What Is the Gospel?

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

 

BY DAVID LIMBAUGH

Apr 10, 2017 | 9:35 AM

 

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

The Gospels tell the story of the Son of God Who became a human being, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to the Father, offering salvation for all who believe (trust) in Him. The “good news” of the Gospel is the availability of God’s salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Not everyone is open to the message, of course, and to some it sounds absurd. As Paul observes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). He summarizes the Gospel message in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1–4).

Pastor Cliff McManis posits that the Gospel comprises five main themes:

  1. Who Jesus is.
  2. The meaning of His death.
  3. The reality of His resurrection.
  4. A call to repent.
  5. A call to believe.34

Let’s briefly explore each of these in turn.

a) Who is Jesus? This is the most important question a person could ever ask. We must know Who He is, and the Gospels provide the answer.

Herod, the tyrannical tetrarch who had John the Baptist beheaded, is perplexed by Jesus and by reports of His works because some said He was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others that He was Elijah, and others that He was some other Old Testament prophet who had risen. Herod declares, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:7–9). Even Jesus’ mortal enemies ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” After reporting Herod’s perplexity, Luke—as if to answer the question by showing Jesus’ supernatural power—tells the story of Jesus miraculously feeding five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, with an abundance of food left over (Luke 9:10–17).

Luke immediately returns to the question, but this time Christ Himself is the questioner. Christ asks His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They respond with the same options that puzzled Herod: John the Baptist, Elijah, and other risen Old Testament prophets. Jesus asks Peter pointedly “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:18–20).

The disciples have been slow to grasp fully Who Jesus is, and His earthly ministry is coming to a close. He is about to head to Jerusalem where He will suffer and die.35 Jesus must drill into them Who He is because, as His allies, they’ll need strength to face the coming challenges and attacks. Peter’s confession seems sincere, but he obviously isn’t yet wholly committed to Christ, as he would soon betray Jesus three times. But Peter would later remember this conversation, among many others, and it would strengthen him. Note that Jesus isn’t addressing this question only to Peter. He died for all of us, and we have to treat the question as if directed to each of us individually—because it is. Who do I say Jesus is? Who do you say He is?

b) What is the meaning of His death? Jesus’ death served many purposes, some of which are interrelated. It was substitutionary — He died for our sins so that we will be freed from death, which is the penalty of sin. It is an atonement for our sins — though we were separated from God through sin, we are now reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20, 21), thereby reuniting God and man in a personal relationship; thus the term “at-one-ment.”36 It is a propitiation — it appeases God’s wrath37 (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) and expiates our guilt.38 It redeems us. We are ransomed ”with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without a blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18–19; Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28), and are forgiven (Col. 1:14) and redeemed or delivered from the curse of sin (Eph. 1:7). Through His death we are adopted as children of God, having been born again through faith in Christ (John 1:12), and we are justified, as we are declared righteous legally (Romans 3:21–26).39 Charles Spurgeon argues that when God sees saved sinners, He no longer sees sin in them but instead sees His dear Son Jesus Christ covering us as a veil. “God will never strike a soul through the veil of His Son’s sacrifice,” says Spurgeon. “He accepts us because He cannot but accept His Son, who has become our covering.”40

c) The reality of His resurrection. Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Christian message that Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death is not allegorical. As previously mentioned, Jesus allowed Satan to “strike His heel” by voluntarily dying on the cross, but in the very process of dying (and being resurrected), Jesus “crushed [Satan's] head” (Gen. 3:15 NIV), thereby defeating Satan, sin, and death. “Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ,” notes William Romaine.41 William Plummer adds, “The death of Christ was the most dreadful blow ever given to the empire of darkness.”42 Christ’s resurrection consummates God’s salvation plan for mankind. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is pivotal to Christianity. Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17–19).

