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January 24, 2021

 

The Testimony Of God

One of the most wonderful things to hear is the testimony of an individual that has been radically changed by God.  When we hear the word testimony, it should remind us of the wonderful work that God has done and continues to do in our lives.  However, I have noticed an unhealthy, and all too common, dialogue that exists with many testimonies.  Although a testimony is personal, there is such a thing as making it too personal.  Let me explain.

How often does one’s story start off with, “I was a pretty good person”, or “I wasn’t terrible, just the typical guy/girl”?  Sadly, this is a tragic way to begin one’s testimony.  If this is how one begins, the hearer has already been misled.  Apart from Christ we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) with wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) that have us in a spiritually dead state (Romans 6:23).  With that said, no one was pretty good and the typical guy/girl is sinful and rebellious.  To begin a testimony in this way is a major misunderstanding of the sinfulness and depravity of mankind. 

The next part of the testimony is the explanation of how salvation took place.  Again, a common misconception revolves around phrases like “I invited Jesus into my heart” (found nowhere in scripture), or “I decided to let Jesus into my life” (again not in scripture).  Up to this point the word I, me or my has been used a great deal.  When we had absolutely nothing to offer a Holy God, by means of His grace, He intervened in our lives.  John 6:44 tells us that no one comes to Christ unless God draws (‘helko’ literally drags) them.  In God’s perfect redemptive plan, He not only accomplishes salvation in lost souls, but He also initiates it (John 6:65) and instills the faith required to accomplish it (Hebrews 12:2), sealing them (Ephesians 1:13) for eternity (John 6:37).  God’s sovereignty, His grace, love, and mercy should be the focus of every testimony. 

Even when the testimony moves to post-salvation, many unnecessarily insert too many personal pronouns.  “I have become a better person”, “I have grown in such and such a way”.  Again, this shortcuts and undermines the source of all of these changes in our lives.  Our testimony should not highlight ourselves, rather it should point to the Glory and Majesty of the Lord, the only One capable of changing who we were.  Our testimony should serve as a firsthand account of the wonderful salvatory work of God. 

An easy way to break down a testimony is in 3 areas, life before, during and after salvation.  The only ownership we should be taking in these areas is the first area.  It was our sin that separated us from the perfect Holiness of God (Isaiah 59:2), making us sinners in need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:1-10).  May the testimony that we share be one that honors and glorifies God for doing what He alone can do.  My prayer is that the Lord would provide you with many opportunities to share the story of how He changed your life forever, and that God would use that to touch the lives of others.                   

 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam   

 
 
  

January 17, 2021

The Casual Casualty

The word nominal can be defined as a role or position that operates on name only, meaning it does not possess any supporting attributes or character of the role/position.  Today, there are many who profess the name of Christ, but their proclamation is as far as it goes.  The nominal Christian often lives a life of complacency, with little to no regard for what is taught through Holy Scripture.  I came across a wonderful passage (1 John 3:1-10) that explains the severity of this kind of complacent lifestyle. 

What John is delineating in this passage is the stark difference between a true child of God and everyone else.  A true child of God is one who is defined as hating sin, removing sin from their lives at all cost.  Sin is recognized in their lives and, by the power of God working in them, earnestly resisted.  Those who do not go on practicing sin are shown to be God’s children by evidence of their faith.  What a wonderful testimony this is to the power of God to not only change behavior, but to change the heart of sinful man.  We see in verse 9 that those who are born of God (spiritual birth), cannot go on practicing sin.  John goes on to intimately tie in salvation, abiding with God, to the character of God Himself.  What that means is, if a person was truly saved and continued to live a life of sin, practicing sin, then this would make God a liar.  This would mean that the work He has done in that person’s life was not effective enough to actually change them.

