what I want.  Lord please forgive me for the times that I place too much importance on comfort, may that not be an idol in my life.  Not my will Lord, but Yours be done.  In your precious name, Amen"                                                                             

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
                               

Inevitable Iniquities

What a glorious day it must have been.  Solomon had just completed the final furnishings of the temple for the Lord.  David, his father, started the construction efforts, but died roughly 4 years before it was completed.  The time, energy, resources and effort that went into this marvelous structure was quite significant.  In 1 Kings 8 we learn that Solomon gathered the elders of Israel, all the tribe leaders and even the priests for this very special occasion.  The ark was brought before the crowd and placed in the inner sanctuary.  Solomon addressed the crowd and blessed the temple, that it would be pleasing to the Lord.  Then the king turned and prayed to the Lord. 

There are many significant details contained within this wonderful prayer.  But, one thing that is particularly worth noting is how Solomon prayed for the future iniquities of Israel.  What an interesting and rather perceptive way to pray.  This was by no means a sign of complacency; Solomon was not undermining the seriousness of sin.  Quite, the contrary, the wise king was being proactive and praying in advance for the repentance of God's people.  It is no secret that Israel had a history of transgressions followed by God's provision, responded to by faithfulness, then back to transgressions.  It was this cyclical pattern that must have propelled Solomon to pray in such a way.  He knew that if history repeats itself, there would be some troubling times ahead as a result of the wandering nature of man. 

It is easy to look in hindsight and shake our heads at the stubbornness of the Israelites.  Shouldn't they have learned better by now?  But, I tend to think Solomon was on to something.  In verse 46 Solomon states that there is no one who does not sin.  You see, the young king was not condoning or encouraging future sin, he was recognizing the depravity of man in light of the holiness of God.  Have you ever prayed for your response to future sin?  Truth be told, most of us have not.  I would encourage you to study through 1 Kings 8 this week and take notice of the ways in which Solomon prays.  In your prayer time this week, ask God to give you a heart of swift repentance when you falter in disobedience.  May we be found humbly acknowledging the sovereign provisions of the Lord, who provides us with everything we need to live a life that honors Him.  Daniel 9:9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him.              

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam
   
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
                                                                                                                                            

Perception Paradigm

It is not my typical fashion to pander to the hot topic issues that face our society.  However, with that said I have noticed an alarming detachment of what would be deemed appropriate perceptions of priorities.  Undoubtedly you have all seen the videos or read the stories of assaults and confrontations that have ensued over the wearing or not wearing of masks.  I recently saw a video where a lady without a mask, but had a cane mind you, was approached by an irate lady wearing a mask.  The lady wearing the mask yelled at the cane wielding lady and threw her to the ground.  The result of this attack left the elderly lady with a broken leg.  And what was the issue about again, oh right, it was because she wasn't wearing a mask.......that's right, you heard me, she wasn't wearing a mask.  This is one of many stories that have become all too common as of late.  

I am not weighing in on whether masks are helpful or not, that is not my impetus.  What I intend to shed light on is where the focus of society has made an unhealthy shift.  If you weren't aware we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.  This is a real virus that has real effects.  Although numbers are all over the place, depending on where you get your information from, there is still a very small chance that one's life would succumb to the COVID virus, very small.  So why is the wearing of masks causing such a strong reaction?  It has become the vehicle to which many use to exhibit and express the desire and condition of their heart.  This issue has taken precedence while so many more pressing issues have taken a backseat.  Satan can use an inanimate object to bring quarrel and strife, as he sits back and enjoys the show.  The problem is not the mask itself, we know that.  The problem is sin and in this case, sin manifesting itself through the stimuli of masks.  

