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January 2, 2016, 10:19 AM

Walking in the New Year


Resolutions, commitments or promises to self.  Whatever you call them, many of us (in spite of years of breaking them) still seek to make productive changes as a new year begins.  Most of us have an internal desire to continue to improve, and the beginning of a new season seems a good opportunity to make necessary adjustments in our behavior.  Sometimes those adjustments are simply an attempt to return to sound principles we all know and recognize – such as getting a full night’s sleep as often as possible, engaging in physical activity of some sort each day and eating a balanced, nutritional diet to provide optimum health.  As spiritual people, we often seek to recommit to or sometimes begin new activities designed to draw us closer to God and to Jesus our Savior.

The year 2016 – like every year – is pivotal to each one of us.  That is because we have the opportunity to either draw closer to God in our spiritual lives and allow Him greater direction in our behavior and conduct daily, or we can choose to relegate Him to a small portion of our attention and limit His influence by allowing conscious spiritual attention to make up only a small percentage of our time. 

Early in December I was reading in the book of Acts where Paul made his final trip to Jerusalem.  He traveled through Greece and Macedonia and ultimately went to Ephesus where Paul met with the elders of the church there.  Paul spoke to them and said, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).

We think of changes we need to make in our lives.  Yet Paul, after coming to know Jesus as Savior, had been so totally committed to absolute obedience to God’s plan for him that he could say, “I’m not making any changes.  I’m continuing to do what I have done for years in serving Jesus, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

Do you know what course and ministry God has given you?  God has called every believer in Jesus (not just apostles like Paul or vocational ministers like pastors and missionaries) to take on His course and fulfill the ministry He has given them.  The course and ministry every Christian is given is to live by the commandment to love God totally and others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28) and to help fulfill the Great Commission which we know best as it’s expressed in Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

But what is that to look like in your life and mine?  Am I showing my complete love for God and love for others as He desires to be expressed?  How exactly am I working at fulfilling the Great Commission?  I say I am making disciples, but am I really?  Are you?  What does that look like?  What are we together doing to draw people to Jesus that do not know Him?  These are critical questions at every time.  They are perhaps more important questions to ask now, at the beginning of a new year when we are more open to self-evaluation than at other times. 

I want to be a more consistent disciple now, at this stage of my life, than ever before.  I challenge you to take up that desire for you as well.  Together, we can move forward in our personal relationship to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to a greater level than we did in 2015.  And we can see the Lord’s blessing on us as a church as we become more focused in His course and ministry as a body of believers. 




January 1, 2016, 9:45 AM

Daily Bible Reading

Happy New Year! What a great time to refresh yourself with a renewed commitment to draw closer to God through the regular reading of His word, the Holy Bible. So many tools are available. In our mobile world you can download free electronic Bibles and Bible reading plans. Just pick one and begin today.

While I cannot reproduce the devotional text in a blog post, the Scripture reading suggestions from the devotional Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan by John D. Barry and Rebecca Kruyswijk can be listed. If you read these each day (about 20-30 minutes, you will read the entire Bible in one year.

January 1 - Genesis 1-2; Matthew 1-2; Ecclesiastes 1:1-5
January 2 - Genesis 3–4; Matthew 3–4; Ecclesiastes 1:6–11
January 3 - Genesis 5; Matthew 5; Ecclesiastes 1:12–18
January 4 - Genesis 6–7; Matthew 6–7:11; Ecclesiastes 2:1–11
January 5 - Genesis 8–9; Matthew 7:12–8:34; Ecclesiastes 2:12–17
January 6 - Genesis 10–11; Matthew 9; Ecclesiastes 2:18–26
January 7 - Genesis 12–13, Matthew 10, Ecclesiastes 3:1–8

A great way to read these passages electronically and even purchase the devotional book (which may even be free for a short time) is with the FaithLife Study Bible http://Bible.faithlife.com/books/esv/Ge1.1.   You can download the free app, read it online from your computer or check out their Facebook page for more information.