d) A call to repent. Repentance is not a separate requirement for salvation. We are saved through faith alone, but repentance goes hand in hand with believing. “Repentance and faith are Siamese twins,”43 writes Walter J. Chantry. Sinclair Ferguson comments, “Faith and repentance must be seen as marriage partners and never separated.”44 Repentance is a change of attitude and action from sin toward obedience to God. The Greek word for repentance is derived from a word meaning “to radically change one’s thinking.” It signifies a person attaining a divinely provided new understanding of his behavior and feeling compelled to change and begin a new relationship with God (Heb. 6:1; Acts 20:21).45 Walter Elwell declares that it is “literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.”46

e) A call to believe. To believe in Jesus Christ requires more than mere intellectual assent that He is the Son of God. Saving faith is not merely accepting certain propositions as true (“even the demons believe— and shudder!” James 2:19), but trusting a person—the Person of Jesus Christ47—for the remission of your sins. It involves an act of the will. We can think of it as a faith-union with Christ, in which the believer cleaves to his Savior. We need only to believe in Christ for our eternal salvation. Nothing else is required. The Bible is clear on this. When the Philippian jailor asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they respond, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30–31). We cannot earn our way to salvation. It is solely a gift from God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul proclaims in Ephesians. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8–9).

 

 

What Is Holy Week?

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY BRANDON SHOWALTER

Apr 13, 2017 | 10:27 AM

 Each year Christians around the world, particularly in liturgical traditions, reenact the final moments of Christ’s life on earth as part of a weeklong observation now known as Holy Week.

This week’s origins can be traced back to the earliest Christians who saw the need to commemorate these last days of Jesus to anchor believers in their faith.According to EarlyChristians.org, the death of Jesus was considered so historically significant that the Church “sought the need to celebrate liturgically this salvific event,” installing a formal rite for this to be sacramentally renewed every year.The days of this week are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

 

When Should Elderly Pastors Retire? Ten Diagnostic Questions

March 9, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY THOM S. RAINER
Mar 5, 2017 | 8:52 AM

There are a lot of us Baby Boomer pastors and Christian leaders around. And it’s cliché, but we aren’t getting any younger. It’s a quiet question that many are asking, but they are asking it nonetheless: What age should I retire?

Instead of responding with a specific number, I ask my Baby Boomer peers a series of ten diagnostic questions:

1. Are you physically and emotionally able to continue to lead at a high level? If not, you probably should retire.

2. Are you still highly motivated in your place of leadership? If you don’t wake up each morning excited about your ministry, you might consider stepping down.

3. Are you a continuous learner? Are you reading, listening to others, attending conferences, learning new technologies, and staying current in key areas?

4. Are you hanging on primarily for financial reasons? If that is your dominant reason for staying, you are doing your church or ministry a disservice by staying.

5. Do you have a clear and compelling vision for your ministry’s future? If not, you may be coasting and ready to retire.

6. Is the church’s health deteriorating under your leadership? It’s not always the fault of the pastor, but you need to ask if new leadership could bring new life.

7. Does the word “change” cause you to feel threatened or angry? If you are not happy with the way the current generation is leading churches, you may be too change resistant to lead your own church.

8. Do you empower others regularly? If you are not taking time to equip others to do the work of ministry and to become leaders, it could be an indicator you are coasting.

9. Is your family supportive of you staying in your current ministry position? Your spouse or children may really know what’s best for you and the church, and it may be retirement.

10. Do you find yourself longing for the good old days? If so, you might be living in the past, ineffective in the present, and unable to lead toward the future. It might be time to step down.

I know. You never retire from ministry. I know. Our current president was inaugurated when he was almost 71 years old. Those facts do not change the reality that it might be time for some pastors to retire now and find other ways to serve.

So, at what age should a pastor retire? It really depends. Every situation is unique. You may have many years left in your current church.

Or you may need to retire now and allow new leadership an opportunity to take the church to a new level.

Be honest with yourself. Above all, be honest with God.

If it is truly time for you to retire from your church, He will be with you just as He has throughout your entire ministry.

Are You Affecting the World or Infected by It?

March 9, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY SHANE IDLEMAN
Mar 5, 2017 | 8:53 AM

Society’s influence on the church is very alarming. In times past, the hero was the father, not Edward (from Twilight). The greatest influence was the mother, not Bella. Kids once quoted Scriptures; now they are casting spells. What a sad commentary on the state of the family today. Hollywood, not the Holy Spirit, is guiding us.