This is my challenge for you dear brother and sisters.  I am not suggesting you do not have an opinion about masks, nor am I suggesting you should or should not wear one, that is your own conviction.  What I am suggesting is that you do not fall into the trap of the enemy.  This virus has brought about an immense amount of division and dissension.  In times like this we can distinctly see the darkness of this fallen world.  May we be found as bright lights shining in the darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  I pray you find encouragement in John 1:5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Stay the course, keep your focus on eternal things and let your pursuit be that which honors our Lord.  Showing love and speaking truth will never return void (Isaiah 55:11). 

                                                        
By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                                                                                  

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

It Depends On Who You Depend On

It was not long after the initial onset of the COVID-19 that I noticed a very alarming reality.  The reality is that so many have become utterly dependent on others in just about every area of their lives.  I remember reading about the situation of many in the city of Chicago, who felt literally stuck in their apartments and homes.  They were dependent on the public transportation system to take them where they needed to go.  They were dependent on the grocery store to keep stocked-up with food so they could eat.  If not the grocery store they were dependent upon restaurants to be a source of sustenance.  This is one of many examples I have noticed that brings to light a very important question, where does our dependence lie?

I was encouraged by a passage from Acts 9, where a man named Ananias exhibited his dependence on the one true God.  Likely when we think of Acts 9 we think of the conversion of Saul, whom Jesus blinded on the road to Damascus.  But, God used Ananias in a mighty way in this very same account.  The Lord spoke to Ananias and gave him instruction to go to where Saul was and lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight.  Having heard about this Christian killer Saul, Ananias was less than enthused at the onset of this endeavor.  But, in a glorious display of faithfulness, Ananias showed that he depended upon God to use him in the way He saw fit.  So, Ananias went and did exactly as the Lord instructed him.  I want you to notice something about what Ananias did.  He did not seek the popular opinion of his peers.  He did not try to shirk his responsibility and pawn it off on another.  He did no such thing.  Ananias depended on God, he relied on God, and he trusted God. 

As I look back over my own life I am reminded of all the times I wrongfully placed my dependence on something or in someone other than God.  God is worthy and our dependence should be found in Him alone.  Let's find encouragement in the faithful reaction of Ananias and be found with that same kind of dependence upon our Lord.  Jeremiah 17:17-8 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.                                      

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                     
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________                            
                                                                                              

We Should All Be Afraid Of The Dark 

You know, so often we ruminate on what heaven must be like.  Books and articles have been written on this topic (beware, there is a lot of garbage out there to sift through).  But not too often do we ponder the reality of what hell must be like.  In fact, the very word ‘reality' has even been called into question in regards to hell.  False teachers like Rob Bell deny the very existence of hell; while doing so, they trample on the very inerrancy and infallibility of God's word.  Hell is very real, and explained more often and with more vivid detail than heaven.  Why would a man who calls himself a pastor deny hell?  To be more widely accepted?  To sell more books?  Whatever the case is, as we can only speculate, it is wrought forth from a wrong heart motive.  This all too frustrating heresy got me thinking about the inevitable torturous certainty of hell for those who are not in Christ. 

I remember vacationing in Missouri with my family.  There we visited Mark Twain Caves, located near Hannibal, Missouri.  Lights are strung throughout the caves, providing much needed illumination to the paths that are to be safely taken.  When we were deep in the cave, the tour guide had us stop and huddle close to each other.  She explained that she was going to turn off the lights and that we would experience complete and total darkness.  She commented that people rarely in their lives experience this kind of darkness.  There would be no remnant of light whatsoever.  As soon as she turned the lights off I was made aware of what she had just explained.  I could not see my hand in front of my face and there was no difference between having my eyes open or my eyes shut, it was complete and utter darkness.  It is so severe that if left in that kind of darkness for a period of days, one would start to hallucinate, as the eyes would be over worked in a constant attempt to focus.   A few weeks ago we studied the parable of the talents.  If you remember, the third servant, the one who did not love or care for the master, was cast into the outer darkness.  While studying and preparing for that message I was reminded of our trip to Missouri and the total darkness that we had experienced. 