No matter what method you use, reading the Bible just 30 minutes each day is the absolute best investment you can make in 2016! Praying for you - Pastor Robert Warmath

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December 2, 2015, 2:22 PM

The Impact of Worship

Over the past several weeks we have been in a great study on worship as we have been in a series I entitled Embracing the Presence.  God laid this series on my heart months ago by impressing on me the title.  At the time, we had been talking about prayer and learning to pray more faithfully and effectively.  We all know that prayer is the amazing privilege we have to enter God’s presence directly, knowing He welcomes us and desires to fellowship with us.  Hebrews 4:16 teaches us by saying, Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  We can come confidently to God because of all Jesus has done for us.

While we are able to enter God’s presence in prayer, we also have the ability to embrace Him through the experiences we call worship – both privately and as we gather with one another on Sundays.  As I write this, we have just looked the previous Sunday at some of the ways we are able to worship the Lord.  We are always to worship Him with trust, reverence and awe.  The Father alone is magnificent, powerful, glorious and merciful.  We must guard our approach to worship by making certain we don’t fall into meaningless and mechanical repetition of going through set activities week to week and think we have genuinely worshiped.  Worship entails total obedience, not merely correct religious observances.  Part of our obedience is to be working with the Holy Spirit as He seeks to make the nature and character of Jesus more evident in us as God’s spiritual children. 

God’s desire is expressed beautifully in 1 Peter 2:4-10.  There we read, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it stands in Scripture:  ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’  They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 

We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving and are emphasizing the Christmas season, seeking to retain the emphasis of Jesus in spite of the pressures of society to focus on family and gift giving as the sole reason for the holiday.  As we enter the season, let’s seek to maintain an attitude of worship and reverence in all we do.  At the same time, let’s be more alert than ever before for the opportunities to share with those around us why we love to celebrate Jesus’ birth more than simply participate in the traditions of our culture.  Let’s worship Christ in a new and special way this year!  Focus on the love of Christ, and have a blessed season!

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August 31, 2015, 4:23 PM

Genuine Forgiveness

“Forgive and Forget.”  “Things happen – just forget it and move on.”  We have all heard adages and other comments about the need to forgive those who hurt you and to move forward with your life.  Even the Mayo Clinic as well as other medical sources stress the importance of forgiveness being embraced by the hurt party.  On their website they state, “Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another.  Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project or your partner had an affair.  These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance.  But if you don't practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly.  By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.  Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.”

From a spiritual standpoint, it is even more critical to forgive genuinely.  Jesus stated, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).  It definitely sounds as through forgiveness is critical to Jesus and to our heavenly Father as well. 

The reality of sin is something we all experience – both as perpetrators and as recipients of sinful actions.  When we are hurt, we must be the forgiving party.  When we are the offender, we must be willing to seek out those we hurt and seek to make amends.  But what about extremely vicious and especially hurtful actions?  What about the spouse that is unfaithful.  Must forgiveness be offered even then?  This is a question many in our society at large are struggling with at present.  Recently, a hacker group called Impact Team admitted to hacking the user database of two online websites promising to arrange sexual affairs:  Ashley Madison and Established Men.  They threatened the owners of the site to release the stolen data unless these sites were permanently taken down.  Now, lists of names have been posted on what is known as the Dark Net, along with other data – email addresses, credit card data and other identifying information.  Rumors have been flying of individuals who have been fired from jobs and even some committing suicide as their names have been listed. 

I had never even heard of Ashley Madison until news of the hack was released.  Last week, I read a blog by Thom Rainer, President and C.E.O. of LifeWay Christian Resources, stating that as the list has been released, “pastors and other church leaders received word that some of their own members were on the list.  Some of the names included elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, and laypersons in the church.”  He went on in his blog to suggest important things we as Christians need to remember in working with people who are listed in this fashion.  I highly recommend his blog. 

