On a Mission with Bro. Joel

 

ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (DECEMBER 2023):

CELEBRATE THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTMAS

 

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11.

We are now entering the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! But, to many of us, the Christmas season can be a time of busyness, routine and even stress! Many of us no longer getting any joy or meaning from the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. It is easy to dismiss that familiar Christmas story because it is something that we have heard so many times so that it no longer has any meaning for us. In fact, there is a danger that we do this with all the familiar stories in the Bible. Perhaps we should change our perspective when we examine these stories in the Bible. Perhaps instead of looking at these stories on  how what it can do for us, we should focus on what it says about Christ. In other words, maybe we should focus less on ourselves and more on Christ. When we try this approach, we will find that even the most familiar story in the Bible will have fresh and new perspective each time we study it. What does the Christmas story in the Bible tell us about Christ? It tells us that we should rejoice, for Jesus has come and given us new life! That no matter how our Christmas and life looks right now, we can find reasons to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

 

The virgin birth of Jesus in a manger, the One Who is Emmanuel, God with us,  happened as promised. In fact, so many promises about Jesus have come to pass, including His death and resurrection. By this we have confidence that the many other promises about His 2nd Coming will also come to pass. Thus, in this season of Christmas, we should prepare our hearts for the coming King. In this Christmas season we get to rejoice and celebrate the fact that the King has already come. Jesus, who is God, also became like one of us, the One lived a sinless life, taught many great things, did many great miracles, suffered and died in our place on the cross and has been raised from the dead, is the One who did all of this to give us new life. As we celebrate Christmas, therefore, we need to take time to respond in worship to this truth, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. That He came to give us grace and truth.”

Let us take the time to open the Word with our families, friends and even strangers and let us show them how they can respond to the good news of Jesus' coming. We need to ask them about the purpose of Christmas. Ultimately the purpose of Christmas helps answer the bigger question: why did Jesus come? Jesus came to atone for our sins. What does that mean? What did it look like? Isaiah 53 perfectly lays out why Jesus came, what it meant, and how it would look.

 

"Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

    smitten by God, and afflicted.

 But he was pierced for our transgressions;

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

    and with his wounds 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 53:4-6.

 

We also need to read, hear, meditate  and study through the Christmas passages of Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2 and John 1:1-18. We need to examine who Jesus is, and what He came to do for us. We need to remember the love and humility he showed by becoming one of us so that He could show us Who God is, how to live for Him and more importantly, how He died and rose again so that we can have a relationship with God. As we remember the truths from the Christmas story, maybe it will prepare us to live out these words from the Apostle Paul:

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4.

 

Christmas is about the celebration of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. We need to remember that Jesus did not come to create a holiday, but He came to save us from our sins. What good news this is for us as Christians, that in Christ Jesus there is no longer any condemnation. Let us share this hope with others to believe in Jesus and to walk in victory through faith, because have freedom from sin in Christ Jesus! What a truly amazing gift that we get to celebrate! So, during this Christmas season. take time to give thanks to the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, the author and perfecter of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ!

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (NOVEMBER 2023)

WHOSE SIDE ARE WE ON?

Joshua 5:13-15 says: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” 14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” 15 Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so".

So, let’s understand the picture here. Joshua was about to lead the people of God into the first major battle in the Promised Land, the city of Jericho. So, he’s off by himself at this point, he lifts up his eyes, looks and there is a man there with a sword drawn in his hand. So, Joshua asks the obvious question, “Are you for my side or for their side? For us or for our adversaries?” And I love the response. The response is not, “I’m for you,” or, “I’m for your adversaries.” The response is, “I’m for the Lord. I’m the commander of the army of the Lord.” To which Joshua falls on his face and says, “Okay, what message do you have for me?”

We live in a day of great division. Division in our nation, in our politics, in our communities and even in our churches. It seems like everybody in our day is asking “Whose side are you on?” Even in our churches, we have many Christians on social media asking, “Whose side are you on?” They claim to be on the Lord’s side because their doctrine is right and while correct biblical doctrine is essential, being on the Lord’s side means far more than that. A Christian can have the correct biblical doctrine and still be on the wrong side. Especially when we are trying to do the Lord’s will and work our way. May we keep from thinking that this life is primarily about us. God teach us to pray according to His Will. Lord, help us to seek Your will above all else.

This is so key. Oh, I love this. The most important question is not whose side someone is on, the most important question is: Are we on God’s side? That’s the most important question, not just for Joshua in Joshua chapter five, but it is the most important question in your life and my life today. We often pray, and we ask God to be with us, but I think that we need to ask ourselves: Has not God already promised to be with us? So, I think it is better to ask this question: Are we with God? Are we on His side? Because if we’re not careful, we can come up with all kinds of plans for our lives and we could ask God to bless us with prayers like, “Come over and get behind this.” Instead of us saying, “Wait a minute, what are God’s plans in the world and how could I align my life with them?”

So, God, teach us to pray like this. Teach us to pray according to your will, to just to seek Your will above all else. We want to be with You, oh God, yes, we want You with us, leading  and guiding us. We cannot do anything without You. But God, we want to start by seeking You, by coming to You, by yielding to You the same way that Your servant Joshua did in Joshua 5.

What message do You have for us? What is Your will in the world? How can we align our lives with it? We trust in You; we don’t trust in ourselves. And God, we praise You because You promised to be with us, lead us and guide us according to Your will, that You put Your Spirit in us for that purpose, that Your very Holy Spirit dwells in us for that reason. So, we thank You.

So, we pray, oh God, help us to walk according to Your will in the world. Help us to align everything we do with Your will in this world. Help us to abide in You, to make disciples of all the nations, to live for Your glory in all that we do, to proclaim Your Gospel. We know this is Your will in the world, help us to align our lives with it, we pray. Help us to make disciples, help us to walk in purity, to walk in humility, to seek You, to love others selflessly, to give sacrificially and generously. God, we know all these things are Your will for our lives, to build up Your church, to care for Your body, to reach those who are without Christ. God, please help us to align our lives with Your will today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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5 KEYS TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY

2 Peter 1:1-11 says, “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things, you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

We all wear many hats. We might be spouses, parents, grandparents, employers, employees, pastors, teachers, students, etc. One privilege that I and many of you have experienced is the privilege of being a parent. As we have experienced the privilege of being a parent, we discover that it is not something that we can learn from books. Instead, it is hands-on, learn as we go, trial and error business. I remember with my own children, how I would constantly read about the various growth and developmental milestones that they should achieve at each particular stage of their life such as learning to walk, talk eat solid foods, etc.

The point is that for a child, growth is the expectation. Over a few short months, babies mature from helpless little 8-pound infants to 28-pound toddlers bent on demolishing every single thing in their path. I watched in wonder as my three children all matured through infancy to the fantastic adventure of toddlerhood, through childhood, through the difficult stages of the teenage years into adulthood. As I think about their growth, I cannot help but think about spiritual maturity. Just as a good parent is thrilled to see their child develop and grow, our Heavenly Father delights as we grow and mature in our faith.

The Bible is clear that spiritual maturity is the expectation not the exception for all Christians. Just as a baby is born and then begins to grow, so we too, are “born again” into God’s family, and we then start to mature as children of God. Although this is the expectation, often many Christians get stuck and fail to make progress in their faith. In fact, this is a major problem in many of our churches. We have members who have never grown up. Hebrews 5:12-14 refers to this when it says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”.

In 2 Peter chapter 1, the Apostle outlines some “spiritual milestones” that should increase in our lives if we are indeed children of God. These milestones are not given as a legalistic checklist wherein we strive to perfect ourselves. Instead, these qualities are the evidence that a person is spiritually maturing. Just as my children no longer behaves like children, but they have progressed to being fully mature adults, born-again believers should also mature spiritually beyond their initial conversion. The evidence of this growth is the qualities listed in 2 Peter: “Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, godliness, and love.” Accordingly, if we desire to grow spiritually, here are five keys to spiritual maturity that we need to apply to our lives if we want to mature in Christ:

1. The Word. In 1st Peter we are told that we grow in our faith by drinking the “pure milk of God’s word (See 1 Peter 2:2-3).” The analogy is clear and one I’ve witnessed with my own eyes. Infants are nourished with milk, and the result is tremendous transformation! Those tiny fingers, toes, legs and limbs begin to grow, stretch, and develop from simply drinking milk! It is not a coincidence that the Bible describes itself as the “pure milk” for our spiritual growth. For a believer to mature in her faith, he or she must feed themselves on the Word of God daily. It is not enough to go to church or Bible study once a week. That would be like eating a meal on Sunday and then starving for the remainder of the week. We must daily feed ourselves the Word of God if we expect to grow and mature in our faith.