Far too often we, I am guilty as well, inadvertently make light of the horrendous nature of hell.  But, we really do need to educate ourselves, and remind ourselves through the Word of God, just how awful hell will be for those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ.  Through a richer understanding we will inevitably realize the urgency and necessity of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all those that God has put in our path.  Folks, if you haven't noticed, we are in strange times that we have never seen before.  Let us not squander this time by being consumed by news headlines and arguing about protocols.  May we be found actively advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only hope for an utterly dark world that desperately needs light.  Ephesians 2:5 Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved.                            

 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                                                                                                                                                

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________-- 

A Case For Running Shoes

This past Sunday we studied the passage in James that deals with temptation (James 1:13-15).  In that study we looked at the way in which we are to react to temptation.  Temptation is an inevitable factor in our lives, one that we need to be proactive about, planning in advance for how we will respond to it.  I am reminded by the story of Joseph, found in Genesis 39.  The Lord had blessed Joseph and brought him from the depths of a pit, to a position of prestige.  But, as we see in this account, temptation knows no stranger. 

Joseph was in the home of Potiphar, but Potiphar was not present during this scene.  However, Potiphar's wife was present and she took quite an eye to the strapping Joseph.  Day in and day out, she pursued the young man.  After many failed attempts, the woman physically grabbed a hold of Joseph's garment, forcefully bringing temptation to the door of his heart.  To say he was tempted would be an understatement.  But, what happened next is the remarkable power of God who worked through the son of Jacob.  Verse 12 tells us that Joseph fled out of the house.  That's right, in Forrest Gump like style, Joseph ran out of the presence of sin.  The Hebrew word for fled is ‘nus', which literally means escape.  Joseph escaped from the snare of temptation.

Many of us find ourselves in tempting situations on a daily basis.  Oftentimes we chalk these situations up to being unavoidable, giving them a much too casual consideration.  But, is this what scripture teaches, is this what God desires?  1 Corinthians 6:18 and 2 Timothy 2:22 say flee in regards to sin and temptation.  Joseph had the right idea.  He did not stick around to see how he could handle the temptation.  We are not commanded to see how well we do under the pressure of temptation.  1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God has provided an escape for temptation.  This should always be our reaction to temptation, flee, honor God and flee. 

My encouragement to you this week is to be conscious about areas in your life that are breeding grounds for temptation.  Pray that God would give you the strength to steer clear of those situations.  If this means a major overhaul in where you go and who you associate with, then sobeit.  Honoring God is always the right decision, no exception.  Galatians 1:10  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.  I pray that God would work in this area of your lives this week.                

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
   
                                                                                              

The Apparency Of Transparency

While the topic of racial equality has climbed near its apex, many have demanded that the church make their voice be heard on this issue.  Scores of believers are left wishing that church leaders would provide clarity to this sea of chaos and confusion.  Although this is not an entirely unrealistic request, personal discernment and biblical aptitude could go a long way in the matter.  Let's not over think this please. 

First and foremost, there is absolutely no room for racism in the gospel of Jesus Christ, period.  No human being should hate another human being, that is sin, equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21-22).  Everyone should garner treatment for what they are, a human being, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  Lastly, if we have the gall to proclaim the name of Christ and yet do not love our brother, we have proven that we have no business tarnishing the name of Christ with our ineffectual proclamation (1 John 4:20).  So what message must we present?  What should our voice be?  Well, that is quite simple, it is the Word of God.  We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we represent the King and we need to do so with boldness and lucidity.

May we not deviate from our God given responsibility to herald the name of Christ and advance the gospel.  May we show the love of God through the gospel of His Son and the evidence of a regenerated life in Him.  Angry antagonists will demand that you pick a side.  Your side has already been chosen for you.  By God's grace and by God's grace alone you have the privilege to stand on the promises of God as an adopted heir to the throne (Romans 8:17).  A child of God is not determined by the color of their skin, rather it is determined by where their heart lies.  If the gospel was limited to a specific demographic, then the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19:20) would not make sense.  Being witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) would not make any sense. 

