Yearning

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God
.  – Psalm 84:1-2

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
– Psalm 84:10-12

Recently I was listening to a podcast where a missionary from the jungles of Peru shared a story about a villager who travelled all by himself to a local Bible convention. The man’s village was three miles away along the river! The missionary was amazed that the man would travel such a distance on the river, all by himself. The man said, “with every stroke of the oar, I said to myself, I’m going to be with the brothers, I’m going to be with the brothers, we are going to meet with God together and break bread.” The man had a yearning to be with his brothers in Christ. A dangerous three-day trip along the rivers in Peru was not going to stop him from meeting with his brothers in Christ.

Isn’t that an amazing testimony of someone who can’t wait to meet with the people of God? It pretty much makes me feel bad for those moments when I lay in bed and wonder about the short drive I have to church. Life gets busy and especially with summer time approaching our calendars can be filled with many exciting things. But there is something that our calendars should never be too busy for, and that is being in the presence of the living God.

The writer of Psalm 84 cannot get enough time with God; his soul yearns to be in the presence of God. He can’t get enough time with God; there is no place he would rather be. He would rather be a lowly doorkeeper in the Temple, than to dwell in the great tents of the wicked. Church is a place where we gather in God’s presence. We meet together and encourage one another to be stronger in the Lord. When we are not in the presence of the Lord, life can become draining and dreadful. My prayer is that we as a church yearn for meeting together much like the villager in Peru. That our cry would be, “I’m going to meet with my brothers and sisters and worship the living God!”

City on a Hill

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

My route to church causes me to drive west on Ebenezer Road and come up from behind the building. If you have ever taken this route you notice our building sitting up high on the hill, similar to a Medieval Castle in a movie. It makes me realize how visible the building is to the neighbors around us. What do they know about Faith Fellowship Church? What do they know about God and His Son Jesus Christ? This past weekend we had our annual Flea Market, which brings many from the neighborhood and surrounding community to our parking lot. Maybe, many of these people had driven by our building on numerous occasions. At the Flea Market, hopefully they had a good interaction with people from Faith. Hopefully they saw the love of Christ shine through all the volunteers.

Jesus in this passage from Matthew uses these same pictures to describe believers. They are to be a city on a hill and a light that shines in the darkness. Why would anyone light a lamp and then cover up the lamp? The lamp is to give its light within the darkness and it make it easier to see. Believers are to be visible in the world around them; they should not be in hiding. My prayer is that the light of Christ shined bright through the Flea Market and that people left with a picture of who God is. I know not everyone is like this but I find myself always aware that I am representing Christ wherever I go. Now that does not mean I always act rightly but I am often able to catch myself quickly when my light is not shining its brightest. I want to be someone whose light shines bright for Christ. Paul instructs the Corinthians to follow his examples as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:10) and then Peter gives believers the instructions to always be ready to share with someone the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). When we follow the example of Christ and share our hope, our lights shine bright and we are a city on a hill for all to see. This is what moves people from driving past the building to wondering what is going on inside those walls and how they can find that light. We come to worship within the walls, but we leave to minister outside these walls.

Truth

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. – 2 John 6-7

In the movie “A Few Good Men” Tom Cruise delivers one of the most famous movie lines of all time: “I want the truth!” Jack Nicholson’s character responds with another great line, saying, “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth Tom Cruise’s character wanted was in relation to a crime that had been committed by Marines on the Naval Base in Cuba. Truth is something everybody wants to have; everybody wants to know what is true or right about life and its choices. But where is truth found? Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Truth was standing right in front of him.

We live in a society that says truth is whatever a person wants it to be. However, if truth is whatever someone wants it to be, is that really truth? This is what turns society into what we have today, no real foundation, an anything goes culture. As believers in Christ we are swimming upstream against a society and culture that cannot accept only one foundation of truth. Truth is God. Truth is found in His Word and in Jesus Christ. If this is not the foundation we build on, then we find truth in the wrong source. One big problem develops when churches start to compromise on God’s Word. People can now find a church that will teach whatever they want to hear. But are they really hearing the truth? Truth won’t always be popular, but God calls us to proclaim His Word and His truth.

