Don’t Be Surprised

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

1 Peter 4:12-14 (NLT)
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. 14 So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you.

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about things that are happening in the world. More importantly, I have been examining my response to our current state of affairs. Just a few weeks ago and I attend a concert by Glen Kaiser, formerly of the Resurrection Band. He said some things that have caused me to re-think some of my responses. He said that when he gets on social media sites these days all he sees are a bunch of angry Christians. Furthermore, he raised the question, “What did we think was going to happen? Did we really think that everyone was going to think like we do and that everyone was going to love us?” His point seems to be very valid, and, dare I say, very Scriptural. It is clear from the reading of the New Testament that Jesus and the early Church did not expect that everyone was going to agree with them, and they certainly didn’t expect that everyone was going to love them! Let’s take for example what Peter had to say. He tells us not to be surprised at the fiery trials we are going through, and not to think that it was strange or out of the ordinary. Moreover, where as we get angry at the circumstances surrounding the Church today, Peter tells us to be happy about it. Rather than being surprised about persecution, Peter tells us to expect it and be thankful for it. Someone a little more contemporary to ourselves, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who knew a little about persecution, had this to say, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. So we need to ask ourselves are we going to hide ourselves away from and be angry with those who are persecuting the Church, or are we going to engage them with the love of Christ? I know that Jesus would engage them with the truth in love!

In Christ,
Pastor Mark

The Confessing Church

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Greetings In The Name Of The Lord:

James 5:16 (NLT)
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James tells us to confess our sins to one another, but who really feels comfortable telling someone else our deepest struggles? Many of us do not have anyone in our lives with whom we would feel confident in sharing our weaknesses. Let’s be honest, we would fear either condemnation or that our secrets would hit the rumor mill. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes, “Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution…Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community). Why can’t we accept one another the way God accepts us, as is? As Paul writes in his Letter To The Romans, “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (Rom. 15:7). Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8), why can’t we do the same for our Christian brothers and sisters?

In Christ,
Pastor Mark

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

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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