 

2. Christ-centered Community. I can testify from personal experience that nothing in the world has fostered spiritual maturity in my life more than surrounding myself with other Christ-followers who love Jesus, fear God, and desire to live for His glory. When we surround ourselves with a Christ-centered community then we invite accountability, we are challenged to know God more, and we have relationships with people who will pray for us when trials or temptations occur. Indeed, we are better together.

 

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (AUGUST 2023)

WHO CONTROLS THE WEATHER?

 

Psalm 135:7

"He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth.

Who makes lightnings for the rain,

Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries".

 

Psalm 147:8

"Who covers the heavens with clouds,

Who provides rain for the earth,

Who makes grass to grow on the mountains".

 

Psalm 148:8

"Fire and hail, snow and clouds.

Stormy wind, fulfilling His word".

No can deny that during this past year, we have seen unparalleled bad weather across the United States. There have been a record number of tornadoes that have decimated entire communities all across our country. There has been a record amount of flooding from California to New England, hail the size of softballs battering the American landscape, high winds (Derechos) that have devastated towns and record heat waves. What is the reason behind all this bad weather? El Niño? Coincidences? Climate change? God?

It is important for us to recognize that almost all people believe that something unusual is happening with our weather. The disagreement is about the cause. A popular theory that has advanced among the beliefs of many people in the past few years has been that of climate change. What is climate change? Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns that are mainly caused by human activities, especially by those human activities that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Thus, cars, planes, factories and even cows are receiving the blame. The scary thing about the climate change movement is how government policies are being shaped based on this climate change theory and how the lives of many people are being affected by a theory that lacks any scientific consensus much less a theory that leaves a Sovereign God out of the equation of who is in control of the weather. I would advise all people who are trying to persuade me of the danger of climate change, that if you want to be successful in winning me to your point of view, you’d better not leave God out of the equation.

 

Historian and International Affairs Specialists Arnold Toynbee once said, “The fundamental need of our world today is a rebirth of belief in the supernatural.” The current age is dominated mainly by reliance only on what can be seen and tested. We live in a period of rank atheism and materialism, which essentially dismisses the spiritual and argues that all of life and reality result from scientific and material interactions. For instance, if one were to ask what controls the wind, most people would probably answer it has to do with the relationship between the earth and the sun, with temperature, and pressure imbalances. Few people think of God as the wind’s cause or its lack thereof. Yet Revelation 7:1-3 says: "Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, ‘Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.’” In this text, the Bible says that God employs his angels to restrain the winds to accomplish a specific purpose. The wind belongs to God. The winds are under his control and subordinate to his will. It’s not so much what’s behind the winds and storms; it’s Who!

 

In his commentary on Revelation, William Barclay, the renowned Scottish Bible scholar, says that the Old Testament often pictures the winds as God’s agents employed in his acts of judgment. Here are a few of Barclay’s examples: “Zechariah has the picture of the chariots of the winds, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth (Zechariah 6:1-5). Nahum speaks of the Lord who has his way in the whirlwind and the storm (Nahum 1:3) … The winds are God’s chariots (Jeremiah 4:13). God comes with his chariots like a whirlwind (Isaiah 66:15). Chariots were utilized for warfare and judgment on one’s enemies.] The wind is the breath of God (Job 37:9, 10). The wind rends the mountains (I Kings 19:11) and withers the grass (Isaiah 40:7, 24) and dries up the stream, the river and the sea (Nahum 1:4; Psalm 18:15). God’s day [Judgment Day] would be the day of the whirlwind (Amos 1:14). The whirlwind of the Lord goes forth in its fury and falls on the head of the wicked (Jeremiah 23:19; 30:23). The wind of the Lord…will come from the wilderness and destroy the fertility of the land (Hosea 13:15). God will send his four winds upon Elam and scatter the people (Jeremiah 49:36).”

 

Other passages of Scripture provide a window for looking inside God’s control of the weather. For example, God can use the weather to either bless or punish. Job 37:11-13 reads: “He loads the clouds with moisture, and they flash with his lightning. The clouds churn about at his direction. They do whatever he commands throughout the earth. He makes these things happen either to punish people or to show his unfailing love.” Perhaps one of the strongest passages which present the way God uses climate conditions to display his sovereignty is in Haggai 1:9-11: “You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? “Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew, and the earth produces no crops. I have called for a drought on your fields and hills — a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.”

 

In God’s economy, angels are also associated with affecting weather patterns. Angels have a ministry concerning the earth. They are linked to winds, fires, storms, and pestilence (Psalm 103:20; 104:4; I Chronicles 21:15, 16, 27). Throughout the book of Revelation, they are connected with fire, hail, blood, winds and storms. At certain times in history, God authorizes and directs them to use their tremendous powers to affect meteorological conditions. In other words, the Bible knows nothing of secondary causes for what is happening in the weather. It consistently shows that God is actively in control of our weather. Barclay concludes: “We say that atmospheric conditions, variations in temperature, land and mountain configurations, cause certain things to happen. The Jews described it all to the direct action of God. He simply said, God sent the rain; God made the wind to blow; God thundered; God sent his lightning. While God has set the laws by which His universe, including the weather, is governed, God can supersede those laws to accomplish his divine will”.

 

Does this mean every natural disaster is judgment for sin? Definitely not! Since Adam and Eve, who were initially placed in a perfect environment, rebelled against God and fell into sin, this universe and this planet has been negatively impacted. We live in a fallen world. Nature itself is broken like humanity and does not work correctly, and it cannot function correctly until the redemption of humankind is complete (Romans 8:19). Therefore, natural disasters are often simply the result of an ailing earth in convulsion.

 

Nevertheless, when a nation or nations operate grievously in sin, ignores God, rejects his ways, and despises Christ and His people with increasing intensity, it should not surprise us if God intervenes and sends catastrophic natural calamities to get people’s attention. These extraordinary misfortunes mercifully remind us of who is in control. They are warnings with redemptive messages to be reconciled with our Maker. So, when we watch the news and observe the things going on around us and when we see the moral decline and rebellion of the people along with the calamities being caused by the weather, we need to look at the events in a new way. We need to realize that these are not coincidences that are isolated from each other but are connected in every way.

 

Think of the degradation of our culture. It seems as if every person is a lover of self, a lover of money, a lover of pleasure – and eager to cancel anyone who disagrees with them. This translates to extreme persecution for the church in much of the world and to eroding religious liberty at home. Across our country, an unprecedented spiritual famine is causing an epidemic of emaciated hearts. In the process, many professed Christians are abandoning the faith. This has created a vacuum for the rising tide of socialism to flood into our land.

 

This reminds me of the words of the apostle Paul to young Timothy, his fellow worker and companion: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Could there be a better description of the current times? Probably not!

 

Therefore, should we be surprised that in this generation, we are witnessing an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions: drought, rampant wildfires, incredible floods, terrifying tornadoes, above-normal hurricane seasons, abnormally powerful thunderstorms, and uncommon heat waves globally?

 

In their book, God’s Answer for America, Darrel and Cindy Deville rightly state that these environmental conditions, that are often referenced as “global warming” or “climate change” are all part of the birthing pains and natural disasters that will increase as Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11, 25-26). These birthing pains are not ‘global warming’ (or ‘climate change’), but they are part of God’s ‘global warnings’ as signs for these last days. These will continue to increase and intensify as the return of Christ gets closer. Some politicians claim we all need to work together to ‘battle climate change,’ but there is nothing they can do to stop it. Like a woman in labor, the contractions will become more frequent and more intense the closer the return of Christ gets. So, this is not about ‘climate change.’ But the earth is instead preparing for a ‘kingdom change’ – the coming glorious kingdom and reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 11:15).”

 

Do not be blinded to the supernatural cause behind the natural cause. God is in control of the weather. And we need to remember that the same God who sends large-scale disasters in response to gross collective sinning can also employ his angels to restrain these judgments when there is repentance. Thus, our call as a church to the community around us should be: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13).

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (JULY 2023)

AMERICA NEEDS REVIVAL!

Psalm 33:12: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance".

          Happy July the 4th to everyone! This July the 4th, we will celebrate America's 247th birthday. Basically, July the 4th is a celebration of our freedom, our prosperity and our privilege of being a part of the great heritage of this great nation. But lately, as we see what is happening in our country, most of us may not feel like celebrating. Most of us can see around us a country in moral, financial and spiritual decline. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” It follows then that if the leaders and the people turn their backs on God, not only will they forfeit God’s blessing, but it will corrupt our system of government, which protects us from tyranny. Without a moral civil society, Liberty is not possible. As stated in Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people”. Today the United States of America stands at a crossroads. As our national culture becomes increasingly godless, it seems that lawlessness and chaos are increasing.

