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Emmanuel: God With Us

It is just a few more days to Christmas. If you have kids, then the excitement is probably visible and vocalized every day. I must admit, I love Christmas too. I like the songs, the decorations, and the anticipation (though I can live without the one million Hallmark movies!) Beside all of that stuff though, I’m growing excited about the spiritual significance of Christmas.
 
Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (NASB) This is so radical in perspective, yet we are guilty of missing its significance. Most views about the “gods” over time have seen these “gods” as distant and far away from mankind. The thought of a god being up close and personal with man was unheard of throughout most of history. The God of the Bible is different. God broke in to history and dwelt among us.
 
When we celebrate Christmas, it is more than just an innocent baby that we celebrate. Its God Himself coming to provide a means of salvation for the people that He created. He is not far away but near. God is not uninterested in people, instead He knows every detail about us. In spite of our sin, He loves us unconditionally. His love is so great that Jesus died for our sins while we were still sinners.
 
You may think God doesn’t understand you or your life. Jesus lived with us. He was tempted in all ways like we are, but He was without sin. He experienced the hardships of life, the death of loved ones, and the disappointments of broken relationships. He knows what you are going through and wants to help you find meaning and joy, even in the midst of trials.
 
As you celebrate Christmas, my prayer is that you will think about what it means that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He knows your joys and your hurts. He wants to bear your burdens and share in your joys. All you must do is to turn to Him, and He will be near to you. 


Total Surrender

I’ve been thinking about of couple of messages I’ve preached recently and how they go together. First, I preached from Mark 10:17-31 on the Rich Young Ruler on a Sunday night. The next Sunday morning, I preached on Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestles with God. In both stories, both men were confronted with the need to give up things in his life to fully enjoy a relationship with God.

According to the young ruler speaking with Jesus, he kept all of God’s commands. He was a rising star in Judaism. He had wealth. However, the Rich Young Ruler walked away sad because he could not give up his wealth. His faith was not in Jesus but in his material blessings. He left with his stuff but missed out on a relationship with Jesus and eternal life.

Jacob had sent ahead of him his family and his possessions, he was injured in his wrestling match with God, and finally had to admit his name (character) to God. He gave up everything, even the false security of hiding who he really was before God. He left with a limp that would always be there, but he also got a blessing and received everything God wanted him to have plus more.

What is the difference between the two? Total surrender. It takes us giving up everything for salvation. If we try and hold on to having some role in our salvation, like being good, or depending on church attendance, or our family’s faith, then we are really rejecting Jesus. Salvation by faith alone is saying that Jesus did all that is necessary for the forgiveness of our sins, and we are depending upon His death and resurrection for our eternal life. Whenever we hold things back from God, we miss out on all that God wants to do through us.

What are we holding on to that is keeping us from Him?

Mark 8:36
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 8:36.

 

 



Resurrection Day

We have just finished a four week sermon series on the Resurrection of Jesus, the implications of the resurrection for us, and Resurrection Day of believers. It has been a thought-provoking and edifying study. I somehow made it through all four weeks without addressing the topics of the millenium or even uttering the word “rapture.” (Not because I don’t have an opinon but because I didn’t want people to get hung-up on their pet theory and miss the point of the messages.)

I have read 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 at many, many funerals. I have always found it to be a comforting and hopeful passage for believers in the midst of sorrow and loss. It still continues to hold that same comfort today.

I think one thing that I learned from my study is the impact of Paul’s closing in verse 58. The promise of our resurrection is to help us be “steadfast” and “immovable” in our relationship with Christ. This assurance of our future resurrection should help us to be solid and anchored when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. It is so easy for believers to be out in the world and to feel like a row boat in the midst of the ocean during a hurricane. Everything our culture is telling us seems to contradict everything Scripture tells us. The temptation to surrender a small point here, or not be certain about a position because it creates conflicts with others is ever present. The faithfullness of God in regard to our resurrection is meant to help us stay firm in our relationship with Him.

The other surprising take away from my study is how the resurrection is to spur us on to good works. Paul goes even further and says we are to “be abounding” in our good works for the Lord. The work we do for the Lord really does matter, and it has implications that will carry on to and past the resurrection. What an awesome thought! It goes back to the idea of “storing up treasures in heaven.” This thought gives me encouragement.