Those who practice sin do not abide in God, they are not His children.  It does absolutely no good mincing words or watering this truth down.  I am afraid that is precisely what has gone on for far too long.  The church has either been too quiet about sin or too inclusive with their definition of who God’s children are.  Here is the deal, it is not up to us who God’s children are, it is up to God, and His word is explicitly clear in what that looks like.  Making a profession of faith and then living a life of sinful rebellion is nothing more than nominal Christianity.  Many churches are afraid to speak in these kinds of terms because they might offend people, they might even lose some attendees.  But, listen to what John says here in this passage through the Holy Spirit.  Verse 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil; and Verse 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.  

Many would say this kind of directness is not loving, it is too harsh and rigid.  Those feelings are brought forth from a distorted view of what love really is.  Loving someone is telling them the truth.  The truth is if we abide in the Lord, we will live a life that reflects that.  And if one lives a life of habitual sin, then they are not of the Lord, rather they are of the devil.  We need to stop fostering an environment that supports and encourages nominal Christianity.  May we be found faithfully heralding the truth of God’s word, unhindered and unedited.  Nominal Christianity stops the moment an individual cries out to the Lord for forgiveness of their sin, repenting and submitting unto God in salvation.  For it is not our clever rendition that has the power to change lives, rather it is the Sovereign God who has spoken with saving power through His Word.  Praise be to God for doing what He alone can do.                

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                 

   

January 10, 2021

 Hard Boiled Heart

It was a hot day in the heart of Texas, normal weather for the locals I’m sure, but hot for this Midwest boy.  My wife and I had flown to San Angelo Texas with the youth group we led at our church.  Accompanied by two other adult volunteers, we were in for a great, but eye opening, week of serving the Lord.  We quickly found out that feeding these hungry youngsters was a feat in and of itself.  It was while preparing for breakfast one morning that I received a wonderful reminder of the grace of God. 

Stacks of eggs cartons were brought in by the ranch owner and that morning it was my job to cook up the eggs.  I got out a large bowl and began to crack the eggs, emptying the contents into the bowl.  On my way to the 40 egg goal, if memory serves me right, I believe it was egg number 33 that caught my attention.  This egg cracked just like the rest had, but as I emptied the contents into the bowl, something was noticeably different.  This is the first time in my life that I had come across a black, rotten egg.  The rotten stench of sulfur permeated the air instantly.  Out of impulse, trying to save the batch of good eggs, I attempted to scoop the vile contaminant out.  This was a futile attempt however, the entire batch was ruined. 

It wasn’t until later that I contemplated the significance of that morning mishap.  It reminded me of the sin that infects the lives of all people.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that they are a good person because their good deeds outweigh their bad, I would be living high off the hog.  This unbiblical notion is one that presumes God is into numbers, having good deeds negate the bad that we do.  This is far from the truth.  You see, our sin is like that rotten egg I encountered in Texas.  As soon as that bad egg entered into the bowl, it ruined everything, forever changing the integrity of the mixture.  Such is the case with sin in our lives, it doesn’t go away because we tack a couple of good deeds on.  The severity of this condition is one that must be addressed, as spiritual death and sin are intimately connected (Romans 5:12). 

I could not remove that bad egg from the bowl, neither could any of the onlookers.  In the same way, we cannot fix the damage that sin has created in our lives, neither can anyone else.  Only through Jesus Christ can we be made new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20), can we be cleansed (1 John 1:9), can we have our sins forgiven (Ephesians 1:7, 4:32) and forgotten (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12).  It is by the grace of God that He takes the tainted, rotten, undesirable and makes them into useful, new, wonderful creations for His glory.  May we bring glory to God, by recognizing Him for doing what He alone can.  

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                  

 

January 3, 2021

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

On Sunday morning we have been systematically going through the book of James.  In the fourth chapter of James we are taught that our lives, as followers of Christ, are ones that should be lived by the guidance and direction of the Lord (James 4:13-16).  The decisions we make are important and they are many.  But, how does one maintain a consistent focus on making decisions that honor God? 