Is there anything that can be done? We can start with this question: What is our greatest need as a nation? Interestingly, in a Wall Street Journal article, written in 1947 (two years after the Second World War), a writer made this observation: “What America needs more than railway extension, western irrigation, a low tariff, a bigger cotton crop, and larger wheat crop is a revival of religion. The kind that father and mother used to have. A religion that counted it good business to take time for family worship each morning right in the middle of the wheat harvest.” In short, according to this writer, what America needs most is a revival of religion—a religion that is based on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Charles Finney, who was part of one of America’s great revivals, said, “Revival is nothing more or less than a new beginning of obedience to God.” A.W. Tozer defined revival as, “That which changes the moral climate of a community. “In his book—The Secret of Christian Joy—published in 1938, Vance Havner (1901–1986) also made a similar observation: “The greatest need of America is an old-fashioned, heaven-born, God-sent revival.” And I agree. I believe our greatest need as a nation today is true revival.

 

But what is a revival? In his book: Revival: A People Saturated With God, Brian H. Edwards gives what I think is a comprehensive definition of revival: “A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a larger number of God’s people, accompanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of God, intensity of prayer and praise, a deep conviction of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers.”  In short, we need to experience this type of revival in our nation today. How can this revival happen? There are four (4) steps that must happen for revival to occur in America.

 

Here is the first step for revival in America: 1) Revival comes from God. Revival is ultimately the work of our sovereign God, not primarily for our good, but for his own glory. One of the last great American revivals was the Layman’s Prayer Revival of 1857–1858. It began with a 48-year-old businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier. He began a noon prayer meeting on Fulton Street in downtown New York. Jeremiah handed out flyers to downtown businessmen, saying, “Come to our prayer meeting when you are having a break for lunch.” Only a handful of people showed up. But Jeremiah persisted; and that handful of people kept meeting for prayer. Then something dramatic took place. The stock market crashed. Suddenly, the prayer meeting grew. People fell to their knees, and then the prayer meeting exploded. Prayer meetings were popping up quickly throughout New York City. Within six months, 10,000 people were gathering for prayer in New York City alone. They were renting venues that Broadway normally used and packing them out at lunch time with men and women who were calling on the name of the Lord. Fifty thousand New Yorkers reportedly came to know the Lord from March to May. During that single year, the number of reported conversions throughout the country reached an average of 50,000 a week for about two years. Even a notorious criminal nicknamed “Awful” Gardner shocked everyone when he came to Christ through the prayer meetings. When it was all over, one million people had come to faith. No one orchestrated that revival in New York. It wasn’t a campaign planned by people. It was a work of God where He poured out His Spirit. So, a revival is a work of the Holy Spirit; it’s not something we can make happen. Revival is God’s responsibility. It’s what God does for us.

 

          This leads to the next step for revival in America: 2) Revival has to begin in God's people. And before we pray to God to revive our country, we first need to ask God to revive ourselves in the church. Revival must begin with us believers. The English evangelist Rodney “Gipsy” Smith (1860–1947) was once asked the secret of revival. His reply is convicting: “Go home. Take a piece of chalk. Draw a circle around yourself. Then pray, ‘O Lord, revive everything inside this circle.’” This ought to be your prayer and my prayer: “O Lord, revive me first.” Has it really been your prayer in the past few weeks that God will revive your heart? How quick we are to see the need for others to be changed, overlooking our own need for revival. We see the speck in another’s eye, and not the log in our own (Matthew 7:3). Before we criticize others, we first need to examine ourselves. Oh, may we sincerely pray with the hymn writer William Mackay (1839–1885): Revive us again–fill each heart with thy love; May each soul be rekindled with fire from above. Hallelujah, thine the glory! Hallelujah, Amen! Hallelujah, thine the glory! Revive us again’. The scriptural background for this hymn is Psalm 85:4–7 that says: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.” Revival is our nation’s greatest need. But before we ask God to revive our nation and our leaders, we must ask Him to revive ourselves.  

          This leads to the next step for revival in America: 3) God's people need to be in intercessory prayer for this nation. Oh, let’s not stop crying out to God to pour out his Spirit on us as a nation—to heal our broken land. Nothing is impossible with God! Could it be one of the reasons why we don’t experience revival is because we don’t earnestly ask for it? As James tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Our nation has departed from God’s ways, disobeyed His Word, and ignored His warnings to turn away from our sin. The result is a nation where ‘everyone does what is right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). Our hearts have grown hard and cold to the Gospel and until genuine, heartfelt repentance and revival occur, our nation will experience God’s judgment, not His blessings. All of this is because we are dependent on God for peace, security, and blessings. Until we seek God in humility and in prayer, our nation will remain a cursed nation.

          This leads to the next thing to remember for revival in America: 4) God's people need to be involved in evangelism in this nation. Revival is God’s responsibility. It’s what God does for us. But listen to this: Evangelism is what we do for God. Preaching the gospel is our responsibility. Christ commissioned us to go into the world and spread the Good News. We cannot make a revival happen, but we can make evangelism happen. We can start those conversations. We can share the love of Christ. We can invite friends to bible studies and church. So, let’s pray for God to do a great work of revival in our country, but let’s do our part. The root of the problem is that people are separated from God. And the way to change a culture is to invade it. It is to go out where people don’t typically hear the gospel, enter their world, and tell them about Jesus Christ.          There is no real revival in America because Americans are not convinced that they really need God. Or when they do think they need God it’s because they've been told God is the way to the "American Dream". We do so many things on our own, are able to accomplish so much through hard work, that really, God is just an afterthought, an addendum, an insurance policy. Will America fall? She has already fallen, and she cannot get up! America is spiritually paralyzed but too spiritually blind to realize it. All our preaching, all our crusades, all our TV and radio, have produced a spiritually obese Church content to be merrily on its way to heaven while the rest of the world is on its way to hell! Can anything be done? Can America be saved? It can, but only if we begin to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

          The answer to America’s problems is a spiritual one. We need to seek God's presence in prayer for ourselves first. Revival must begin with God’s people! Then, we need to pray for our country like never before. And we need to reach out to a lost world with the gospel like never before. We need more people hearing about who Jesus is and what He promises. We need to get back to the true God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who sent His Son Jesus Christ to be born in the manger, to die on the cross, and to rise from the dead three days later. 2 Chronicles 7:14 states "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." We have heard it preached, we have perhaps preached it ourselves, but we must believe it and obey it if we are to see God move in our land. As stated in Joel 2:17: "Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will the LORD be jealous for his land and pity his people." In Habakkuk 3:2, the prophet prays, "O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." This must become the Church's heart cry and desire for America!

 

          Our first president, George Washington, modeled for us how to pray for our nation, and I quote him here:

          “Almighty God, We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally, that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of The Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech thee, through Jesus Christ Our Lord”.

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (JUNE 2023)

ALL CHURCHES MUST BE GREAT COMMISSION CHURCHES

          Matthew 28:18-20 says: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen".

 

          Luke 24:44-49 says, "Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things. 49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

 

          All churches must be Great Commission churches. To determine if a church is a Great Commission church, we must first know what the Great Commission is. After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples to fulfill God’s great mission to reach the nations. This commissioning of the disciples is known as the Great Commission. The Great Commission is found in all four Gospels and the book of Acts. It is also summarized in the seven letters that Jesus, through John, sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3. As we begin to talk about the Great Commission church, we must recognize from the beginning that the Great Commission is a command by our Lord to His churches. All churches, therefore, are to be Great Commission churches, and any church that is not a Great Commission church, is not really a true church at all. So, what is a Great Commission church?  The Bible teaches us that a Great Commission church is defined in seven ways. (1) There is the Authority of the Great Commission church; (2) There is the Mission of the Great Commission church; (3) There is the Message of the Great Commission church; (4) There is the Head of the Great Commission church; (5) There is the Power of the Great Commission church; (6) There is the Endurance of the Great Commission church; and (7) There is the Promise to the Great Commission church. 