Let us not get unnecessarily roped into a debate that has us picking and choosing anything but the Word of God.  The Word of God is sufficient for all matters pertaining to a life that is lived in reverence and honor of Him.  2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.                          

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  
                                                                                  

The Insanity of Self Reliance

On Sunday mornings we have been studying through the book of James.  One fact that James gets across very early on in that book is the inevitable reality of trials in a believer's life.  In chapter 1 of James we see a wonderful explanation in that when we face trials with the joy of the Lord, the result will be steadfastness.  However, in our fallibility and deficiency, we fall sometimes before we learn this hard lesson.  This reminds me of the story David in 1 Samuel 21.  David is running from King Saul, who is vehemently fixed on killing the young man. 

In the 21st chapter of Samuel, David found himself in the city of Nob where he met Ahimelech the priest.  Knowing that he was in danger, David asked Ahimelech if there were any weapons there.  Ironically there was a weapon there in Nob, and it just so happened to be the sword of the slain Philistine legend, Goliath.  David had defeated Goliath in the valley of Elah only a short time before this meeting with Ahimelech.  David then travels on to the very hometown of Goliath, the city of Gath.  There David is met by the king of Gath, Achish.  Fearing for his life, in imminent danger, David was knee deep in a trial, a test if you will.  David could have trusted in the Lord, but instead, he collapsed in this moment of weakness and self preservation.  David immediately changed his behavior before the king and pretended to be insane.  Spit ran down his mouth as he conducted an Oscar winning performance.  His antics worked, as the king wanted nothing to do with David after that pathetic display, removing himself from the presence of the apparently deranged man. 

You see, David was faced with a trial and he relied on his own cunning to elude danger.  Yes, this is the same David that confidently relied on the power of God to provide and protect him against the Philistine giant, whose sword he bore as a tangible reminder of the faithfulness of God.  It is easy to look at a story like this and shake our heads in disapproval at the weakness David displayed in that moment.  But, I would encourage you to not be so quick to judge.  How many times have you and I relied on our own instinct and reasoning to avoid trouble or danger?  How many times have we failed to rely on the provisions of God when faced with opposition?  "Yeah but David had the evidence of God's faithfulness in his hands."  We too have the evidence of God's faithfulness in our grasp; we too have that tangible reminder in the very word of God, the Bible. 

May we learn from those who have gone before us as well as learning from our own mistakes.  Let us remain joyful and steadfast through trials so that we can rely fully on God, for He is faithful and merciful.  David was a man after God's own heart; I pray that we too would be described in that very same way.  Psalm 118:8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.                                                                    

By His Grace And For His Glory, 
Pastor Sam
   
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________- 
                                                                                        

Split Decisions

Something I grew up doing and still continue to do to this very day is split firewood.  My family owns a tree business, so splitting firewood was an essential part of life from a very young age and something I enjoy doing.  I love watching a child for the first time push the lever while they watch the wedge easily divide the log.  Kids love seeing the power and ease at which the splitter dissects even the biggest of logs. 

You see, the wedge on the splitter creates a weakness in the log.  Sometimes the first angle you take with the log doesn't work, the wood is too strong or you hit a knot.  But, eventually, you find the weakness in the piece and the wedge exposes it, separating the log.  Isn't this much like the way Satan works?  I mean think about it.  As believers, we want to be as complete as possible, spiritually mature in all aspects of our Christian life (2 Timothy 3:17, James 1:4).  But, the reality is, we all have areas of our lives that we struggle with more than others.  Instead of ignoring these areas and chalking them up to hopeless pursuits, my encouragement is that we would be all the more prayerful toward them.  May we be found seeking the Lord for growth in these areas.  Because here is the deal, Satan is always looking for a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), he is very active (1 Peter 5:8) and he wants nothing more than to place a wedge between you and God.