An important question for all Christians to ask is, “Are we ‘affecting’ the world, or is the world ‘infecting’ us?”

A.W. Tozer reminds us: “Where does Christianity destroy itself in a given generation? It destroys itself by not living in the light, by professing a truth it does not obey.”

The church should not reflect or imitate the world, but lovingly confront it. We do the most for the world when we are the least like the world. We are to love them but not learn from them (cf. Psalms 107:35-37). No other decision will impact our lives more than who or what we choose to follow … what we choose to love.

Americans give approximately four billion but spend over one hundred and fifty billion a year on pleasure. A serious misplacement of priorities.

In Biblical terms, fulfilling unhealthy pleasures (or pushing healthy ones to the limit) leads to poverty — financially, relationally, and spiritually. He who loves the things of this world will destroy his own soul.

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

When pleasures, even good ones, draw us away from God … when they crowd Him out … we are in danger of “loving the world.” God is in the background while pleasure and self focus are in the foreground. Granted, finances, relaxation, and healthy balanced entertainment are God-given resources that aid in rest and recuperation. This is not the problem; it is the “love” of pleasure and entertainment that leads us away. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the god of this world and the one true God.

John Owen, the prolific Puritan author, wrote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Carnality and lukewarm living wage war against the soul. The carnal person wants to live without God’s restraints. Do you struggle in this area? Here is a test: “Does this article anger or convict; are you upset or repentant?” The old adage reminds us, “When a rock is thrown into a pile of dogs the one who yelps was struck.” If this article upsets, it applies.

Trusting God’s Character When We Don’t Understand His Actions
J.C. Ryle in his book on holiness wrote that we must stand guard as a soldier on enemy ground. The problem is that many who profess to be Christians love the world and have a hard time separating. They believe in heaven but they don’t truly long for it. They “say” that they fear God but they don’t live like it. They indulge temptation rather than fight it. They enjoy sin rather than confront it. The lukewarm church avoids the heat of conviction. They don’t like many of these articles. Holiness, to them, is outdated … old-fashioned.

Please don’t misunderstand, we all fall short, but our lifestyle should reflect our faith. It’s not about perfection, but direction. Galatians 5:16 reminds us that if we “live by the Spirit,” we will “not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

What we feed grows, and what grows can quickly become the dominating force within our lives. Sin is never static — it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. A daily diet of violence, lust, anger, and depression will fuel those very things in our lives. Pay close attention to what you watch and listen to…what you take pleasure in — the force controlling it ultimately controls you (cf. Ephesians 2:12).

What entertains you? Are you drawn to things honorable and excellent or dark and depressing? Do you prefer programs about vampires, witches, zombies, the occult, illicit sex, and perversions? Do you listen to music that stirs and motivates ungodly lusts and attractions?

This isn’t rocket-science: “If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

“The more we follow that which is good, the faster and the further we shall flee from that which is evil” (Matthew Henry).

A Christian should not be entertained by darkness. If we are entertained, our heart needs spiritual resuscitation.

We, like the mighty Roman Empire that collapsed centuries ago, are crumbling from within. Historian Edward Gibbon once wrote about the conditions of Rome before her fall. The spending of public funds on food and entertainment, and the mad craze for pleasure and sport, topped the list. Sound familiar today?

I believe that anyone who suggests that carnality and lukewarm living are not propelling us in this same direction does so in sheer ignorance or is in denial because they love the things of this world more than the things of God.

“The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand” (R.A. Torrey).

We cannot feed the flesh and be filled with the Spirit.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

You and I cannot serve both God and the god of this world.

Are you willing to do what it takes to protect your relationship with the Lord? It all begins here … “as a man thinks, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).​

THE ETERNAL LOVE OF GOD

February 28, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY CHARLES F. STANLEY
We can know for certain God loves us and wants the very best for us.
Love is a distinguishing mark of Christians and something the Lord commanded us to do (John 13:34-35). Jesus said we should love others as God loves us—selflessly, sacrificially, with understanding and forgiveness. But how can we love others if we’re unsure of His love for us personally?

