Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

What is independence?

Basically, independence is not depending upon something or someone. When we think about depending upon something or someone, we think about our lives and what is involved in living them. We are dependent upon sustenance; food and water. We are dependent upon air to breathe. We are dependent upon light for vitamin D and healthy skin. We are dependent upon shelter from the heat and cold. We are dependent upon medicine when we are sick. When we were infants, we depended upon our parents for care, nurture, and nutrition. When we were children, we depended upon education to teach us reading, writing, and arithmetic, in order to learn how to be self-sufficient, take care of ourselves, obtain employment, etc. Some of us, when we were older, became dependent upon a college education to increase our marketability for employment, in order to provide a better life for ourselves and our families. We depend upon our State and local law enforcement and our military to keep us safe and free. We’re dependent upon a lot of things.

Then, we become dependent upon another. Maybe a spouse or a care giver, a mentor, a teacher or professor, or even our children. Come to think of it, independence is not a reality in most of our lives. We are dependent upon some things or someone. We are dependent on those who love us – because we need love. As a citizens looking at our city, state, and country what do we see?

We see that independence has never been easy. Nearly 250 years ago, it was something worth fighting for. The idea of a people who stood on equal footing, free to speak, free to wander, free to live. These were ideals worth risking everything for.[1]

What were these ideals?

“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”[2]

Today we find ourselves fighting old battles. Not with past foes, but with ourselves. We are a nation divided. It seems the very freedoms we once fought for have become stumbling blocks.[3]

What are the stumbling blocks?

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. Today, the right to life has been challenged; it has been discarded; it has been denied. It has been challenged, discarded, and denied by people who have determined in their minds that what was once considered lawless; a part of themselves they consider theirs, is really not theirs at all.  Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Evil has deluded people to see these lawless acts as ideas of freedom and self-determination. Freedom to be who they want to be, to do what they want to another, not concerned with the outcome, concerned only with what they will receive. What makes people happy? Wars, and fighting amongst people of all colors. drug lords, gang leaders, political party leaders, nations against nations – all in the name of what they want, what they consider valuable, what makes them happy, whether or not in reality, it may be harmful or deadly. Greed, self-centeredness, licentiousness, lawlessness, pride and avarice control the minds of the ungodly. These are the stumbling blocks we set before ourselves and at the same time wonder why we’re tripping over them.

Are we too busy seeking ourselves to even recognize the tragedy which surrounds us? In this moment; the truth of Scripture rings especially true.[4] What does God tell us in His Word?

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  Romans 1:18-32 (NKJV)

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (NKJV)

If we the people will humbly pray, turn from this wickedness, and seek His face, then He will hear us, He will forgive us, and He will heal this land.[5]

What is true independence?

“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:31-36 (NKJV)

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”  Romans 8:2 (NKJV)

Today, may we remember this one simple truth…True independence is found only in our dependence on God [6] alone.

Stay cool and have a blessed and safe July!

          Pastor Gary


[1] 2021, Footbridge Media. Pensacola, Florida

[2] https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

[3] 2021, Footbridge Media. Pensacola, Florida

[4] 2021, Footbridge Media. Pensacola, Florida

[5] 2021, Footbridge Media. Pensacola, Florida

[6] 2021, Footbridge Media. Pensacola, Florida

Connected to Christ in Advent

Advent is upon us! In this season, we look back on all Christ did when He came veiled in flesh. We also look forward to when He will come again in His resurrected body with nail-pierced hands. In this year of social-distancing and social unrest, we remember that regardless of circumstance we are connected because of Christ and the life He freely gave for us.

The work of Christ connects us to Him and also to all other Christians. What an encouragement that is. During these times when we feel disconnected and are physically distanced, the reminder that we are connected to Christ is especially sweet.

