Anchored in Christ

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”- Hebrews 11:6

 

Nearly 12 years ago, Samantha and I said, “I do,” and raced off to our honeymoon on the beautiful beaches of Hawaii. Since we believed that this could be a once in a lifetime experience for both of us, we decided to do every excursion and tourist attraction that we could possibly afford.

 

After experiencing a luau, helicopter ride, beautiful beaches, and much more, we decided to try out a catamaran tour we read about in the pamphlet we found in our hotel room. We looked forward to our journey on the north side of the island where we could see dolphins and whales up close in the ocean. Soon enough, we found ourselves living the dream.

 

It was beautiful. We saw dolphins jump in and out of the water. We were able to see the spray of a whale out off in the distance. But it wasn’t long before the choppy waves on the north shore caught up to us. Samantha and I turned 50 shades of green and we desperately needed something to anchor us in place. We really wanted solid ground.

 

An anchor is a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation. The tossing of the boat made us sick that day several years ago. Today, we all experience things in life that can get us even more stirred up. Whether it is uncertainty in your finances, difficulty in a relationship, or changes in your life in the home, at work or at church, it doesn’t take much for an upset to occur. Is there a person or thing that can provide stability or confidence in our otherwise uncertain situations that we might face this day, week, month or year?

 

The answer to that question is, “yes!” There is an anchor for the soul to give us peace in the turbulence of life, and that is the person Jesus Christ (Heb. 6:19). At the heart of the Christian life is trusting the love of God that is demonstrated through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus Christ is the preeminent expression of God’s love to us. We must accept the love of God by receiving the blood of Jesus as our sacrifice and payment for sin. It also means that we find our acceptance and worth in life in the place of God’s love. Trusting God’s love is the highest priority in the Christian life.

 

In other words, we must have faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith, this abiding trust in God, is the essential and non-negotiable requirement to having favor with God. At the heart of faith is believing that God wants to bestow favor on you despite your sin and brokenness. That can be hard to swallow when we carry such an enormous amount of guilt and shame before Him, but that is exactly what faith means for our life. Faith is the act of going to God because we are certain that we have been set free from sin by the blood of Jesus, and we are no longer captive to sin.

 

Faith is motivated by the promise of reward. Our greatest reward is Christ, but He promises us that he will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). In fact, one of the emotional and intellectual obstacles that must be overcome in our hearts before we are ever willing to detach the anchors of our souls from idols and onto Christ is that His reward and promise is much greater than what we are offered by our idols. The motive to anchoring on to Christ is the promise of His rewards.

 

That might not sound right, but that is what His word teaches us in Hebrews 11:6. Not only is this theologically true, but it is also true when applied to life. The only way that we will overcome our addictions and idols in life is when we believe that the promise of what Christ offers has a much greater reward than what the promises of pornography, alcohol, destructive anger, legalism, materialism and idol after idol offers.

 

Part of the vision statement of our church states, “…in Christ, we pursue a better way to live.” In other words, our vision is to be a gathering of believers who increasingly detach our soul ships from anchors of idols that don’t keep us stable and to attach ourselves to the anchor of Christ.

 

If your life is being rocked back and forth by troubles in this world and changes that are happening around you that are not within your control or approval, then I would encourage you to examine yourself. Test yourself and see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). See what you are trying to be anchored with.

 

For some of us, our anchor might be the comfort of a relationship that looks the way that we wish for it to look. It might be for church and the worship experience to be something different. It might be more money in the bank. It might be to have our job turn out a certain way. But what happens if these circumstances don’t turn out to our favor? They will disappoint and we will be like a catamaran drifting in choppy waters.

 

I pray that you and I will increasingly stay anchored to Christ, especially during uncertain times in life. Our idols offer a promise of comfort, security and hope. But they always disappoint. Jesus also offers comfort, security and hope, yet his promises never disappoint (Matt. 6:25; Josh. 1:5; Ps. 37:25; 2 Cor. 4:9). Which anchor will you trust? One that has abandoned you over and over again, or Christ who has demonstrated His love to you by laying down his life for you, even when you were still a sinner (Rom. 5:8)? As for me, I choose Christ. How about you?