The Apostle John in 2nd John writes to warn the believers about deceivers that have gone out and taught a message of truth built on a different foundation. He encourages them to stay in the Word, which will keep them properly aligned with the truth. As a church we have committed to preaching book by book through the Bible over the next 2 years in order to give us a foundation in God’s Word. We have also committed as a body to read God’s Word through at least twice over that time. We need to know what God’s Word says. The Bible says that the times are only going to get worse and we need the strong foundation of the truth found in Scripture and in God. Are we willing to stand for truth in the love of Christ?

The Power of the Gospel

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
– Philippians 1:12-14

This Sunday during the New Members Class we share our testimonies of salvation and how God continues to work in our lives. We always think of our testimonies as our stories but really it is God’s great story of sending His Son to sacrifice Himself on the cross and then to rise from the dead. There is power in the Gospel! The message of Christ changes lives! The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it knows no boundaries. It does not matter the life situation, the background, or even the eloquence of the speaker; God’s Spirit can break down any wall and lives will be changed.

One great example is Paul, who was a murderer of Christians. While Paul was on his way to persecute Christians he met Jesus and Paul’s life was changed. Paul wrote many of the books within the New Testament, and one of those books is Philippians. In Philippians Paul talks about this great power of the Gospel. In Chapter 1 of Philippians Paul mentions two examples of the Power of the Gospel. The first is Paul’s situation of being in jail. Jail is often a broken place full of hopelessness, especially during Paul’s time. Yet the Gospel breaks through the situation, and Paul makes it known that throughout the whole imperial guard the Gospel has gone out. The second situation is the speakers themselves. Paul says that some are not preaching with the right motives, yet Paul says, “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” The Power of the Gospel breaks through any situation, the darkness of prison or the poor motives of the speaker.

The Gospel brings eternal life and it knows no boundaries; no matter the situation, the truth of the Gospel does not stop. This gives us strength to speak Jesus Christ to those God brings into our lives. People need to know the Gospel, people need to meet Christ. That is why we serve, go on Mission Trips, go to Breaking Bread, and much more. Paul in Romans says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Who do you know that needs to hear the Gospel? By that I don’t mean just invite them to Church, but God wants you to share. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Speak truth and watch God break down the walls.

Tabernacle

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 25:8-9

If you are up-to-date on the Bible Reading Challenge, you have just finished up a rather large section in Exodus. Starting in chapter twenty-five God speaks His instructions for the place of worship for the Israelites, the tabernacle. He describes the Ark, table, lamp stand, the outer curtains, the altar, the courtyard, the basin, inner curtain, the holy of holies, and much more. It can seem very tedious as you read through it all, but I encourage you to take note of all that God is describing to the people.

The Nation of Israel will now have a place to worship and make their sacrifices to the Lord. This is also the place where God will dwell with His people. God would show Himself as a cloud over the tabernacle. This was a sign to the people that God was with them. They could look toward the tabernacle and find strength in the Lord. The tabernacle was built to move from place to place as Israel wandered through the wilderness. It wouldn’t be until the time of Solomon that God would have the people build a permanent building for worship. In Jerusalem they would build the temple, which would become God’s dwelling place among the people again.

Within the tabernacle, and the eventual temple as well, there was the holy of holies, or the most holy place. This place was where God dwelled. Only once a year a priest would enter the holy of holies and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. This place was separated by a great curtain. If you remember, during the death of Jesus on the cross, Scripture mentions that this curtain was torn in two. God wouldn’t be kept just inside the holy of holies; His Spirit was now going to be inside His people. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The barrier (curtain) that was between God and man has been removed; we have His Spirit inside us and we can boldly approach Him. We don’t need a priest to go before God for us. We have His Spirit and we can bring our requests and cares before our loving God who dwells among us and in us. As the Israelites found strength in seeing the cloud above the tabernacle, we find strength and encouragement in knowing that we have God’s Spirit living within us.