In Proverbs 3 Solomon provides a wonderful look at how we can accomplish this task.  In verse 5 we see the need to trust God with all of our hearts.  Trust can be a fickle thing can’t it?  We extend trust based on our knowledge of the one being trusted, don't we?  We determine if the person has good character and if they are proven by experience.  Oftentimes we trust an individual with carefully selected things but not necessarily the important stuff.  But, here in this verse we see that we are to trust the Lord with our whole heart, with everything that we have.  The Lord is certainly trustworthy and proven (Psalm 18:30, Isaiah 25:1).  When we wholeheartedly trust in the Lord, we will inevitably cease to lean on our own understanding (V:5).  If we lean on our own, carnal, finite understanding, we would not be completely relying on the sovereign, omniscience of God.  In all humility, we have to consciously yield our own understanding to seek the understanding of God (James 4:7). 

In verse 6 of Proverbs 3 we read that we are to acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways.  The Hebrew word for ways is ‘dârak’ which literally means road or journey.  That means that our trajectory should be one that is in a constant state of acknowledging the Lord.  Notice the verse says in all your ways acknowledge Him.  This removes any tendency to pick and choose what part of our lives we choose to acknowledge God in.  The verse is explicitly clear that we are to acknowledge God in everything, in every circumstance.  Recognizing our need to trust in the Lord should permeate every part of our lives. 

When we trust fully in the Lord, instead of our own intuition, and acknowledge Him in our lives, then we are left with a wonderful promise.  The promise is found in the latter part of verse 6, He will make straight your paths.  Trusting in the Lord provides clarity, knowing that He will set our course according to His will and purposes for our life.  There is no better place we can be than in harmony with the will of God, the path of His choosing. 

Trust can be fickle, but we have every reason to put our full assurance in the Lord.  May we commit to acknowledging Him in all our ways, for He alone is worthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam  

  

 



December 27, 2020 

Claus And Effect

It has always been compelling to me how so many will teach their kids to love, idolize and adore a false character (spoiler alert) like Santa Claus, yet retort of the absurdity at the belief of an Almighty Sovereign God.  Nevertheless, those who get all wrapped up in the holidays (pun intended) will inevitably feel a bit lost when the festivities come to a swift close.  The excitement is over and they are forced to move on to something else to fill their time.  But for believers, we have cause to continue our celebration.  We have a great deal in common with the Bible character Anna. 

We find the account of Anna in Luke 2:36-38, following the birth of Jesus Christ.  This is the only place in scripture you will find this prophetess, but we need not forget her important role.  Depending on how you interpret her age, Anna was likely between 84-104 at the time of this account.  She was a devoted woman of God, spending her days praying, fasting and worshipping.  Verse 38 tells us that Anna began thanking God among those who had been waiting, indicating Anna too had been waiting.  Clearly her thanks to God were directed toward the birth of the Messiah, the One that they had been waiting for. 

As children of God, we have the finished work of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.  Although the work is finished, let us not forget that we, in similar fashion to Anna, have much to look forward to.  Fulfilling scripture, Jesus will one day return to establish His kingdom, war against opposition and bring about judgment (Revelation 19:11-16, Zechariah 14:2, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Corinthians 5:10).  Just like Anna continued to praise God, even after the Messiah was born, we too will continue our praise of the Lord for eternity.  Our joy and hope are fixed on the promises of God and no season of life can change that. 

As the lights come down this Christmas and once lively evergreen trees are seen dried out on the curb, may we be reminded that we have a Savior that is so much more than temporal, fading, stuff.  I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.  But, on December 26th, I pray that you find just as much cause to celebrate.  For our God is worthy.                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam

 

December 20, 2020

The Working Of The Spirit

As Christmas draws closer, many believers will read through the account of Christ’s birth, found in Luke 1 and 2.  It is wonderful that the more we read scripture, things are brought to light that we may have not noticed before.  I think spiritual maturity plays a part in this, as we grow in knowledge and understanding we start to recognize the details more, as they pertain to a greater understanding of the totality of scripture.  For many who will read this account, the tendency is to focus on the glory that is revealed through God’s orchestration of events and circumstances.  However, a commonly overlooked reality is the integral part that the Holy Spirit had throughout this unfolding. 