Tradition

Acts 26:22, And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place.

When I was young, my family had several traditions. On thanksgiving, we would have a big turkey dinner with extended family. On Christmas Eve we would always get to open one gift, and it usually ended up being pajamas. On Easter we dressed up to go to church, and when we could afford it we would go out to eat. I loved these kinds of traditions.

In Christianity there are also traditions. Different churches have different traditions. Here at FBC, we have a rich tradition of celebrating Easter and Christmas with special songs and decorations. The order of our service and the celebration of the Lord’s Table carries on a tradition in this church. In more practical areas, the saints of this church have a legacy of generosity and service. Traditions like these are often beautiful ways to convey the Gospel and a special reminder of God’s goodness in our life.

But something else to think about is that the Faith itself is traditional- not because of church activity (I.e. what kind of music is sung on Sunday morning or how people dress) but because of beliefs. True faith is rooted in tradition. When Paul argued his defense before his accusers, he argued that what he proclaimed was nothing more than tradition of the faith. The testimony of Jesus Christ was rooted in the Prophets and Moses.

It is not a new rabbit that Paul pulled out of a hat. It was historical tradition. Today, if a church does not carry tradition in this way, it is not a church. Core doctrines are fundamental traditions of the church, worth dying for. The Apostle’s Creed is a sum of historical traditional truth that should be present in every church:
 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

 

Christianity has a rich tradition of being outwardly focused and self sacrificial, pursuing others with the love of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel. May God help us to live for the tradition of the Faith and not the traditions of our preferences.

When we uphold our tradition in order to communicate and celebrate the Gospel, we should consider the outcome. If in the pursuit of our traditions we neglect to show love to others, or if it becomes unhelpful in accomplishing the mission and vision that God has given to our church, then we might pray about changing and starting a new tradition that will help us to accomplish the work that we have been given.

I enjoyed our different traditions growing up. They were fun moments we enjoyed together as a family. In some ways they defined us. In the same way the foundational beliefs of the Church are a tradition that define the Church. Every true Church by definition is traditional. They carry on the beliefs and practices of Christianity in various forms.

Take a moment and reflect on some of your favorite traditions growing up and some of your favorite traditions of this church. Give God thanks for the many good memories and experiences you’ve shared with others through the traditions you have celebrated. Ask God to help you to continue in traditions that are helpful and to show you if there are new traditions that you might start as a celebration of His faithfulness. 

 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeremiah



The Link Between Our Faith and Our Works

            Last month, I wrote about what God really wants from us: a transformed heart. I also wrote that God will reject those who claim the name of Jesus but do not do what is right. On the surface, this implies that we are saved by our works, but that is absolutely not true. Saving faith, being declared legally righteous in God’s sight and finding acceptance by him comes alone through trusting Jesus (Romans 5:1). So, how then is “doing right” related to our salvation?

            First, we need to realize that we cannot muster up the strength to just “do right.” The kind of heart transformation that we need is only accomplished by God when we trust Jesus. God continually demonstrates His works before us so that we will come to fully trust Him. In John 6, Jesus told the crowd that the work of God they witnessed (the miracles Jesus performed), was so that they would believe in Jesus as Savior.

            This is not to say that the only work from us that God wants is that we believe in Jesus, but that the work of God for us (his continued demonstration of his miraculous power and faithful love in our life) is for the purpose of wooing us to trust His love for us in Jesus. In other words, we come to believe Jesus in all that He declares about Himself and who He is and what He has accomplished on the cross and will accomplish in our future. Or to state it another way, we are freed to worship God with our wills and our lives. We are freed from our slavery to dead objects and dead pursuits to serve our new master, the living God. What a great privilege and high honor!

            The Bible teaches that once we are saved, we are not free to continue to walk in sin (Rom. 6:1-2). In fact, we are actually obligated to be good. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Also, 1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If we know Jesus as our King, and we respect His position and authority and believe his promises, we will both be right (because the shed blood of Jesus has cleansed us) and do right (because we are compelled to serve our King). This behavior change is the result of the Holy Spirit accomplishing what God promised us in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

            So the reason it is important to pay attention to our works is because there is a link between what we do and what we believe. Our beliefs are the foundation of our works. Faith is the seed from which our works grow. That’s why Jesus taught the crowd in the sermon on the mount that saving faith is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). This is both a quantity of life issue (true salvation that leads to eternal life) and a quality of life issue (finding freedom from hurts, habits and hang-ups that hurt us).

