Just Sign Your Name

Mark Office

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
8  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley. “One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.” Wow? We sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally. One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A. This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard–moral and ethical perfection–and throw their hands up in surrender. “Why even try?” they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. Others are like the student who read the test through and was aware of the professor’s offer but took the test anyway. Unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness, they set about to rack up enough points with God to earn it. But God’s grace truly is like the professor’s offer. It may seem unbelievable, but if we accept it, then, like the stunned students who accepted the professor’s offer, we, too, will discover that, Yes, God’s grace truly is free. All we have to do is accept it.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

In All Circumstances

Mark Office

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
16  Always be joyful. 17  Never stop praying. 18  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Corrie Ten Boom said, “Often I have heard people say, “How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic and look at the lovely weather!” Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. “No, Corrie,” said Betsie, “He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” Corrie concludes, “There is an ocean of God’s love available-there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love-whatever the circumstances.” You might say, “but it’s hard to give thanks for what I am going through right now! How am I supposed to be thankful in this mess?” God never said it would be easy, however, he did say that he would be with you no matter what you are going through, and with his help you will make it. So always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in ALL circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Jesus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, And You

Mark Office

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 4:19-20 (NLT)
19  But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20  We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

These are the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Pastor and Theologian who stood up against Nazi tyranny during World War II. He could speak these words because he lived them. After Hitler tried to silence him he went underground and established the Confessing Church, a body of believers who continued to believe the truth in spite of threats of the Nazi government. He established an underground seminary to train future Pastor’s of the Confessing Church. When the Nazi’s eventually shut it down, Bonhoeffer became a part of the group of German’s intent on overthrowing Hitler, and even came up with a plot to assassinate him. He was eventually arrested and sent to prison, but even then he fought the good fight of faith and wrote letters from prison to teach and encourage those engaged in the struggle for true Christian faith. However, on April 9, 1945, just one month before the Allies overran the Germans, the Nazi’s hanged him. Even in his last moments he continued to believe. “A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/martyrs/bonhoeffer.html?start=2). Let me ask you a question, are you prepared to die for Jesus Christ? Are you willing to, as Jude wrote, “…defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3, NLT). Come on now, Pastor Mark, has it really come to that, I mean after all we live in America, right? In some ways it is coming, and in others it is already here! Are you ready to defend the faith, or are you content to live under cheap grace?

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

The Promise Of The Father

Mark Office

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)
4  Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5  John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

One of the reasons that I am excited about the new mini-series AD is that it dramatizes the Book of Acts. My late friend Dr. Stanley M. Horton once wrote that we could easily call the Book of Acts “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” rather than “The Acts of the Apostles.” Unfortunately we have lost our passion for and reliance on the Holy Spirit in the Church today. In many Christian circles the Holy Spirit is neglected, forgotten, or misunderstood. The One given to unite the body of Christ is the center of controversy…So often Christian work is so rigidly programmed that it seems we need no longer depend on Him–yet Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” … The late Dr. A. W. Tozer, author and pastor, said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference” (The Holy Spirit: Missing, Alan Redpath in “Christian Life” magazine. Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18). Jesus told his disciples “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5  John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Now if those who walked, talked, and ministered with Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish their mission, how can we be so presumptuous as to think that we don’t? Remember what Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “This promise is for you…”

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Believing Thomas

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Greetings In The Name of the Lord:

John 20:27 (NLT)
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

Like several others in Scripture, I think that Thomas gets a bad rap. In fact, we usually refer to him as “Doubting Thomas,” which is really unfair because he was really a man of great faith. In 1943, Dorothy Sayers created a series of dramatic readings from the life of Christ for broadcast on the BBC. They are published under the title, The Man Born to Be King. For each of the plays, Sayers offers notes on the characters and the way they should be read. She writes this about Thomas’ profession: “It is unexpected, but extraordinarily convincing, that the one absolutely unequivocal statement, in the whole Gospel, of the Divinity of Jesus should come from Doubting Thomas. It is the only place where the word ‘God’ is used of him without qualification of any kind, and in the most unambiguous form of words (not merely theos but ho theos mou with the definite article). And this must be said, not ecstatically, or with a cry of astonishment, but with flat conviction, as of one acknowledging irrefragable evidence: ‘2 + 2 = 4′, ‘That is the sun in the sky,’ ‘You are my Lord and my God.'” I would think that each of us, at times, has doubts. For that reason, I think it is helpful to remember that the “incredulity of Thomas has done us more good than the faith of Mary” (Gregory, Quoted in J. C. Ryle, John, 3.467-468). Perhaps we need to start referring to him as Believing Thomas!

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

What Makes Christianity Unique

Mark Office

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT) 

8  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

At a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God took human form in Jesus. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection, the belief that death is not the final word, and that the tomb was found empty? Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead. Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, arm full of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what’s all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We’re debating what’s unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that’s easy,” answered Lewis. “It’s grace.” The room fell silent.

Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached. No other religion makes that claim. After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride. Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions. Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to him and in Islam God is a God of Judgment not a God of love. You live to appease him. At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point. Only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love is unconditional. An unconditional love that we call grace. Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve. Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Beyond A Shadow Of Doubt

resurrection

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

John 20:6-9 (NLT)
6  Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7  while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8  Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9  for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

All but four of the major world religions are based on mere philosophical propositions. Of the four that are based on personalities rather than philosophies, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. In 1900 B.C. Judaism’s Father Abraham died. In 483 B.C. Buddhist writings say Buddha died “with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind.” June 6, 632 A.D. Mohammed died. In 33 A.D. Jesus died but came back to life appearing to 500 people over a period of 40 days. What if we had each person that witnessed the resurrected Lord come up here this morning and talk for 15 minutes giving a testimony to what they saw. If we listened to the testimony of all the people that Jesus appeared to, we would be here all day, and all night, and Monday and Monday night and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and sometime early Friday morning they would just be wrapping up the testimony. It would take over 128 strait hours just to hear, for 15 minutes each, the testimony of those that saw the Lord after he rose.

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (I Corinthians, 15:14). However, Jesus has risen from the grave as evidenced by more than 500 eyewitnesses! That is proof that no court or jury could refute.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark