Understanding Grace

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you cant 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

Pastor Mark

We Have No One To Blame But Ourselves Part 2

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 6:2 (NLT)
2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God…”

Last week I wrote to you about the moral decline in our nation, and the crux of my argument is that we are experiencing moral decline because we have abandoned the Scriptures as our foundation for life. It has been estimated that only about 33% of Christians read their Bibles outside of church. What a sad statement that is for the church today. How can we expect unbelievers to read and live by the Bible if we aren’t doing it? Here are some more thoughts from RC Sproul, who writes, “This is not the model that Jesus Himself commended. You remember the encounter that Jesus had with Peter after His resurrection. Peter had denied Jesus publicly three times, and Jesus went about restoring the Apostle, telling him three times to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). By extension, this calling is given to the elders and ministers of the church because the people of God who are assembled in the congregations of churches all over the world belong to Jesus. They are His sheep. And every minister who is ordained is consecrated and entrusted by God with the care of those sheep. We call it the “pastorate” because ministers are called to care for the sheep of Christ. Pastors are Christ’s under-shepherds, and what shepherd would so neglect his sheep that he never took the time or trouble to feed them? The feeding of our Lord’s sheep comes principally through teaching.
Typically, we distinguish between preaching and teaching. Preaching involves such things as exhortation, exposition, admonition, encouragement and comfort, while teaching is the transfer of information and instruction in various areas of content. In practice, however, there is much overlap between the two. Preaching must communicate content and include teaching, and teaching people the things of God cannot be done in a neutral manner but must exhort them to heed and obey the Word of Christ. God’s people need both preaching and teaching, and they need more than 20 minutes of instruction and exhortation a week. A good shepherd would never feed the sheep only once a week, and that’s why Luther was teaching the people of Wittenberg almost on a daily basis, and Calvin was doing the same thing in Geneva. I’m not necessarily calling for the exact practices in our day, but I’m convinced that the church needs to recapture something of the regular teaching ministry evident in the work of our forefathers in the faith. As they are able, churches should be creating many opportunities to hear God’s Word preached and taught. Things such as Sunday evening worship, midweek services and Bible classes, Sunday school, home Bible studies, and so on give laypeople the chance to feed on the Word of God several times each week. As they are able, laypeople should take advantage of what is available to them by way of instruction in the deep truths of Scripture.” How right Sproul is in emphasizing our need to commit to the Word of God. If we want to see the spiritual climate in America turn around we must get back on our knees and back in the Word.
In Christ,

Pastor Mark

No One To Blame But Ourselves

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

 In response to recent events in our country it has come to my attention that maybe this is our own fault. In saying this I am talking about the church as a whole; both leaders and laity. It is quite possible, and even probable, that the moral decline with which we find ourselves is because we have failed in our duty to give the Word of God the prominence in our lives that it deserves. Therefore, people in our nation do not see the relevance of Scripture that we do, and this has happened because we have allowed it to happen by not giving the Bible the priority in our lives that it deserves. With this in mind, I would like to share over the next few weeks some thoughts from a Pastor, Theologian, and Writer R.C. Sproul on the importance of the Word of God in our churches. “Over the years, I’ve made no secret of my admiration for men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who were so instrumental in the recovery of the gospel during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. I’m amazed by their towering intellects and their ability to stand firm amid much danger. Their love for biblical truth is an example to follow, and as I approach 20 years of weekly preaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel, I’m particularly grateful for their pastoral model. Both of these men were “celebrities” in their day, but neither of them spent his years traveling Europe in order to consolidate a movement of followers. Instead, both of them devoted themselves to their primary vocation of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Both men were tireless preachers—Luther in Wittenberg, Germany, and Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland. They took the ministry of the Word of God seriously, so when they talk about the task of the preacher, I pay close attention.More than a decade ago, I was invited to give a lecture on Martin Luther’s view of preaching, and I found that preparing for that exercise was invaluable for my own work as a preacher. I also discovered that what Luther had to say about preaching was not only for the pastor but also for the entire church, and it’s amazing how timely his words remain in our day.

One of the emphases that we find again and again in Luther’s writings is that a preacher must be “apt to teach.” In many ways, this is no great insight, for he’s just restating the qualifications that are set forth in the New Testament for church elders (1 Tim. 3:2). Yet given what we expect from our preachers today, Luther’s words—echoing biblical revelation—need to be heard anew. The concept that the primary task of the minister is to teach is all but lost in the church today. When we call ministers to our churches we often look for these men to be adept administrators, skilled fundraisers and good organizers. Sure, we want them to know some theology and the Bible, but we don’t make it a priority that these people be equipped to teach the congregation the things of God. Administrative tasks are seen as more important.” I will share more of R.C. Spoul’s thoughts next week. Thanks for reading!