Whether it's our prayer life, giving, serving, time in God's word, compassion, patience, humility, thankfulness, grace, you name it, God can stretch you and strengthen you.  I pray that we all have a desire to recognize our weaknesses and likewise acknowledge the Lord as being the source of all strength.  Focusing on the Lord and the things that please Him is the single best way to remove any wedge that Satan tries to divide us with (James 4:7).  Pray for each other this week and be encouraged by the strength we have through our great God.                                  

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                                                                                                  

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________              

Proper Focus

I was reminiscing the other day about growing up out in the country in central Illinois.  We lived right next to a 102 acre horse farmed that boarded, trained and raised horses, primarily for English riding.  Our neighbor asked if I would like to learn how to ride, so I decided to give it a try.  Over the course of a few months, I learned the nuances of the English style of riding, which included jumps.  There is one particular lesson that I learned while practicing jumps that I will never forget.  The instructor told me to keep my eyes locked straight forward over the jumps, because if I looked down, the horse would know it.  What?  That sounded so silly, I had to give it a try.  So, the next time I steered the horse to the jump, I looked down.  What happened next was not only a surprise, but a valuable lesson.  The horse put on the hoof breaks so fast that it threw me forward, almost dismounting me completely.  I was shocked that the instructor's warning was one of a very serious nature.  You see, the horse sensed through my body posture that I was looking down and associated that with trouble or possible danger, so it stopped to avoid risk.  As I reflected on this memorable event, my mind was quickly drawn to a biblical parallel.

Looking down before going over a jump indicates that the rider does not fully trust the horse.  It shows fear, uneasiness, and concern.  How many times have you and I tentatively brought something before the Lord, or worse yet, not brought it before the Lord at all?  Our reluctancy, whether intentional or not, shows a level of distrust.  We need to be reminded, I need to be reminded, that the Lord is worthy of our unhindered trust.  God's word is full of reasons to trust Him, for He alone is worthy (Isaiah 12:2, Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 28:7).  In this coming week I would encourage you to take a careful evaluation of your life.  See if there be any way about you that is not fully trusting in the Lord.  Spend some time in God's word, exploring all the reasons why He is worthy of our trust.  Also, bring your concerns before the Lord, confess your shortcomings and your imperfections unto Him.  Ask Him to grow you in this area, that you may be more pleasing to Him and trust Him in all circumstances.  May we all heed the instruction of the horse trainer and keep our eyes fixed upward.  Let the words of Proverbs 4:25-27 ring true in your life - Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.  Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.                            

 
By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                       
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                        

Media, The Great Distracter

Over the last several months we have witnessed unprecedented events that have really shaken our nation, even the world.  Many spend countless hours scanning the web for the latest story, watching television, listening to the radio, etc.  I am not suggesting that we don't stay informed about what is going on in our world.  But, really, how productive are we being by subjecting ourselves to what the media wants to feed us.  At times we are like buoys out in the sea of confusion, swaying back and forth by the whims and misdirection of secular media.  Whether it is a powerful agenda tool or an inadvertent byproduct, one thing is certain, we are distracted.

Don't get me wrong, I am guilty of this same diverting sidetrack at times.  But, isn't there something better we could be doing with our time?  Again, we should be knowledgeable about what we are facing as a nation or as a people in general, but let's not sacrifice our need to be equipped.  No, I don't mean how many locks we have on our doors, or how much food we have in the pantry.  These are good practices but what I am talking about is our time in prayer, our time in God's word, our time encouraging and helping others, our time sharing the gospel, our time of being bright shining lights for Christ.  There are only so many hours in the day, and if you and I are not careful, we could be filling too much of it with noise. 

