Posts filed under: Life

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.

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!”

In 1621, the colonists of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest meal with each other. This has become known as the first Thanksgiving celebration in the New World.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established a national holiday. This was to be a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

I do not know of many who are not a fan of Thanksgiving. It seems to be a time where just about anyone can get involved. A time where we gather around a loaded table with family and friends, watch parades and football, and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

While so many seem to get involved in this time, I think that it is important that we remember the specifics of this “holiday.” It was set aside as a holiday not to just load up on refreshments and early Christmas shopping. It was intended to stop and remember where our blessings truly come from.

In this age, where there are a rising number of “Nones” (those claiming no religious affiliation), there is a temptation to make our Thanksgiving as generic as possible. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone, right?

I would like to encourage any follower of Jesus to not fall into the trap of generic thanksgiving this year – or any other time. Remember as President Lincoln boldly reminded the nation, it is the Lord of the Bible that provides each and every blessing we enjoy. It is to Him that we should offer our gratitude and be intentional with it.

When you express your thanks this Thanksgiving, will those around you know who it is that you are thanking?

rapture

There may be one event that Christians are looking forward to more than any other.  It is an event that is called the rapture.  This event in history is unlike anything that has ever taken place.  This event takes place as Jesus keeps His promise to return and take every believer to be with Him for eternity.  What an event!

While this may be one of the most anticipated moments in all of history, it has shocked some to find out that the term “rapture” cannot be found in the Bible.  If the term “rapture” is not found in the Bible, why do we expect it so much?  We look forward to this event because while the term “rapture” is not found in the Bible, the teaching of the rapture is all over the New Testament.  It is interesting that the terms “Trinity” and “missionary” are also not found in the Bible, but the teaching of both of these terms is saturated throughout the Bible.

The term “rapture” actually comes from the Latin term rapio meaning “to seize or to carry away.” One of the clearest references to this event is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  It is this event that brings great hope to the people of God.  I want to look at four “hopes” that the rapture brings to those who trust in God.

4 Hopes of the Rapture

  1. The hope of reuniting.

At the rapture event, there is a great reunion that takes place. First (and foremost) there will be a reuniting with our Savior face-to-face.  Can you imagine it?  In the blink of an eye, all of our hopes and questions about Christ will be revealed and made plain.  I know that it has not been common practice of a Baptist to dance, but I just have to believe that there will be a little “cutting of the rug” going on at this moment.  We will see Jesus face to face and experience His fullness like never before.

If that weren’t enough, the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that we will be reunited with loved ones who have gone on before us into glory.  I’m sure that we all have someone who has been dear to us that we have had to let go far too early. The beautiful hope that a Christian has is that there is never a “good-bye” for believers.  It is simply a “see you later.”  There is coming a day when we will be reunited with our loved ones who have trusted in the Lord and gone before us.  What a day that will be!

2.  The hope of God’s revenge.

Revenge is a strong word and seen by many to have some negative connotations to it.   We are taught from an early age that we should not be vengeful… that we should not seek out our vengeance against another.  Romans 12:19 tells us “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

There may be times when we are wronged and want to get even. Our vengeance will never bring about the result that God desires.  This in no way says that we are to be anyone’s doormat, but rather we have One that will take up our cause and bring about the perfect result in due time.

The rapture event is not just a deliverance for us as believers, it is an indication to creation that the holy God of the universe is not going to let sin go unpunished.  In the rapture, God removes His chosen children out of the way of where His wrath will be poured out.  We should praise God for the ways that He looks out and cares for us.

3.  The hope of release from a troubled world.

This world in which we live is filled with trouble.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that we face trouble around every corner in this world.  Jesus told us that it would be this way in John 16:33 = “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

There are times that our hearts seek out relief from the troubles of this world.  You may be at a point where all you see around you is trouble.  That is one of the effects of sin that entered in the Garden of Eden.  We seek deliverance because something in our hearts tells us that this isn’t right… we weren’t created for misery … there has to be relief.  There is, and that relief is found in Jesus!  When a person comes to faith in Christ, the troubles may not evaporate before them, but the sting of our troubles vanishes before the peace that comes through the Holy Spirit.

The rapture event is a reminder that the troubles that we face here in this world are for but a moment. There is strength for the battle today, but there is coming a full deliverance when our Savior splits the sky and calls us home, and no trouble will ever be able to touch us again.