When we refer to “God’s love,” we’re talking about the unselfish giving of Himself to us, which brings about blessing in our lives—no matter how unlovable we might be. That says something about the Lord’s character. His love is not just an emotion, decision, or action—it’s who He is.

But how can we know for certain that He loves us?

1. He created the world for us.

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling out west is because I can go into the wilderness where I don’t see anything but what God created. He gave us oceans and beaches, mountains and snow, sunrises and sunsets, full moons and new moons, and beautiful plants and animals.

Now let’s stop for a moment to consider the awesome sight this world was just after God created it, when it was completely untainted by man. We tend to forget how majestic Earth really is, especially when houses, tall buildings, cars, and pollution surround us at every turn. Sometimes spending a little time in nature is all we need to remind us of the Lord’s affection.

2. He chose us.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Scripture also teaches that God loved us before He ever created the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).

3. He died for us.

GOD PROMISES HE WILL LOVE US UNCONDITIONALLY—AND WILL NEVER LEAVE OR FORSAKE US.
Jesus suffered the shame of the cross and willingly gave His life to ensure the forgiveness of our sins and eternity spent with Him.

4. He cares for us.

God continually watches over us, providing our needs. He protects us, guides us, and answers our prayers. Though He may not always work in the time frame we expect, if we’re faithful to wait on Him, He will always come through for us according to His will.

His Promise

God promises He will love us unconditionally—and will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If God loved us only sometimes but not all the time, that would mean His character, feelings, or attitude are changeable. But our Lord never changes.

Neither is His love contingent upon us. Whether or not we go to church, tithe, witness, pray enough, and never sin, God’s affection is always the same. You can’t do anything to deserve it, and you can’t do anything to keep Him from loving you.

The apostle John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This may be a difficult truth for our human minds to grasp. But love is the Lord’s very essence, and He is the source from which all true love flows. There are no restrictions, no limitations, and no exceptions. God’s care for us is absolute and genuine, and through creation, He has unmistakably declared that love (Rom. 1:20). But in His most powerful proclamation of all, He sent His Son to die for us, so that we could enjoy His loving presence for all eternity.

Will My Faith Fail Before I Finish the Race?

February 27, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

MATT MOORE
Feb 23, 2017 | 7:28 AM
Do you ever worry your faith might fail before you finish the race (2 Timothy 4:7)?

On days when avoiding irreparable spiritual shipwreck seems to require every bit of strength your weak soul possesses, do you fear you won’t be able to keep this up long-term?

I think all Christians wonder at one time or another if they will persevere until the end. There are some seasons in which we feel strong in the Lord and confident that we will one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). In others, we feel like we are being crushed by troubles of this world, assailed by temptations, and pummeled by demonic foes. It’s in these latter times of spiritual heaviness that doubt festers and hope dwindles. And it’s in these times we desperately need to believe these faith-building words: “He will sustain you to the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8).

Yes, we are weak. Yes, the fight of faith requires enormous and continuous energy. But it is not we who supply this energy — it is God who supplies it.

Listen to how Paul described his own toil and struggle in running his race: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29; emphasis mine).

He recognized the energy he expended while fulfilling God’s call on his life was not something he mustered up but something God provided.

Elsewhere he wrote, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Paul knew and wanted his readers to know that every bit of our willing, working, fighting, and striving to do the will of God is empowered by God.

But you would think God’s power in us would feel more powerful than it often does, wouldn’t you? I tend to believe if the omnipotent God were really at work in me, I would be an unquenchable fire of spiritual vitality. However, the energy I sense within myself today to abide in Jesus doesn’t feel very potent or abundant. It feels more like God has given me just enough power to continue believing, trusting, and obeying Christ for today and no more.

The Kind of Seeking God Rewards
But isn’t this “sufficient for the day” thing pretty consistent with the way the Lord works?

