All posts by: Anthony Stephens

The Church is a Place of Boldness

We have been going through a sermon series at the church where I serve as Pastor this month called “Rethinking the Church.”  If you were to ask the common person on the street what they thought of when they heard the word “church,” you would get a variety of answers.  It is for this reason that I believe that we should look to the Bible to give us a clear understanding of what the church should be.

The church is to be a group of people that come from different walks of life and encourage one another as we seek to fulfill God’s purposes here on the earth. This is called community.

As the Bible shows us that the church is to be a community that is dependent upon one another, the question may come up “Why?” Why is it so important that the church be a community that shares life together with one another?

I would answer that question by saying that the church community is important because it is a part of God’s plan in building us into who we are supposed to be.

God has a plan of bringing redemption to our fallen world. Sin has entered in and wreaked havoc on everything. It has messed up our relationship with God, our relationship with other people, nature, and everything else.

God did not desire all of this destruction that has been left in the path of sin. This is why, from the beginning, He had a plan to make things right. He planned to come Himself and make things right. This is why Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived the life that we were supposed to live. He died our death – paying our penalty of sin. He arose from the grave to give us hope and assurance that His plan was at work.

Before Jesus left this world, He charged His followers (the church) to continue the mission that He began. We see that most clearly in what is called the Great Commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

This is a mighty task that we as the church have been given. We are responsible for taking the message of the gospel to all who need it. There is no place under the sun where this gospel is not needed. It seems that everywhere you turn there are people who are living in the shackles of sin’s clutches.

It would seem easy enough to understand that we as followers of Jesus Christ would need to take this gospel to those who we come in contact with and who need it so desperately. The question that continues to pop up in my mind is “why don’t we?”

I think sometimes the greatest hindrance that we have to doing what God has tasked us to do is a lack of boldness.

Boldness

If you were to look up the word boldness in the dictionary, it would say something like “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff; courageous and daring.” Sadly, this is a term that has dropped in its usage over the past 200 years.

The presence of danger or resistance has been around since sin entered into our world. We do not like danger or resistance. We would like to have a comfortable life, but Jesus warned us very plainly that in this world where sin is present, that would not happen.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

It is because of the ever-presence of danger in our sin-filled world and the amazing task to share the gospel with all who need it that we need the church. The church is to be a place where this boldness needed to carry out our task is shared and grown in our lives.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)

 

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about the situation that he was in. He was in prison for his commitment to the task of sharing the gospel with people. No doubt there were many who were concerned for him. Not only concerned for Paul but for themselves. Would this fate come upon them?

Adversity is not something that many would willingly put on their “to-do” list each day. Most of us strive to steer clear of any adversity that would try to come our way. It is seen as a type of plague that we should stay away from at all costs.

Adversity can be a good thing though. Adversity can actually build and reveal the quality of what is inside of us.

Paul states that the adversity that he was going through at the moment of writing (imprisonment) was actually serving to advance the gospel message to places and people it had never been before.

There is a teaching that is becoming more and more popular today that if one follows Christ then everything will be fine and dandy for them. They should not face any kind of adversity if they just have enough faith. That is a good definition of one ancient Hebrew phrase that Dr. Chuck Kelley (President of NOBTS) likes to use: “bologna.”

If Jesus said that this world will be filled with tribulations and adversities of all kinds, who do we think that we are to say that isn’t so?

God can use any adversity that comes against the church to accomplish His plan, and more importantly He will.

How does God use adversity in the life of the church?

God uses adversity to build boldness in the life of the church to accomplish the mission.

And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  (Philippians 1:14)

 

Paul said that most of the Christians who had heard about his circumstances were not fearful or scared, but that they were speaking more boldly the gospel message.

There have been people from the very beginning days of the church who have believed that if they can simply persecute or instill fear in the church, then they could shut it down. The truth is that the church has only become bolder in its mission when it faces adversity.

When adversity comes against the church and the church seeks the Lord, the Holy Spirit rises up a boldness to stand strong. We realize that God gives us armor for the fight and the ability to stand strong together as the Body of Christ.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  (Ephesians 6:13)

When people see the church standing not in their own strength but in the strength of the Lord, it causes a curiosity as to what does the church have that is missing from everywhere else. This gives the church the opportunity to share the great gospel of Jesus Christ with those who need it.

Adversity is never a fun thing. It will tend to last much longer than anyone would desire. It will cost more than many would like to pay. But for the church, it is a builder of boldness to accomplish the mission that we have been given.

The church is so much more than just a place where we come to sing songs and listen to a person speak. It is a community where we come together under the banner of Jesus Christ and bear one another’s burdens. We see the Holy Spirit build boldness in each member to be faithful to the task of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need it.

Get Out of the Way

2016 is coming to a close rather quickly. There is not much time to finish up those “to-do” lists. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those lists that had things you wanted to do or accomplish in 2016.

I’m not one that is big on New Year’s resolutions. I am growing more on the making goals and working towards them though. There is something that is motivating and productive about having some things that you want to see in your life.

