Planted In The House

Psalms 92:13
“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”

It seems the devil and the Lord both understand the importance of the church. The Lord exhorts us regarding the need to be in fellowship, and the devil uses a wide array of tactics to keep us away. We have all heard phrases like,

“I am too busy.”

“No one was nice to me there.”

“The church is filled with hypocrites.”

I even heard the story of a man, who said, “As long as Mr. So and so is still alive I will never step foot in that place.”

It seems that we are the only ones who fail to recognize how important church attendance is. The Psalmist declares why we should be willing to endure sick children, music that might not be our first choice, crowded parking lots, awkward seasons of not knowing people very well, and even sermons that may on occasion be a bit too long. He declares, it is the one who plants himself in the house of God who will find himself flourishing in his relationship with the Lord.

The church was designed by God and purchased with the blood of His Son. He created it to be the place where His people would gather for fellowship, corporate worship and the study of His word. The reality is that all the difficulties we endure to remain a fixed part of the local church, are part of the sanctification process where God uses the circumstances of life to conform us into the image of Jesus.

Come and be planted in the house of the Lord!

Pastor Jim

 

Great Opportunities 

1 Samuel 22:1-2
“David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.”

1 Samuel 23:3
“But David’s men said to him, ‘Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?””

Perhaps you have heard stories about the heroics of the men who aligned themselves with David. They are often referred to as his “Mighty Men.” This is a fair description for many of them since they went on to accomplish great exploits in the furtherance of the kingdom and in its defense from enemies both inside and out.

That being said, it is important to note that these men did not start out mighty. Our first introduction to them is quite discouraging. We learn their characters were somewhat questionable, and they lacked any real faith to step out and serve the Lord. It was not where they started that defined them, as much as, where they ended up. It was the fact that they stepped into battle while filled with trepidation, that made them into the mighty men God used to forge the nation.

All of us have both opportunity and obstacles in the path before us. The question is whether we will trust the sufficiency of the Lord or if we will cower behind our inabilities. If we choose to step into the obstacle in the power of the Spirit of God, we will find victory that will forge us into one of His mighty men.

Years ago, I commented to a friend about the exploits of a man that God was using in a unique and tremendous way. He seemed to always be right in the midst of grand opportunities, and trying circumstances. I said, “It is amazing how these things always seem to happen to him.” Another man, who knew him much better, replied, “They do not ‘happen to him,” but he goes and looks for them”. I thought, how strange it was that while I try to avoid difficulty, he was looking for it, stepping into it, and finding huge opportunity to point many to Christ.

Let’s let our circumstances forge us into mighty men and women, who have chosen to be involved in furthering the kingdom of Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

Right In His Own Eyes

Deuteronomy 12:8
“You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—”

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Ignoring the Word of God, and doing whatever we determine to be right, has always been a problem for mankind, and is a reoccurring theme within Scripture. It was the driving force behind the problems recorded in the book of Judges, and was the ultimate cause of Israel’s civil war, and their fall to Assyria and Babylon. Here, this self-reliant attitude is used as it related  to the way people chose to worship. God declared, once Israel entered into the promised land they were to set the tabernacle in a designated location, and there the people would congregate to worship God. No one was allowed to set up his own altar on a hillside or under a tree. God established a centralized location for worship that would unite the people to one another. Years later, Israel would experience a civil war that resulted in the kingdom being divided. Ten tribes formed the northern nation of Israel, and two tribes the southern nation of Judah. The first thing Jeroboam, king of Israel, did upon taking the throne, was to set up new places of worship so the people would not go back to Jerusalem. He understood the way to unite people was to worship God together.

Sadly, this same attitude is all too common, today, among followers of Christ. Way too many Christians are separating themselves from the church, and attempting to worship God apart from congregating with other believers. Among the more common excuses for this behavior include: I can’t find a good church, those people are all hypocrites, or we might allude to how our feelings were hurt by the way the church treated us. It is important to keep in mind, the church is not a perfect entity, but has been designed by God as the means in which believers grow, and the gospel is declared to the world. Instead of isolating ourselves, we should seek to surround ourselves with others who will be used by God, to both encourage and challenge us to become more like Christ.

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

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

 

The End Is Near 

1 Peter 4:7-10
“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another.”

Peter gives a series of exhortations, all predicated upon the fact that the end is near. When the Bible refers to the end of all things, it does so, not out of fear or despair, but out of joy and anticipation. For the believer, the end of all things means Christ will call His church home, and ultimately return to set up His earthly kingdom, where He will reign and rule in righteousness.

This end was the anticipation of the prophets of old, who spoke of things like righteousness covering the earth, as the waters cover the sea; or the lion and the lamb lying down together; and weapons of war being turned into instruments of agriculture; and men learning war no more. Peter is reminding us that Christ will come back and make things right.