When the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God supplied for them enough manna for one day and one day only. He wanted his wandering people to have faith in his continual provision (or as John Piper likes to call it, his “future grace”) rather than in their own ability to sustain themselves.

Jesus applied this principle to spiritual reality when he taught his disciples how to pray: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3; emphasis mine).

“Daily bread” here can certainly mean physical nourishment. But Jesus also said “man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Being that heavenly bread (John 6:35) is far more important than earthly bread, I believe Jesus was instructing his disciples to pray primarily for spiritual sustenance on a daily basis — because that’s how God disperses it. He supplies power and grace for gospel-driven living one day at a time.

Just as God was faithful to provide daily manna to the Israelites until they reached their promised inheritance, he is also faithful to provide to us all the spiritual sustenance we need until we reach our eternal inheritance. It may not feel like much some days, but we can know that it is, at the very least, just enough.

If we have truly been regenerated, our sovereign God assures us he will bring to beautiful completion the work he began in us (Philippians 1:6). He will present us blameless before Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Jude 24). He will sustain us to the end (1 Corinthians 1:8).

Jesus taught us to be forgiving, and not just for the other person’s sake.

February 6, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

JANUARY 31, 2017
BY IN TOUCH MAGAZINE STAFF

If a check bounces, it’s because you didn’t make sure there were sufficient funds in your bank account. If your chocolate soufflé comes out just right, it’s probably the result of painstakingly following the recipe. (However, if it rains in the middle of the afternoon, it is not because you didn’t grab an umbrella before leaving home, even if it feels that way.)

Causality is the principle that every occurrence is the upshot of some other action—that is to say, there’s a definite relationship between cause and effect. Situations, whether problematic or pleasurable, don’t just randomly create themselves.

This is not the same thing as fatalism, the belief that all events are predetermined and, therefore, we are powerless to change them. On the contrary, causality involves a certain level of responsibility and choice, at least in situations where people are part of the equation. We see this link between cause and effect in human interactions, perhaps not as obviously as the way a carton of milk left out overnight will greet you with an awful smell in the morning, but in the way words and actions tend to provoke various reactions.

READ MATTHEW 18:21-35
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?

Scripture shows us that cause-and-effect also plays a role in our relationship and fellowship with the Lord. The last section of Matthew 18 paints a vivid picture of the importance of forgiveness, and in the closing verse, Jesus warns His followers about neglecting this teaching or taking it lightly.

There are several other passages that highlight either promises or warnings in relation to forgiveness. For example:

• If we admit our sins to God without making excuses and are ready to change our ways, then He will forgive and deliver us (2 Chronicles 7:14).

• If we forgive others when they sin against us, then our own prayers of confession will be effective (Matt. 6:14-15).

• If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

• If we place our trust in Jesus and confess Him as Savior and Lord, then we will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

• If we confess our sins, then God will purify us (1 John 1:9).

These verses are not saying our salvation depends on us, but there is an action we have to take in receiving the forgiveness and eternal life God freely offers. And this back-and-forth with God doesn’t end at the moment of redemption. Just as our friendships, marriages and other relationships are regularly affected by actions and words—whether for good or bad—so is our fellowship with God either hindered or enhanced by our deeds, choices, and attitudes.

Our refusal to forgive has an impact not only on our relationship with that person but also on our communion with God.

When we feel hurt or angry because of someone else’s behavior, it can be tempting to let the situation become a dividing wall. What we often don’t recognize is how our refusal to forgive has an impact not only on our relationship with that person but also on our communion with God.

REFLECT
Write your thoughts in a journal.

• In Matthew 18, Jesus tells His disciples to be generous in their willingness to forgive, to the point that they lose count of how many times they forgive someone of a repeated sin. Many Christians hold God to this standard and expect Him to immediately and unconditionally clear their slate whenever they go to Him and confess their sins. It’s probably safe to say that most of us are not quite so prepared to forgive others when they apologize to us.

