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Final Thoughts at Christmas 2018

As I sit here looking at what is left of Christmas when you have a two-year-old grandson in the house, I smile at the mess, but I also feel sad that the day is ending. I know that for months we have planned on this day to arrive so we could see the excitement on his face, this was the first year he understood Santa and presents. Even though he is still under the weather, he was overwhelmed with the gifts and is still processing all that this day brought.

I also know that Christmas is not the same for everyone as it is for me and my family. I miss being with my family back in Alabama during the holidays. It has been over ten years since I spent Christmas back home. It was the final Christmas my mom ever had, and we had to celebrate it with her in the hospital. Today, there are many of you that had similar feelings mixed into a day we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. I spent some time today doing what I could to help a dear friend that was not have a joyous Christmas and it was difficult for her. I spent time thinking on some that this Christmas was their first Christmas without a loved one who had passed away this year. Emotions are high, and low, on this day and as believers we should be sensitive to this so we can better minister to those around us.

So, as Christmas comes to a close in just a few minutes, I want to let you know that you are loved with a love that is greater than any words I can type or say. No matter your circumstance at this moment, God loves you with a love that surpasses anything this world attempts to suppress you through meanness or ugliness. In the brokenness of man’s relationship with God brought on by the fall in the garden of Eden, God promised to send a rescuer to restore fallen man into a right relationship with Him. Christmas reminds us that God keeps His promises. He promised that through the seed of woman would come someone who would crush the head of Satan, while only bruising His heel. This man was born on the day we celebrate Christmas and His name is Jesus. Why did this happen? Because “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16–17, NKJV). May you never forget how much God loves you. God bless you as you press forward into 2019.

 

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Another Year

Here we are…Again. Another year is rapidly ending. The saying is true, “the older you get, the faster the years go by.” I cannot believe 2018 is about to be over and we will ring in 2019 (Lord willing) in a few days. Soon you and I will put away the Christmas decorations, make a promise to ourselves to we will do much better in 2019, and some of you will join a gym for the month of January. Just for your information, the worst time to join a gym is now…they will be extremely crowded the first month of the year.

Oh, there will be other promises made besides the standard workout, eat better, and get off soda ones. Christians will make the standard ones too; pray more, read the Bible more, give more (or begin to finally give), and go to church more. There is that false assumption that if I do more, God will love me more and all will in my life. Yes, things will be better by spending more time with God, you will begin to have a close fellowship with Him and He desires for you will become easy to recognize and understand…it will not make Him love you any more than he already does. A central attribute of God is that He is LOVE and love always flows from Him.

As we enter 2019, my challenge to my church is the same it has been for many years…stop trying to do things for God under the false assumptions mentioned above. Instead, be only who God has called you to be in His kingdom work. By being who God has called you to be, others will see Him in you while you simply do those things because of your faith in God to be God. Being causes the doing and the doing is a result of our being in Christ. The apostle Pual wrote, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:1–4, NKJV). May this be our driving force until the Lord returns.

Critical Spirit

Paul, in his letter to the church at Galatia writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5:22–23, NKJV). He is letting believers know that there are “fruits” that should grow from their life showing evidence that they are a child of God. Believers must take notice that these fruits are good in nature and produce healthy fruit that is good for the feeding of one’s soul and that of others.

Do not confuse these fruits with spiritual gifts, they are not the same. Just like a tree planted by a gardener, these trees require cultivation, care, and work to produce the good fruit. In other words, you need to exercise your spirit in the good things to produce good fruit. If you are wondering why you are not seeing these fruits in your own life, you need only do a self-examination and see how you are spending your time. You cannot blame this on someone else, your “demeanor”, or upbringing. Your fruit is based on your work to grow the fruit produce within you. Jesus said, “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Mt 15:18). The adage is correct, “garbage in, garbage out.”

The self-proclamation of always being critical is nothing to be proud of. It is neither a fruit of the Spirit, not a spiritual gift given to you by God when you became a Christian. While there is the attempt to “justify” this area of one’s life by saying they are “looking out for the best interest of the church (or an individual),’ or “someone has the be the one to make them think of possibilities.” Those “exercising” this “gift”, do nothing but tear a church down and exhaust fruitful church members. They are easy to spot, just say how much you like something that the church, or a ministry within the church, is doing. The response will be their opinion on why it is bad, or the way that it should have be done to really do it right. They are easy to spot because they tear down instead of building up the body of Christ. They are easy to spot because they are your last minute “advise givers” (interpreted as this is how it should have been done and would have been done if I was in charge).

Back up a few verses in Galatians 5 and you find that those with a constant critical spirit have much more in common with the works of the flesh than the fruit of the Spirit. Paul writes you will see their results in, “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” (Ga 5:19–21). If you see this list in your life, fruit will not be produced that is Kingdom enriching. It is time to bring these works to the altar, kill them, and burn them up completely. When you do, God will purge you, the good seed will go deep into your heart, and you will produce good fruit by walking every day in the Spirit. What are you producing, “works of the flesh” or “fruit of the Spirit?”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Jesus gave his disciples many warnings about a life on mission with Him and for the kingdom. He tells them, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15, NKJV). I do not believe this verse only applies to “spiritual leaders” in a church or religious organization, I believe it applies to everyone claiming to be a “Christian”.

As a pastor / preacher / teacher of God’s Word, I have said many times (as most preachers have) that just because you get dressed up on Sunday morning, that does not make you a Christian. Satan will come to church, and he will show up with many disguises. When the Apostle Paul called the elders from Ephesus to come to Miletus to give them guidance and say his farewells; he said, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock (Ac 20:28–29). Pay attention to those last four words, “not sparing the flock.”