I’m learning more and more each year that as a year comes to its end, there are some things that are left undone. I don’t like to leave things unfinished, but sometimes it is just the way it goes. Those certain items get moved on to the next year’s goals.

Jesus gave us an example 

I remember hearing early in my walk with Christ that “Jesus is our example.” That is a good saying. As followers of Jesus, we should look to Him as an example (Hebrews 12:2).

When Jesus came to earth, He came with a pretty hefty “to-do” list. Among those things He had to do was:

  • Live a sinless life. Jesus would walk this earth for some 33 years or so. He was to remain sinless every minute of every day. I don’t think that I made it 33 minutes in life without sinning.
  • Remain obedient to the Father’s will. While Jesus was here on the earth, He didn’t seek out His own will. Over and over again, Jesus laid His will down to accomplish the Father’s. We see it when Jesus honors his earthly parents by obeying their wishes (Luke 2:41-51). We also see it moments before Jesus was arrested when He begged for another way but willingly laid His desires aside (Mark 14:32-42).
  • Die in a very specific manner. Jesus knew that He had come to earth to die for the sins of the world. His death would not be in just any fashion. His death would have to be exactly like it happened in order to fulfill the many prophecies that had been given for centuries by God.

With all of these things (and many more) on His “to-do” list, Jesus was able to say with His final words before His death, “It is finished!”(John 19:30)

Jesus finished the tasks that He came to earth to do. He did live the sinless life. He was obedient to the Father. He did fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah’s death. He did arise from the grave to put an exclamation point on His work.

Jesus is still our example 

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He didn’t go into retirement. He started His next work: perfecting His followers.

Paul would state boldly in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

If there are undone things in our lives, it is not because Jesus quit. He is faithful to the task that lies before Him. His timetable may not be the same as ours, but it is always on time.

Get out of the way

If the undone things in our lives are not because Jesus quit, then what could be the cause of them? It might just be that we are in the way and need to move.

As we took down our “live” Christmas tree, I asked my youngest son to hold the front door open so I could take it out. He ran over and held the door open, but we had a problem: he was standing in the middle of the doorway while he held the door open.

I had to tell my son that I couldn’t take the tree out because he was standing in the way. He thought that he was doing what was right. He had a proud look on his face because he was “helping Daddy.” He was still in the way.

Could it be that the one thing keeping us from seeing God move and do what we thought He would in our lives is us? Are we standing in the way… doing what we think is right… trying to help God get His plan done our way… when what He needs is for us to step to the side or fully let go of something?

As 2016 comes to a close, I would encourage you to take an inventory of the past year. Are there things left undone? Are there things that you need to let go or step aside from to see God finish that work in you?  Do it and await that day when you stand before Jesus and hear Him say again, “It is finished!”

The Promise of Joy



This Christmas season, we have been looking at a series of messages at the church where I serve as pastor called “The Promises of Christmas.”  Throughout the Bible, one can see many different places where God made promises to people. As we close this series, we will look at one final promise that God made. The special thing about this promise is that it applies to us. It may have been first told to Joseph, but the implications of this promise fall to every human being.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:18-19‬

A Man Known as a Joseph

Joseph was a known to be a good, upstanding man who was hard-working and honest. He was also a man in love. He was betrothed to a young lady named Mary. He was ready to spend the rest of his life with this young lady, but there was one problem: she was pregnant and the child was not his. Joseph shows his character by not wanting to disgrace Mary, but he couldn’t stay with her.

Joseph’s Visitor 

“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:20-23‬

An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream with a message. The angel explained that the child inside Mary’s womb was from God… He was in fact the Son of God… the promised Messiah.

This is good news. This is the same good news that an angel would deliver to the shepherds in the Bethlehem pastures in Luke 2:10 – And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

How does Christmas bring joy? 

In a day where so many people break their promises, it is good to know that God is not that way. He promised way back in the Garden of Eden that He would send a Savior.

It would be easy for the holy God of the universe to turn away and run in the opposite direction from the creation that was tainted with sin. He would be no less holy if He did so. In spite of our impure state, the holy God of the universe chose to come near His prized creation in their time of most need. He did not send someone or something else to handle our situation. He chose to come Himself.

I don’t know what you were wishing to be under the Christmas tree, but I do know what each of us needed (hope, forgiveness, power over sin and the grave). Jesus’ brought all of that when He came that first Christmas morning.

For while the picture of the baby in the manger warms our hearts, that baby would grow up and take our place on an old rugged cross. He would hang there suffering for our sins, and doing so because He loved us so much. If that weren’t enough, He would defeat the grave three days later. Talk about a Christmas present!

Conclusion

That first Christmas morning, God was not worried about bringing us new toys or the latest gadgets. He was concerned most in giving us what we needed: true joy.  Joy is a happiness that springs from the depths of our hearts. It is not found in any department store or online. It is only found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

That joy is available to you today. If you have never trusted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you can do that today. That would be the best Christmas present you could ever receive.

