Return 

Zechariah 1:3
“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”’ says the Lord of hosts.”

After seventy years of captivity Israel was allowed to return to the land and begin to rebuild their broken down Temple. Millions had been taken captive and only a fraction returned to get the task started. Even those who returned had become discouraged and had forsaken the work. It is in this setting that Zechariah declares,
“Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,”
For some, returning to the Lord actually involved a change of their current location. If they were going to be obedient, they would need to pack up their stuff and make the long journey to Jerusalem. For others, returning meant getting back to the work in which they were once involved. Life had taken precedence over serving the Lord, and it was time to get things back in their proper order.

What about you? If God’s word is going to have its proper place in our lives, we need to examine how we should respond to its exhortations. In this case, we are exhorted to return to God. For some, that means we need to get back to the work in which we were once involved. I have noticed, over the years, that many families start out serving the Lord together, but as the kids grow and life gets busy, they begin to wane. Soon they are not only neglecting service, but even begin to neglect fellowship all together. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes, before you will reevaluate your spiritual leadership in the family. Take the necessary steps today to return to the Lord.

Pastor Jim

 

Heard It Through The Grapevine 

Ezekiel 15:2
“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?”

Recently, my wife and I went shopping for wood flooring. We were actually quite surprised by the number of choices available to us. We found cherry, oak, pine, bamboo and a plethora of other woods from which to choose. Upon reflection, however, I did not notice any grapevine flooring. As I recall, when we shopped for furniture, we found the same thing to be true. Lots of wood choices, that never included grapevine. In the text, God makes reference to the fact that the wood of a vine is not even suitable for making a hook upon which to hang anything. Why then would He refer to this wood as being better than other woods of the forest? The answer is found in the words of Jesus.

John 15:1  “ I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

John 15:5 “ I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Both Israel and the individual Christian are compared to a vine. The purpose behind the illustration is to cause us to see our need to remain in an abiding relationship with Christ. To abide simply means to remain. As a Christian, it is important to do those things that will keep us in close contact with the Lord, and to avoid those things that will lead us away from Him. The things that keep us close are prayer, Bible reading, fellowship and service. When these things are neglected it is easier to drift away from the Lord, and even slide back into the lifestyle from which we were delivered, when we first came to Christ.

There may not be a more important concept in the entire Bible for the Christian to grasp, than that of abiding. We were not saved to become religious activists or moralists. We were saved to be in a living, growing, and thriving relationship with Christ. We were saved so we could walk in step with Christ, hear Him speak to us from His Word, and empower us with His Spirit.

Pastor Jim

 

Walking In The Light

1 John 1:5
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

Light is used to illustrate holiness. John is declaring that God is perfectly holy and without sin. This creates a problem, since we are all sinners. In this text, John explains how sinful people can have a relationship with a holy God. In the opening verses of the chapter, he refers to Christ becoming a man and making fellowship with God possible. That was accomplished through the cross, where Jesus died as a substitute for us. The sinless, in place of the sinner, so we might be saved. John is now writing to the one who recognizes his sin, and begins to follow Christ.

1 John 1:6 “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

Coming to Christ involves more than raising your hand in response to a message, or walking forward at a church service. John declares, the one who has received Christ will have a life change. If we continue to live unchanged by the experience, then we have not truly experienced Christ. The Bible speaks of a young man who had an encounter with Christ, but was unwilling to truly commit to following Him. He walked away from the experience, unchanged and unsaved. We call him the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23).

1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”

On the other hand, the one who has truly met Jesus, will begin to change the way he is living. Instead of choosing to invest in the things that lead away from Christ, he will take steps toward growing in Christ. Notice he writes “walking in the light as He is in the light.” This refers to living the way Christ lived.

The Bible is more than a religious book, it is the owner’s manual. It explains how to live a life well pleasing to the Lord. John does not suggest that we will be without sin, but that as we walk with Christ, there is a continual flow of forgiveness when we stumble.