Connected in Christ through Jesse’s Family Tree

Isaiah speaks of a branch that will bear fruit. That branch is Christ. Isaiah 11:1 says: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

The verse from Isaiah says that from the stump and roots of Jesse’s family tree a new branch will be born, will grow, and will bear much fruit. We are a part of this new growth. We may not share genetic familiarity with Jesse, Abraham, or King David. Because of Christ, we have been grafted into the new growth that finds its roots in the families of these people who came before. We are connected to Abraham, King David, and the people with whom we share church pews not because of genetic familiarity or social proximity but because of Christ.

The book of John talks about Christ being the vine and us the branches that grow directly from the branch. We are a part of this new growth. In Christ, we are grafted into this family. Christ is the vine that holds us all together. We abide in him and we are all connected to Christ and connected to one another. (John 15:4-5)
The Bible speaks in different ways about us being connected. What remains the same is the centrality of Christ. He is what binds us together. He binds us together in Baptism, regardless of the distance. We are connected as heirs in Christ and together we cry out to our heavenly Father. And while we are apart, He is growing us as individuals and as a body of believers.

Connected in Christ through Baptism.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . .”
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 12-14; 18; 24-27)

We are all baptized into the same faith because of the work of Christ. We are all a part of the same body. God has put this body of believers together. Nothing, not even death, can permanently separate us from Christ and our fellow believers.

Connected in Christ regardless of distance.

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 2:1-5)

We are physically distanced yet not completely removed from one another because we are connected in Christ. This is not the first time Christians have felt the discomfort of distance. There is distance and it is painful yet we are still connected. We are knit together by the love of Christ and we look forward to when we can gather together again. Even though Paul has not seen these people face to face he is still encouraging them in their faith. Both Paul and we can do this because our assurance is not in our ability to connect with another but in the hold Christ has on us all.

Connected in Christ as family.

Our family bonds may be strained because we cannot travel, yet because of Christ, all of us as believers are family. We are forever connected and all at once we are crying out to the same Father. We can cry out to him “Abba! Father!” During this time of social distancing and separation, we can remember that we are children of God. We are all crying out at the same time for the same things even when we are apart. We can pray the Lord’s prayer and know others are praying the same words. We can recite the creeds and know that others are declaring those same words.

Connected in Christ and given gifts.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:4-7; 15-16)

We may be physically distant from one another, yet the Word of Christ is not taken from us. We can still speak the truth in love to one another. It may not be in the church narthex. It may be via letter instead. Rest assured that Christ is still at work in our lives making the body grow. He is still using each one of us. His gifts to us are still there. He is still using them. He is still building the body in love. He is growing us each as individuals and also as a Church body.

Connected through Christ

During this time when our usual ways of connecting may not be possible, we can know that we are connected because of Christ. The physical disconnection is there and it is painful. There may be a disconnection because of death, sickness, or general unrest. Thankfully our hope is not in our own life, health, or peace. Our hope is found in the life of Christ and the peace he gives.

This Advent, as with all of the Advent seasons that have come before, we look forward to when Christ will come back for us. He will raise His people from the dead, and our relationships with each other will be fully restored. We will, all together, look at the nail pierced hands of Christ in awe. I’m looking forward to that, as we all are.

~ taken from the CPH blog by Katie Koplin

Just click on the picture!

city_wide-small

Neighbor

There are famous words from the Torah Portion Kedushim (Holy) that not only Jesus, but many Jewish sages before and after Him, considered to be the kernel of the all Jewish teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. These words from Leviticus 19 are quoted in all the Synoptic Gospels. However, only in the Gospel of Luke 10:29-37, is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan where the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is addressed. What was so shocking in Jesus’ interpretation of one’s neighbor?

The Continuity

The episode opens with a “lawyer” asking Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with a question: “What is written in the law?” The lawyer quotes verses from the Torah known to all Jews of his time— Deut.6:5 and Lev.19:18. These verses had already been combined in Jewish thought and had indeed been considered to be the foundation of the whole Torah; so by this point we observe only continuity between the covenants.

