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November 1, 2020  

The Road Less Traveled

 

There is a passage in scripture that has always produced within me a mix of emotions.  In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus teaches the familiar lesson about the narrow gate and the wide gate.  The rich depth that permeates this short passage is staggering.  Every time I come across this section of scripture it seems that another facet in understanding is brought forth, which I liken to another layer of the onion being peeled.

The more I study the Word of God, the more certain I become that the narrow gate is in direct correlation to the size of the path.  We read in verse 14 that the way that leads to life, eternal life, is hard.  And all God's people said "Amen", right?  The Christian life is one of trials, tests, persecution, and opposition (John 16:33, 2 Timothy 3:12).  As born again believers in Jesus Christ we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) in this life long journey of sanctification.  Humbly serving the Lord is an extraordinary privilege, one that exceeds anything that the world could offer.  But, make no mistake, it is, as the scriptures reveal, a difficult journey.  When we understand the extent of what it means to pick up our cross and follow God daily, we know our lives were not meant for ease and comfort.  Few are on this path, a few in comparison to the other path.  But, those who are on this path know they are on it, they are confident.  This is a confidence that comes not from their own achievements and merit, but one that comes from the promises and power of God.  No one is on the path to life by accident.  There is no confusion, as all who press on do so by the grace of God alone.  

The other gate is wide and in a similar correlative fashion, the path is wide as well.  On this path there is a diverse group of people, from all walks of life: rich and poor, wild and passive, rude and arrogant, quiet and pleasant, violent and abusive, unassuming and shy, passionate and apathetic.  However, the path has but one common thread.  Inclusion to this path is not defined by the color of one's skin, the amount of good deeds done in one's life or even whether they attended church or not.  Thus lies the confusion that exists on this wide path.  The one thing that knits the droves of individuals on this wide way is they have never repented of their sins.  In a steady march toward the wide gate, even many religious people obliviously proceed; religion is not what determines position. 

As I get older the thing that frightens me the most is what the reaction of those who will enter through the wide gate will be.  They have enjoyed a life that cost little, denying the Messiah who gave everything.  But, what really gets to me is the confusion.  Many are confused and think because of the way they lived their life, or they were raised in a Christian home by Christian parents, or they attended church as a youth, or they raised their hand during an invitation, that this was more than sufficient to gain them access to the narrow gate, heaven.  None of these scenarios reveal the real condition of the heart.  This is where I am left motivated and charged up.  I, we, have work to do.  There are a lot of people out there who think they are good, that think they are deservingly on the narrow way, by virtue of works and self righteousness.  We need to share the full saving gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone that we can.  Because we should not be happily complacent with the path that we are on, while giving little thought to the masses that push toward the wide gate of destruction.  Lord, please give us an increased sense of urgency and passion to reach the lost.  May we live and act like we have the most important message of all to share.                                                                                                          

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                  

 

October 25, 2020 

Unity

In the fifteenth chapter of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul places a great deal of emphasis on unity within the body of believers.  In fact, Paul goes so far as to point out that we are not only to come together on Sunday morning for a moment of unity, rather we are to live in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 15:5).  The word live denotes a constant state, one that is not just part of life but essential to sustaining a healthy spiritual life.  Thank goodness Paul does not leave us with this good intended ideal without any practical ways in which to accomplish it.

Earlier in that same chapter we see that putting others needs into focus and building them up is a key element in fostering unity (v2).  It is also made clear that this is not merely a goal and personal aim of Paul, but this was the character and nature that Jesus Christ exhibited (v3).  Jesus Christ came to serve others (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45), providing us with an example that we should strive to emulate to the best of our abilities.  And one of the ways we can do that is to faithfully and diligently be equipped in the proper teaching of the Word of God, so that we can be in one accord and have one voice in our praise and glory to the Father (Romans 15:6).

One voice?  How does that work?  This is not to assume we don't have a personal responsibility and ability to worship and honor God.  But, it would be absurd for us to assume that we all have a different set of parameters when it comes to what pleases God.  Pleasing God is our aim, it is a vital function and purpose of a follower of Christ (Galatians 1:10).  Something that the Bible is very clear on in terms of what pleases God is unity within the body (1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8, Philippians 2:2, Colossians 3:14).  These passages are not talking about denominations or affiliations, rather they speak to the body of believers collectively, those who have believed upon Jesus Christ as the only way.  When the body adheres to these commands that scripture has laid out, they function in such a way that glorifies God harmoniously, in one voice.  Who but God could bring together a group of former bond servants to sin, rebellious and wicked as we were, to form a pleasing bride that would be spotless and blameless in the sight of the Lord, with the ability to exalt His majesty through one, united voice?

Satan wants nothing more than to bring division and dissension to the body.  That kind of chaos and strife is what defines his character.  Let us be steadfast in prayer for the church, both locally, and universally.  My challenge to you this week is, take some extra time to devote to praying for the body, that we would be found united and of one voice and one accord.  For this is pleasing to the Lord.                                                                                  

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam

 

October 18, 2020 

May I Have A Word

It is always intriguing to me how one word or a short phrase can have such profound meaning behind it.  The affirming words "I do" at a wedding encompass so much.  All the communication that took place prior to the wedding day, perhaps the premarital counseling that the couple went through, the time and energy that have been invested in one another, it all culminates to this simple yet powerful phrase, "I do".  Not all words and phrases bring about such a positive outcome though.  Far too many families have been impacted by the painful words from a doctor that has to break the heart-wrenching news "you have cancer".  Words can change lives and the ramifications are vast.  Whether it is the army general who gives the command "charge", the NASA engineer that says "blast off" or the judge who gives a declaration of "guilty", word can possess tremendous power.   