As we consider dealing with seeking to forgive in general, I would like to emphasize two of Dr. Rainer’s points, as they apply to forgiveness of any and all sin.  The first is that we must exercise grace.  You have heard it emphasized many times before that we need to remember the immeasurable amount of grace that God has given us personally.  The hurts and offenses we have suffered cannot begin to compare with the amount of hurt and offense we have individually caused God to experience by our sin. 

The second point I wish to echo is consistently true in dealing with those who have hurt you.  It is the reminder that the goal in our experiencing and offering forgiveness must always be to restore the one in sin.  If our goal is to repay the offender, we have not begun to approach forgiveness.  Remember Jesus’ words quoted above?  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).  Our forgiveness from God is somehow contingent upon our willingness to forgive others.  But that is not to be our motivation to forgive.  Jesus’ made this statement right after providing His followers a model for how to pray.  That example of prayer (what we call the Lord’s Prayer) ends by teaching we are to ask God to forgive us in the same manner that we have forgiven others.

Do you need God’s forgiveness?  I do.  I need it constantly, as it seems no matter how hard I try, I still am hurting God by my sin.  Do you need to forgive someone else?  Then seek God, ask Him to help you remember how great His forgiveness has been for you, and then ask His strength to enable you to forgive the one who has hurt you.

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July 28, 2015, 2:00 PM

Living the Mature Life

One of the dear saints of our church, now in heaven with our Lord, used to speak of being “mature,” using that term as a synonym for “senior.”  Yet the Bible also speaks of maturity as a worthwhile goal.  Consider these verses (emphasis on the word mature added):

1 Corinthians 2:6 “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.”

1 Corinthians 14:20 “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking.  Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

Ephesians 4:13 “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Philippians 3:15 “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

Colossians 1:28 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Colossians 4:12 “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

We immediately recognize that the way the New Testament uses the word mature, it is not referring to physical age, but a level of spiritual life.  In that sense, we all desire to be mature, regardless of our physical age or level of development.  But what does that mean on a practical level?

To understand that, we need to recognize that the same word translated as mature in the verses above is actually translated the majority of times it is used in the New Testament by the English word “perfect.”  Consider its use in these verses (emphasis added):

Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 19:21 “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’”

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

1 Corinthians 13:10 “but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

Hebrews 9:11 “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation).”

James 1:4 “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:25 “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

While in some of these verses, the term perfect as used to describe things of and from God can certainly mean “flawless,” when used to describe Christian persons, the better sense of the term means “complete” rather than flawless or without defect.  So how do we become mature or perfect in the sense of being spiritually complete?

Did you notice that four of the ten time the word perfect appears in the New Testament are in the book of James?  The most obvious theme of that particular book in the Bible is one of works that demonstrates the faith of the person who has trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord.  We do not work to deserve or gain approval from God, but as a result of our relationship to our Heavenly Father.  A life of doing work that reflects that relationship is – simply put – a life of obedience to what God and Jesus told us to do.  Sometimes we think of a mature person as a wise person.  Yet the truly wise person is not one who simply knows many things, but one who has learned to apply that knowledge in his or her way of living.  Much too often we think of a mature Christian as one with great biblical knowledge.  But the complete, perfect or mature believer is the one that daily lives in obedience to what God has taught him to do.  Such a one has a reputation for his or her works that displays faith, not simply a reputation as a faithful church attender. 

My wife, Darlene and I have been married for over 40 years.  She knows that I love her, and I know that she loves me.  But that doesn’t mean we both are not constantly doing things that demonstrate our love for each other.  It needs to be the same with our Lord and our God.  Do the things that I do demonstrate that I love Jesus?  Are the things that occupy the majority of my time the things God has told me in His word I am to be doing?  To be a mature person of faith – in a very practical way – I must be obedient to what God has told me to do in His word.  That means I am to read and study His word to know what He has said.  I also have to spend time with Him – communicating with Him through prayer.  And I have to be seeking those opportunities to live our His love in the way I interact both with those who know Jesus and those who need to know Him.  I hope you will join me in recommitting to live this way more intentionally. 

 

 

 


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