            Regarding the quantity of life, true saving faith has eternal benefits. True believers will enjoy eternal years of blessing in God’s eternal Kingdom where we will forever worship and serve Him, and also to be able to enjoy the fruit of our labor. Eternal life with our eternal King will be filled will endless blessing and joy that is unparalleled to what we know in this short life (Romans 8:18-24). That promise is guaranteed to those who believe in Jesus as their savior, and it can never ever be taken away or lost (Romans 8:31-39).

            Regarding the quality of life, people who have true saving faith will experience a better way of life that offers benefits which transcend even the most extreme suffering and pain this world brings. However, for those who have experienced saving faith but continue to walk in sin, that quality of life will eventually greatly diminish— even when it seems as though people who walk in sin sometimes appear to be successful. The Psalmist lamented this problem in Psalm 73. People who experience true saving faith but continue in sin and fail to serve God will experience the Lord’s discipline. This is what the writer assures us in Hebrews 12, and the Psalmist finds peace about it in Psalm 119:75, and where the sage finds hope in Proverbs 3:12.

            Additionally, when we have saving faith, over time we learn to trust the love of Jesus more and more. As we do this, we should increasingly give up vices that we once turned to during times of stress, difficulty, or boredom and find satisfaction and freedom in Jesus. This process of maturing in the faith (or you can say, “Increasing in trust”) is called sanctification. In sanctification we grow to devote our time, talents and treasures to Jesus. In sanctification, we come to increasingly find satisfaction and contentment from a relationship with God. An increase of this kind of faith will produce fruit that is revealed in our character (Galatians 5), in our countenance (John 4), and in how we use our resources (time, talent & treasure: Matthew 25).

            Living life with an unchanged heart is dangerous because the Lord rejects the worship of the one who claims His name but has a hardened heart. Not only that, but sometimes some of the most scathing discipline can come in the form of when the Lord lets us walk in our sinful desires. Consequences to our choices can be the unbearable pain that the Lord might use to turn us back to Him (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Our desperation in pain can be the solemn assurance of the Lord’s discipline and thus our salvation (Hebrews 12:3-8). God loves his children too much to continue to let them stay in sin.

            When we have continual hypocrisy (the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform) in our life, we can be assured of one of two things. Either we know God and are not walking in a way that brings blessing, and consequently will experience the Lord’s discipline. Or, if we habitually live without bearing true fruits of saving faith in our life, we may be proving that we never really knew God. The seeds of saving faith will increasingly yield the fruit of that faith. God will prune us to make us more fruitful. He is interested in receiving the fruit of our worship. The seeds of unbelief will produce fruits of the flesh that God rejects (Galatians 5:19-21). That is why Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).”

            So, if you have struggled in sin (or habitually producing the fruits of sin) like I have before, you might want to ask, “Am I really saved?” That is, have I ever come to trust in Jesus as my personal Savior? If the answer to that is “no,” then begin to trust Him with your will and life now. Take a moment to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and accept his grace. If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you should believe that Jesus’ blood covers your sin and trust in the salvation that God has provided. You should look for the root of your sin and ask Jesus, “where am I not trusting your love or where are there idols in my life?” When he shows you these, turn away from those idols and find your love, value, and acceptance in Jesus.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this letter that is longer than normal. The relationship between faith and works is something that has created great confusion in the Church for generations, but it is something we need to get right because it is a matter of eternity and a matter of our welfare here on earth and potential as a Church. Let’s get it right and keep God first in our life as a result of so great a salvation!

 

Blessings,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Why your Praise Matters

“…Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”  James 5:16 

Authenticity is central. Authenticity is essential. Whether it is knowing what you have discovered or purchased is real gold, or you wonder if you have genuine tickets to the Broncos game, or whether the cash you pulled out of the bank is genuine, there are endless pursuits in our life that are established on the promise of authenticity.