In John 19 we read the account of Jesus Christ suffering on the cross at Golgotha.  After experiencing what no man could endure, Jesus said these words found in verse 30, "It Is Finished".  The enormity and the power of this statement was one that would reverberate for eternity.  In that moment Jesus Christ had completed His redemptive earthly ministry in the flesh.  His blood atonement on the cross was sufficient for all sin.  Salvation was made exclusively possible through repenting and confessing our sins to Him and acknowledging Jesus Christ's penal substitutionary atonement.  "It Is Finished".  That thing you did that is so bad not a day goes by that you don't think about it, "It Is Finished".  That legalistic lifestyle of constantly trying to tip the scales of good works over bad in your favor, "It Is Finished".  The guilt and shame you have been harboring for as long as you can remember "It Is Finished".  Those feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, "It Is Finished".  The life that is slave to sin and bound for hell, "It Is Finished."  There is great power in the words of Christ. 

Thank You Jesus for doing what we could not do, thank You for saving us from ourselves.  Thank You for the finality of the work that You did on the cross in our place.  May we never forget the power in that phrase, may it bring us to our knees in thanksgiving as we marvel at Your grace, love and mercy.                                                                            

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam        

 

October 11, 2020

Season Of Change

As I look out our back dining room window the changing colors of the maple leaves quickly reminds me that a new season is being ushered in.  Soon enough the leaves will fall, the air will grow colder and pumpkin spice will be replaced with the fragrance of spruce and peppermint.  For all the complaining that can be made at the expense of the erratic Midwest weather, I do love the changing of the seasons.  It’s always amusing to watch “out of staters” getting off the planes in the Midwest airports.  Apparently no one mentioned to them that a week-long trip would warrant a coat, jacket, shorts, sandals, and snow boots. 

The Apostle Paul had a great deal of valuable instruction for Timothy, the young man from Lystra.  In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul urges Timothy to preach the word; in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  Timothy had been entrusted with weighty responsibility of leading and shepherding the church in Ephesus.  Paul knew that Timothy would find out soon enough that there would be times where the message of Christ would be heard with ease and conversely there would be times when that message would not be well received.  Thus Paul encourages Timothy to preach during all seasons.  The results of good biblical preaching and teaching are what Paul mentions in the latter part of verse 2, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort.  These are results that God’s Word can produce in either scenario. 

Though the Midwest weather may be ever changing, there is no doubt that we live in a time where the Word of God is in large part, out of season.  God’s Word has been taken out of schools, taken out of homes, and sadly, even taken out of many churches.  The truth that God’s Word contains brings about an acknowledgment of sin, and sin brings to light the separation between the lives of fallen mankind and the perfect holiness and righteousness of God.  As followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to herald the name of Christ, to proclaim and share the saving gospel.  We need not worry ourselves with the nature of the season we are in.  Instead, let us boldly preach the message of the Savior, which is never changing.  Hebrews 13: 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  So grab your coat, your stocking hat, your sunglasses and t-shirt, because we have work to do.                                             

 
By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam         
 
  
         

October 4, 2020

The End Of The Story

During a discussion in a men's bible study one Friday morning, we got talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We were commenting on the extraordinary responsibility that God had set before Mary.  A few of the men shared their thoughts on what that must have been like for the young betrothed virgin girl.  When the angel Gabriel told Mary of the monumental task that she was about to embark on, one is led to wonder what was going through her mind.  Mary was a young engaged girl, who, before that day, likely day dreamed about the future.  Whatever her plans and aspirations were, God intervened with a different ending to the story of her life. 

I asked the guys in the group, if God had not intervened in their lives, how different would the end of their story be?  Without hesitation some of the men shared about the predictability of how their lives would have played out.  Most commented that their sinful behavior would have landed them in jail or worse yet, the morgue.  It was a sobering moment as all in attendance recognized the grace that God had lavished on their lives.  You see, these men knew who they were before they submitted their lives to Christ and they knew the trajectory that old life had them on.  They could have easily finished the story of their lives.  BUT......God had a different plan for them.  God's redemptive plan in their lives would change the ending. 

If God has done a mighty work in your life and brought you to salvation through His Son Jesus Christ, then you have great cause for rejoice.  The God of the universe and all that it contains saw fit to change the end of your story.  He is the only one that can take the enslaved sinner, change their heart and declare them righteous.  However, there are a great many people out there who are living out the very predictable story of their lives.  They are dead in their sins, being condemned by the very thing that ensures their story's unsurprising end.  But, God's message of hope, the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, is a message that changes lives, it changes the ending.  My encouragement for you this week is to find someone to discuss this with.  Ask someone how they see their life playing out, ask them to write their ending.  This gives you a wonderful opportunity to share with them.  As followers of Christ, we did not write our ending, God did (Ezekiel 36:26, 2 Corinthians 3:18).  Praise God for doing what we couldn't do.  To you alone Lord we give all honor and praise.


By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                   
 

 

September 27, 2020 

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 vain.  I 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                 

 

 September 20, 2020

 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                   
 
 

September 13, 2020

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         
 
 
 
                                                         

September 6, 2020

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