If you have received that gift of grace, my prayer is that you are reminded of just how great that gift is. May it continue to bring you joy each and every day.

We have joy unspeakable given to us because Jesus conquered the grave, but He never would have if there was never a cross for Him to bear… and there would be no cross if there was not first a manger.

Merry Christmas 2016


From our family to yours, may you have the merriest of Christmas ever. Thank God for giving the greatest gift ever by giving us His Son, Jesus. 

The Promise of Blessing

Last week, we looked at how God promised a Savior at the moment that man fell into sin. God had every right to just pronounce judgment on mankind, but He chose, out of the graciousness of His heart, to make a way of hope and redemption.

As time would move on, we see that God begins putting His plan of redemption in place. We come now to the promise of blessing. In Genesis 12, God calls a man named Abram to follow Him.  God promises blessing to mankind through this man who would come to be known as Abraham. It is this promise of blessing that we want to look at today.

The Promised Child

Genesis 17:15–16

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

As Abraham would journey with God by faith, we see in Genesis 17 where God promised one of the greatest gifts to Abraham. God said that Abraham and Sarah would have a son. This seemed impossible as Abraham was close to 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old – both well past childbearing ages.

About one year from the Genesis 17 meeting between God and Abraham, Sarah would give birth to Isaac. It is easy to look at our situations and circumstances and think that they are just too much… that we’ve missed our opportunity… but God uses this situation to show that NOTHING is impossible for Him.

The Strange Request

While the scene that has been played out so far is one of warmth and encouragement, we see that things take a strange turn in Genesis 22.

The same God that had called Abraham out to follow Him and gave him a child when it was impossible and promised that blessings would come to the world through his line is now saying to sacrifice the promised child.

It is a tragic thing when a parent loses a child. For a parent to be called to willing let go of their child is unthinkable. But that is exactly what we see here. What in the world is God up to? How is the world going to be blessed through the line of Abraham if it does not exist?

We see in Genesis 22:1 that the Bible says God “tested” Abraham. There are times when God will put us to the test. Many times when these tests come they are a test to show where our true loyalty lies. Are we committed to God or to our way?

To be committed to God means that He is who we claim Him to be in our lives – Lord… the one in complete control… the one who gets to say what goes and doesn’t in every single area of our lives. Do we demonstrate this with our actions? Is every word that we say and every action that we take what God desires? Or do we let God have control of only certain areas of our lives? The blessings that our hearts desire come only when we follow the Blesser’s commands.

Abraham obeys

Genesis 22:3

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Genesis 22:9–10

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

We see that Abraham wastes no time in obeying what God had commanded him. Did he understand what God was going to do? I don’t think so fully. That is the essence of faith though. We like to have all the details laid out before us, but that removes the element of faith.

The Bible tells us that without faith, we cannot please God.

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Abraham takes Isaac to the mountain that God determines. The boy and his father go up the mountain, and there the unthinkable happens: Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son.

How willing are you to let go and sacrifice your dreams… your plans… your ways? We are trained by our culture to do and have things “your way.” We are told that you are to be your own person. The truth is that we will never experience the blessings that God has for us until we get to the point where we let go of our ways, plans, and dreams. It is at that point that we experience God’s dreams, plans, and ways which are always perfect and for our best.

The Blessing Confirmed

We see that the Lord intervenes in the situation. The angel of the Lord said that it was evident that God truly had Abraham’s heart. Abraham had not held anything back from the Lord. Now there would be nothing to stand in the way from Abraham experiencing the work that God wanted to do in him and through him.

Are there things that you are holding back from the Lord? Are there areas of your life that you have been unwilling to hand over to God? If so, these things are keeping you from experiencing the fullness of what God wants to do in and through you. Why don’t you make a decision today to give God those areas of your life and experience the fullness of Him?

If you choose to do that, you too can experience the blessing of God.

In Genesis 22:15–18, we see that because of Abraham’s willingness to surrender his entire self to God, the promise of blessing was confirmed over him. The truth is that this promise was much greater than Issac. It was only at this point that Abraham fully understood that God had much bigger plans in mind.
In the New Testament, Matthew’s gospel starts out with a human genealogy of Jesus Christ. It traced its way from Jesus all the way back to Abraham. This line went from Abraham through Isaac and brought us Jesus.

We may not always see what God is up to at the moment. We can be assured that He is always working something up for the good of those who follow Him and for His glory. His plans are always much bigger than we could ever expect.

Conclusion

God has always been a God of blessing. He has wanted to see His people live in the midst of His blessing. Some years ago, God promised to an older man that through Him the peoples of the earth would experience the greatest of blessings. We see from Matthew’s gospel that the promise of blessing has been kept. The blessing of God comes through His Son, Jesus Christ, and it is available to all who will receive Him.

As we go about this wonderful Christmas season, are we experiencing the blessing that God promised so long ago? Or are we missing the greatest gift that was ever given?