We live in a society that treasures authenticity. Former child actor and leadership expert Lance Secretan says, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently.” Whether it is buying groceries at the store, clothes for our body, or parts for our car, we want to know that the brand on the package is going to match the product that we purchase. The same is true when we call ourselves Christians or gather as a church.

Your praise matters because it is one of the hallmarks of someone who has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ. Recently, Thom Rainer (Current president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) noted that millennials are seeking 3 things in their worship experience when the church gathers: meaningful words, quality worship service (things done well), and authenticity. Rainer notes that, “millennials can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.”

Personally, in my experience growing up in a multi-generational church and through experiences at every church I have attended, I believe that the traits of millennials are not unique to that generation. I imagine that everyone craves authenticity in worship. Authenticity in worship can only come when what comes out of our mouth (what we proclaim about God in song) matches what is happening in our life (a heart that has been truly redeemed by God).

When we declare praises to God and before others about his qualities and works, it must come from personal experience of cheerfulness brought about by God’s attributes and works at work in our own life— especially in a small town where everyone has the privilege of seeing the dirt in our lives. When we do not experience cheerfulness that is available by the hope of Christ— even through difficult times of grief, if we sing praises, then what is coming out of our mouth does not match what is going on in our life. And it is glaringly obvious to those around us.

This matters because praise is not only to God, but it is also before others. Praise before others also reveals that we are cheerful because of Him. Our praise literally points others to God. So if what we sing is not authentic to what is in our life, it is impossible to hide. What is in our head, mouth, heart and feet, if one of them is out of alignment, then we would say it is inauthentic. Or to state it another way, when someone sings from a heart that is not truly changed, they are lying to God and others. God always knows. The people around us usually do too.

Being inauthentic is one of the fastest ways to kill our faith and our church. When we pull cash out of the bank, and look at our $20 bill and do not see the hallmark signs of an authentic bill, we will not keep that bill. We will turn it back in and report it to the authorities because a crime has been committed. In the church, when hallmark signs of genuine faith are not observed (see Gal. 5:13-25), people will not come back. They see a crime that is committed: people trying to sell faith that is not genuine. Genuine faith results in praise to God and before people. That too is impossible to hide. You know it when you see it. You know it when you experience it in your life.

If you are having a hard time genuinely being cheerful, then take some time regularly to pause and reflect on the Gospel. You once were in trouble because of your sin. You had no way to make it right. But God rescued you through the blood of Jesus, and now you regularly and continually experience the perfect love of God who has promised us eternal life. Regularly reflect and give thanks for all that God has given to you. If we have life and breath today, that is more than we deserve, and that is more than enough to be cheerful. Let us sing praise.



Seeing Through the Smokescreens in our Hearts

Seeing Through The Smokescreens In Our Heart
 
1 Sam. 8:7- The LORD said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not
 
you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king.”
 
A smoke screen is a cloud of smoke created to conceal military operations. They have proven to
 
be a reliable means of protection to mask the movement or location of military units such as
 
infantry, tanks, aircraft or ships. In the spiritual life, God’s people have also used smoke screens
 
in less honorable ways.
 
In 1 Samuel chapter 8, we read about how Israel complained about Samuel's sons who ruled as
 
judges over them. The complaint was legitimate since Samuel's sons were not living according
 
to the Covenant. They were ripping people off by unjustly accepting bribes instead of protecting
 
the freedom and welfare of God's people. This was a terrible situation for God’s people to be in.
 
The problem was not their complaint but the true pursuit of their heart. The elders of Israel used
 
the current problem as a smokescreen to hide the true intention of their heart. What they really
 
wanted was to be like the other nations. They weren't so concerned about justice and honoring
 
Yahweh and his Covenant. Israel reject God as her King. So God gave them what they thought
 
they wanted and in the long term it did not work out so well. They pursued idols instead of
 
God— the one true God who would not let them down.
 
As I think about that story, I cannot help but ask about how we function during times of need.
 
How about you and me? What is in our hearts? When we face obstacles do we hide the true
 
intentions of our heart? In other words, are we trying to manipulate God by presenting our
 
current problem to him so that we can get something else that we really want?
 