The 3rd Man

The dialogue continues, however, and the famous parable follows; a man was attacked and left for dead and both a Priest and a Levite passed him by. There is a shocking aspect that may escape a non-Jewish reader – every Jew belongs to one of three groups; Priests, descended from Aaron; Levites, descended from Levi; and Israelites, descended from the other children of Jacob. Therefore, after the Priest and Levite, a first-century Jew would have expected mention of the third group—an Israelite.

The Challenge

However, the third person is not an Israelite but a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews. Moreover, the fact that this Samaritan proves to be a neighbor, while the Priest and the Levite fail, directly challenges the contemporary Jewish interpretation of the word “neighbor”. Thus, not only continuity, but also the innovation of [our Lord in] the New Testament, is evident here.

by Julia Bloom – Israel Biblical Studies

 

p. s. We should think of these things concerning our world today.

unsettled

Dear Beloved in Christ,

For some time now you have been strangely unsettled in your spirit. This has perplexed you – as you have just been getting on with your Christian walk even though participating in the general life of the church had all be ceased for the past three months. You have been disturbed in yourself. You have re-read the pages of the Bible relating to the dynamic works of the apostles and the early disciples; and then compared these with what you have been experiencing in your own life and church setting.

You have perceived a gap between where, spiritually-speaking, things are now, and where the early followers of Jesus Christ were in their day. I am not suggesting that Pentecost is to be repeated; but rather continued, for Ephesians 5:18 says, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”  (NLT)

In different times and circumstances, you may have felt that it was time to reevaluate your journey with Jesus Christ, but in a strange way you have not felt any clear direction regarding which way to go. Maybe you have been feeling and continue to feel that you need strive to identify more closely with your community and the section of your neighborhood/ workplace, in which you live.

You may be sensing that any striving that you have done to draw closer to Jesus Christ, and to be more committed to His calling and God’s word, has increased rather than reduced the dissatisfaction and unrest that you have been feeling. You have felt lonely because you haven’t been surrounded by other Christians. Most other “Christians” in fact seem to be happily getting on with their lives. This adds to your perplexity. “Is it just me? Why am I feeling this way? There must be something wrong with me; as most others seem to be getting along OK.”

You have been concerned that you might be getting cynical and critical over what you see as the increasing worldliness in the church. You may be long for fellowship with others whom you feel might understand – in some measure at least – “where you are.” As you cautiously and honestly open up to others whom you sense may be walking the same path; you find that they too, in their heart of hearts, have been going through exactly the same inner spiritual processes and turmoil as yourself.

If you have been sensing or experiencing any of these things take heart beloved child of God. I believe that what you have been going through is a God-given unsettledness, a Holy dissatisfaction with “what is.” What He has been creating in you is preparing you for the days ahead.

I believe a great crisis is coming – for our society, its peoples, the current religious systems, and what many would call “the church.” God desires those who have been weaned away from dependency on the structures, programs, and other facets of organized “churchiness.” He is looking for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; those who long to be filled with the life-giving Holy Spirit of God. He is desiring and preparing those who will seek to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified; those who will find no satisfaction in the trinkets of this world and who will spurn worldly methods and sinful passions, the fixation with “success,” and the worldly measurements of “spirituality” and “commitment” that have invaded the visible church. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is building His Church. God rules and reigns. His Kingdom has no end!

Please consider the following questions. Are you a believer who is prepared to “abandon all” for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Great Commission to reach the lost? Have you considered the cost, and are you prepared to pay that price in the context of the measure of grace that has been given to you? Do you, in your spirit, realize that nothing short of total submission will quench your thirst for God and satisfy the desires of your heart?

The way ahead could involve great sacrifice; and you may face rejection and much criticism – even from those around you and those close to you in the “church.” It is this type of sacrifice in which the Lord delights for Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are My followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (NLT) Indeed the cost of turning away from His calling upon your life will be even greater.

Take heart dear follower of Jesus Christ, you are not alone. Many others are being spoken to in exactly the same way as God is speaking to you. It may not be apparent to you yet; but time will reveal those who will stand with you. Meanwhile equip yourself with the knowledge of His Word and abandon yourself to the leading of His Spirit, that He might use you according to His will and purposes, as the God of all ages works out His purposes in this lost and dying world.

