Don’t Deny It!

“Even if I have to die with you, I would never deny you” (Matthew 26:35).  These were the words of Peter just hours before the Jewish leaders seized Jesus and set into motion the events which we commemorate as “Good Friday.”  Peter didn’t wait very long before eating those brave sounding words he blurted out in response to the Lord who told him that he would deny Jesus not once, but three times before the first rooster crowed at dawn.

Many self-confident Christians would also say, “Not me Lord, I would never do that!”  And yet, time and again we see believers, great and small, crash and burn on a regular basis.  This phenomenon, as well as Peter’s story, brings to mind two important lessons.

First, we should never consider ourselves above temptation.  The stories we often hear of Christians who fall remind us that it is easy to let down our guard and head down the wrong path almost before we realize what we are doing.  Satan is crafty, and he knows our weakest points.  He won’t waste his time tempting us with those things we aren’t really vulnerable to.

The second lesson is this . . . only with God’s help can we overcome the temptations we face.  We simply are not strong enough to withstand all that Satan and will throw our way.  This is why it is so important to spend time daily with the Lord to stay attuned to His way of thinking, and to seek the power and protection we need.

Peter had spent three years in a close relationship with Jesus, and yet, at the first sign of big trouble he bailed out on the Lord.  So, don’t be too cocky when you hear about the failure of a brother or sister in Christ.  Instead, look at it as a sign to stick even closer to Jesus.  And when the time comes when it is tough to admit you are a believer (and that time comes for us all) don’t deny it!  Call on the Lord to give you the courage you need and make it evident your faith is real!

Out of the Mouths of Babes!

I remember Debbie Pirkle, our Minister to Preschool & Children, telling me a few years ago what one of daycare teachers had told her.  The story reminds us in a simple, yet profound way, of a truth we all need to remember.

Brylynn was in our four year old class, and that class had been talking about Easter and what it means.  The subject of Jesus’ crucifixion came up.  Too deep for a four year old to comprehend, right?  Hear what Brylynn had to say and you decide.

In the midst of this discussion about Jesus’ crucifixion, Brylynn told her teacher and the other children, “I had a splinter in my finger one time and my PawPaw took it out.  It hurt so much.  Jesus must have really hurt when they put that crown of thorns on His head.  And then she said sadly, “I’m sorry Jesus had to die for our sins.”

It must have hurt Jesus so much!  Have you ever paused to consider just what Jesus was put through on your behalf and on my behalf?  That crown, composed of long, razor sharp thorns pierced His head in dozens of places.  He was whipped with a cat-o-nine tails, which was composed of nine strands of leather which had glass and rocks embedded so that the flesh was literally torn away from the body with each lashing.  Thirty-nine times they savagely ripped Jesus’ back with that terrible device of torture.  He was beaten and punched by the Roman guard, spat on by the crowds as He drug that cross through the streets of Jerusalem, and unmercifully jeered and cursed.

As bad as the physical cruelty was, I believe the worst part of His suffering came as a result of having the sin of all mankind placed upon Him as He hung on the cross.  Isaiah prophesied concerning the Suffering Servant: “…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Can you imagine the pain of experiencing the guilt of all mankind?  No, we cannot!  I know how much I have hurt at times when I was weighed down by the guilt of something I had done wrong.  But I cannot even begin to understand how Jesus felt when all the guilt of every person who has ever lived, or will live, was placed upon Him.  The physical pain of crucifixion must have paled in comparison!  And yet, He willingly bore our guilt.

Perhaps Easter will be a little more meaningful . . . maybe Good Friday a bit more solemn for us if we would slow down from our hectic, crazy lives and consider the great depth of Christ’s love.  If Jesus died such a horrible life for us, couldn’t we live more fully for Him?

The Debt is Paid!

I did a little research recently and discovered some news that wasn’t totally unexpected.  According to government and business sources, The average American household has over $250,000 in debt including:

            Mortgage = $169,000

            Student Loans = $48,000

            Auto Loans = $27,000

            Credit Card = $16,000

That’s over $12 trillion household debt in our nation!  This debt will be very difficult to reduce substantially, and for many households it will never be paid off (at least until they die).

There is another debt that none of us can pay.  That is our sin debt.  However, there is One who has paid that debt for us.  While hanging on the cross of Calvary, Jesus’ last statement was “It is finished!”  The Greek word He cried out was “tetelestai.”  This word is indeed translated “it is finished” in the Bible and it refers to the mission Jesus came to this earth to fulfill, that is, to be the “Lamb of God” or the final sacrifice needed for our sins.  The Old Testament (covenant) required the people of God to make sacrifices before Him as an atonement for their sins.  Jesus came as the new covenant between God and man, and His sacrificial death was the last act of atonement necessary to satisfy the judicial nature of God.

Most of the time we emphasize the loving nature of God, and rightly so, for as the Bible tells us “God is love.”  However, we must not forget that God is also just.  His just nature demands that the guilty must pay for their offenses toward Him (sin).  The problem we face is that we have no way in which to pay the debt we owe without suffering eternal death.  So, in order to satisfy His demand for justice and his love for those He created, God became a man (Jesus) and took upon Himself the penalty our sins called for . . . death!