4.  The hope of unending life.

When a person places their faith into Jesus Christ alone, he or she is promised what the Bible calls “eternal life.”  This is a life that never ends.  This body may one day stop breathing and the heart may stop beating, but this is not all that there is.  Life goes on past the grave.  Each and every person who has ever lived is still alive today in heaven or hell.  Now hell is called the second death because it is the eternal experience of God’s judgment on our sin.  But for the one who has chosen to allow Christ to pay their penalty, and trusted in His going through hell on behalf of us, that person experiences life forever in heaven.

The rapture event is the reminder to all who place their faith in Christ and follow Him only that eternal life is not just something that we sing about or talk about in church services… it is a reality.  Paul taught about this event in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.

The Rapture for Today

Is there any wonder why Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 that we should “comfort one another with these words?”  The rapture event is a hope-filled event that will take place in the near future.  To know that we have not been forgotten… that we have not been abandoned… Praise the Lord!

But what about today?  The rapture event has not taken place yet.  We look forward to its coming.  The hope that the rapture brings us, we are to comfort and encourage one another with these words as 1 Thessalonians 4:18 tells us.

As these words, straight from the heart of God, come to us, we are not only to “pick our heads up” but we are to have courage build up within us to carry out the mission that God has given us as His children.  That mission is to take the gospel that makes this all possible to those who need it.

Just as Christ will one day come and call us out of this sinful world, He has already called us out of the world to be shining lights in the darkness. For those who have already placed their faith in Christ, He has seized you out of the kingdom of darkness and brought you into His kingdom of light.  He has commanded that each of us to live out the reality of His power through word and deed before others so that they can experience it for themselves.

There is no sitting and waiting. There will be no opportunities after the rapture to share your faith with someone so that they may receive the gift of eternal life.  That is a task for the here and now.  Jesus is coming back, and when He does, our opportunities to do what He has commanded will be over.  Those opportunities that bring about the words that every Christian should long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” are only found prior to the rapture event.

While we anticipate the return of Christ and our hopes made sight, there may be some who for the first time realize that they aren’t ready.  Larry Norman (Christian musician of the 1970s) had a famous song, “I Wish We All Been Ready” that spoke about this event.  They are not ready because as they examine their hearts, they realize that they have never truly followed Jesus Christ.  They have not called out to Him in confession and with repentance given themselves to Him wholly.  The beautiful thing about this is that you have been given another opportunity to respond.

For others, you might have made that decision already but you realize that you have been lazy with your faith.  You have answered the call for you to come and receive God’s salvation, but you have turned a deaf ear to what God is calling you to do now.  You know that you should be sharing your faith… you know that you should be following Him in all areas of your life, but you haven’t been.  God has graciously called out to give you another opportunity to answer His call of “follow Me.”

This post was adapted from the sermon that I shared at the South Calhoun County Revival at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Calhoun City, MS on October 26, 2016.  

Last night was a big night in the Stephens household.  Our middle son, Sam, has had his first “loose tooth” for a little while now.  I knew that this day would come.  I personally was dreading this day because Sam is not one to take pain or blood well.

Last night, as we were tucking the boys into bed, Sam pipes up and says, “I’m ready for my tooth to come out!”  We had been checking it and seeing how wiggly it is, and we knew that it was about time for it to come out.  So we proceeded to grab some tissues and get to work.

I was bracing for an all-out fiasco, but what I found was quite different.  Sam was so excited that he was going to get to experience this “big boy” event in his life.  The main trouble that we had was keeping him still as he couldn’t sit still from excitement.

After a little while of wiggling and pulling, out popped this little front tooth.  Sam did a little happy dance and was eager to show his onlooking brothers his tooth that was missing.  I cannot explain the relief that I had that it was not “the end of the world.”

As Sam was so eager to show his brothers his tooth that had come out, I looked at our oldest son, Drew, and said to him, “Thank you.”  You could see the confusion on Drew’s face as I said this to him.  I explained that because he had done so well with this event in his own life, his brother was not afraid to go down that path.  Drew’s example before his brothers had been one tool that had given Sam the courage to face this with no fear but rather excitement.

It is hard to see how God is using some of the events in our lives.  We may wonder, “God, how is this going to be used in any way?”  The truth is, we never really know who is watching us and how what happens in our lives can be exactly what they need to face what is coming down the road for them.

God never wastes a moment… even when it is a young boy losing a tooth.  God can use even that event to build up those around him.  Take heart and remember that God is not just working in and on your life, but He is also working through you in others’ lives as well.