Your God and my God has clearly stated through His Son Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, because they shall be filled.”

Lastly, remember God’s encouraging words in Joshua 1:9, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  (CSB)

May God the Father, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gracious Holy Spirit be with you all – One God, be praised, both now and forever, even unto the end of the ages. Amen.

May God bless and keep you,

Pastor Gary

 

~ thanks to Colin Wilson

 

cometojesus
Come to Jesus
 
What does it mean to “Come to Jesus”? It means agreeing with what the Bible says about Jesus.
 
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
 
Acts 4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
 
Acts 16:30-31 “what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
 
Romans 10:9-10 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
 
Coming to Jesus is Not:
 
⦁ It is not about repeating a sinner’s prayer
⦁ It is not about walking down an aisle
⦁ It is not about filling out a Decision Card
 
Coming to Jesus Is:
 
⦁ Confessing your sins, seeing your sinfulness, and realizing your desperate need for the Savior
⦁ Trusting in Jesus as your personal Savior
⦁ Believing with your heart and not just your head
⦁ Relying on, fully trusting in, leaning upon, and resting in — Jesus
⦁ Believing that He is your Savior first and allowing the Holy Spirit to help you make Him your Lord too
⦁ Believing that there is no other way to the Father in Heaven except by Jesus Christ alone
 
If you believe God’s Word, the Bible, you can believe this:
 
JESUS WAS WITH GOD BEFORE THE EARTH EXISTED, LEFT HIS GLORY WITH THE FATHER AND WAS BORN OF A VIRGIN, LIVED A PERFECT, SINLESS LIFE, DIED ON CALVARY FOR YOUR REDEMPTION, AND WAS RAISED AGAIN AFTER THREE DAYS. TODAY HE IS IN HEAVEN AND HIS SACRIFICE HAS PROVIDED A WAY FOR YOU TO COME TO A SAVING FAITH. BEING SAVED IS TOTALLY A WORK OF GOD. NO ONE IS SAVED BY WORKS. NO ONE IS SAVED BY THEIR OWN EFFORTS. IT IS BY GRACE ALONE, THROUGH FAITH ALONE, BY JESUS ALONE. IT IS A GIFT OF GOD (EPH 2:8-9).
 
WE PRAY THAT YOU WILL COME TO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, AND BE SAVED TODAY.
 
We Would Love to Hear from You!
 
Contact Pastor Gary if you have further questions about salvation, or to tell us that you have become a believer in Jesus.
 
Come to Jesus and Live!

Jesus

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CJB)

 “With the hand of the LORD upon me, The LORD carried me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones. He had me pass by all around them—there were so many bones lying in the valley, and they were so dry! He asked me, “Human being, can these bones live?” I answered, “LORD GOD! Only you know that!” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones! Say to them, ‘Dry bones! Hear what the LORD has to say! To these bones the LORD GOD says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will live. I will attach ligaments to you, make flesh grow on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you. You will live, and you will know that I am the LORD.” “So I prophesied as ordered; and while I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound; it was the bones coming together, each bone in its proper place. As I watched, ligaments grew on them, flesh appeared, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Next He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy, human being! Say to the breath that the LORD GOD says, ‘Come from the four winds, breath; and breathe on these slain, so that they can live.’ ” So I prophesied as ordered, and the breath came into them, and they were alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army! Then He said to me, “Human being! These bones are the whole house of Israel; and they are saying, ‘Our bones have dried up, our hope is gone, and we are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy; say to them that the LORD GOD says, ‘My people! I will open your graves and make you get up out of your graves, and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD—when I have opened your graves and made you get up out of your graves, my people! I will put my Spirit in you; and you will be alive. Then I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and that I have done it,’ says the LORD.”