While sheep will bite, butt heads, and irritate each other every now and then, it is extremely rare for them to bring intense harm to the flock. Most of the time after sheep “bicker” they move past it and mend together with the other sheep. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will do the same, but only long enough to appear as genuine sheep. Read those warnings again and pay attention to the adjectives describing the wolves (ravenous and savages). Wolves will even fall under the authoritative hand of the shepherd, but this too will only last for a short period. Wolves have no problem with attacking and attempting to kill a shepherd.

So, how do we get better at recognizing these pretenders? I believe the answer is found in Jesus’s letter to the church at Ephesus given to John in the book of Revelation. Jesus commends them when He says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary (Re 2:2–3). It is evident to me here that the elders adhered to the instructions from Paul and tested those who came into the church desiring to be a part of the church. This is where we fail too often in our churches. We get enamored with numbers (though we will never say that out loud). We forget to test those who want to become a part of a precious flock, we stop asking about doctrinal (biblical) beliefs. We want them in the choir, teaching a class, leading a ministry; all for the sake of our “numbers” not looking bad. We must also get better recognizing that wolves will begin to “isolate” some sheep before they attack. They want the sheep to trust them, be their friend, and rely on them for as much as possible.

We should not get upset if someone asks us our beliefs on biblical issues, the sheep in that church are only following the guidance given to them by God. Jesus reminds the apostles (and us), “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). Wolves will come, but we can, and should, recognize them.

Come and See

Having spent the past fifteen years as the Senior Pastor of this church, I have learned a great deal about people that become members of the church. In this timeframe I have run the gauntlet of emotions and I am positive I have put members through the same gauntlet of emotions in their lives. One thing I can tell you up front…I am by no means a perfect man, nor am I a perfect pastor, I will (and do) make mistakes. I love being a pastor and I love the people God brings in my path to minister to.

What can you expect if you visit us for a worship service? Just about anything, and I say that in a good way. We are a group of imperfect people, meeting and worshipping the perfect God. We worship God in a reverent and humble fashion, but we also have fun, not silliness, in our worship. I desire for people to smile (even laugh) when God moves. You can expect to hear the truth from the Word of God (the Bible) and I will not water it down. This means you have the possibility of being convicted, angry, sad, hurt, helped, healed, glad, and cut by this Word. Every time we gather my prayer is always for God to meet all of us at our deepest need and He will if we are willing to be open, honest, and give Him full access to our heart.

In my time here, I have laughed with just as many as I have wept with. I have buried many people ranging from church members, family or friends of church members, to people I had never met before. I have seen babies born, children grow up into adulthood and start their own family, and families join and leave the church. As mentioned earlier, I have run the emotional gauntlet (and still do) in my calling as a pastor.

So, come and join us. Laugh and cry with us. Let God speak to you as you worship with us and as you get to know the wonderful people that worship here each week. I am not perfect, but I will love you right where you are at this stage of your life. I want you to meet Jesus and fall in love with Him…He is the life changer you need.

Great Things in 2018

As we begin this year, I want to emphasis the great need for commitment to the call God has placed on your life. I also want to encourage you to remain faithfully committed to God and your church. Reflecting on my sermon from Sunday, January 7th, let us not forget of God’s great commitment to all of us long before we were ever born. You cannot get past “In the beginning God”, without realizing the commitment God made to you before he began His creative work.
In His omniscient sovereignty, God saw, is seeing, and has seen into the future, everything that His creation could do with His gift of love, mercy, and grace. In all of that, He still created everything and said, “Let there be light”. In those words, we see that God is fully committed to His work and His plan. How committed are you to God’s work that you committed too?
I am glad God is always faithful, even when I am not. I am glad God still desires me to work with Him in the work He has ongoing at this moment. I am glad God has a desire for everyone to come to repentance and receive the free gift of salvation. The time is now for all of us to do our part for the good of the kingdom and the glory of God.
Learn from Nehemiah on how to hear from God, how to accomplish God’s work, and how to handle distractions that come from others not pleased with your commitment to God. Nehemiah was straight to the point when others tried to come in and halt God’s work. He did not avoid the confrontation, while at the same time, he did not let is hinder God’ call on his life. He handled lies and slander with dignity and grace, leaving us with a fine example of dealing with the same issue.
One thing I did not cover in my sermon…the work of rebuilding the wall only took fifty-two days. The reason, the body worked together, and nobody was trying to out do someone else and they were not looking for self-gratification or cooperate recognition. Everyone had their task, and they did their task.
For us to experience “Great Things in 2018”, we need to learn from Nehemiah and those rebuilding Jerusalem. Listen to God, follow Him daily, and do the task He has assigned to us until the task is completed. Along the way, stay committed and when distractions come, remember, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Th 5:24, NKJV). God is fully committed to His work, let’s be fully committed to Him.

Be Linus

Charlie Brown asked a simple question “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” Linus then steps on the scene and provides the answer to the meaning of Christmas. Linus quotes Luke 2:1 – 20. Linus seems to always be level headed (except when it comes to the Great Pumpkin), we need more young people like him in the world.

Linus has it right, Christmas is a time to remember the wonderful gift God sent to us. God in the flesh, Emmanuel (God with us). Christmas is not a time to catch up or out do “the Jones”, but a time of good tidings of great joy (Joy to the world the Lord is come). A time of peace on earth and good will to men. A time for kindness and not rudeness, a time for togetherness and not strife, and a time for LOVE and not hate. A time when families should sit and reflect on how blessed we truly are to have one another for one more Christmas. What I would give to have one more Christmas with my mom and other family and friends who have passed away.

What have you done with the gift God sent? Only you can answer that question, because that is a personal question. May God Bless you all in the coming year and may this be the year for you and I to serve God with a refresh fire within us and spread the same message Linus did when Charlie Brown asked a very import question. If you know what Christmas is all about, then step to center stage and be a Linus…