• The unfortunate effect of unforgiveness is that our spiritual feet get stuck and we can’t move forward in our walk with God. That’s the point of Psalm 66:18: If we harbor bitterness in our hearts, then we are allowing sin to block our prayers. What’s more, if we are unwilling to obey God in one area, it then becomes difficult to obey Him in another. And if we can’t love a brother or sister in Christ, our testimony will have the potential of confusing observers.

• On the other hand, if we remember how much God has forgiven us, then it’s easier to recognize we’re not in a position to lord someone else’s sin over him or her. If we are willing to extend grace to another person, then we can experience joy in that restored relationship. And if we forgive quickly, we can avoid pitfalls that hinder a thriving and effective relationship with God.

RESPOND
In each of the following passages, how is forgiveness demonstrated (or withheld)?

• Genesis 45:1-15

• 2 Samuel 12:1-14

• John 8:1-11

• Luke 15:11-24

• Luke 23:33-34

• Acts 6:8-15; Acts 7:55-60

Ask God to reveal relationships or situations that have become a hindrance to your spiritual growth or a source of bitterness. Consider reasons for your difficulty to forgive, and pray for the courage and humility to overcome those obstacles.

REVISIT
• Theologian Lewis B. Smedes is quoted as saying, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Think back to times people have forgiven you. Make a list of situations that stand out, and note the outcome of receiving grace from the person you hurt or offended. Contrast this with situations that were left unresolved and how they affected you.

• Memorize Ephesians 4:31-32.

• Read Matthew 5:22-24 and then make a list of people you need to forgive. Resolve to make peace with them as soon as possible. Once you do, note the outcome. How did extending grace make you feel? How did it affect your relationship with those people? How did it affect your fellowship with God?

7 Steps to Take If ‘The Cartel’ and Bullies Run You Out of Church

February 6, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY THOM S. RAINER
Jan 25, 2017 | 7:50 AM

A bully-led personnel committee ran Frank out of the church. They never told the pastor why they wanted him to resign. Jan was a very active layperson in the student ministry. A cartel of jealous church members pushed her out of the church.

I wish such examples were anomalies, but they aren’t. To the contrary, such incidents seem to be gaining traction. And, of course, they are both the cause and the result of the number of unhealthy churches in American.

I have written and spoken at length about this issue, but I have not yet addressed the aftermath of such bullying from the perspective of the victim. What is he or she to do after the horrific incident? Here are seven suggestions:

1. Take care of your family. That’s a tough order, especially when you are hurting so much already. But your family is in pain. They need you. They need to know all of you will be okay.

2. Pray with specificity. You should ask God for comfort, for strength, and for peace. You should ask him to remove the bitterness that such terrible abuse brings. Trust Him to do it, because you can’t.

3. Find a healthy church. You won’t find a perfect church, but there are many good and healthy churches. You can’t give up on churches completely because of the toxic cartel church. You need to remain in a local body of believers.

4. Move carefully before taking another ministry position. You need time. You need to take care of your family. You need to take care of yourself. The ministry position can come later, just not immediately.

5. Count your blessings. This saying is not trite. When we have been hurt deeply by church bullies and a cartel, it is easy and natural to focus on that hurt. Start focusing on your blessings. Ask God to open your eyes and heart to all the great ways He is working in and through your life.

6. Become an advocate for other victims. Don’t stay on the sidelines the next time you see bullying take place in a church. Stand up to the bully. Be a source of understanding and comfort for the victim. God can use your pain for His glory and others’ good.

7. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t give up on God and local churches and fellow believers. Don’t give in to bitterness and self-pity. Though it sounds cliché, you can become a better person and believer in the midst of the struggles you are experiencing.

I wish we didn’t have to talk and write about such issues. I wish they didn’t exist in churches. But the greater harm would be ignoring this evil and letting it run rampant.

Bullying is evil. Cartels are nefarious as well.

But God is good. And He is greater than anything the world or the local church can throw our way.

7 Actions You Can Take to Make 2017 Better

January 3, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

 

BY MICHAEL BROWN Jan 3, 2017 | 12:11 PM

The reason we make major New Year’s resolutions is because we’re fed up with the way we’re living and we want to make radical changes in our lives. That’s also why we tend to fail so miserably with those resolutions: It’s hard to make lasting, dramatic changes.