How can this story be true for us? Ezekiel was a prophet to God’s people, Israel, who had been taken into exile by Babylonians after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This is a story about Israel’s despair at their captivity. What is despair? Despair is a state in which all hope is lost or absent. Depression leads to despair. Have you ever felt that way? I have. I can truly say, we are all hopeless without God. What despair means, is that a person is willing to be absorbed with themselves and at the same time have a defiant attitude toward God. Sometimes, even resent God!

Sometimes, we get to the point where our own self-perception is one of total hopelessness. We do not look outside of ourselves to God. Sometimes, we cannot understand the consequences of our own behavior and wonder why we suffer from those consequences. We become despairing of our own weaknesses. That is how the people of Israel felt.

Three years ago a funeral director told me that within several months he dealt with a handful of funerals that were related to suicide. Suicide is the result of total despair. Is that any way to live? Sometimes we ask, “what is life, anyway?” It is not simply a physical life; but, it is a life that God gives us, it is an emotional and spiritual life, which includes love, joy, peace, hurt, pain, suffering, sickness, and even death.

It’s interesting that God would call a man to preach God’s Word, and then ask him to speak over lifeless dry bones. It seemed pointless. However, what the preacher discovers is the promise from God, that He will perform the impossible—and bring the dry bones back to life.

In Germany, I was trained as a lifeguard for our community pool at 5th General Hospital. I was certified as an American Red Cross lifesaver. I had the skills to resuscitate those who stop breathing. However, with the breath of God, resuscitation comes quickly and gives life powerfully.

Ezekiel’s vision alludes to God’s creative work in Genesis; how God creates, and how God re-creates. There is a very important and fundamental lesson to be taken from Ezekiel’s vision: when the Spirit is present, God’s people are enabled to live. This is the only basis for the hope given to a despairing person, community, church, or people like the nation of Israel.

How do you know the Holy Spirit is in your life? How do you know the Holy Spirit is present in our church? We get the answer from this passage in Ezekiel.

It is God’s promise to give the dry bones (His people) new hearts and a new spirit. It is the magnitude of a miracle; it is how God is mighty to save! When God saves us, it is indeed a miracle, a miracle of His mercy and grace.

The bones Ezekiel sees are “very dry,” emphasizing the fact that there is no life in them whatsoever. The chance that they will ever live again on their own is zero. Then, God asks the preacher, “will these bones live?” The preacher says to himself, “looking at their current state, um, no.” However, the preacher has learned never to presume on God’s power and intentions. So, he answers, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

God wanted the preacher and the people to know that it is His Word alone that brings life. God wants us to know, that in the most hopeless of situations—even in a valley full of death—God’s Word is powerful to bring resurrection life.

What is the resurrection? What is new life? It is the same as when God spoke the creation into existence, the same as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb with only a word, the same as Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones, God’s Word always gives life. God promises to give us life! It is that our confidence is in God alone, in any situation, even in our darkest struggles.

The supreme Word from God, the Gospel message itself, tells us not what we must do to earn life, but what God has done, in Jesus Christ, to give us life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]. John 10:10

There is always hope that God will bring restoration and renewal to our lives. Whether it is a long struggle with sin, or broken relationships, hard affliction, trials, temptations, or even illness, life’s circumstances can often blind us to God’s life-giving power.

The vision of the dry bones, however, is a promise to us and should remind us that our God will truly give life and purpose to everything that seems hopelessly dead. Remember John’s Gospel, where Jesus declares to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26.

Beloved, do you believe this?

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

FogOfFear

You can see it far off, looming on the horizon, a thick fog menacing off the coast and swirling in the distance. You know the signs. You’ve been here many times before, but you’ve learned to carry on.  At first, you kind of ignore it, you are aware it’s there. You don’t want to work yourself up, so you busy yourself with things in the hope that the winds will change, and the fog is driven out to sea. The winds rarely change.