The Holy Spirit is mentioned five times throughout this account.  In an unprecedented fashion, John The Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:15).  Part of the message that the angel Gabriel relayed to Mary was that she would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).  This was to be done so that Mary would undoubtedly accomplish all that God had planned through her.  Mary was a common young lady who God used as an instrument to bring the Messiah into this world, God taking on the form and appearance of man.  The means by which He accomplished this through her was that she be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We see that the Spirit was actively at work in the lives of those involved in the account. 

When Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, sharing with her all that had transpired, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41).  She too was part of the master plan of God, as was her husband Zechariah, who would also be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67).  A short while later we see that Simeon was given revelation that he would see Christ before his life would come to a close, a revelation that was given by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26).  So, you may be thinking, what is the significance here, what do we do with this knowledge of the Holy Spirit? 

Unfortunately the Holy Spirit is commonly viewed as a lesser part of the Trinity.  In other cases, the Holy Spirit is perverted and made out to be something that we experience through special services, calling on the Spirit through repetitious music and low lit gatherings.  These are both major errors that do not give the Holy Spirit the proper reverence that is due.  As followers of Christ we have the Spirit of God who works in and through us to accomplish His will and purposes for our lives (Romans 8:9).  The same Spirit who was active in the birth of Christ is the same Spirit who we have at work in our lives.  This is certainly a remarkable truth that should cause us to praise His wonderful name with Thanksgiving.                                                         

                                                                                                                                                 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam
                   

 

December 13, 2020 

Christmas Excitement

If you haven’t noticed, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (in my best Bing Crosby voice).  There are so many things that get people excited about Christmas.  For some it is picking out the perfect tree, others it is adorning their home with lights and ribbons in spectacular fashion, for others it is the multitude of delicious foods they get to enjoy (one’s that will inevitably lead to many New Year’s resolutions, but that’s another story entirely).  Whatever warms your holiday heart, without question the highlight for the masses will be exchanging gifts.  A great deal of time, energy and effort are put into giving the perfect gift.  Commonly parents are particularly eager to generate a great buzz around the gifts their children will receive.  In many cases, this is the highlight of the season, the grand finale if you will. 

Sadly even many Christ following parents have fallen victim to this focal distraction.  Trust me, I don’t write this from a high and mighty seat in an attempt to cast down judgment on my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Rather, this is a reflection that I am wrestling with and I have a feeling that I am not the only one.  As believers we should make every attempt to be devoted in a life of faithfulness and obedience to the One True God.  The excitement that we enjoy is brought forth through the salvation that we have received through the blood of Christ.  Jesus Christ is the cause of great excitement for all believers.  Ironically, during this Christmas season, there are multitudes of other things that vie for our attention and excitement.  We vehemently proclaim that Jesus is the reason for the season, but is He the reason for our excitement?

Church services, giving to the less fortunate, reading the account of Jesus’ birth with your family, these are all great things.  But, have they become routine, have we taken them for granted?  I am not suggesting that from this point on we should revolt and forego all traditions and norms, that is certainly not my intent.  Instead, my encouragement is that we refocus our excitement around the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all.  May we spend less time wondering what is in that oddly shaped package underneath the tree and more time celebrating that we have a Savior that emptied Himself and took on the form of man (Philippians 2:7), providing the only way for our salvation (Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5).  No Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal could ever compete with that.  May we not allow anything to take precedence over our celebration of Jesus Christ.  Let’s use this opportunity to share with others why we are excited about Christmas.                                                                                                                                                                                             

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam

 

December 6, 2020 

 