We have to ask ourselves the question, what would God have us do in these times?  Well, thank goodness we have the answers in scripture.  I love the words in Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  My prayer is that you and I would be increasingly mindful of pursuing the things of God.  May we be found diligently and zealously seeking that which brings honor to the Lord.  Father help us to fill our minds with the things of God (1 Peter 1:13) and be prepared to give an account for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).                                                                                     

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
                                                                                                                                              

Whom Shall I Fear - Fearing Man Part 4

Over the past three weeks we have looked at several ways in which people, you and I, fear man.  This unhealthy fear is one that we must be conscious of and diligent to rectify.  Fearing man means that we put more focus and attention where it is not warranted.  Our focus, attention and fear should be in the One Holy God.  Yes, fearing God is healthy and it is taught all throughout scripture.  Many have the wrong notion that there is no reason to fear God, as He is our loving Father, and we are the object of His affection.  While this is in part true, the issue really lies in how we define fear.

There are well over 100 references to fearing the Lord throughout God's word.  The Psalms alone count for a great deal of these instances.  So, why, if we have been saved from the bondage of sin, are we to fear God?  Psalm 33:8 says Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!  You see, our fear is not based on the perceived danger of being cast out of His eternal presence and thrown into the lake of fire.  This kind of incorrect assumption would be contradictory to the very word of God.  As children of God we will never be cast out from His eternal kingdom and family (John 6:37).  A key word in the correct, biblical fear of the Lord is seen at the end of Psalm 33:8.  We are to be in awe at the power and majesty of the Lord.  The glory of the Lord is deserving of our utmost attention and acknowledgement.  We stand in awe of the holiness and the righteousness of God.

Another way we express this healthy fear of the Lord is through our reverence of Him.  He is deserving of all our attention, focus, respect, for after all He is God and He has done a miraculous work in our lives that forever changed us.  We live in a dark and fallen world, one that hates and rejects God.  There are about 7.8 billion people on this earth and one thing is true of every single person, everyone fears something.  To be even more specific, everyone fears someone.  As faithful followers of Christ, may we be found fearing God.  May we sing His praise in reverence and awe of who He is and what He has done in our lives.  Pray fervently that we fear man less and fear God more (Matthew 10:28).  God alone is worthy of our fear, as well as our praise and glory of Him.  Amen?                     

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                 
 
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

Sticks And Stones - Fearing Man Part 3 

As we continue in this series, focusing on the unhealthy fear of man, I hope you see the danger in this practice.  First we looked at fearing man through being seen.  Last week we looked at the fear of being rejected.  This week we are going to look at the fear of being physically hurt

In an interview, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson made this compelling statement "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."  Although Tyson was referring to his opponents, this statement really should resonate with all of us.  You see, many of Tyson's opponents would talk a big game before the fight, insisting on how badly they were going to pummel the young champion.  However, as soon as that bell rang and Iron Mike landed one good shot, his opposition became much less motivated to hold true to their claim.  The fear that he put into his opponents caused them to abandon their game plan, it changed their course.

Fear from physical abuse or fear of physical abuse can be crippling.  Breaking the grip of this fear is difficult, but it is not impossible.  We have a choice to say no to fearing man.  From 1369-1415 John Huss boldly preached that Jesus Christ was the only way, which infuriated the Roman Catholics, who pledged their allegiance wrongly to the pope.  For his efforts, Huss was threatened, jailed, beaten and tortured.  Finally, after refusing to recant over and over again, Huss was tied to a stake.  While the fire was lit, Huss began reciting the Psalms.  As he endured the unimaginable, Huss gave glory to the Lord.  You see John Huss understood the full extent of Matthew 10:28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

When we count the cost of following Christ, may we not overlook the possibility of physical pain.  The promises of God are not for a pain free life.  But, what we can be certain of is, if we live in fear of the possibility of being physically hurt, we have chosen to fear man.  If we choose to fear man, we have elevated man and reduced our view of God.  God please give us the power and the courage to boldly proclaim You, no matter what the circumstances may be.  May we be unashamed and unwavering in our pursuit of You.  You have given us the strength, may we recognize it and use it to glorify You.                                                        

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
                         
                                     

Protection From Rejection - Fearing Man Part 2

Last week we looked at the first of three categories in which people have an unhealthy fear of man.  Fearing man will inevitably diminish our fear of God.  The second way that the fear of man manifests itself is through the fear of being rejected.  Rejection is one of the most powerful tools that keep us from doing what we know we should, rather what we are commanded to do.  Most people avoid situations of possible rejection much like they would the bubonic plague. 