It has been said, “We owed a debt we could not pay, He paid a debt He did not owe!”  That leads me to a second meaning of the word “tetelestai.”  It as a word used in the business world of that day.  When someone paid for something they purchased the person would receive a receipt with the word “tetelestai” printed on it, which literally meant “paid in full.”  With His last gasping breaths Jesus managed to cry out loudly “PAID IN FULL!”  He was declaring to all eternity that the Lamb of God had paid the price necessary for redeeming His most beloved possession – you.  There is nothing else that can ever be done to buy your pardon, nothing else that possibly redeem you for all eternity.  As the old hymn says, “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Never consider yourself to be worthless.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Easter is the proof that you are very important to God . . . so much so that He gave His Son to die in your place.  Now, how’s that for letting you know you’re loved?    

Why Aren’t We Different?

I have read numerous news columns lately which have reported polls on subjects such as belief in Jesus as the only way of salvation, the usage of alcohol among Christians, and other beliefs and/or no belief in numerous fundamentals of the Christian faith.  The numbers are quite disturbing, especially to one who has spent his entire adult life trying to teach and encourage believers to be strong believers in and doers of the Word. 

In a nut-shell, church members, including many evangelicals, simply don’t seem to understand what God has commanded in His Word, or they choose to ignore it, and this has resulted in many self-proclaimed Christians living exactly like those who do not profess Christ.  This is so tragic!  It is shameful!  And, it is so terribly harmful to the cause of Christ!

Why is this happening?  I see two primary reasons.  First, our church membership rolls are filled with people who have never had a true salvation experience and are just as lost now as they were before joining a church.

You may be thinking, “Ken, that sounds pretty harsh and very judgmental.”  The truth is sometimes very harsh, and the “judge not” crowd are theologically uninformed.  I am not alone in this assessment of today’s Church.  A number of years ago Billy Graham, the great evangelist of God for our generation, proclaimed that he believed that at least 80% of the membership of Christian churches in America are lost (they don’t have a saving relationship with Christ).  Eighty percent!  More recently many of our leading theologians and Pastors of today have begun referring to the unsaved or immature church members as “Cultural Christians.”  That designation basically means that these persons are affiliated with the church for cultural reasons rather than out of a true commitment to Christ and His body, the Church.  Their lives do not reflect what the Bible says is consistent with those who are indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit.  Read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery (drug abuse), hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries, and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:19-23)

“Those who practice such things (vss. 19-21) will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Whether you are a church member or not, if these works of the flesh (evil deeds) are a way of life (practice) for you, then you are giving evidence of an unredeemed, unforgiven spirit.  Church membership is not the equivalent of salvation.  Salvation is the result of confessing our sin to the Lord, trusting that what He did on the cross of Calvary was the only sufficient sacrifice for our sins, and committing to follow Jesus as our Lord.

The conclusion: those who do not demonstrate the reality of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives act like they do because they do not have a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ!  A church member who doesn’t behave and believe any differently from those who don’t claim to be Christian is, in all likelihood, just as lost.

A second reason why so many church members don’t act differently is that many, though being saved, have really never grown in their spiritual lives.  As Paul would say, these believers are taking only spiritual milk and have never moved on to the meat!  They believe, but have never sought to really grow in the spiritual disciplines which are required for developing a Christ-like lifestyle.  Such believers are usually weak and often cave in to the pressures to conform to this world rather than to stand firmly in the standards set forth by Jesus.  Romans 12:2 exhorts the believer . . . “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

What about you?  Does your life reflect a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus?  Are you truly different from those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior?  If not, a life-changing relationship awaits you if only you will follow the One who created you and has a significant purpose for your life. 

Sand and Rock

The old children’s song I remember from when I was a child still has a great lesson for us:

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,

the foolish man built his house upon the sand,

the foolish man built his house upon the sand,

and the foolish man’s house went splat!

 The wise man built his house upon the rock,

the wise man built his house upon the rock,

the wise man built his house upon the rock,

and the wise man’s house stood firm!

 So, build your house upon the Lord Jesus Christ,

build your house upon the Lord Jesus Christ,

build your house upon the Lord Jesus Christ,

and the blessings will come tumbling down!

 Oh, the blessings come down as the prayers go up,

the blessings come down as the prayers go up,

the blessings come down as the prayers go up,

so build your house upon the Lord Jesus Christ!

If only more adults listened to what the children sing!  Jesus taught those who would listen this truth.  His words are recorded in Matthew 7:24-27: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house.  Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed.  And its collapse was great!”

Of course, the rock which Jesus was referring to is Himself and the truth His Word teaches.  Life is filled with storms, earth shaking events, and all manner of challenges.  Some people weather these storms and end up stronger than they were because of their faith in “The Rock.”  Others who have rejected Jesus lack the foundation necessary for overcoming the deep troubles of life, and their foolish decision eventually leads to their destruction.