Tower of Babel

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. – Acts 2:5-6

In Genesis 11 there is an odd story that at first might seem out of place, considering the other stories around it. This event takes place many years after the flood, since the earth has been repopulated. However, the people again have turned their backs on God. This is a theme presented throughout Genesis and the Bible: man’s failure. In this account, mankind has not spread out over the earth as God wanted. They have settled in an area and decided to make a great name for themselves (not God). They are going to build a great city and a great tower that reaches to the heavens. This city would become Babylon, a city which causes great problems for God’s people.

God is not pleased with the building of this city and tower, so He comes down and confuses their languages. Now they are unable to communicate with each other, and their projects fail. The earth now has different languages and the people gather with those who speak a similar language to theirs. The world becomes divided by nations and languages.

However, just as the theme of man’s failure runs through Scripture, so does the theme of God’s redemption. In Acts chapter 2 the nations and languages are gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. The Disciples are gathered and the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they begin speaking in other languages as the Spirit enables them. The Disciples begin to preach the Gospel – the Good News about Jesus Christ – to all nations, and thousands are saved. The message of the cross is unifying the division that goes back to Genesis 11. Revelation 7 looks toward the future and describes every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before Christ and worshipping Him. What an amazing story of redemption this is!

An Awakening

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. – Judges 1:18-19

This semester, as I’m sure I have already mentioned, I am studying church history. It has been amazing to see how the church has spread out from its small beginnings in Jerusalem. The church has seen many struggles over the centuries but also has had many great moments. This semester I have a task of writing about one of the great revival moments in the church: the Great Awakening in the American Colonies.

We all know the story of the Pilgrims and other groups coming to America for religious freedom. However, as time passed people grew away from the Christian faith that had been so strong earlier. There are even estimates that during this time only a fifth of those in Massachusetts professed to be Christians. Church attendance was falling and people cared less about living a transformed live for Christ.

It was during this time that people like T.J. Frelinghuysen, Gilbert Tennent, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards began their public preaching ministries. These preachers had a passion for teaching God’s Word and seeing people change their lives in Christ. During the Awakening, thousands upon thousands came to an understanding of their sin and their need for Jesus. This event had a great impact on America. It is thought that America’s deep-rooted Christianity developed out of this Great Awakening.

It was interesting as I was reading about the spiritual condition of the American Colonies and I couldn’t help thinking that many would describe today’s America in the same way. We certainly can see people turning away from Biblical truth. Another aspect of that time was that even the people that went to church really didn’t care about living a life honoring to God. Church was just a show for them.

Israel faced the same ups and downs throughout the book of Judges. Israel would mess up and cry out to God for help and God would send a Judge to save them. The church and Israel, although different, often needed an awakening from God. God wants to use us for that awakening. All the preachers from the Great Awakening didn’t set out to start the awakening, instead they just did what they knew God would want them to do, and then that grew into something great. Do we need an awakening in our lives, our churches? How does God want to use us?

The Second Coming

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming
at an hour you do not expect.”
– Luke 12:40

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Toward the end of November and the beginning of December the debate begins about the proper time for setting up Christmas decorations. There are some who think it is right to wait until after Thanksgiving, while others will say you have to wait until December. Then you have those on the extreme side of the debate who think once November comes then it is time to start decorating. Or there is always that one family that leaves their lights on all year long (full disclosure, we were that family one year). There is one thing all these people have: anticipation about the Christmas season. They are all looking forward to it; some just get ready sooner.

As believers we can find joy in the first coming of Jesus, when He came as a baby to live a life we couldn’t and free us from our bondage of sin. However, we are also called to be anticipating the Second Coming of Christ. When this is going to happen is unknown to us. But we are called to live our lives in a way that expects Jesus to come at any moment. As believers we can anticipate this coming similarly to how we get ready for Christmas. There can be some believers who always seem ready; they always have their lights on. The Second Coming is always on their minds. Or you have others that only think about Jesus coming again when things are terrible around the world, or when they hear a message about His coming again. Then lastly, there are believers that don’t give much thought at all to the Second Coming.