1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

I have yet to meet a person who truly believes they have never done anything wrong. We know that we sin. The problem is, we attempt to move things out of the sin category, and into the acceptable-to-God category. This is all too common for couples who are not married, and yet, get involved physically. They attempt to excuse their sin with words like, “we are in love” or “we are married in God’s eyes.” The truth is, sin is sin, and it interrupts fellowship with God. If we are to walk with the Lord, we must get sin out of our lives.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The word confess has two meetings. First, it means to be in agreement. Instead of arguing with God about what He says is sin, we simply agree with Him. Second, the word means to admit. When we sin, we must admit it to God. We confess our sin and ask for His pardon. John promises the result will be both forgiveness and cleansing. If there is anything you need to confess, do it now. Don’t take another step down the wrong road; instead, begin to make steps toward a restored relationship with Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Did You Hear That?

Titus 2:1
“But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine”

The purpose of the teachings of God’s Word is not simply information. We should not expect a test when we arrive in heaven or a pop quiz along the way. Instead, we learn the Word so we might behave right. Sound doctrine must lead us to sound living. Elsewhere, we read of the doctrine that accords with godliness. When our understanding of God is correct, we will worship, live, act, react and speak in ways that are pleasing to God. Here, Paul exhorts Titus to speak properly. While proper speaking would include praise, evangelism, and encouraging others, it also avoids gossip, slander, backbiting and complaining. Paul is referring specifically to the things Titus would be teaching within the church. He divides the body into groups based upon age, gender and vocation; encouraging proper behavior from each of them.

It is clear from this chapter that Paul expected believers to minister to believers. Titus would be responsible for teaching the people, the people would be responsible to minister to one another, and to share Christ with others. A couple of key principles of ministry are woven through the text.

First, Paul exhorted the older believers to minister to younger ones. That is, those who have walked with the Lord and gone through the experiences of life, should be seeking to assist those who are new to the faith, or not as far along on the journey. What a blessing it is when those who have raised their families, now serve in Children’s Ministry, assisting the children of the young families. It is such a benefit when a more mature believer takes the time to disciple a younger Christian; investing time by taking them into the Word and prayer.

Second, Paul reminds us that the way we live will either impede or empower the things we share. He warns of the Word of God being blasphemed by wrong behavior. The gospel message cannot be communicated without words. Paul asked the Romans “how will they hear without a preacher?” We must courageously share Christ with our friends, family and co-workers, but words alone are not enough, we must live it. The world wants to see Christianity, not just hear about it. They should see it in the way we treat them, each other, and especially our families. Paul speaks of the relationship between the young husband and wife. When that relationship is godly, others will be attracted to the Lord.

Finally, Paul wrote, women should minister to women, and men to men. That is a pretty good rule of thumb for ministry. I think it is a good idea for men to get plugged into men’s groups, and women into the women’s study. While we can grow without personal relationships, it is my experience that our growth is enhanced when we take the time to establish relationships with others of the same gender, and dig into the Word together.

Pastor Jim

Bridging The Gap

Isaiah 59:1-2
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

Sin is missing the mark. Just as an archer aims at a target, lets his arrow fly, and misses; so we attempt to do our best, only to fall short of the perfect standard of God. The problem is, sin has grave consequences. Sin not only effects our emotions by making us feel guilty, it also effects our ability to have a relationship with God. Isaiah reveals, the real impact of sin is separation from God.

If we were hiking and came to a gorge where a bridge used to be, we would be forced to either fashion a new one or find another way across. When it comes to sin, the gorge is too wide. Our efforts can never bridge the gap between man and God. We must look for another way across. Fortunately, there is a way. Jesus went to the cross to make a way for sinners to be reconciled to God. We are told, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead youwill be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

Imagine the utter joy of sin being forgiven, and knowing God personally! This message so impacted the first generation of believers, they sacrificed all to travel the world, telling anyone and everyone that reconciliation with God was possible.

Thank God that while sin separates, Jesus restores.

Pastor Jim

The Well Of Salvation

Isaiah 12:3-4
“Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.
And in that day you will say:
“Praise the Lord, call upon His name;
Declare His deeds among the peoples,
Make mention that His name is exalted.”