While there certainly is a place to encourage such changes — I plan to do that very thing in my next column — there’s also a place to encourage us to make some smaller, more manageable changes.

Here are 7 things you can do to improve your life and the lives of those you touch.

1. Be nice. Now that all of us can express ourselves all the time about everything via social media and texting — and that means without speaking to people face to face — we’ve become a much nastier society.

How about trying to watch your words and think before you write or speak? How about making an effort to be little nicer? Would it hurt to try? You’ll often see that people respond to niceness with niceness, making it be easier for you to be nicer still. It can lead to a nice fest.

2. Don’t act like a spoiled, entitled, baby. Nobody likes a crybaby, especially a fully-grown, adult crybaby, but these days we have a crybaby culture. Nothing is our fault. Everyone else is to blame. I’m not responsible for my failures, you are. And on and on it goes, virtually guaranteeing a negative, never-ending, vicious cycle. Perhaps you have the “It’s not my fault” mentality more than you realize?

I encourage you to take full responsibility for yourself and not play the blame game, even if you have been wronged. It’s liberating and lifechanging.

3. Be grateful. Surely there’s something for which you can be thankful and someone to whom you can express gratitude. Surely it won’t kill you to give a positive report, to find the good in those you work with and live with. Surely there are plenty of people in far worse circumstances than you, yet they are thankful for what they have.

You’d be amazed to see how a grateful attitude can change a gloomy day into a sunny day.

4. Get out of your rut. If you keep doing things the same way, you’ll get the same results. Count on it. So, if you’re stuck in a rut — professionally or personally or spiritually or relationally — consider doing something different. Otherwise the rut will only get deeper.

Understand that not every routine is healthy and not every discipline is positive, so look at your life, ask yourself what needs to change, and take a step in that direction. If even the thought of it terrifies you, you might be more stuck than you realize.

5. Concentrate on what matters most. Relationships are more important than possessions. Character is more important than appearance. A loving family is more important than riches and fame. That’s why Proverbs says that, “A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate” (this is a paraphrase of Prov. 15:17 in the New Living Translation). It also says, “Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting and conflict” (Prov. 17:1, NLT).

You can work day and night to get more and be more but lose your family (and even your soul) in the process. Is it worth it?

6. Don’t get distracted from your larger goals. It’s hard not to be distracted in our increasingly wired world. Constant news. Constant emails. Constant texts. Constant updates. Constant entertainment options. Constant distractions.
We find ourselves responding and reacting with very little time to step back and reflect and plan and focus, but if we’re going to accomplish our larger goals, that’s exactly what we need to do. So, to the extent that you can disconnect responsibly, take some time daily (or at least weekly) to disconnect and refocus. And ask yourself this question: Will you fulfill your life goals if you continue to live the way you’re living?

7. Be spiritual and be practical. Why must it be either or? Jesus taught us to seek God’s kingdom first and foremost, but He also taught us to be responsible stewards — faithful in little things, faithful with our finances, faithful with that which others entrust to us (see Matthew 6:33-34; Luke 16:10-12).

People will not be impressed with your spirituality if you’re flaky when it comes to everyday, practical matters, so why not try to marry the spiritual with the practical in 2017?

If this list overwhelms you, pick one out of the 7 and go to work on that? One step in the right direction goes a long way, and one good day can make for a much better year.

Forward, one step at a time!

 

Approaching God With Confidence

January 3, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

BY DAN DELZELL 

Dec 27, 2016 | 8:00 AM
How comfortable are you when it comes to approaching God? Do you tend to be quite bold when talking to the Lord, or rather timid? Would you describe your prayer life as being weak, or strong? Are you eager to enter God’s presence, or is communicating with your Creator one of the last things you tend to do?

Thankfully, there are some practical steps you can take to improve your communication with God, and to dramatically increase your desire to talk to Him.