Circumventing opportunities which could result in rejection is placing superiority on the fear of man, while at the same time curtailing potential positive outcomes.  One of the most wonderful privileges we have as believers, and it certainly is a privilege, is that we get to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  God uses His children to reach the lost with the gospel.  But, far too often we don't share when we ought to because we are afraid of rejection.  Maybe they won't listen to me, maybe they will laugh at me, or maybe it will be awkward and uncomfortable.  When we choose to stay silent, what we are really doing is placing our fear of man in front of the eternal condition of the lost.  Of course we would never admit this, but in this case, our actions speak louder than our silence.

On our wall in the foyer of the church we have the verse Acts 1:8 displayed above a map of the world.  Like most, we recognize the importance and value of missionaries.  A missionary shares the gospel, as Acts 1:8 says they witness to the ends of the earth.  Their boldness and dedication in reaching the lost is one of great encouragement.  But, here's the deal, we are not delegating this duty to missionaries so that we do not have to share the gospel.  As ambassadors of Christ we need to share without reservation, as the need for Christ is oftentimes right in our own town, our own neighborhood, even in our own homes.  Do not get caught up in rejection, this is a snare of Satan to keep us quiet.  I encourage you to be confident in Christ, knowing that He will use our obedience for His glory and His purposes.                                     

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam 
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
    

Through Lenses of Fear - Fearing Man Part 1

One of the most overlooked and understated issues that so many believers face is the unnecessary fear of man.  This is a fear that lurks in the shadows of our hearts and warrants more attention than most would suspect.  There are three primary ways in which the fear of man manifests itself in our lives.  In the next three pastor's corners we are going to look at each one of these three areas. 

The first fear is the fear of being seen. This is a fear of being exposed, humiliated and shamed.  If we look back to the garden, we saw this happen with Adam and Eve.  Once they ate from the tree that they had been forbidden to eat from, what did they do?  They found shame in their nakedness (Genesis 3:7) and they hid from God (Genesis 3:8).  One could presume that while hiding, they must have thought "what will God think of me now?"

We are still dealing with the repercussions of the shame that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden, we are still in a hangover from the fall, if you will.  Shame can come from being victimized or sinned against by another.  This form of shame is commonly one that is hard to let go of.  Fearing that others will look at you differently is all consuming.  Even as a child of God, the tendency is rather to identify as the victim of (fill in the blank).  By doing this, whether purposefully or inadvertently, we are choosing to fear man.

Not everyone is in that boat though.  Still, this world we live in will not let you off the hook that easy.  We live in a society that loves to shame and humiliate people.  You are a Christian you say?  Well, then many will call you a bigot or intolerant.  Oh, and don't think about sharing your faith, or you will be labeled as one of those bible thumping Jesus freaks.  And so it goes, the world we live in will not spare the opportunity to try and bring about feelings of shame.  Many choose to hide and stay quiet about their faith, in fear that it may not be socially acceptable in certain places or times.  Again, this is a fear of man. 

The fear of man is crippling, rendering us far less useful for the purposes of God.  Fearing man is a choice.  I encourage you to make the choice to stop fearing to be seen by man.  If you are a child of God, you have nothing to be ashamed of.  He has forgiven your sins, forgiven your shame and He has erased it.  Don't worry yourself about what man will say, think or do.  Remember the words of Psalm 118:6 "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?"  God alone is worthy of being feared.  Let us rest on His promises and resist the snare of fearing man.   

By His Grace And For His Glory, 
Pastor Sam