Discerning the intention of the heart is one of the most difficult tasks in the spiritual life. Often we
 
like to try and discern the hearts of others, but what about our own? Many times we might just
 
assume that our intentions are pure. But we might be surprised when we reflect more deeply
 
into the motives of our heart.
 
This is something that I have struggled with on occasion. As I reflect back on my past before I
 
entered vocational ministry, there were many times when I wanted to quit my job and thrust
 
myself into full time vocational ministry. I could tell God, “Nursing stresses me out. I don’t like
 
seeing people sick all the time. I makes me afraid.” I could also tell God, “I should be in ministry.
 
That’s where my gifts are. There are churches that need pastors. I can fill that need.” However,
 
at the time when I struggled with those feelings, it would have been premature to manipulate my
 
circumstance in order to get what I really wanted. I could have justified it over and over in my
 
mind instead of waiting on the Lord to provide the right season and place.
 
Or, there was another time when I was searching for a vehicle. I needed a vehicle for work.
 
There were plenty of opportunities to buy something that wasn't practical for me or my family.
 
While the need for a vehicle was real, it would have been easy to overspend for something that
 
we couldn’t truly afford.
 
In moments like these, when we tell God that, "I need this….[fill in the blank],” it is difficult to
 
discern the true intention of the heart.
 
If we want to live authentic spiritual lives before Christ, then we need to be honest before God
 
about our intentions. God knows if we are seeking to do what is right or if our hearts are turned
 
away from him. Often times, the most spiritual thing is to endure suffering in the midst of
 
adversity and to wait for God to provide. When we try to take actions into our own hands, we
 
can make our suffering worse in the long run.
 
However, if we wait on the Lord, he will provide for us. In my desire to enter full time ministry, I
 
waited on the Lord for the right time and place. I chose to do this, and he was faithful and
 
brought our family to Holyoke. He provided in the right time. With my vehicle that I reflected
 
back on, I remember how I prayed, and after looking at hundreds and hundreds of vehicles
 
online, and test driving several, I finally found a great vehicle at a super low price that was in
 
excellent condition. And I didn't have to take out a loan. It was paid in cash, and I had money
 
left over. God provided!
 
Where are you struggling to trust God's provision? Will you wait patiently instead of trying to
 
manipulate your circumstances? God knows the "smokescreens" of our heart. Let’s be patient
 
and wait on God during our times of need.
 
Blessings to you,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


Reconciling God’s Love and Wrath

A few days ago I shared the following verse on Facebook:

Exodus 34:6-7, “He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.'”

I shared that verse because one of the things I have run into quite frequently among friends, family and church members alike is that God is perceived to be two different people in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Often times, God is perceived as being a hot-headed, angry old man who lives up in the clouds ready to zap us when we fail.

Have you ever caught yourself saying or thinking, “The God in the Old Testament was angry and legalistic, but the God in the New Testament is gracious and loving?” If so, that is a common misperception and misrepresentation of God.

Sometimes when we discuss God’s holiness and righteous judgment, it is easy to lose track of His love for His people. There are many verses that demonstrate God’s loving kindness and faithful love for humanity all throughout the Old Testament. There are also verses that describe God as slow to wrath.

In the Old Testament, when we read of Israel’s army implementing the Law of the Ban, where they were instructed to destroy

everything,

including men, women and children, we have to keep that in context of the bigger story in order to reconcile God’s wrath with his love.  

Consider how long the descendants of Noah lived throughout the centuries in rebellion against God. They pursued worthless idols for centuries before God brought judgment and they were destroyed under the Law of the Ban when Israel entered Palestine.

In Scripture, God is always presented as a gracious God but he is always equally passionate about His holiness. Passages about God’s judgment are often cited in religion 101 classes in college, but before we drink the theological soup, we need to realize there is more to the story than the agenda that is put on us in our schools and institutions.

Consider God’s instructions to Israel before they entered Palestine. Deuteronomy 9:5 says, “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” If Scripture is true, then what we witness in the Old Testament will be nothing compared to the horror that is coming after he gathers up his people and completely and finally executes his wrath against all sin.