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Corrective Vision

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 10:15 (NLT)

But the voice spoke again: Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.

Walt Disney was a dreamer. His crowning vision was EPCOT; Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He envisioned the perfect city of 20,000 using all of the most modern advances technology. One problem, Walt Disney died before his cream was ever realized. His dream was so big and complex and outside the box that no one else in the Disney company ever caught the dream and had no idea what to do after Walt was gone. What Walt Disney intended as a living breathing perfect city turned out only to be a entertainment center. Disney’s world would only become a place to visit.

Jesus left a blueprint for His church so vast, so marvelous, and so innovative for it to become a living breathing expanding organism that would permeate and transform the whole world.

The problem is, that as time went on, His followers lost the vision and couldn’t’ wrap their minds around such a magnificent plan. Rather than a community of loving, passionate follower of Christ dedicated to demonstrating the power of the Christ-transformed life in a dark world, they began to do what they knew best, build buildings and run organizations and develop entertainment centers that would hopefully draw the crowds to hear the story but miss the transforming power of Christ.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Stoking The Flames

Indians Game

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 8:29 (NLT)
29  The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

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, Citation: Alan Redpath in “Christian Life” magazine. Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18). One of the things that I really love about the current television series AD is that it illustrates what the Holy Spirit did in the life of the New Testament church. Furthermore it illustrates that the early church accomplished what they only through the Spirit’s power. Think about it, a bunch of rag tag, uneducated (excluding Paul), blue-collar workers changed the world. The things that they were able to accomplish, even by today’s standards, are astounding! Now look at the church today, with all of our technological and transportation advantages, we are not only not having as big of an impact, but rather we are losing our influence. It saddens me to see so many churches, especially in the U.S, neglecting to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit to reach a lost and dying world. Yes, there are some signs of change in this regard, like the Southern Baptist recent acceptance of Spirit-Filled missionaries. But what has taken so long for this to happen? Why must we quench the Holy Spirit’s fire? When will we wake up and say, “Come Holy Spirit and fill us with your fire?” If ever there was a time when we needed the Holy Spirit’s power it is today. Let’s be like our bothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America who are embracing the Holy Spirit! Let us echo the words of the Prophet Zechariah, “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies” (Zechariah 4:6, NLT).

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Do Miracles Still Exist?

Indians Game

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 9:34-35 (NLT)
34  Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up, and roll up your sleeping mat!” And he was healed instantly. 35  Then the whole population of Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas walking around, and they turned to the Lord.

It is no surprise that people in our society doubt the existence of miraculous healing today. In fact, there are probably more than a fair share of Christians who don’t believe that God still heals. However, this is one person that is convinced it still happens. In fact, I found a website that lists testimonies of people’s miraculous healings. One person said, “Fifteen years ago the doctors gave me 3 months to live. I had cancer of the lymph glands. I was healed in a prayer meeting where six people where healed out of six people attending (100% batting average for the Holy Spirit).”–Raynald D. Another person had this to say, “Twelve years ago the doctors gave me three weeks to live. I had ovarian cancer. God has better plans for my life. I give Him all the praise and glory. I received a miracle so don’t ever give up. God is still doing miracles. I am proof.”–Sharon H. Made up stories you say? Well I have a few of my own. In my 8 years at New Life I have experienced two miraculous healings among my congregation. One woman named Charlotte was healed of C.O.P.D., and recently a woman named Carol was healed of cancer. Make no mistake about it, we serve a God who still heals and does miracles. As Jesus said, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes” (Mark 9:23, NLT). Stop doubting and believe!

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Hamming It Up

Indians Game

Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

Acts 9:20 (NLT)
20  And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”

Mordecai Ham emerged as an evangelist from Kentucky at the turn of the century. He had a background in business and the study of law. From the very beginning his approach was zealous and blunt. Rather than sit and talk with Christians at revival sites, Ham insisted on being taken to the worst sinners in the community. On one occasion a non-believer hid in a cornfield, but Ham tracked him down. The man asked what his intentions were, and the evangelist said he was going to pray for God to kill him. When the man protested, Ham told him he shouldn’t be bothered, since he didn’t believe in God, anyway. But if there were a God, then death would be appropriate for a man who had poisoned his family’s spiritual prospects. The lost man begged him not to pray for his death, so Ham relented and prayed for his salvation. At the final meeting Ham baptized the man and his family. How many people hide from you?

In Christ,

Pastor Mark