First of all, it is critical to understand the only legitimate basis upon which anyone has the right to approach God. Since we are sinful, we are not by nature worthy of entering the Lord’s presence. God is perfect in holiness, whereas each one of us falls far short of God’s requirements and the Lord’s perfect standard.

So what is a person to do?

Our only hope is to turn to God’s Word, where believers in Jesus are given plenty of encouragement: “In Christ and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Eph. 3:12) That is to say, Jesus makes us acceptable to our Father in heaven, and our relationship with Christ through faith grants us entrance into God’s presence. Christians are those people who have been spiritually born into God’s family.

As a child of God, you now have the “right” to approach God. Jesus earned your access to the Father by dying on the cross for your sins and bringing you into this spiritual place of grace. You are no longer “under the law,” but rather, you are justified before God as an “heir of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7) As a believer, you are trusting God for your eternal protection. And so you can certainly trust Him for any concerns in this world as well.

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Stop and think about it. Do you know anyone else who would sacrifice their only son for your eternal benefit? Even if you could find such a person, no one other than Jesus would be able to pull it off because only Christ is worthy to pay for our sins. The punishment that we deserve required a perfect sacrifice. (Heb. 9:1-28) And since this sacrifice has been made, believers are free to approach God with confidence because we now belong to God forever.

You can call upon the Lord at any moment of the day. The “right” to freely approach God with confidence is something you have been given on account of what your Savior did for you on the cross.

So does this mean that God will give me whatever I want? Well, yes and no. God will give us whatever is in line with His will for our lives.

“This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14,15) You see, in order for any request to be granted, it needs to be in alignment with God’s will. And in order for us to discern God’s will, we need to fill our mind with God’s Word and walk closely with our Lord and Savior.
A close walk with Christ is essential to having your prayers answered. Believers who walk closely with Christ are able to discern what petitions to bring before the Lord. We are not wise enough to make this discernment by our own wisdom or strength. As a believer, “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose,” (Phil. 2:13) and it is God who empowers your prayers with confidence as you “pour out your heart to Him.” (Psalm 62:8)Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:7,8)

Nothing gives a believer more confidence than “remaining in Christ” moment by moment. That is to say, it is critical for Christians to “practice the presence of God” by keeping our thoughts on the Lord and filling our mind with Scripture. The Holy Spirit within a believer enables us to maintain an inner life of sweet fellowship with the Lord even during the busyness of daily activities. It is the only way to flow in peace, power, and Christ-centered confidence. Our boldness comes not from ourselves, but from the One who lives within us.

As the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) Paul clearly understood the source of his forgiveness, salvation, peace, endurance, and confidence.

The key to approaching God with confidence is summed up in Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.”

If we turn our thoughts toward sin rather than keeping our mind on Christ, we lose much of the spiritual power and confidence that comes from a close walk with the Lord. Forgiveness produces confidence, and daily repentance helps us remain “in the flow” of courageous prayer. The alternative is to be filled with feelings of doom, gloom, shame, and despair. Our focus and our behavior will lead either to confidence before God, or to fear before man.

Do you remember what Adam and Eve did after they disobeyed God’s command? They hid from God because they felt ashamed and fearful. (Genesis 3:8-10) They had absolutely no confidence to talk to their Creator because they knew they had deliberately gone against God’s instructions.

Thankfully, Jesus has made a way for us to bring our sin, shame, and guilt to God. We can be cleansed, forgiven, and granted a new heart that is overflowing with hope and confidence.

The apostle Paul described the reality of a believer’s confidence this way: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Would you like to experience this overflow in your life today? Millions of believers around the world are experiencing this power from God at this very moment, but what about you? Would you like to start approaching God with confidence everyday? If so, be encouraged. The path forward is not complicated.

Simply turn to Jesus in sincerity, repentance, and confident faith. Trust the Lord to wash away whatever is getting in the way of your walk with Him, and ask the Holy Spirit to grant you a persistent passion for fellowship with God through prayer. And then stay under the fountain of God’s wellspring moment by moment throughout the day.

There is no better way to live, and no other way to overflow with Christ-centered confidence.

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