Be honest with yourself and before God . . . what is the foundation of your life?  If you cannot honestly point to Jesus as the base upon which your life stand, you have a decision to make.  Will you choose to make Jesus your solid rock, or will you reject Him?  You may consider yourself a Christian, and yet you are still not building your life upon Christ.  I won’t pretend to be able to judge the validity of your salvation experience (though you will be known by the fruit you bear), but even more pitiful is the life of one who knows the truth and fails to act upon it.  Be wise.  Build your life on the One who will never your “house” be destroyed.

The Good Life

Romans 8:28 declares, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NKJV).


“The Personal Growth Study Bible” by Nelson Publishers provides some interesting and helpful comments on select passages.  Concerning Romans 8:28 the commentator says: “We want only good for our children, but God still permits bad things to happen to His children.  How can Paul suggest that everything that happens to us is good?


First, Paul doesn’t suggest that everything which happens to us is good.  Sometime terrible things happen to Christians.  What Paul is affirming in this passage is that things work together for good for those who love God.  God is able to take the bad things which everyone faces at some time, and He weaves them into the total pattern of our lives so that good results. 


Second, Paul wants us to accept God’s definition of good.  The good is not necessarily the pleasant or desirable.  God’s good is to make us more like Jesus, conforming us to Christ’s image.  This is what’s truly good for each believer, and this is the good God promises to produce through everything we experience.  So, let’s not be terrified by tragedy or pain when they visit.  Let’s remain confident of God’s love, and let Him work His good in our lives.”


Numerous times I have faced situation which I would not have chosen for myself, nor was I particularly glad to go through those experiences.  However, looking back I can honestly say that I can see good which came as a result of each of those experiences.  Tough experiences result in stronger faith, and an enhanced ability to minister to others who go through similar experiences.  This is part of what it means to conform to the image of Christ, and that is good. 


Part of our maturing process as a Christian is to develop an attitude of understanding concerning suffering, and to express thanksgiving even for our sufferings.   Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NKJV).


How we react to the troubles we face can bring glory to the Lord who has suffered greatly for us.  And that is good!

Do You Know That You Know That You Know?

On Easter Sunday in 2009 Central Park welcomed our new Pastor, Bro. Jackie Kay.  In just a few weeks – on Easter Sunday – he will close out his nine years of ministry here, retiring and moving on to new adventures. 


The thing I remember most of that first Sunday with Bro. Jackie was not his sermon, or the great crowd that showed up.  What I remember, and what thrilled me most, was the public profession of faith by Katie Robertson.  “Miss” Katie was in her mid-80’s and had been a church member since childhood.  The week prior to that Easter service, Katie came by my office and she shared with me how that long ago she had responded to the altar call during a revival and was baptized.  She had been bothered often since then, not feeling any sense of certainty about her salvation.  A few weeks prior to our conversation she had attended a revival where Phil Waldrep was preaching, and he spoke on the issue that many church members have never truly accepted God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  They may have “walked the aisle” as an emotional response to the invitation, or for some other invalid reason.  As a result, they probably think they are a Christian, but may be deceived by a misunderstanding of what repentance and accepting Christ is all about.  This is what Katie discovered about herself. 


When Katie shared these doubts and concerns with me, I must admit that you have knocked me over with a feather.  She is such a sweet woman, and probably as good a person as any.  But, we know from reading God’s Word, being good is not a qualification for eternal life, for only One man was ever “good enough.”  That was Jesus!  After talking and weeping together, Katie and I prayed.  She confessed to the Lord that she had never asked His forgiveness for her sins, and that she wanted Jesus to be her Savior and Lord.  Afterwards, she and I wept again as she realized a tremendous relief from the burden she had carried for so long.  Needless to say, the waterworks returned that Easter morning as I related this story to the congregation.  I’m not ashamed to say that I often cry when I hear of or am part of someone’s salvation experience.


I have shared this story from almost nine years ago with this important question in mind.  Do you know with a certainty that when you die you will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven?  Too many people would say “I hope so” or “I guess I will.”  There is no need to be uncertain as the Bible tells us that we can know without any doubt.  John, the beloved disciple, wrote this to the church in his first epistle: “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John:5:13).


Friend, this is too important an issue to allow your pride to stand in the way.  If you have doubts, or if you cannot point to a very specific time that you repented (turn away from) your sins and asked Jesus to be your Savior, then please talk with someone.  If you know me, give me a call or come by.  If you don’t know me personally and you don’t know someone to talk to about this, e-mail your phone number to me at and I will be glad to call you and help you deal with this issue.  This is too important of a decision to put off till later!  

Just Because!

Just a brief thought today, but one I hope speaks to you!  Psalm 148:5 proclaims: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded and they were created.”


Have you ever wanted to praise God but just wasn’t sure what to praise Him for?  That doesn’t happen often, but if it does, remember Psalm 148:5.  If for no other reason, God is worthy of our praise because He is the Creator!  We all owe our very existence to Him.  And think for a moment about how intricately put together you are.  Admire your fingers, consider your nose, feel your hair, smell the spring flowers, enjoy the warm breeze of springtime, soak in the sun’s rays, hear the birds sing . . . I could go on and on and on!


Our Lord is such a wonderful Father who loves us as no earthly father can.  He made you for the purpose of becoming and being His friend.  What a tremendous blessing!  Don’t let a day go by that you don’t pause, at least for a moment, to say “Thank you, God!” 