No Censorship Required

It is concerning to me the “softness” that many have unnecessarily inserted into scripture.  This softness generally comes by way of misinterpretation, an interpretation that is made to accommodate feelings and emotions.  One recent example is one’s rendering of the parable of the 10 virgins that is seen in Matthew 25:1-13.  In this parable there are 10 virgins (representing professing believers) who are going to meet the bridegroom (Jesus Christ).  There is a clear distinction between the virgins, 5 are diligent and prepared and 5 are lazy and unprepared.  The nature of their preparedness is a direct correlation to the love, or lack of love they have for the bridegroom.  The 5 who were prepared and eager about their meeting depict 5 believers who truly love the Lord.  The 5 who were not ready depict unbelievers, who made a profession of their love but their actions revealed their indifference. 

To misinterpret this passage would be to make the unwarranted conclusion that all 10 of these virgins are believers, 5 prepared and useful and 5 not prepared and complacent.  So, how do we clear this up?  There are actually several ways to remove this confusion.  First, if you look at verses 11-13 the 5 unprepared virgins come to the door of the bridegroom (Jesus) and ask to be let in.  Notice the Lord’s response, “I do not know you.”  This is not a threat to the omniscience of the Lord, rather it is a repeated phrase that signifies those who have rebelled and rejected Christ (Matthew 7:23).  Not being known by Christ is the opposite of being known by Christ, that we see in John 10:14  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.  So the very fact that the bridegroom (Christ) rejected the 5 unprepared virgins and stated that He did not know them, this should be a closed case as to the condition of the 5 virgin’s hearts. 

But, there is further clarity to this understanding.  The parable of the 10 virgins is tantamount to the parable of the talents.  We have the same lesson being revealed in the parable of the talents.  There are 3 servants that represent 3 professing believers and the master who represents Christ.  The actions of the first 2 servants revealed the love and faithfulness they had toward the master, while the lazy and unconcerned actions of the third servant revealed his lack of love for the master.  The third servant was in the exact same boat as the 5 virgins who were rejected, they were unprepared.  Their unpreparedness wasn’t a result of not doing enough work in advance, rather it was found in their unregenerate hearts.  Just like the 5 virgins were rejected at the door, the third servant in the parable of the talents was rebuked by the master and as we see in Matthew 7:30.  The master ordered that the servant be cast out to the outer darkness, in the palace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  This is not a low lit area of heaven, this is a clear reference to hell (Matthew 13:42, Luke 13:28).  To interpret either one of these parables as believers who simply differ in effectiveness is just plain wrong.   

Brothers and sisters, God’s Holy Word does not need our tweaking and adjusting to make it more palatable.  It is not our responsibility, nor right, to censor the Word Of God so it is easier to stomach for the masses.  These two parables serve as a warning for those who are not ready when the Lord returns, as Matthew 25:31-46 clearly defines.  Being ready when the Lord returns in glory is submitting our lives to Christ, laying down pride and putting on humility in servanthood for the Lord.  These parables are not about trimmed wicks, oil and buried treasures.  They are about the condition of the heart and the reality of what will take place when Jesus Christ returns to settle accounts. 

My encouragement is that we approach the Word of God with reverence and respect, not as a book of good ideas that needs our fine tuning.  May we have a high view of scripture, trusting in every word God has brought forth for our benefit to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus.                                   

                                                                                                                                                

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam

November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving Is Not Canceled

As we approach Thanksgiving we concede that this year has not been the typical year.  In fact, many will forgo their normal family gathering in light of the ever present virus that has demanded global attention.  As we reflect on the events of the year, the recap is a rather dismal one.  Masks have gone from hot topic to standard attire.  Our kids are growing up in a time where sickness is the scuttlebutt and charts and graphs can be seen on every news outlet.  Politics vie for focal supremacy yet fail to offer any clarity or resolution.  High school and college sports fans deal with partial seasons at best and professional sports fans are left with inundating social messages from athletes who have forgotten if they are running for office or playing basketball.  Riots, violence and hate have become commonplace in many cities across the nation.  Many lament about 2020 being the worst year in recent history. 