Hell, fire and brimstone doesn’t preach well these days, but if Scripture is true, then we must realize that God has given you and I ample time to respond to His grace. God is all loving. But he is also holy and just.

Passages like these aren’t an indictment against God. Rather, they are an indictment against sinful humanity that is in need of a Savior. If you read the Story of Scripture, you will indeed find a story of a gracious God who loves you and pursues you your entire life.

Ezekiel 18:23 says that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. But he is also just. And in what Kingdom in this world are you able to rebel against your leaders without suffering consequences? It doesn’t happen. Why would it be different with God, and even more so because of the nature of our offenses against him and the greatness of His glory?

Even so, in our guilt, Scripture says that while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up. He died for you and me because we are prideful pagan people who war against him. Before we reject His love, we must consider the cross. And as we consider the cross, we need to take a deep look into the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will not be disappointed.

For, it is at the cross where God’s mercy and justice meet. God fully poured out his wrath and executed justice for the sake of His glory and holiness. Through the death of Jesus, at the cross God offers the opportunity for you and I to find him there and to bend our knees and confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Don’t let the illusion that the love of God and the wrath of God “don’t mix” and cause you to put God on trial. God’s love and justice met at the cross for you and for me. Let that stir our hearts towards praise at the mystery and the magnificence of the Gospel.

May we find great joy and peace as we marvel at God’s love for us,

Pastor Jeremiah


New Year, New You

            As the New Year starts, this is the time of year when many of us are thinking about setting new goals. Reflecting back on the previous year might bring us a sense of gratitude for all that the Lord has accomplished in us. Or it might make us feel indifferent as we are uncertain of how meaningful life seemed to be. Maybe we did not lose that 10 lbs. we were hoping for. Maybe we didn’t quite meet our goals at work. Or maybe spiritually, we didn’t seem to measure up when we compare our personal life to the biblical life. But no matter where we landed in our goals last year, we need to leave behind the past and look toward the future.

            The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3, “…

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” The past failures, whether they are from 2015 or from the years before can be a burdensome weight if we dwell on them. One thing that we cannot change is our past. And one thing that God forgives us of is our past. And if God is so kind to forgive us of how we fall short, then will you also forgive yourself of the times when you were not all you

intended to be?

            If you want to have a better 2016, it will not happen by magic or coincidence or by spiritual laziness. If we continue to maintain the same patterns of behavior, why would we expect to have different results? As your pastor, I want to encourage you to take time with your spouse, family, close friends or community group and probe a little deeper into the areas of your life that you know you are not experiencing fullness of life. Are there areas, where you are undisciplined or disobedient? If so, share these shortcomings with those who would be willing to encourage you. You might be surprised to find out how many others have experienced the same struggles as you. Prov. 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

            As a participant in the body of First Baptist Church of Holyoke, our vitality is directly connected to every individual’s faithfulness to abide in Jesus. When you and I are people who take seriously God’s commands and directions for our life, and when we experience the fullness and joy of life because we are abiding in Christ regularly, our congregation will become one that makes Jesus famous among our families, friends and community. And that is what my heartbeat is for this church. We do not need a body of ‘regular attenders’ who come to church because that is what we do, but rather, we need a body of

faithful participators who commit to being the church

because we have been internally changed by Christ.
            As you pray about how God would change you this 2016, pray about whether you are being a

regular attender or a faithful participant

in our body. Regulars check off a box on Sunday morning to gratify religious duty. Faithful participants come to get equipped so that they can engage in the mission and vision of our body. Regular attenders drink fully of teaching without allowing it to impact their living. Faithful participants receive God’s word so that they can better live God’s word. Regular attenders take. Faithful participants give.

            There may be times in life when we need to receive because we are weak. And if that is you, then I want to encourage you to swim in God’s grace so that you can become strong and participate in the action and excitement of being on mission with God. Jesus came to heal the sick. But as we become strong in Christ, let us also begin to serve faithfully in the mission he has called us. The difference in our lives between this year and last will be our willingness to allow God’s Spirit to transform us so that we can better serve him. Our faithfulness will result in fruitfulness.