In time it approaches, subtle and quiet, caressing its way—almost seducing its way back into your life. Your defense mechanism hasn’t worked, and you can’t keep up the charade. At first, it’s manageable. “This isn’t so bad,” you think, “I can handle this.” Before you know it, the fog is all around you, the thick blur is everywhere, and the familiar comforts are gone. In the fog, sounds are distant echoes, faces are veiled shapes, and the familiar becomes strange; you know it all too well. Feeling alienated and overwhelmed—unable to trust yourself, in the fog of anxiety you give up. You lose yourself in an existential madness. You have a panic attack.

For the anxious and disquieted, fog is a good metaphor.  In fog we lose our bearings, we lose our vision to see reality, and we feel isolated and alone. Sometimes anxiety comes out of nowhere. Anxiety is an existential crisis because it alienates us from reality. That is why a panic attack has a deep sense of dread about it. In a panic, we feel that we are captivated by new truths and new realities.

Have you ever had the experience of waking up from a nightmare only to be troubled by it later in the day? Something about the nightmare hangs around. It is as if the nightmare was exposing something about the real world that you can’t quite shake. Usually, in a short time, this sensation falls away, lost amidst the distractions of waking up. The nightmare, with all its teeth, is not actually real. That’s what anxiety is like, a brooding, lingering sense of unease that turns into real terror. However, unlike the nightmare, it doesn’t go away.

Panic appears to be a revelation—a disclosure about how things really are. Just as fog can make the familiar, strange—and therefore disorient us, unhinging us from the moorings that give us stability and comfort. Anxiety exposes what we take for granted by giving us a new kind of vision, a new story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we can handle, and what is real. Anxiety is a story that is always negative, always fatal, always self-harming, weak and victimizing.

What if this story is true? What if the fog is the way things really are, and the sunlight is just a mirage? What if the nightmare is real and the waking-world is false? It can be tempting to go there, but let’s not go there because nothing good can come from it. Instead, let’s be honest about anxiety and see what that does. The Psalmist says to trust the Lord like a weaned child.

Anxiety is dreadful, it affects our quality of life. Anxiety is debilitating. That doesn’t mean it is true. This is the key point I want to focus on today. The question we must return to in our anxious, fog-laden crisis is always: Is this true? It’s not.

Anxiety is not prophesy. Anxious people live as if it is. Anxiety makes predictions: “I’m going to fail”, “I can’t handle it”, “This will never work.” Anxiety makes judgments: “I’m a failure at being a Christian,” “I’m too weak,” “I’m a bad Christian.”  We need to ask, “Is this true?” Who gets to speak into your life and tell you who you are? Who gets to name and talk about you? Who gets to identify the central essence of what it is to be you? Anxiety wants to.

Does your anxiety have the right to name you, inform you, identify you, claim knowledge of who you are? No. It does not. Anxiety is not God. Anxiety is predominately demonic, because, “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18) and Christ says, “Don’t be afraid” (Mark 5:36). Fear is dangerous to our faith not because it exposes that our faith is weak, but because it tempts us to worship false gods. The danger of fear is that it blinds us from the truth, the truth that God loves us. That love—the love of God as seen in Jesus, in God’s giving of His Son for His glory should speak into our fear and counteract it. God may not always shield you from the terrors of anxiety, but his Word is always more powerful and can counteract any untruth.

That is what anxiety always is: false beliefs. “I can’t handle this.” False. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “I’m too weak!” Maybe so! “But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). “I’m a failure at being a Christian.” False! “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). “I’m a bad Christian.” Wrong! “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). By asking, “Is this feeling or thought true?” Is this God? We have two options; we can trust our hearts and experiences, or we trust the God who IS truth.

Essentially, what it means to live the Christian life is to live it trusting God’s words of truth. God’s words are powerful and creative, and unlike human words, God’s words do what they say. God’s words create faith when they are heard. They grant strength when we are weak. God’s words of truth counteract the negative and lying untruths of anxiety.