 

          The Authority of a Great Commission Church. The church has been given authority by the One who has been given all authority (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:18). It has been given the authority to be witnesses to this world as royal ambassadors to preach the message of reconciliation through Christ to God (See Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). The church has been the given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, an open door as a steward of Christ, which means that the church has the authority to admit entrance into the kingdom of heaven through the preaching of the gospel to those who are sinners See Isaiah 22:22; Matthew 16:19; Revelation 3:7-8). If those sinners respond favorably to the gospel, then their sins are forgiven, but if they reject the gospel, then their sins are retained (See John 20:23). The church also has the right to exercise discipline concerning right and wrong conduct over those who are in the kingdom of heaven as members of a local church (See Matthew 18:15-20). Failure to exercise discipline will result in major problems for the church (See 1 Corinthians 5; Revelation 2:14-6, 20-21).

 

          The Mission of a Great Commission Church. The mission of the church is to go and make disciples in all nations (See Matthew 28:19) and should begin in their own community (See Luke 24:47). There are several things that must be understood with regard to the church’s mission. First, there is the church’s call to missions. They must be obedient and “go.” They cannot be satisfied with successes in the past, but the church must stay awake and be continually going out to reach people for Christ (See Revelation 3:1-6). The church has been given an “open door” and they must take advantage of that open door to reach the nations for Christ (See 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; Revelation 3:7-8). Next, there are the people of the church’s mission. They are to go to “all the nations” (See Matthew 28:19). Jesus told His disciples to begin in Jerusalem (See Luke 24:47) and as stated in Acts 1:8, He told them to spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, unto Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth. The entire book of Acts follows this movement. Acts 2:1-5:42 describes the disciples’ ministry in Jerusalem. Acts 6:1-12:25 describes the disciples’ ministry in Judea and Samaria. Acts 13:1-28:31 describes the disciples’ ministry extending to the ends of the earth. The churches today need to follow this same pattern. The church begins within its own ranks (Jerusalem). Then, it extends to its Judea (its own community), then it spreads to its Samaria (the communities that are near but have those who are different); and then to both support and send its own members to overseas missions (the uttermost parts of the earth).

 

          The Message of a Great Commission Church. The message of a Great Commission church is found in Luke 24:44-47. First, the message is based on the Word of God (See Luke 24:44) in which a hearer is totally dependent upon God Himself for understanding (See Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16). It is all about Jesus Christ of whom the Scriptures affirm is the promised Christ who was sent to save us from our sins (See John 1:29-36). It was necessary, therefore, for Christ to suffer, die on a cross, and rise again from the dead (See Luke 24:46). Now people everywhere need to acknowledge that they are a sinner, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus so that their sins can be forgiven (See Luke 24:47). This message of God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone as stated in the Scripture alone (See Ephesians 2:8-9) is the message that the church cannot afford to compromise on. The church must avoid preaching a false gospel, a false Jesus, or claim to be empowered by a false spirit (See 2 Corinthians 11:3). The church must discern between truth and error and drive out those who would deny this message either by their doctrine or their conduct (See Revelation 2:12-29).

 

          The Head of a Great Commission Church. Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 that all authority has been given to Him. In other words, Christ is the head of the church (See Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18) and its husband (See 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8). Jesus loves His church, and He demonstrated His love for the church by giving Himself for her (See Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 1:5). Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Not only did Jesus do this to restore Peter from his sin of denying Jesus at His arrest, but Jesus was also teaching him the most important thing he needed to learn and that is that our relationship to Jesus is absolutely essential to our service to Him. If our love for Jesus is strong, then we will feed His sheep (See John 21:15-17). If we follow Him, then we become fishers of men (See Mark 1:16-20). We are commanded to become fishers of men and we are commanded to feed His sheep. But we are also commanded to love Him and on this commandment of love rest the success or failure of the command to serve. This is the lesson that Jesus taught the two sisters of Martha and Mary (See Luke 10:38-42). What does it mean to love Jesus? It is like the love of Abraham for God when he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac See Genesis 22:1-19; Hebrews 11:17-19). It is like the love of God for us when He sent His Son Jesus (See Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10). It is love that is unconditional, full of virtue, and superior to everything else (See 1 Corinthians 13). This love must be focused on Christ above everything else or otherwise it will not stand (See Matthew 6:24).  The Church at Ephesus was reminded to never lose this first love or the church itself would cease to exist (See Revelation 2:4-5). Whoever does not love the Lord Jesus is accursed (See 1 Corinthians 16:22), so let us open our minds and hearts and let the Lord Jesus be first in our lives and then He will come to us and fellowship with us (See Revelation 3:20). As we abide in Jesus and in His love, He will abide in us, and we will then bear fruit in our lives and in our ministry (See John 15:4-10). 

 

          The Power of a Great Commission church. The power of the church rests in the indwelling Spirit of God. Luke recorded Jesus’ command to His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Promise of the Father came and empowered them (See Luke 24:49). This was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost (See Acts 2:1-4) and the church was equipped to do the task of which it was called (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Missions cannot be accomplished apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. It is He who enlightens us to the truths of God’s word (See John 14:26; 16:13), equips us to witness (See John 15:26-27), and enables us to glorify Christ (See John 16:14). The Spirit indwells (See John 14:16-17; Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19) and baptized us into the body of Christ (See 1 Corinthians 12:13). We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit continually (See Ephesians 5:18) and we need to walk daily in His power (See Galatians 5:16, 25). We dare not grieve Him (See Ephesians 4:30) or quench Him (See 1 Thessalonians 5:19) through our sin but we need to confess our sins (See 1 John 1:5-10) and keep the connection strong (See John 13:8). Then He will produce His fruits within us (See Galatians 5:22-23) and He will use our gifts from Him to equip the church to fulfill its missionary task (See Ephesians 4:7-16). We need to understand that it is not by our power or by our might but by the Spirit that missions will be successful (See Zechariah 4:6). It is He who guides us in our mission (See Acts 16:6-10) and it is He who protects us from our enemies (See 1 John 4:4). The church at Philadelphia realized it had little strength and, was therefore successful (See Revelation 3:8). The church at Laodicea thought that it could do the task with its own resources and was failing miserably (See Revelation 3:15-17). We cannot accomplish any task without the Lord, and we dare not make any plans without Him (See Proverbs 16:9; Isaiah 30:1; 31:1). Cursed is any person or church that trusts in man (See Jeremiah 17:5) but blessed is the person or church that trusts on God (See Psalm 40:4; 84:12; Jeremiah 17:7). 

 

          The Endurance of a Great Commission church. In Luke 24:49, Jesus told the disciples to “tarry” in the city of Jerusalem until they were endured with power from on high. In Jesus’ message to Peter in John 21:15-19, Jesus told Peter to follow Him and that it would cost him his life. This is a reminder that the Great Commission church will suffer hardships and thus, they are to endure for the sake of Christ (See Revelation 3:10). While Jesus has given the church authority over demons (See Luke 10:17-20), and while Jesus has promised to never leave the church (See Matthew 28:20), the church will face persecution (See John 15:20). This endurance is especially needed when the church is carrying out its task of missions. Like a soldier (See 2 Timothy 2:3-4), an Olympic athlete (See 2 Timothy 2:5), and a farmer (See 2 Timothy 2:6), the church must endure in order to accomplish its task. The work of missions is hard and involves much sacrifice, hardship and uncertain results. Jesus told His disciples in Luke 9:23 that the road of discipleship requires sacrifice. Peter, after His call to feed the sheep, was told by Jesus that He would die in the call to duty (See John 21:18-19)! He was then challenged to follow Jesus anyway (See John 21:19). Jesus told His church in Smyrna to be faithful unto death and He would give them the crown of life (See Revelation 2:10). Considering all this, let us be willing as church to endure for the sake of the elect, so that it may be for their salvation and benefit (See 2 Timothy 2:10). Let us bear affliction, so that the task of missions can be accomplished (See 2 Corinthians 1:3-7). 

 

          The Promise to a Great Commission church. Jesus promised the church that gates of death itself will not prevail against it (See Matthew 16:18). The reason for this promise is that Jesus said that He would never leave nor forsake the church (See Matthew 28:20). Indeed, if two or three are gathered in His name, there He will be among them (Matthew 18:20). Just as God went ahead of Israel in the wilderness (See Exodus 13:21-22; Deuteronomy 31:8), so Christ will go ahead of us and be with us as we do missions. Is His name not Immanuel (See Matthew 1:23)? When Saul persecuted the church did not Jesus say that Saul was persecuting Him (See Acts 9:4)? Is not the church His chaste bride (See 2 Corinthians 11:2)? Then how can she ever be abandoned?  Even in our darkest hours, Jesus is watching over us (See Mark 6:46-52). With this promise of His presence, the church can be assured that as it obeys His call to do missions, the Lord Himself will be with them.