In Search of Peace

One of the greatest desires of most any person is to have a sense of peace.  I say “most” because there are some folks, as witnessed by the mass murders that fill our news, who are so filled with hate and rage that all they seem to want is to destroy and create bedlam.  Perhaps even they are searching for peace in a warped sort of way.


Where can real peace be found?  Israel and their neighbors have fought for thousands of years and they still can’t find peace.  Other nations continue to rise against one another, rival factions within countries battle day after day, and in our country political parties, people with different ideologies, even kids on the playground can’t seem to get along.  Obviously, mankind does not possess within itself the qualities necessary to live in peace.


Peace with one another is a by-product of something significantly more important – peace with God.  Since the fall of man into what is referred to in theological circles as “moral depravity” there has been but one way for the human spirit to live in peace with God’s Spirit.  In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he speaks to this subject of peace:

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and prover character produces hope.  This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).


Clearly, the Word of God declares to us that peace with Him comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ – not religion, a relationship.  That relationship is the gift we receive when we have the faith to accept that gift as the only means of righting ourselves with God.  The greatest sense of peace imaginable is ours when we are in right relationship with God.


In these verses, Paul not only points to the peace which is ours through Jesus, he says that grace is ours as well.  Grace can be defined as “unmerited favor” or an unearned, undeserved gift.  The person who has received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life has a joy because of the hope we have in God’s precious promises.  It is a joy which can withstand all manner of afflictions, because the believer knows that our trials produce endurance, or in other words, the tough times help us to grow stronger in our faith and resist the temptation to give up on God.  Just as the body strengthens through exercise, exercising our faith results in stronger faith!


Paul also says here that our strengthened endurance then results in proven, or tested, character.  Character here means the moral “core” of a person which determines how that person responds to everything which happens around him.  The more we experience God through faith, the more our character grows in likeness to His.


Finally, Paul says that his proven character produces hope.  All of this growth in our endurance and character results in a complete and total trust in all of God’s promises, including eternal life with Him in heaven, and the abundant life Jesus speaks of in John 10:10.  His Holy Spirit, which indwells every true believer, acts like a conduit as God’s love flows into our lives to the point of overflowing to the lives of those around us.


Peace, hope, and love . . . sounds like everything we really need and want, and it all comes in one package – Jesus!





Who Are You Trying to Impress?



It’s an issue that most Christians have to deal with . . . “Am I more concerned about impressing people or God?”  You might think this particularly true of teenagers because they are very image conscious, but truth is adults are just as concerned about their image as the younger people.  Is my house impressive?  Does the car I drive reflect my personality or status?  Do my friends think I’m cool?  Do I possess just the right air of confidence so that my boss will take notice?


I think this is one reason why I love the Apostle Paul so much.  He really didn’t place a lot of stock in what others thought of him.  His main goal was to please God with his life.  And in particular, he loved to preach the good news of the gospel, regardless of what opposition he may incur.  He declared to the believers in Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).


Are you ashamed of the gospel?  It seems that many Christians try pretty hard to separate themselves from the gospel by the way they act.  “I hope they don’t find out I’m a Christian.  They will make fun of me or treat me differently.”  “They won’t think I’m cool if they find out I go to church.”  “If I take a stand for what is right I might not get promotion I really want.”  These are just a few of the ways we desire to camouflage our faith.


However, Paul continues in the next verse by saying, “the just shall live by faith” (v. 17).  To please God we have to live according to our faith, not by our fears.  The writer of the book of Hebrews states it clearly, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  Living a life of faith is a choice.  It doesn’t just happen.  It requires us to choose to seek a growing relationship with the Father who provides the strength we need when we face the giants in our lives.  Let’s make one thing clear . . . living a real Christian life isn’t for wimps!  It requires a strength that comes only through a sincere and complete trust in the Lord.


So the real question is, “Do you want to be a people pleaser, or do you want to please the One who created and saved you?”

Oh, I Feel So Dirty!

As great a man as King David was, he was also a sinful man.  He stood one night upon his roof and was probably casually glancing around him to take in the beautiful evening.  Suddenly, something caught his eye.  Did he see what he thought he saw?  He focused more intently and there before him was a lovely woman bathing in what she would have thought was a private moment.  David sent for the woman, Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and committed sexual assault.


Not only did he commit this sexual sin, he tried to cover it up eventually by having Uriah killed at the battle front.  One sin led to another.  David probably thought he had gotten away with it, but God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sin (II Samuel 11-12).  David knew he was guilty of a travesty and his heart was overwhelmed with guilt for his actions.  That is what happens when a person of faith sins.


Psalm 51 is David’s appeal to God for forgiveness of his sins.  He acknowledges that his sin is against God, and only God could remove the stain of his actions – “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v. 7b).  His plea to the Lord includes a great statement of desire for restoration which many today still pray to the Lord when they acknowledge their sin before Him:

            “Create in me a clean heart, O God.

            And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

            Do not cast me away from Your presence,

            And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.