Isaiah paints a beautiful picture to illustrate salvation and its benefits. He writes it is like a well from which the waters of life can be drawn, and the child of God can be filled with joy. He goes on to say that we should declare this to all people.

In many parts of the world, the center of village life is a community well. It is the place people gather daily to retrieve the most essential ingredient for life. Without water, they will not survive a week. The atmosphere around the well is often very joyful. People tell stories, and express love for one another, as they await their turn to fill their buckets. Isaiah is using that to illustrate the joy found in relationship with the Lord.

When a person comes to Christ, their sins are forgiven and a relationship with God begins.  However, the benefits of being a child of God do not stop there. We also become part of a community with those who have come to Christ. We gather together, around the waters of life, and seek to encourage one another to continue to follow and serve our Savior and Lord.

Be sure to gather at the well of salvation today. Take your time, and spend it with Jesus. Then look for opportunities to share with others, the things Christ is doing in your life.

Pastor Jim

 

Love Walks 

Ephesians 5:2
And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.”

The Christian life is like a journey. It begins when we put our trust in Christ for salvation, and ends as we cross the finish line entering into glory. In an age of high-speed travel, we often endure the journey for the sake of the destination. I have sat next to people on airplanes who were “white knuckling” the arm rests. I could tell they hate the idea of flying, but it was a necessity in order to reach their destination. The Christian life is not like that. The journey is as important as the destination. Walking, because it is such a slow means of travel, allowed for fellowship, life lessons, and teaching times to take place between Jesus and His disciples. He desires the same for us. As we go through life, we should see each day as a walk with the Lord. A walk in which we can commune with Him and learn from Him. Here in Ephesians Paul exhorts us on how to walk and what paths to take as we journey with Jesus toward glory.

“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us…”

Whenever the weather allowed it, my parents would take an evening stroll together. I would watch as they walked out the door and down the drive. They were not walking to get anywhere in particular, they were never in a hurry and to my knowledge, they never came back with anything more than what they left with. These walks were simply a time to hang out together and talk about the things which concerned them. Sometimes the discussions would be deep and important, other times light and casual. Though they never used this term, we might call these “love walks.” Paul is reminding us, our walk with Jesus is a walk of love. He reminds us of the love Christ has for us, demonstrated by giving Himself for us as a sacrifice for sin. He then exhorts us to return that love by treating others the way Christ has treated us. If the golden rule is to ‘do to others what we want them to do to us’; this rule is platinum. Love like you have been loved by God. That love involves setting a godly example for others by removing sin from your own life.

“Walk as children of light…”

Light and darkness are often used metaphorically in Scripture. The life we lived before meeting Jesus was a life of darkness. We behaved the way we did because we did not know any better. However, when we met Christ, the light was turned on, and we saw life in a brand new light. Paul is reminding us that in our walk with Jesus, there are paths which we must avoid. Paths leading to the behaviors we were involved in before Christ are off-limits to us. Instead, we should be taking steps toward finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. As you go about your day, facing its opportunities and challenges, what steps do you take to search out what is acceptable to God? Are your decisions based upon what you think, feel, or have heard from others, or do you take time to consider the Word of God, to find the ways of God? Remember, the Psalmist told us, His Word is like “a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise”

Circumspectly means carefully. By using this word, Paul is reminding us that while we are on a love walk with Jesus, the path we are on has some pretty serious pitfalls. There are times when we face great danger as we walk with the Lord, and the key to success is to be careful. He tells us, this walk is no place for folly. A word that could simply mean not to goof off. We might scold our children to stop fooling around, because the situation is dangerous and they need to be sober-minded. While there certainly is a need to take our relationship with the Lord seriously, the Psalmist used the word ‘fool’ in a different context. He stated, “the fool has said in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). The greatest folly we need to avoid as we journey with Jesus, is living as though there is no God. Making decisions without seeking Him, neglecting to spend time in His Word, in prayer, in service, and attempting to do things our own way, or in our own strength, is folly.

Paul reminds us, while we may be walking pretty slowly, time is running out. Soon, each of us will reach the end of our journey, and find ourselves face to face with Jesus. It is important that we take time, today, to consider how we are walking.

Pastor Jim