            So, as you consider how you can be different this year, consider these things:

  1. Is your life being regularly transformed by the power of the Gospel? Do you demonstrate a continual yielding of your ways to God’s ways? When we are transformed by the Gospel, our life should exhibit joy in Jesus through freedom from the bondage to idols.
  2. Do you practice forgiveness regularly? Do you forgive others when they wrong you? Have you forgiven yourself when you fall short? Jesus does. He expects the same from you.
  3. Do you confess to God and to others when you fall short? When we confess to God, we come to agreement with the exact nature of our sin, and he forgives us. When we confess to others, we admit that we are falling short and relinquish self-righteousness before others. Confessing to others is an opportunity to experience healing through encouragement and accountability of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. Are you investing regularly in the body of Christ and Kingdom of God? Jesus says that where our heart is there our treasure will also be. Do we demonstrate a love for Jesus and His Bride by how we invest our time, talents, and treasures? Are you meeting regularly in community to encourage and to be encouraged by others?These are just a few items to work through as you ask the Lord to make this year one of your best years. This is a New Year. Let’s ask God to help make a “New You.” Transformation is not a one time event but a lifetime process where God conforms us to His will. It is an exciting journey, though sometimes painful. But it is worth it. Blessings to you as you seek Him and serve this body. 

 

Pastor Jeremiah
 
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

 



Running to Win

Thanksgiving is now behind us and Christmas is straight ahead. I pray that you experienced rich blessings as you gathered together to celebrate God’s blessings in your life. For many of you, it was indeed a time of great blessing. Bellies were full, company was sweet, and traditions were a delight. However, for others, this may have been a time of great discouragement. Maybe your celebrations were not all that you longed for deep inside.
 

Getting together with family and friends can be delightful. However, living in close relationships with others also can be a difficult reminder of our own brokenness from sin. It can also make us taste the bitter waters that come along with sharing life with others, who like us, are also broken. This part of relationships is not very fun. Whether it is us not living up to the expectations of others, or whether we feel like we have been failed by those we love, the feeling is the same: discouragement.

We all go through seasons of discouragement. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” When sin rears itself over and over again, it can be like scraping off the scab from an old wound. It hurts! The pain is not fun. If you feel discouraged because you keep messing up in some areas of your life, let this pain be a teacher. God told Cain that if he did well, that he would be accepted. However, God also said that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and he must learn to master it (Gen. 4:7).

Sin is a problem that is part of us from an early age. Because of our sin, we get hurt and hurt others. But this is not a problem that God desires to remain in us. Continually, Scripture tells us to be sanctified or “set apart.” How many times have you read in your Bible, “Be holy?” It is there over and over again, but life experience can be frustrating when we fail in this area over and over again. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As we are finishing up our series Great Faith, we are learning that if we want to be faithful to the Lord’s calling in our life, we need to run to win. Paul says to run as if to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24). He said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called” (Phil. 3:14). If we want to run in such a way to win, then we must be intentional.

Being intentional means that we must train. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Overcoming old sin patterns will take a great deal of training. Training is not always fun, but it is what gives us the results we want. If you have a sin habit that you want to overcome, get yourself in training. Here are a few principles to help.
 
– Share your struggles in a trusted community of believers (Proverbs 15:22- Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed).
 
– Get a plan to succeed.  (Luke 14:28- “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?).
 
– Commit your plan to the Lord (Proverbs 37:5- Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.)
 
– Train with partners (Eccles. 4:12- Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken).
 
– Train for the long haul (Heb. 12:1- …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.)
 
– When you fail, get back on track (Heb. 4:15-16- For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.)
 
Facing the Holiday season is one of the greatest times of year.  But let’s not let this year be a year when we get hung up in bad habits or stinging hurts.  Let’s be a community that is committed to one another as we run together to win the prize.  If you were discouraged for Thanksgiving, hang in there and double down, not in sin, pride, and arrogance, but in your commitment to become a faithful servant of Jesus who continually shines the light of grace on those who need it – especially your close friends and family.  God bless you and your family this Christmas season!
 
Growing with you,
 
Pastor Jeremiah