Although I understand the unusual nature of this year, I am not altogether surprised either.  In John 16:33 Jesus tells his disciples that in this world, they will have trouble.  Trouble has certainly not vanished in the last 2000 years.  However, take heart, neither have the promises of God vanished in that time.  Psalm 103:19 tells us that God is on the throne that He has established in heaven, ruling over all that He has made.  Our God is not silent, rather He is always working to accomplish His perfect will (Psalm 50:2, Isaiah 46:9-11).  As followers of Christ we have been given the wonderful promise of security in Him (John 10:27-29, John 6:37, Romans 11:29).  And praise God our hope, joy, peace and comfort are not of this world (Romans 15:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  My encouragement to you is this, don’t look at 2020 as a year void of things to be thankful for.  Instead be thankful that 2020 has been a year that aids in our appreciation and understanding of God’s grace in our lives.  We have so much to be thankful for.  We serve a living and active God who reigns supreme, victory has already been won.  The last part of John 16:33 is a wonderful promise that we can rest on, Jesus said “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Sorry world, you can try to take our Thanksgiving, but you cannot take our thankfulness.                                                                                                                                                                 

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                  

November 22, 2020

 

The Battle Rages But The Victory Is Won

 

No matter how well an athlete trains for a competition, nerves are still commonly present.  Sometimes these uneasy feelings are masked behind a braggadocious facade with boasts of unwavering confidence.  Nevertheless, the presence of nerves are just under the surface.  These nerves generate out of a fear of the unknown.  Did I train hard enough?  Did my opponent train harder?  What if I make a simple mistake, human error, a slip?  These are things an athlete mulls over, even the ones who seem calm and unfazed.  In sports, it isn't over until it's over.  Whether it be a last ditch effort haymaker, an interception, a buzzer beater, you name it, but the fact is, it isn't over until it's over.  

Fortunately for those who have submitted their lives to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, this is not the case for them.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that, as believers, we are in a battle.  This battle is with an enemy, an adversary, that fights tirelessly and vigorously.  Our enemy, satan, is very good at what he does.  1 Peter 5:8 says that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to destroy or devour.  Logically one could conclude that this is a rival that is deserving of our concern.  However, for those who are in Christ, there is absolutely nothing to fear.  

As well trained as satan is at his craft, he is no match for our great God.  1 Corinthians 15:57 tells us that God has given us victory through Christ.  Romans 8:37 calls us conquerors, while 2 Corinthians 2:14 says that we are led in triumph by Christ.  Romans 8:31 gives us the confidence in knowing that our relationship with Him is one that should not fear opposition.  We will in fact be in battle daily, always fighting to be pillars and supports of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), while fighting against the schemes of satan (James 4:7).  We have no reason to falter in our pursuit, as we find our confidence and strength in Him alone (Isaiah 41:10, Ephesians 6:10).  Unlike the undetermined outcome that exists prior to an athletic event, our battle as children of God has already been won.  Thank you Lord, that we have victory through Your precious name.  Having no reason to fear, may we march forward in all boldness through the power of Your Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7).                                                                                                                                                         

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                   

 

November 15, 2020 

 

Big News


As the sunset behind the green rolling hills near Bethlehem, the shepherds were about to embark on the night shift.  The cool of the night would be ushered in and the noise of the day would grow quiet.  Shepherds in those days had to be fearless, not letting anyone or anything harm the sheep they were entrusted with.  They also had to be attentive, knowing the situation and the condition of the sheep at all times.  When nightfall came, an increased level of awareness was most certainly present among the shepherds.  Predators of all kinds would roam the land in search of such a meal.  Wolves are commonly viewed as a sheep’s worst nightmare, but the Bible also lists lions and bears as possible advisories to the flock (1 Samuel 17:34).