 

          So, we can see that the true church is a Great Commission church. The Great Commission church has been given authority by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to carry out the task of missions. Its mission is to go out and make disciples in all the nations beginning in its own community. Its message is a call to repent of sins, trust in the person, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and to follow Him as Lord. The Great Commission church needs to remember that Christ is its head, and their supreme responsibility is to love and obey Him. The Power of a Great Commission church is through the Holy Spirit and thus their needs to be a continual dependency on the Lord shown in prayer. The Great Commission church is called to endure in its faith, walk and mission with the strengthening promise that the Lord Jesus will never forsake them. Knowing all this, I ask you: Are you part of a Great Commission church?

         

          It is time for us in the church to wake up for the hour of Christ’s coming is at hand (See Romans 13:11-12). Let us be moved with compassion for the lost like Jesus is (See Matthew 9:36). Let us do the will of the Lord and to finish His work of missions. Let us do business until He comes (See Luke 19:13). Let us open our eyes and see that this world is ripe for the harvest of the lost (See John 4:35). Our desire should be to see fruit in our ministry as we spread the gospel outward (See Romans 1:13). We are debtors to be witnesses to not only our own communities but to all people everywhere (See Romans 1:14). We should prepare ourselves to preach the gospel for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes (See Romans 1:15-16). For how can anyone believe if they have not heard the gospel? How can anyone hear the gospel if there is no witness? How can anyone be a witness if our churches are not training and sending people (See Romans 10:14-15)? We need to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear (See 1 Peter 3:15). This should include being able to give our personal testimony concerning our salvation and walk with Christ as Paul did (See Acts 22:3-21; 26:4-23).  We also need to pray that the faith of our churches is spoken of throughout the whole community (See Romans 1:8). This will come when our faith is shown to be effective as people acknowledge of every good thing which is in us who are in Christ Jesus (Philemon 5-6). Yes, the harvest may be plentiful, but the laborers are few, so let us pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more laborers (See Matthew 9:37-38). Let us reach out to the lost knowing that if we are successful, we will be snatching them out of the fire (See Jude 23) and we will see that person saved from a multitude of sins (See James 5:19-20). We do this knowing that as we are used by God to turn a person to righteousness, that someday we will shine like the stars above (See Daniel 12:3) and our converts themselves will be our crown of rejoicing at Christ’s coming (See 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). All of this to say that we should embrace our call to be Great Commission churches!

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (MAY 2023)
WE SERVE CHRIST BY SERVING OTHERS

One of the biggest ministries that the Association has is its Care Ministries. We look for ways to serve and provide care to the people in our community. Many times, that means we enter partnerships with other ministries such as the Crossett Food Pantry, Life Choices, Drug Free Ashley County Coalition, and Hope at Home among many others. Why do we do this Consider this Scripture in Matthew 25:40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you. As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” Jesus speaking to His disciples about when He comes back in glory, all the angels with Him, before Him, gathered all the nations. And He’s separating people from one another, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. And the King says to those on His right, His sheep, “Come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world because I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison; you came to me.” And the sheep are saying, the righteous answering, “When did this happen? When did we feed you? See you thirsty and give you drink? And see you a stranger and welcome you? And see you naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And Jesus says, “As you did it to one of the least of these of my brothers, you did it to me.” It is obvious that the point and call of this passage is that we should serve others. According to this passage, why should we serve others? Here are seven reasons why we should serve others.

1) We should serve others is because when we serve others, we are serving Christ Himself. Jesus so identifies with His people, that an act towards one of His children is an act towards Himself. What a powerful picture of Jesus’ identification with His church and what Jesus calls us to do as His church. To love, care for, provide for, lay down our lives for one another. This truth should make us pray to God to give us the hearts that have the desire to serve others, to love others sacrificially like this, that see people right around us who are hurting and in need. That God will enable us to see those who are hungry, those who are hurting, those who are enslaved to their addictions, Those who are prison and sick, and those who are desperate, lonely with no place to go. That we will respond with sacrificial love to those who are hurting and serve them and care for them.

2) We should serve others because we are grateful for what Christ did for us. Think about what Jesus did for us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were blind, naked, hungry and desperate spiritually. We had no hope and were helpless. So, Jesus left the comforts and riches of heaven, came down, became one of us, suffered poverty, hunger, thirst with no place to lay His head. He was ridiculed, rejected, abandoned, unjustly accused, tortured, unjustly sentenced to die a horrendous death by crucifixion. He was nailed to a cross naked with a crown of thorns on his head. He was further mocked while he was on the cross and was even rejected by His own Father as he bore every single sin that every human being who has ever existed, exists today and will exist in the future. He took the punishment of our sins that we deserved to suffer for eternally in Hell and He died. We know that He was buried and rose again on the third day. We know He did this all because He loved us, and this was the only way to save us from our sins. In other words, Jesus saw our need and He met our need by becoming a servant. As a result, as Christians, who are grateful for what Christ did for us, should we not do for Christ what He did for us by serving others?

3) We should serve others because it is one of the very purposes of our existence. Serving is one of your life purposes. Mark 8:35 (NKJV) says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it". Now hear is an interesting paraphrase from Mark 8:35 in the Living Bible that says, "Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.” Until we learn how to serve, we’re not really living—we’re just existing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give away.

 

4) We should serve others because this makes us more like Jesus. Matthew 20:28 says, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” If we don’t learn how to serve others, then we will never grow to spiritual maturity. In fact, we’ll be a spiritual baby our entire life.

 

5) We should serve others because this is the highest use of our time. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. Redeeming the time, because the days are evil". So, how should we redeem our time for the Lord? 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord". If you want to make an impact and leave a legacy, one of the higher uses of your time is to serve God by serving others. Your service to the Lord is never wasted.

 

6) We should serve others because this is the secret to greatness. Matthew 20:25-26 says, "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant". True greatness comes from servanthood, not from living for yourself. The greatest leaders are those who serve the most.

 

7) We should serve others because this will be rewarded in heaven. Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30, “So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life". Ultimately, your real boss is Jesus. And he will reward you one day for everything you’ve done for him. That’s a guarantee!

 

How passionate are you about serving God? Could your enthusiasm use a boost? God wants you to think differently about serving and to follow Romans 12:10-11 that says, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord". One way to serve others for the Lord is to be involved in the ministries in your local church. Another way is for you and your church to partner with the Association as we continually seek ways to serve others for Christ in our community.

 

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (APRIL 2023)

GOD IS NOT GLORIFIED BY OUR MEDIOCRITY

     As we are watching the implosion of America happening all around us, the greater tragedy is happening in its churches. Many of the churches are not reaching out to the community around them but seem to be satisfied with their comfortable and familiar surroundings and with their ever shrinking and ever graying membership. Being a church member seems to mean to be a part of a social club with free tickets to heaven and no cost of following Christ. Being mediocre or doing the bare minimum seems to be the standard for both the pastors and the rest of the church members. All of whom have seemed to forget about their call to go and make disciples. All of whom have seemed to forget that there will be a day of judgment and accountability that is coming. 

     This current generation of Americans, both in and out of the church, seems to settle for mediocrity: Mediocre work, mediocre education, mediocre relationships (friendship, family, and marriages), and even mediocre faith. As Christians, we are not called to mediocrity; we are called to greatness--to be the greatest at everything we do to the best of our ability for the glory of the Lord. I do not mean God expects you to be an absolute expert in all that you do, but He does want you to be your best because it will only aid in your growth as a human being, and doing your best brings glory to God. What will matter in the end is that we did our best to be at our best. It does not glorify God when we just go through the motions and settle for less.

     Jesus talked about this subject in a parable in Luke 19:11-27 which says the following: “Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. 12 Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ 15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ 19 Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’ 20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are [b]an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ”

      Two things about this passage of Scripture. First, God will be to us what we expect Him to be. We are judged by the God we expect—we expect either a gracious God or a harsh God (v. 22). In verse 22, the nobleman being represented as Jesus was essentially saying, “That’s who you think I am? You think I am severe, so then I’ll be severe towards you since that’s how you expect Me to be. Your own words condemn you.” Before this parable, we see how God deals with the differing expectations of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). He deals with them both differently according to their expectations of Him (the Pharisee in judgement and the tax collector in forgiveness). Second, this parable teaches us to be faithful with whatever we have or face the loss of all we have, even if it’s only a little. Each of the servants were given 10 minas. The first returned with 10 more and the second returned with only five. The second may have returned with less, but he still made a profit regardless. In business, they came back with a return on investment—the nobleman invested in them, and they returned with more than they started out with. The third, however, wanted to avoid risk and didn’t do anything; he simply hid. Unlike him, the other two servants used what they had to advance the nobleman’s kingdom. No matter how much or how little resources God gives us, He expects us to use our resources to advance His kingdom. The world may not want Jesus to reign over them, but He does anyway, and we are sent out to do His business. God gives more to those who use their resources if not on earth, then certainly in Heaven—where our true treasure lies. Those who hide and are lazy and squander their resources will suffer loss. Each calling in life that we have is just another resource we have to advance God’s kingdom—every relationship we have. If we don’t take advantage of those relationships to be an example of Christ, we’re just squandering that opportunity to make Him known. By hiding the Gospel in each of our callings in life, we are settling for mediocrity. So why does mediocrity dishonor God instead of glorifying Him? As Christians, everything we do reflects who God is. We are ambassadors of Christ—we are His representatives. Because we have the label “Christian” (Christ follower), all eyes are on us. Thus, we must avoid mediocrity. There are three basic characteristics of mediocrity that do not belong to the Christian: procrastination, laziness, and timidity. When we’re lazy, timid, and procrastinate, we fail to reflect who Jesus is. In Jesus’ entire ministry He was neither lazy, timid, nor did he procrastinate. But in our endeavors to be Christlike, we often settle for mediocrity.