In addition to filling us with hope, the reality of His return should stir us to proper behavior. Peter lists four areas of life that should be impacted by the expectation of Christ’s return. First, we must be watchful in prayer. I think there are two very important things we must watch for in prayer. One, we must watch that we are praying. Too often, prayer becomes our last resort, instead of our first instinct. If we want to see God accomplish the things He promises, we must be men and women of prayer. James said we have not, because we ask not (James 4:2). Also, we must watch that we are praying according to the Word of God. The Bible is filled with promises predicated upon asking. James went on to explain, the reason we do not see God accomplish what He promises is that we ask amiss (James 4:3). In other words, we are asking for things He has no intention of doing, while neglecting to ask Him to do what He promised.

Second, Peter exhorts us to love one another. Love is the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus said our first love must be directed to God. If we truly love God, it will be expressed in love for each other. John asked, “How you can love God whom you cannot see, if you do not love others who you do see” (1 John 4:20)?  One way this love is expressed is through covering the faults of another. Peter is not suggesting that we condone sin. The Bible clearly teaches, if a Christian is in sin, we must confront him, to help rescue him from impending danger. What we are exhorted to do is look beyond the failures of one another, and love each other. This is where forgiveness is a huge expression of love. The proper way to have a relationship is to be willing to forgive and press forward.

Third, Peter speaks of being hospitable. The Greek word translated hospitable is a compound word literally meaning “to love strangers.” As we are to love each other, we are also to love those who do not yet know Christ. One of the great ministries of the early church was breaking bread from house to house. They turned their homes into places where others were welcome to come and learn about Jesus. We should be those who are always looking for ways to express the love of Christ to those who have not yet come to Christ.

Finally, Peter declares that as we await the arrival of Jesus, we must be involved in ministry. Sadly, many Christians think ministry is to be done by the professionals; when the Bible clearly teaches that every Christian has been called to ministry. The church was designed by Jesus as a place where the Bible would be taught so the Christian could grow and impact others. It was also to be a place where the Gospel would be declared, so Christians can bring their friends and family to hear about Jesus and be saved. As we await Christ’s return, let’s be busy serving the Lord.

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

Church

Ephesians 4:11-12
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”

The Church was designed by God, purchased with the blood of Christ, birthed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and plays a very important role in the life of the growing Christian. It is no wonder the devil spends so much energy trying to keep us from church. Many have had their feelings hurt by the way they were treated at church. For some the church put expectations upon them, making them feel as though they were only valuable because of their talents or treasures. Others have felt neglected. They have gone to church for a period of time, and when things became difficult, they felt as though they were abandoned. All of us have had the weekly struggles that make it difficult to even attend. When Sunday morning comes along, the kids wake up sick, we get in an argument with our spouse, or we are simply worn out from a long work week. The list of oppositions to simply getting in the door of our church is longer than my fingers can type. I think it is critical to remember, the reason there is so much opposition to regular attendance is because of the valuable role the church plays in your life and Christian growth.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers”

When writing to Timothy, Paul stated, the church was the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” In other words, the primary purpose of the church is to hold up the truth of the Word of God. Peter was exhorted by Jesus to feed the sheep. In Acts, we read the Apostles gave themselves continually to the Word of God. While church provides a place for corporate worship and to establish godly relationships, the primary role of the church is to teach you the Word of God. In order for that to happen, God has given to the church the gifted men listed here. Their role was to dish out the Word of God to the people.

For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”

The reason the Word of God plays such a crucial role in the church, is because of the effect it has when taught. Paul states, these gifted teachers were given to the church so believers would be edified and equipped. The word ‘edify’ means to build up. It was a word which had its place in the construction world. After a foundation was laid, a building was constructed or built up. The Word of God has the ability to do that for the believer. As we are daily beat down by the obstacles we face in the world, the church was designed, by God, as a place for us to go hear the Word and be built up again. When we neglect gathering at our local church, we miss out on being edified with the Word.

Paul also says the Word of God has the ability to equip for ministry. Ministry is a big word which speaks of the things done for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. It would include sharing Christ with unbelievers, helping to disciple Christians, young and old, and training the next generation of Christian leaders. It refers to things that are intrinsically spiritual, like preaching the Gospel or teaching the Bible, but would also be concerned with setting up chairs, cleaning windows, running sound or picking someone up for church. It was never the intention of God that the work of the ministry be done by the professionals. Instead, He desires that we all recognize we have been called to the ministry, and attending church where we are taught the Word of God, is what equips us for the task.

It is important that we recognize the value of gathering regularly with our local church. The New Testament speaks of the people gathering at least every week on the Lord’s day. I understand, we all face opposition to attending regularly, but I also recognize the opposition comes from the devil, who wants to keep us from being equipped and edified. Before I end, allow me one more thought. Live streaming the services to your living room is a great blessing. To be able to listen to the Bible studies when we are sick, injured or away from our church is a great benefit, but it does not replace the need for regular attendance. It is hard to do the work of the ministry, if you are not physically in attendance. Enjoy the luxury, but don’t neglect showing up and getting involved.

Pastor Jim