In the profession of a shepherd, no news is good news.  An uneventful night was all those who tended the flock could hope for.  Any sound or rustling in the tall grass could send the shepherds into a mode of fierce protection.  On the night that Jesus Christ was born, shepherds in a nearby field were about to experience an unprecedented event.  Luke 2:8 says that while the shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  Suddenly this uneventful night became a divine display of God’s glory.  The fear that must have immediately gripped these men would have them wishing it had been a lion or a bear instead.  God used this magnificent event to tell of the Savior’s birth.  We recognize the contrast between the humble, quiet birth of Christ and the glorious, attention demanding revelation of His arrival.

Undoubtedly this event was one that the shepherds would never forget.  For those of us who have been saved by God’s grace, we can relate, at some level, to what the shepherds must have felt that night.  For us it was not the glory of the Lord shining down in the middle of the night or an angel of the Lord speaking audibly to us.  But, the miraculous work that God has done in our lives certainly leaves us in awe, recognizing His glory and majesty.  I encourage you this week to thank God for the many ways that He has shown His glory in your life.  The tendency is to look at particular accounts throughout scripture and marvel at the ways in which the Lord worked, and rightfully so.  But, let us not overlook the spectacular work that God has done in our very own lives.  May we ruminate on ALL of the wonderful ways that God displays His glory.  Lord, it is all for Your glory.  Romans 11:36  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.                                                                                                                                         

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                  

 

November 8, 2020 

Free To Be Slave 

I am often baffled by those who feel they need to choose a specific camp when it comes to a particular theological stance.  Don't get me wrong, there are without question stances that need to be made and maintained when it comes to proper theology that is formed from the truths of scripture.  But, there are those issues that are really not issues at all.  I have witnessed brothers and sisters who have adamantly demanded that believers are free and liberated, and no longer slaves.  On the other hand I have also encountered those who declare with persistence that we are slaves to God.  So, the question that unavoidably springs forth is, which one is right?  Herein lies the problem with the debate, assuming that since one is right that the other has to be wrong. 

Those who stand on the premise that we are liberated and free are correct.  Galatians 5:1 says For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  This verse is explaining the freedom that Jesus Christ has provided from the law, we see a similar example in 2 Corinthians 3:17.  Then in a more than convincing passage, John 8:34 points out that those who practice sin are slaves to sin.  However, in verse 36 we see that the Son, Jesus Christ, is the source of freedom and liberation from sin's enslavement.  This is a crucial understanding that scripture reveals, that Jesus Christ came to save people from their bondage of sin.  If we are compelled to choose a camp, this one is looking pretty promising. 

Those who stand firm on the understanding that we are slaves, must provide ample evidence.  Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  In this text we see that those who are in Christ have been removed from sin's enslavement and become slaves of God.  It would be irresponsible for us to reason that this is merely a transfer of slave ownership alone.  Rather, this is a momentous positional change that is done only through the salvatory work of God.  The only way that we can be freed, liberated from the eternal grasp of sin's clutches is by God drawing us to salvation.  As Matthew 6:24 says, we cannot serve two masters.  Luke 9:23 tells us that as believers in Jesus Christ we are to deny ourselves and follow Him.  The Lord is our Master and we are His servants.  Suddenly this camp has us wondering what side we should be on. 

I hope you are picking up on where this is going.  This is a classic case of the unnecessary nature of needing to choose between two theological principles.  In this particular case, both camps are completely right.  By the grace of God, He has provided the only way to be free from the bondage of sin, through the redemptive blood of His Son.  When an individual is drawn to salvation by God, they are then removed from sin's enslavement and placed into servanthood of the Lord, a slave of God.  The two camps are not opposed to one another, rather they are two parts to a whole.  As I have stated on many occasions, my encouragement is that we always look at what we are saying and ask ourselves the question "what does this say about God?"  In this case, both angles of approach say the same thing, that being a slave to God is the only way to be free from eternal punishment that we deserve as a result of our own sin.  Praise be to God for providing mercy and grace to an undeserving lot like us.  He is good.                                                                                                                  

By His Grace And For His Glory,
Pastor Sam                  

 

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