            Restore to me the joy of Your Salvation.”  (vv. 10-12a)


Sin results in guilt, not because God likes making us feel dirty, but because His love compels Him to do that which will lead us to desire restoration in our relationship with Him.  Some psychology “experts” try to tell us that preaching about sin and it’s guilt is damaging to the psyche’ of a person.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Preaching about sin and guilt, and the grace which will cleanse that sin, is the best thing which can be done for the human psyche’ and spirit.  Many times I have called out to the Lord to cleanse my heart (my whole being) from the sin and guilt which burdened me.  The Lord’s promise is that He will create in us a new heart, that is, He will forgive us and rebuild our lives.


The second thing David cries out for in this passage is for God to “renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  This is simply David’s pleas for God to undergird his desire to do that which is right in God’s eyes.  David realized that even his spirit was willing to do right, his flesh was weak.  Ever been there?  Of course!  We all have!  The Christian life cannot be lived in our own strength.  We must have God’s power to overcome the world, and overcome we will when we look to God constantly and lean upon His power.


Finally, David asked God for the favor of restoring the joy he knew in his relationship with Him.  It’s important to note here that David did not lose his salvation (relationship with God), but he did lose the joy of that relationship.  The relationship may not be over, but there is certainly no joy in it when we sin.  The joy of our salvation is the sweet fellowship we experience with God.  Cleansing from our sin restores the fullness of that relationship, and joy fills our lives.


Do you have sin which you need to confess to the Father?  You can’t hope to win your way back into His good graces through any means other than confessing from a heart which broken for what you’ve done.  David knew that God wanted no burnt offering, no sacrifice, other than this:

            “The sacrifices of God are broken spirit,

            A broken and a contrite heart –

            These, O God, You will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:17)   

Who’s Your Daddy?



Ever wonder how someone who says they are a Christian can act so sinfully, or be so filled with anger and hatred toward others in the church?  That’s not a new problem.  Ever since the church was established there have been those who didn’t seem very “Christian.”  It’s a real possibility they weren’t Christians, but imposter who were deceived or sought to deceive.  Billy Graham made the statement several years ago that he felt that as many as 80% of church members in America are lost – without Christ!  No wonder there is such disharmony in so many churches today.  God’s Holy Spirit is our source of harmony and peace, but Satan sows a spirit of anger, jealousy, and pride.


How can we know the real thing from the imposter?  As always, we should look to the Scriptures for our answers.  I John 3:10 gives us a definitive answer . . . “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”


“Does not practice righteousness.”  What does that mean?  To practice righteousness basically means to make it a habit to live in obedience to God’s Word.  In Romans 6 Paul explains that God makes righteous living possible because of our union with Christ.  When we accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and accept His lordship over us, His righteousness becomes our own.  Paul tells us that “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).  Later in that chapter Paul say, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (v. 18).


Does this mean that once you come a Christian you will never sin?  Of course not.  If this were the case, we would all be miserable failures.  Even Paul spoke of struggles to not do what he knew not to do, and to do what he knew he ought to do.  After becoming a Christian, we all have to begin and continue a growth process through which our tendency to sin should diminish (yet will never be complete).  We are a new creation in Christ, and our desires will increasingly come under His control, and we will no longer “practice” or habitually engage in sinful actions.  The person who claims to be in Christ and yet gives no evidence of such control may indeed be a believer in name only.


Now briefly, let’s think about the second part of verse 10 in I John 3 . . . “nor is he who does not love his brother.”  Love is at the central core of what Christianity is about.  God sent His Son to die for sinful mankind because of His love for those He created.  John describes God in the simplest of terms when he declares, “God is love” (I John 4:16).  Then it should come as no surprise that one of the most important evidences of the true Christian life is love.  More specifically, John says the evidence lies in our love for our “brother.”  This refers to our fellow believers.  Therefore, he is telling us that how we love or don’t love those in the church indicates the sincerity of our profession in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.


How then should we respond to those in our churches who don’t demonstrate a very strong love for the brethren?  Should we confront them demanding that they turn in their “believer badge” and leave.  Now, that wouldn’t be very loving would it?

First, we should pray for those we are most concerned are members of the church, but not members of God’s forever family.  Most likely they truly believe they are a Christian.  They “walked the aisle” and were baptized, and they many not have missed Sunday School in 50 years!  Our prayer for them should be that the Holy Spirit would lift the veil of deception from their eyes so that they might see their need for Christ.


Second, love them and those around them with the hope that God might use your life as a means of setting an example and prompt them to consider what is different about your life from their own.  If a time comes when that person acts out toward you or around you in an attitude unbecoming a Christian, don’t respond in kind.


Third, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you an opening for sharing the truth of God’s Word in a loving and caring manner with the person in question.  This can be a rather delicate situation, but boldness coupled with God’s Spirit is a powerful tool.


Let’s all remember Jesus’ admonition, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  

God With Us!



One of the most important, and yet most misunderstood facts about Jesus Christ is that He is God and came to live as a man among the people of that specific time and place to do what only God could do for all mankind. 