     The first basic characteristic of mediocrity is procrastination. Procrastination is the willful act of delaying or postponing something. There is no plausible reason for it—not matter the excuse that we may have. Ultimately, procrastination is another word for laziness. Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap”. Every year, at the beginning of the growing season, farmers go out and work the fields. They plow, till, and sow seeds. Then they step back and wait for God to do His part and bring the rain. If the rain doesn’t come and the plants die, they must begin the process all over again. They don’t abandon hope, but plant and plant again until the crops grow plentifully and the storehouses overflow. This is how success is achieved. On the other hand, if the farmer goes out at the start of the planting season and says, “I don’t feel any wind or see any clouds; it probably won’t rain, so why bother planting?” then he surely won’t reap any harvest. If he waits for the perfect conditions to arrive, it might be too late, and the farmer will have missed his chance altogether. The farmer must plant his crops believing that the rain will come, otherwise he will never get started or ever enjoy the fruits of his labor. In the same way, when God places an idea on our heart or we feel called to do something, we can’t put things off until the conditions are just right. Sometimes we say, “I’ll do it when I have more time.” Or “I’ll do it when I have more money.” Or . . . fill in any of the many other excuses that hold us back in life. Instead, Solomon teaches us in the book of Ecclesiastes to have faith and take the first step, even when we can’t see how everything will work out in the end. The problem with procrastination is when it becomes a perpetual habit then we will ultimately do not get anything done. Therefore, we should not insult Him by being mediocre with what we do by procrastinating all the time.

     The second basic characteristic of mediocrity is laziness. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to remain in motion, and an object at rest tends to remain at rest. This law applies to people. While some are naturally driven to complete projects, others are apathetic, requiring motivation to overcome inertia. Laziness, a lifestyle for some, is a temptation for all. But the Bible is clear that, because the Lord ordained work for man, laziness is sin. “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). Proverbs 21:25 tells us that a lazy person hates work: “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work” He loves sleep: “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed” (26:14); He gives excuses: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets’” (26:13); He wastes time and energy: “He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great waster” (18:9 KJV); He believes he is wise, but is a fool: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly” (26:16). Proverbs also tells us the end in store for the lazy: A lazy person becomes a servant (or debtor): “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor” (12:24); His future is bleak: “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing” (20:4); He may come to poverty: “The soul of the lazy man desires and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich” (13:4 KJV).

      There is no room for laziness in the life of a Christian. A new believer is truthfully taught that “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But a believer can become idle if he erroneously believes God expects no fruit from a transformed life. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Christians are not saved by works, but they do show their faith by their works (James 2:18, 26). Slothfulness violates God’s purpose—good works. The Lord, however, empowers Christians to overcome the flesh’s tendency towards laziness by giving us a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). In our new nature, we are motivated to diligence and productiveness out of a love for our Savior who redeemed us. Our old tendency toward laziness—and all other sin—has been replaced by a desire to live godly lives: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

     As Christians, we know that our labors will be rewarded by our Lord if we persevere in diligence: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10); “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). Christians should labor in God’s strength to evangelize and disciple. The apostle Paul is our example: “We proclaim him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29). Even in heaven, Christians’ service to God will continue, although no longer encumbered by the curse (Revelation 22:3). Free from sickness, sorrow, and sin—even laziness—the saints will glorify the Lord forever. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

     The third and final basic characteristic of mediocrity is timidity. The last way in which we must not be mediocre is in timidity. Paul writes to Timothy, “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Timidity is having a lack of courage or confidence. When we’re afraid to try something new or are lacking confidence, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome such weakness. It might sound odd, but timidity is a form of pride. When we’re timid, we’re afraid of what people will think of us if we fail. We think if we fail, people will think of us differently or our reputation will be damaged. Scripture tells us to obey our “earthly masters” (or bosses) “with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:6-7). We are not doing this new thing for man. We might even be doing it for yourself, but ultimately we should be doing it for God—to bring Him the glory.

     We start over and try again until we succeed. Failure doesn’t mean, “It’s over.” It means, “Try again; do better.” “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). When we’re timid and become afraid of what others will think, if we fail or just purely afraid of failure itself, we’re putting ourselves in a snare—it’s a trap! Unless we trust in God, there’s no way out. What’s the point of having faith if we don’t trust the very one who gave it to us? By faith, we trust God’s promise of salvation, which is an extremely serious thing to trust Him with. How simple it is, then, to trust Him with every other aspect of our lives. Don’t settle for mediocre faith by failing to trust in the very one who gave it to you. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Make your plans and act on them; God will bring you through it. It may not be exactly as you envision it, but He will get you through it all to do what His will for you is.

     Procrastination is the failure to remain diligent and work dutifully for the Lord, therefore such mediocrity fails to glorify God. Laziness is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it, therefore such mediocrity fails to glorify God. Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of our lives, therefore such mediocre faith fails to glorify God. The world is apathetic about such mediocrity; therefore, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to remain ever diligent, enthusiastic, and courageous in bringing God all the glory through us. We sing the song, “How Great is Our God,” while at the same time settling for mediocrity in our lives and in our faith. What an insult it is to our great God to ignore the greatness He has called each of us to! If God accepted mediocrity, He would not call us to extraordinary faith and action. We’re not called to be like the rest of the world in their mediocre faithlessness. We are called to greatly serve our Lord Jesus Christ and love our neighbor. We fail when we procrastinate and become lazy or timid because in doing so, we fail in our callings, which is to fail as Christ’s workmanship. “Therefore, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (MARCH 2023)
RECIPE FOR A REVIVAL (NEHEMIAH 8:1-18)

 

   I have been reading about the events these past weeks at Asbury College, a small Wesleyan college in Asbury Kentucky, about nonstop worship services that many are calling a “revival”. I have heard some reports from some pastors who attended the event and felt like this was a genuine movement of God. Time will tell if this was a genuine revival and if there are hopefully more to follow. One thing is for sure. We in the church are desperate for a “true revival” to come into our churches, communities and nation.

 

The question remains: What is a revival? How can we experience it? When we Christians are praying for a revival, what exactly are we praying for? Anyone, who has spent any time in a Baptist church, might think about a series of meetings during which a church invites an evangelist to come in and reach unbelievers with the gospel. But in the Bible, revivals were not aimed at unbelievers; they were aimed at believers. Think about it: we cannot revive something that is spiritually dead. People without Christ do not need resuscitation–they need resurrection. Revival is for God’s people. Anytime that we have a revival in the Bible, it occurred when people who were believers became lethargic in their walk with God, and God awakened them. Here is a good definition of revival: Revival occurs when the Spirit of God using the Word of God motivates the people of God to obey the will of God. Revival is when, in the deepest levels of our being, we hear the call of God saying to us, “Come to Me, My people. Come closer. Go deeper. Leave your selfish, self-indulgent way of life behind. Turn from your sins. Be sorry for them. Confess them to Me with full faith in the work of My Son on the cross; and draw closer to Me. Let Me be your all. Let Me fulfill you and satisfy You fully.” And it’s not just simply that we hear the call and decide that it’s a good idea to come. When true revival comes upon us as a church and a community of believers, we become so overwhelmed by the work of the Holy Spirit that we cannot help but come! It’s a matter of the Holy Spirit blowing upon us, drawing us to a deeper relationship with God the Father through Jesus the Son, and dramatically and permanently transforming us as God’s people. And so often, when revival comes upon God’s people, it’s accompanied by a remarkable spread and success of the message of the gospel—so that many other people also become followers of Christ. In true revival, God so transforms His people that they—in turn—transform the times in which they live. Do we want this type of revival? Do we want to regain that excitement we once had in our relationship with God? If so, Nehemiah 8:1-18 is for us. We read in Nehemiah 8:1-18:

 

“Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. 3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. 8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. 13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. 14 And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” 16 Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. 17 So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. 18 Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner. “

 

We see a shift of emphasis at this point in the book of Nehemiah. The focus of the first seven chapters is on the building of a city wall and gates in the city of Jerusalem, so that the city would have protection from its enemies. But, beginning in chapter 8, the focus is on the spiritual needs of the people. The action in the first seven chapters is the construction of the wall, but the second half of the book deals with the instruction of the people. God used three specific men to help the captives of Israel to return from their captivity in Babylon. The first man was Zerubbabel. He came with the first group in 516 BC to rebuild the temple. Then in 458 BC the second man came back. That was Ezra, who was a religious leader. His job was to reinstitute the worship that was to occur in the temple. Fourteen years later, Nehemiah came back with the third group of people. His job was to rebuild the wall, and he did so in just fifty-two days. But that was not Nehemiah’s ultimate purpose. More than just building a wall, God wanted to build a community of devoted believers who would be His representatives in the culture. That is what Nehemiah’s ultimate purpose was. And just as God wanted to renew a group of His followers in Jerusalem, God wants to do that same kind of renewal work in our hearts as well. If we long for a renewal of our relationship with God, if we want that vibrancy restored to our relationship with our Creator, then Nehemiah 8 has five ingredients for a true spiritual revival. Here is the first ingredient:

 

1. A NOTABLE DESIRE TO HEAR GOD’S WORD (vv. 1-5). Verse 1 says, "Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel (v. 1)". Can we hear the cry of the people? “Bring the Book of the Law!” Do we understand what’s so remarkable about that? It was something that the people themselves initiated. They were the ones who asked for Ezra—the godly scribe—to get a copy of the word of God and feed them from it. They themselves had a yearning to hear from God! And of course, Ezra answered that call and fulfilled that yearning. We’re told; “So, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (vv. 2-3). Imagine that! Men and women; young and old; all who had the ability to hear and understand—they all stood in the open square and listened carefully. They stood from morning to midday—perhaps as long as four to five hours—giving their full attention to the reading of God’s law. And that, by the way, is how it naturally should be. The work that God does to renew and revive His people has always been through His Word. And note how this happened! Consider the solemnity with which the word of God was heard! Verses 4-5 says, “So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up (vv. 4-5). So, in this story, a group of men made Ezra a pulpit, and everyone stood during the sermon. This shows us that in times of revival, the preaching of God’s word is received with the utmost seriousness and respect. It’s a time when everyone recognizes that when God’s word is faithfully being proclaimed, it is God Himself who is doing the speaking! When God begins to call us to a deeper relationship with Himself, He does it through His Word. One of the great marks of revival is a new, notable, passionate desires to hear that word from God—a desire that is accompanied by great reverence and receptivity. God shows His work in us by the fact that we become hungry—desperately hungry—to hear from Him! A second ingredient—one that I would say naturally follows from a serious hearing of God’s word—is:

 

2. A WORSHIPFUL RECOGNITION OF GOD’S GLORY AND HOLINESS (vv. 6-8). True revival not only involves a hearing of the word of God. It also involves a response in worship of the God of the Word. As this passage goes on to tell us about the reading of God’s Law to the people: “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground (v. 6). Here, Ezra was leading the people in worship. He was “blessing the Lord, the great God”. And think of the people. They weren’t responding passively. They were very active. First, they were lifting their hands and saying “Amen!”—which is to say, “It is true!” And then, they were bowing their heads and worshiping the Lord with their faces to the ground. They were up and down—emotionally high in enthusiasm, and humbly low in reverent awe. Many times, in the past, some have tried to manipulate people into ‘revival’ through such outward emotional expressions. I want to say this carefully; but some try to simply ‘work up the crowd’ into a state of a mere emotional frenzy and then call it ‘revival’. But that’s not true revival. I believe, of course, that true revival is often very emotional. When a community of people are being brought into a deep encounter with the living God in a transforming way, how can they not be emotional? But that transformation is not brought about by the emotions! It’s brought about by understanding God’s word; and that understanding—renewed by God’s word—results in a transformed inner disposition; and it’s that transformed inner disposition that shows itself in genuine emotion. When we hear the truth of God’s word in the power of the Holy Spirit; and genuinely understand what we hear; and it so grips our hearts that we are transformed inwardly by an awakened understanding—when that renewed understanding shows itself in our being made to grasp who God really is; and we become awestruck by His majesty holiness, and begin to realize who we are in His sight and how much we need His grace—then we worship God in great emotion. When that happens, I believe we’re seeing a true work of God—true revival.

 

That’s why I believe it’s so important that the meaning of God’s word be explained, and that people be helped to understand what it says in such a way that it feeds their minds and grips their hearts. Look at what we’re told in verses 7-8: “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So, they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense and helped them to understand the reading (vv. 7-8)”. That’s why they displayed such emotion in their worship. May God so impact us with a clear understanding of His word that we become inwardly transformed by truth—and may that inward transformation show itself in outward expressions of deep, emotional worship! That kind of passionate worship of God’s majesty is a characteristic of true revival!

Now; because the people were understanding truth from God’s word—because they were getting an accurate glimpse of who God truly was, and of who they were before Him—we find yet another ingredient in true revival; and that is:

 

3. A PROFOUND MOURNING OVER SIN (v. 9).

 

Apparently, as the word of God was being read to the people, and as their understanding was being opened, they began to get a sense of their own sinfulness before the Lord. We see something of this in verse 9; where it says, "And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law (v. 9)". So, this is another chief characteristic of true revival—a deep, sincere and profound mourning over sin that comes from an encounter with God. One of the great examples of this is found in Isaiah 6. At the time that God called Isaiah into the prophetic ministry, He gave him a vision of Himself in heavenly glory—” high and lifted up”. God allowed Isaiah to see the angelic hosts singing loud praises all around the throne of God; and allowed him to feel the temple shaking and the pillars trembling at the glory of His majesty. And when Isaiah saw the majesty holiness of God, he responded by mourning over his own sin. He looked at the glory of God and said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

 

Another great example of this is seen in the life of the apostle Peter. Jesus had asked Peter to let Him preach from his fishing boat. When the Lord was done, He told Peter to cast his net off to the side for a great catch of fish. And when Peter brought in so many fish that the boat almost began to sink, he realized who this was before him. And what did he do? He responded by mourning over his own sin. The Bible tells us that he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). I believe that true revival doesn’t leave us feeling proud of ourselves, but, rather, true revival is characterized by deep sorrow over sin. True revival involves nothing less than a profound encounter with God; and a true encounter with God reveals our sin—and reveals our need for His grace. Thus, revival is often characterized by deep sorrow and mourning. But it’s sorrow and mourning with a purpose. Most of all, true revival leads people to turn to Jesus for cleansing from that sin over which they sorrow. But revival is not only characterized only by sorrowing and mourning. When we feel great sorrow before God for our sin and our disobedience of His commandments, and when we respond by turning with all our being to Jesus Christ for cleansing from our sins, then that deep sorrow turns into an even deeper and more permanent joy! I believe this leads us to our next ingredient in true revival; that is:

 

4. A JOYFUL DELIGHT IN GOD’S MERCY (vv. 10-12).

 

Revival always leads to a notable transformation in people. They go through an unspeakably terrible time of sorrow over the guilt of sin—almost as if they feel God should just cast them into the flames of hell right then and there! But then—gradually for some; quite suddenly for others—God gives a profound and overwhelming sense of His love and forgiveness. The dark cloud of sorrow lifts. God assures their hearts that they have been washed clean in His sight by the blood of Jesus, and that they now belong to Him. And as deeply as they sorrowed over their sin and felt that they deserved eternal punishment, they have even more joy over their forgiveness through Christ, and rejoice that they have an eternal home in heaven. And in true revival, that confident joy lasts for a lifetime!

 

I think we see something of this in verses 10-12 that says, "Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved. And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them (vv. 10-12)”. And there’s one more ingredient that characterizes true revival; and that is:

 

5. A GROWING OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S COMMANDS (vv. 13-18).

 

One of the things that most characterizes true revival is genuine, lasting change in our life. People who used to have no care at all about following the Lord’s commands and instructions now eagerly seek to do so. They want to obey God. We’re told in verses "Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”

 

This was a command that God gave Moses to give to the people of Israel long ago. They were to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles at a certain time of year—to commemorate their time of wandering in the wilderness. They were reminded of this command as Ezra had read to them from the Book of Leviticus; and they wasted no time in obeying it. "Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So, the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so". Vs. 16-17a). Think of that! They had neglected to obey this command since the days of Joshua! That means that they had been disobeying it for about eight centuries! But now—having heard of their neglect, they began doing what God had told them to do. “And there was very great gladness. Also, day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner” (vv. 17b-18).