In the fog of anxiety, even though we feel alone, alienated, isolated, weak and near death; the feelings are real, however, the thoughts behind the feelings are not true.  We have a God who is with us always. God never abandons us as orphans, He walks with us through death-valleys, and His strength is sufficient for our weaknesses. These are all His promises. They are all true. The anxious person may have doubts and that’s OK. However, to press in through the fear and not allow it to harm us, we are to hold fast to Christ’s word and promises. I should know. I’ve experienced the fog of deep, dark panic attacks. Then, when I’m reminded of God’s promises, I feel better. Why? Because I ask myself, “Is this anxious thought true?” No, it’s not. It’s false.  I’m taken outside myself by words that give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s words are true. He who calmed the storm with His words can calm my jittery nerves with the same words. The storms of my life are just as vulnerable to the King’s command of peace as that ancient storm was to Jesus Christ.

Out there, in the world today, in our city, our State, and our Country, there is a lot to be concerned about. War or peace. Democrat or Republican. Famine. Pestilence. The Coronavirus. Influenza A or B. The economy. Life or death. All of these things may strike fear into your hearts. However, Jesus says in John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Therefore, hear God’s Word of truth for you today from Philippians 4:7, “Then God’s peace, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s peace be with you. Take heart! Don’t take what the world gives, but take what Jesus Christ gives. His peace. It’s eternal peace. That peace which passes all our understanding.

This is most certainly true.

~ taken from Bruce Hillman

 

LuthersCatechisms

Galatians 6:6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.

Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1Cr 9:11) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.

The words “in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

~ Martin Luther

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I was asked recently the following question, “If you had to doctrinally and denominationally classify yourself for someone to get a grasp of where you come from and what you hold, what would you say?” The following is my answer:

First, I confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church.

  1. Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
  2. Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
  3. Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
  4. Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
  5. The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
  6. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
  7. The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.
  8. The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Secondly, I confess the five Solas, the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church.

  1. The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
  2. the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
  3. the means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
  4. the merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  5. In everything, Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be the glory in all things)

Lastly, I confess that salvation is completely of God alone:

In salvation: monergism not synergism. Martin Luther was monergistic, see his book “Bondage of the Will.” After he died, Luther’s teachings were subtly changed.

Monergism is the view that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects the regeneration of Christians. It is in contrast with synergism, the view that there is a cooperation between the divine and the human in the regeneration process. Monergism is a redemptive blessing purchased by Christ for those the Father has given Him (1 Pet 1:3, John 3:5, 6, 6:37, 39). This grace works independently of any human cooperation and conveys that power into the fallen soul whereby the person who is to be saved is effectually enabled to respond to the gospel call (John 1:13; Acts 2:39, 13:48; Rom 9:16; Titus 3:4-5).

God alone saves. Such monergism flowed from the pen of Martin Luther.

In conclusion:

How would I label myself? My label would be “Historic Evangelical Lutheran Charismatic.”

Why?

First, my theology is “Historic Evangelical” because it affirms with historic Christianity that the Bible, as the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God, is the sole written revelation that rules the faith and practice of the Christian community and alone can bind the conscience. This faith refers to the doctrine of justification by faith alone whereby the believer is justified before God by the free grace of God by which he is declared righteous and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer (Rom. 5:18-19). The sole ground of my justification is the merit of Jesus, imputed to all who put their trust in Him. However, good works flow necessarily and immediately from all justified persons, these works are not the meritorious grounds of my justification (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Secondly, for me, to be Lutheran is to adhere to the purest teachings of the Bible – to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul, and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Lutheran doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would not have to make a distinction between biblical Christianity and the faith spawned by the Reformation.

Lastly, my theology is charismatic because I believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures. This was the normal experience of the entire early Christian Church. I believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is the clothing of power for life and service.  The Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts for their use in the work of ministry. Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be distinct from and after the experience of the new birth, or it can occur simultaneously with the new birth. Speaking in tongues is NOT the ONLY evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:9, Luke 3:16; 24:49; Acts 1:8, 2:4, 8:12-17, 10:44-46, 11:14-16, 15:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13 &28, 14:1-19.)

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