Matthew 1:23 says, “They shall call his name Emmanuel.”  That name, Emmanuel, literally means “God with us.”  Yes, it can be difficult to understand how that babe which lay in the manger so long ago could have been fully God and fully man.  In fact, the only way for any of us to begin comprehending this crucial point is for God’s Spirit to reveal this truth in His way and in His time to each of us.  But this crucial point is exactly what God wants each of us to know and to trust!


The only way Christmas can make any real sense is to understand that God had a divine purpose in coming to this earth.  He had created mankind to live in a close relationship with Him.  Sin, though, totally disrupted that relationship and affects every person who has ever lived.  God’s sense of justice demanded that sin be punished, and His holiness requires that those guilty of sin could never enter into His perfect Heaven.  As much as man might try, we can never be “good enough” to earn our way into Heaven.  And so, we faced a terrible dilemma.


Not only is God just, He is also love – not just loving – He is love!  That love compelled Him to provide a way for the most important part of His creation, people, to experience complete forgiveness and restoration.  And that is why He came to be with us . . . to be Emmanuel.  He lived among us, without ever sinning, and gave Himself as the one and only sacrifice which satisfied His sense of justice, and proved His unfailing and eternal love.


Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, was born to die!  His death gives meaning to His birth, and His resurrection gives meaning to His death.  I pray that this Christmas finds you trusting Jesus, and Him alone, as your Savior . . . as I do.  I don’t say that with any sense of bragging on my part because I know that it is only because of His grace (unmerited favor) that I know Him as my Savior and my Lord.  I never did anything to deserve it.  I simply trusted and received God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  That grace is available for all!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King;

Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,

And heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n and nature sing,

And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

It’s All About the Gift!

At Christmas-time children of all ages enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts.  Some folks begrudge this activity thinking it takes away from the spiritual nature of Christmas.  The truth is, Christmas is all about giving . . . God giving His Son for the salvation of man (John 3:16).  Let me share with you this thought about The Gifts . . .


From the beginning of Christmas celebrations, gift giving has been a part of the season.  The Wise Men gave out of their treasures, and the shepherds gave of themselves.  Both expressed the Gift of God in giving Christ as the Savior of the world.


Unique in our history of generous givers is the story of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia in the fourth century A.D.  He is reputed to have been wealthy, his emblem being three purses and three golden balls.  This was the symbol of rich Italian families of his time.  The good Bishop gave his money away secretly to three dowry-less daughters.  The eldest two each received from the chimney, on successive nights, a substantial gift money purse which the generous Bishop had dropped down the chimney. 


Christians today exchange gifts and fill their children’s stockings (hung by the chimney) as expressions of love and in commemoration of the greatest gift ever given.  Let our hearts be filled with a spirit of generosity and love as we celebrate the birth of the King, and may it be through each of our lives that the Good News of this great event will assure that the Gift goes on!


Heavenly Father, as we observe and celebrate this Advent, give light to our eyes and peace to our hearts.  May the Lord find us watching and waiting in joy when He comes.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!


Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I have seen the traditional “Peanuts” cartoon “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!” many, many times.  One of my favorite parts of the cartoon deals with the scrawny tree Charlie Brown brings for the Christmas pageant.  It had only a few needles hanging precariously on the branches, and when he set it down those few remaining needles all fell to the stage.  Needless to say, the other characters were not too happy with Charlie’s selection.


The Christmas tree is a major part of our Christmas tradition.  Hear how the Christmas tree originated and what it means to our preparation for receiving the Christ child . . .


In our modern-day celebrations of Christmas, the Christmas tree is the center of the season’s festivities.  Glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas.  The Christmas tree originated in Germany during the 1500’s.  According to legend, Martin Luther wandered into a forest on Christmas Eve and was moved by the beauty of the star-filled sky and its effect upon the fir trees.  Wishing to share this loveliness with his family, Luther cut a tree, brought it indoors, and decorated it with candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen.  He compared the Christmas tree, with its top pointing to heaven, to hands folded in prayer, pointing to the throne of grace from which we received our Savior.


Is your life brightly reflecting the Light of Heaven, Jesus Christ?  Does it point others to the throne of grace?  Oh, what a wonderful gift we would give to others if we were to witness to the ever-present light we possess because we know Jesus as Lord and Savior!  If you were to help guide another to faith in Christ, your Christmas would have new meaning, and an even greater joy and celebration.

There’s a Lot of Green Stuff at Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song goes, and indeed it is a blessed and glorious time of year.  We celebrate the most precious gift ever given, God’s Son!  During the Christmas season people go out and spends millions, perhaps billions of dollars, trying to get that perfect gift for their spouse, child, parent, friend, or others.  Yet, the greatest gift that can be given doesn’t cost us anything, but it cost God everything! 


With today’s post I am continuing with a series of brief articles about the various elements usually involved in our preparation for the season, or Advent as it is called.  Our first post explained what the season of Advent is about.  The second dealt with the Advent Wreath and candles.  Today, let’s focus our thoughts for a moment on the Evergreens.  I continue to draw from readings I wrote a few years ago for a “Hanging of the Green” service at our church.


Perhaps the most striking and universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in our churches and homes.  Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory.  The early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home.  Laurel and Ivy, along with pine and fir, are called evergreens because they never change color.  They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the depths of winter.  They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life which is ours through Jesus Christ. 