Scripture tells us to always be ready because it could happen at any moment. What does this mean? Do we walk around always looking to the sky? We are to live our lives in a way that matters for an eternal purpose. How would our priorities change if we always kept the Second Coming in the front of our minds? Would we act differently? Would we treat people differently? Would we spend our time differently? Our task is to live for God and remember what matters, making disciples and spreading the Gospel. Enjoy the life we have but remember that there is something even greater that is to come, and it is that life that we prepare for even now.

For Such a Time as This

“…And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom
for such a time as this?”
– Esther 4:14

The Book of Esther is filled with evidence of God’s sovereignty over everything. What that means is, God is in control over the things that happen. The interesting thing to make note of, is that the name of God is never mentioned in this book. His imprint and direction, however, are all over it.

The book takes place in the Persian Empire where some Israelites stayed even after the exile was over. In Chapter one, King Xerxes is throwing a party and asks the Queen to join him. She refuses, which displeases the King and he removes her as Queen. The King now needs a new Queen and he participates in the very first season of the Bachelor, Its true! Women are gathered from around the kingdom, but there is one who stands out among all the others: Esther. The King is pleased with Esther and makes her his new Queen.

Over the course of the book, the King is tricked into issuing a decree to kill all the Jews. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, gets word of this decree and brings it to the attention of Esther, hoping that she can get the king’s attention and reverse the decree. It is during this discussion that Mordecai delivers his famous line, “…for such a time as this…” What he means is that this is the very reason she, a Jew, has been named Queen. God has placed her in this time and place to save her people. To make a long story short, she does speak with the King and the Jews are allowed to defend themselves and they are not destroyed. I encourage you to read the whole story this week.

Esther was in the right place at the right moment. God in His sovereignty had placed Esther as the Queen of a foreign nation. There are some amazing “just so happened” moments in this book, but what those moments really are is God’s control in action.  God in the same way has guided our lives and placed us in situations and areas where He wants us to be. The job you have, God has placed you in the lives of those co-workers. The neighborhood you live in, God has place you in the lives of the neighbors around you. Faith, God has placed you at Faith Fellowship to be useful to Him in ministry. When we start to look at our lives in this context we realize that God has a purpose for us. We want to see God work; well, He wants to use us in the places He has placed us. For me personally, I am a basketball coach. I know God has placed me with these teams for a deeper purpose than just basketball. I’m a bus driver for KidZone, and I know God has placed me there for a deeper purpose than just driving kids to and from school.

Do we see the deeper purpose in where God has placed us? For such a time as this God has placed us by His design and for His purpose.

October 31, 1517

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
– Romans 3:28

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed….” Martin Luther 95 Theses Introduction

On Tuesday October 31st children will walk their neighborhoods and ask for free candy. However, within the Christian faith, October 31, 1517 plays a significant role in shaping the church life that we know today. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Luther in his studies realized that many of the teachings of the Catholic Church were not supported in Scripture.

Luther took issue with the selling of indulgences. Indulgences were basically fundraisers for the Catholic Church; in one case it was raising money to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Raising money for such a large project certainly sounds reasonable, until you realize that by giving money people believed they were basically buying remission of the punishment of sin! There is even more involved in this practice, but Luther looked at this practice and knew that this is not what Scripture taught. Luther also took issue with the Pope forgiving sins (only God forgives), purgatory, and the use of sacraments (prayers, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage) as ways of forgiving sins as well. The traditions of the Catholic Church had taken on the same weight as the truth of Scripture.

Luther said that Scripture should be the only place where the church should find the basis for its practices. Luther also reintroduced the fact that salvation comes by faith alone, not by the works or sacraments that one performs. It is these two points that would begin to reform the church: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and Sola fida (faith alone). As you can imagine life after October 31st got rough for Luther; he faced much backlash and was even called a heretic. But he knew he had truth on his side and this moment began the period of the Protestant Reformation separating from the Catholic Church.

We gather on Sundays in part because of what Luther stood for on that day. Faith Fellowship Church stands on the two principles of salvation by faith and Scripture being the only source for practices within the church. I’d encourage you over the next week to look into Martin Luther’s actions 500 years ago and be encouraged by his seeking of truth. We realize that it doesn’t matter what your background is in the faith, all need to hear about the free gift of salvation that is offered to all through faith.