 

There’s an important spiritual lesson in this concerning obedience. When God draws a people to a deeper relationship with Himself, obedience doesn’t necessarily occur all at once. It grows. The people didn’t know everything they were to do yet; and they did not try to become perfect overnight. Instead, they began obeying right where they were. They heard from the reading of God’s word about what they had been neglecting, repented of their disobedience, and began obeying in that one thing. As we read on in the book of Nehemiah, other areas of neglect began to be revealed to them later, and they repented in those things too. So, genuine revival isn’t characterized by instantaneous perfection. ‘Instantaneous perfection’ doesn’t really last long. Rather, true revival is characterized by a growing obedience—a life-long process in which the Lord Jesus reveals truth to us from His Word at just the time in life in which we need it, and takes increasing rule over every area of our lives progressively. We grow in our obedience over a lifetime.

 

Well; that’s what true revival looks like. That is a receipt for a revival. It’s what I’m praying for. And I would ask that you pray for it with me as well. May God grant such revival to us here for our churches in this Association. But as we pray, and as we wait, let’s allow God to make this a reality in our own lives. Let’s each one pray, “Give revival, O Lord—and begin with me!”

 

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (FEBRUARY 2023)
THE CALL OF GOD IS ONLY HEARD BY A SURRENDERED LIFE.

 

   You will notice that the title of my message is that the call of God is only heard by those who have surrendered their life to Jesus. A question that is often asked is: “What is God’s call for my life?” But, to receive the answer to this question, one must understand that there two types of calls that God gives to us. The first is a general call which is a call that God gives to everyone and then there is a specific call that God gives to anyone who has first accepted His general call. The general call of God is a call to surrender’s one life to Christ in faith and to follow Him where He wants us to go. This general call involves not just our salvation, but it also involves a daily call for Christians who need to decide whether Christ will be the first love in their life or not. The specific call of God is a way that God wants a particular born-again Christian to follow Christ. It could be a call to follow Christ as a missionary, a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, an evangelist, or another type of worker in the Kingdom of God. This specific call is not for everyone but for the one who has first accepted the general call. The specific call for one Christian may and probably will be different than the specific call for another Christian. The specific call can and often does change over time, but the general call never changes.

 

   Many Christians have lives that are stagnant and feel unfulfilled because they have never heard God’s specific call to their lives. The reason that they have never heard the specific call of God is because they are ignoring and disobeying the general call of God. They are refusing to totally surrender their lives to Christ and to follow Him as the first love in their lives. This is why so few members of the Church are involved in ministry. This is why we have pastors who are burned out and churches that have fewer and fewer members. is all clearly shown in Isaiah 6:8-9 that says, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people”. You will notice that God did not call Isaiah directly, but Isaiah overheard God’s call, “Who will go for us?” was God’s general call and Isaiah responded with “Here I am! Send me.” God did not try to compel Isaiah to accept the call nor did He plead for Isaiah to accept it. Rather, he gave out a general call which Isaiah heard and accepted. Then, after Isaiah accepted God’s general call, God gave Isaiah a specific call to prophesy to His people. So, God did not say to Isaiah, “Now you go”, but instead, He called our generally, “Who will go?” is the way that God call works today. God is still calling out, “Who will go for us?” but, most people are not responding to God’s call because they are not surrendering their life to Christ. Only the people who deliberately give up their right to themselves for Jesus Christ and surrender themselves entirely to God’s Will and Kingdom, will be ready to hear God’s call for their life.

   

   How we get ourselves in position to surrender our life to Christ and hear His call? In Isaiah 6:1-7, Isaiah saw a vision of a holy and infinite God sitting on a throne and then saw Himself as a wretched sinner undeserving of any of God’s blessings. He cried out for mercy and a seraphim took coals from the altar to purge Isaiah’s sins from his lips. Now Isaiah had a life that was surrendered to the Lord and he was ready to hear and follow God’s call. It is no different for us. We need to seek God’s face and presence through His Word and prayer. We need to see God for who He is - A God who is holy, infinite, full of live and Who is worthy of all worship, glory, honor, and praise. Then we need to see ourselves for who we really are – wretched sinners who deserve nothing but God’s wrath but who desperately need His grace, forgiveness, wisdom, and power so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can be equipped to truly follow Jesus and fulfill His call. Thus, we need to continually return to that old rugged cross where our Savior bled and died. We need to continually allow God to cleanse us of our sins and make us whole in Him. Then, we will be ready to hear His call and surrender our life to His Son Jesus. Then we will be ready to receive His specific call. How many of us today have heard his specific call and are following Jesus? How many of us need to return to the cross of Christ and ask Him to cleanse us and then use us for His kingdom and glory?

 

 

 

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ASSOCIATIONAL MISSIONARY MESSAGE (JANUARY 2023)
A WORTHY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION

 

As we enter 2023, many of us are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. How can we be a better person this year? As Christians, we know that the answers to how to be a better person is found in God’s Word, the Bible. In the Bible, there is a verse that would be a great New Year’s Resolution for any of us to have: Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”. This verse naturally leads to this question: “How do we seek first the Kingdom of God? What is the will of God for my life? Am I accomplishing the will of God in my life? How can I please God? Before, we can answer how to seek first the Kingdom of God, we must understand what the Kingdom of God is. The Kingdom of God is simply God’s rule, reign, and sovereign guidance over all creation. We can look around us and see that God’s rule does not extend to most of humanity today. In fact, if we are honest, we must acknowledge that God’s rule does not extend over much of our lives today. So, the kingdom of God must start with us. In what areas of our lives is God not ruling over today and why is he not ruling? What changes do we need to make so that God can rule over all areas in our lives? We also need to understand that a kingdom in the Bible is synonymous with its king. In other words, to seek a Kingdom is the same as seeking its king. Since Jesus is the King in God’s Kingdom, how can we seek Him more? As we read through Matthew 6, we learn that there are two things that we must do to seek God’s Kingdom or Jesus first.

  1. We must put aside all other rivals and competition to Jesus. Matthew 6:33 says that we must seek God’s Kingdom first. The reason that many of us do not seek God’s Kingdom first is because we are serving other masters. As Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”. We must ask ourselves: What are we really worshipping in our hearts? Where are we devoting our time, treasures, and talents? There is room for only one king to rule our hearts. As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Whatever we spend much of our time, efforts and resources is what we are ultimately worshipping. Thus, we must do an inventory of our lives and see where we have potential idols that are dividing our hearts. Then, we must confess, repent of, and forsake these other masters and put Jesus first.
  2. We must submit all our worries and anxieties over to Jesus. A casual reading of Matthew 6:25-32 shows us that our own fears, worries, and anxiety keeps us from seeking the Kingdom of God. For example, Matthew 6:25 says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” We can become so consumed with our worries over money, job, marriage, family, health and even our church that we become paralyzed and unable to seek God’s Kingdom. How do we deal with this? 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”. So, to overcome our fears and worries, we must go to Jesus and give our fears and worries over to Him. How do we do this? First, we need to take our thoughts captive. We get anxious because of the thoughts we allow and entertain in our minds, which can make us pessimistic, fearful, and doubtful. If we want to control our fears and worries, then we must control our thoughts. This is a part of Satan’s strategy, and we must recognize and deal with the threat. As 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled”. Next, we need to pray about our fears and worries. As Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. We need to pray specifically and with faith that God will deal with whatever it is that is causing us such anguish. Finally, we need to read and trust God’s promises in His Word. Jesus identified the real problem of our fear and anxieties in Matthew 6:30 that says, “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” So, our small faith is the root cause of our fears and anxieties. This means that we must read, meditate, and trust the Bible more, for the Bible is the source of our faith. As Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”. Promises such as Isaiah 41:10 that says, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” With this kind of promise why are we so afraid?

If we want to have a New Year’s Resolution and be a better person, why not adopt Matthew 6:33 and seek God’s Kingdom first. If we will be willing to eliminate all idols and competition to Jesus in our hearts and cast all our fears and worries upon Him through intentional control of our thoughts through prayer and His Word, then Jesus can assume total control and rule over our lives and His kingdom will grow in us. Then we will become a better person.

 

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