In Isaiah 60:13 we find these words: “The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of Your sanctuary.”  As part of Advent, our preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth, we beautify our churches and our homes, and celebrate His everlasting glory!

Looking Toward Christmas!

This post marks the second in a series of thoughts concerning Advent, or the season of preparation for the celebration of Christmas.  Does Christmas hold any real meaning for you?  If not, perhaps it’s because you aren’t preparing for it in the right way.  Christmas isn’t just about our giving and receiving gifts, it is about the greatest gift ever given, the Son of God!


The following shares with you the purpose of the Advent Wreath and Candles which are often seen in churches and even in many homes . . .


Of the many symbols we use during the Advent season to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth, the wreath and candles stand at the forefront.  The circle of the wreath is endless, with no beginning and no end, like God Himself. The evergreen also reminds us of God’s eternal nature, and of His everlasting love for us.  It also testifies of the life without end which God promises to us with the coming of the Christ.  The Advent Wreath is a symbol of hope – hope for salvation, hope for a redeemer, hope for eternal life, and hope of God’s everlasting love for us.


Four candles light the wreath, representing the four Sundays of waiting.  Each week of Advent one of the candles is lit in expectation of God’s Messiah.  Three candle are purple, symbolizing the royal line from King David to the Messiah, who comes as the King of kings and Prince of Peace.  The pink candle is to be lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and it represents joy.  These four candles encircle the Christ candle, which is pure white.  The candles are lit in a progression symbolizing various aspects of our waiting experience – Prophecy, Preparation, Proclamation, and Rejoicing.  The culmination of the season comes as we light the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, declaring to all mankind that Jesus, God’s Son, is the Light of the World!


Have you experienced the light of knowing Jesus, God’s Son, as your personal Lord and Savior?  My prayer for you is that if you have never received God’s precious gift of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus, that you might make that decision right now to ask Jesus to come into your life so that you might experience the true joy of Christmas!  And if you do know Jesus as Savior, that you might experience a new sense of joy of your salvation, and would commit yourself to life for Him each day as He has called you to do in His Word, the Bible.  Don’t have yourself a merry little Christmas, but have yourself a life-changing, soul-stirring, honking big Christmas this year!

What is Advent?

Each year many church congregations around the world prepare themselves for the celebration of Christmas by observing the season of Advent.  It is a common thing for some of those churches to have what is called the “Hanging of the Green”, a special service of decorating the Sanctuary while singing Christmas hymns, hearing various ensembles of all ages sing, and hearing readings which explain the elements of the Christmas celebration.  This, and my next few posts (two each week) will be excerpts from a series of readings I wrote for our congregation just a few years ago.


The first reading deals with the question, “What is Advent?


The word “Advent” is a Latin term which means “the coming.”  Thus, this Holy Season of Advent is a time when we remember the words of the prophets foretelling of the Christ and we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We celebrate these days of Advent in celebration of His birth and in expectation of His return, at which time He will establish His kingdom on this earth.


Through the centuries, Christians have observed a time of waiting and expectation before celebrating the birth of the Savior at Christmas.  The Advent season is a time for reflection and preparation, but its mood is joyful.  Advent has been enriched by Christian tradition to reflect its distinctive Christian meaning.  It proclaims the revelation of God’s love as expressed in Christ’s birth in a humble stable, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection!  It points to the hope of Christ’s coming again as the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Advent makes innkeepers out of all of us, asking each of us to make room for the arrival of Christ the King.  Let us today prepare room in our hearts, our lives, and our homes for the Lord Jesus!

Do You Look Like Your Father?



This week, as we continue thinking about the five purposes for which God created us, let’s briefly examine the third purpose . . . you were created to become like Christ.  Romans 8:29 as expressed in “The Message,” a paraphrase of the Scriptures, gives us the biblical basis for this purpose:

“God knew what He was doing from the very beginning.  He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son . . . We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him.”


The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created mankind in His image (v.26) which means we are spiritual beings like Him, and we were given the ability to reason, relate, and make moral judgements in a manner like Him.  Unfortunately, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they marred that image created in mankind.  That is why we all have the nature and inclination to sin, and why we need the Savior . . . Jesus Christ.


An important fact is this:  we were not created to become gods, we were created to become godly.  There is a big difference in the two.  We cannot become a god like our Heavenly Father.  He is truly holy which means He is totally unique, unlike any other.  We are to become godly, however, and that means to take on the values, attitudes, and character of God.  Unlike what some Christians think, it isn’t God’s intention to make your life comfortable.  Instead, His desire is to develop your character.  Rick Warren makes a great while discussing this fact – “Every time you forget that character is one of God’s purposes for your life, you will become frustrated by your circumstances.”


Why doesn’t God simply give us heaven on earth?  It’s because we would never grow in our faith and in our character if life never had any troubles.  The very reason God allows difficulties to come our way is that they enable us to grow and be better prepared for heaven.  When a Christian faces life’s difficulties, we should do so with thanksgiving, knowing that our trials build our character.  There have been a number of things which have happened in my life that I can’t really say I want to occur again – I’ve have deep sorrows, experienced life threatening injuries, and been hurt by the people I loved, but at the same time I cannot say I regret any of these things because I know they have resulted in my becoming a stronger, more committed follower of Christ.  They have also helped me to be a better minister to others.  Paul understood this truth when he proclaimed, “I now rejoice in my suffering for You (Christ)” (Colossians 1:24, NKJV).


The key to Christlikeness is to have Christ living at the very center of your life.  We cannot successfully “act” like Christ.  We will always fail in our imitation.  To be more like Christ you must choose to allow Jesus to control your life . . . to live in and through you.  This isn’t something you will ever do perfectly, and it take a lifetime for our character to develop.  This process is called discipleship.  Discipleship is a choice, a commitment to do whatever God requires of you, to go wherever He leads you to go, and to think in a way consistent with the way He thinks.  Realize, though, that this commitment, no matter how strong-willed you may be, is never going to be strong enough on its own.  You need help, and help comes in the form of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.  God recognizes that we are weak, and He delights in showing His own strength when we acknowledge our own weakness.   In II Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul spoke of a “thorn in his flesh.”  We don’t know what that thorn was, but it was something that He pleaded with God to remove from his life.  God declined.  Instead, God chose to demonstrate His own power through Paul’s weakness.  Paul tells us that God’s reply to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v.9).  Paul was later able to say that because God received glory from overcoming his weakness, he was glad to be weak, glad to be sick, persecuted, and distressed.  Why?  “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v.10). 


Let God transform your life and begin the process of growing you in the likeness of Christ.  It will make sense of the troubles you experience, and it will prepare you for the eternal life which follows this very short time we spend in this life.   

It’s a Family Affair



Christians often describe themselves as being a part of “God’s forever family.”  That is an accurate statement.  Last week I began a series of blog sessions about the purposes for which God created us, and this week we will see the second purpose: “You were formed for God’s family.


As Rick Warren states in this book The Purpose Driven Life, “because God is love, He treasures relationships.”  Sharing in relationships with others is a natural thing for us as humans.  The reason this is so is that God is relational and created us so that we could be in relationship with Him.  As we stated last week, we were created for God’s pleasure, and One of His greatest pleasures is for us to know Him as our loving, heavenly Father . . . “It was a happy day for Him when He gave us our new lives, through the truth of His Word, and we became, as it were, the first children in His new family” (James 1:18, Living Bible).


It is important to note here that everyone is invited to become one of His children, but there is but one way to do that . . . through Jesus Christ.  Galatians 3:26 expresses this truth when it says, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus”  (NLT). 


A moment ago I stated that God is love.  That means that everything about Him, everything He does, must be seen from the context of His love.  It also means that loves is to be the basic characteristic of His children, for we are expected by God to seek to grow in our likeness of Him.  In order to express, that love we must be in relationship with others.  Our first responsibility is to seek to grow in our relationship with the Lord (that is called worship – our first purpose), and the second is to develop a loving relationship with other believers (this is often called fellowship).  And the main place to do that is in the church (which is the family of God).


Now, there is the church in general (sometimes referred to as the “Universal Church” or all Christians regardless of denomination) and there are smaller groupings or communities of God’s family (the local church).  God intends for you and I to not just believe, but to belong.  Our faith is to be a shared experience with other believers.  That’s why it is so important for every believer to belong to a local church and to be active in worship, Bible study, and ministry.  God never intended for any of us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians, people who seek to be aloof and disengaged from the church body.  To do so is to miss the second purpose of your life.


As a minister, I know and proclaim the importance of every Christian being involved in a local church.  It isn’t a matter of getting them in the door to count noses and dollars.  As followers of Christ we are commanded to be active and contributing parts of His body, the Church.  To fail to do this is to be in direct disobedience of His will and Word.  “You belong in God’s household with every other Christian” (Ephesians 2:19b, The Message).  To be disobedient is to throw away the blessings our Lord wants to bless you with, but cannot, because He will not reward disobedience.  He wants to bless you through the church, and He wants you to become a blessing to others in the church.


Here is a crucial point that all of us must fully understand.  The local church you attend is not your church, and it is not my church – it is Jesus Christ’s church!  Please don’t fall into the trap of expecting and demanding that the church cater to your desires.  That is not what the church is about.  The church, the body of Christ, is to be about serving the Lord by meeting the needs of unbelievers through proclaiming the Gospel, expressing the love of God by acts of kindness and charity in the community, and loving one another in the church in such a way as to attract lost people.


One last thing.  It is common for people to attend a local church for long periods of time, yet never join.  That is sort of like a man and woman living together but never marrying.  There is a basic lack of commitment!  To simply attend is to be a consumer, but not a full contributor.  Most churches will not allow you to serve in many ways unless you take the basic step of joining the membership.  It isn’t very likely that you could attend a lodge’s meetings without joining, so why should we expect any less of a commitment in a church?  God expects a commitment to Him and to His church . . . “First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God’s will, they gave themselves to us as well” (II Corinthians 8:5, TEV).


I encourage you to be a real “family man” or “family woman!”  Become a part of God’s forever family, and serve Him through a local church body.