I hope you will take time to study the resurrection. I know these thoughts are not deep or scholarly. However, I hope they serve to get you to study the passage on your own and think more about the implications today of our future resurrection.



Security of the Believer

I wanted to follow-up on the message I recently preached on security of the believer. I  have found the Upper Cumberland area interesting when it comes to this issue. Many want to say that it is possible for a person to lose their salvation. Those same people would claim we believe one can’t because it is wishful thinking.

As I mentioned in my message, I hold to security of the believer because it is biblical. Based on the evidence from Scripture, it is clear to me that our salvation is secure because of God’s character and His promises. In this post, I am going include the Scriptures and some of the notes from my message. I hope you find it thought-provoking and encouraging based on what God’s Word says to us on this topic.

Salvation Is Given, Not Earned
Romans 3:20, 28
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Ephesians 2:8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)

Galatians 3:11
11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Hebrews 10:19-25
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

1. The Blood of Jesus Gives Us Access to God
Do not underestimate the importance of having access to God. One does not just walk into the presence of a king, much less God without being summoned.

2. Jesus Gives Us A New Way Approaching God
The old means of approaching God was through a sacrificial system. We needed a priest to be our mediator for a person to be made right with God. Year after year animals needed to be slaughtered and the scapegoat would be sent out at Yom Kippur to symbolize forgiveness. Christ’s death brought a new means of approaching God.

Hebrews 10:5-10
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
3. Jesus Intercedes for Us As Our High Priest
Hebrews 7:25
25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Because of what Jesus has done/is doing for us, we now have access to God, a new, living way of approaching God, and we have an intercessor for us before God. Because of this, we may have full assurance that we are saved.
1 John 5:13

What Evidence Do We Have That Our Salvation Is Secure?
Hebrews 10:14
14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Since some might be tempted to dismiss what I say because according to them, I use a translation of the Bible inspired by Satan since it is not the King James translation. Here is how the KJV translates this verse.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

John 10:25-30 (no one snatches from My hand)
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.
26 “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.
27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
30 “I and the Father are one.”

Ephesians 1:13-14 (sealed by Holy Spirit)
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22
21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Romans 8:35-39 (no separation from Christ’s love)
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Galatians 4:4-7 (adoption)
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Romans 8:29-30 (glorified in past tense)
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

2 Timothy 1:12 (Salvation Secured By God, Not Man)
12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
1 Philippians 1:6
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Notice where Paul is depending upon his salvation. It is not his grip upon God that gives him assurance. Rather, it is God’s faithfulness that convinces Paul that his salvation is secure.

1 Peter 1:3-5
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

But What About? Objections to Security of the Believer
Hebrews 6:1-8
1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
3 And this we will do, if God permits.
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God;
8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
Those who point to this passage as proof that you can lose your salvation ignore a significant problem with this passage. They read verses 4, 5, and the first part of verse 6 and say, “See, it clearly indicates that you can become a Christian and then fall away.” What they ignore is the next phrase in verse 6, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” It clearly states that if a person falls away “it is impossible to renew them.” It does not say “not difficult to renew, not hard to renew, or unlikely to renew.” No! It is impossible. If you can fall away from the faith and lose your salvation, then you no longer have any hope.
Similar arguments are made in Hebrews 2:1–4; Hebrews 10:26–39, but I do not have the time to address them in this message.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Others will claim this points to losing salvation. The context of the passage is not about salvation but about Paul losing his effectiveness and call to share the Gospel by living a life that disqualifies his testimony.

Some will point to Matthew 7:21-23 as evidence that a person can lose their salvation.
Matthew 7:21-23
““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)
I would argue this passage argues something entirely differently. The point of the passage is that just because you do works of ministry in the name of Jesus, it does not replace having a genuine relationship with Him.
Notice the wording of verse 23. He says “I never knew you…” Not “I forget who you are” or “You look familiar but I can’t place your face with the name.”

You are welcome to ask questions if you would like to discuss this topic.

 

 



Transitions

It has been a long time since I have posted on my blog. A lot has changed since my last post. I left the church in which I had served for twelve years. I left behind a lot of good friends, but it was pretty clear it was God’s plan for us to start a new chapter.

We went from crowded, high-paced South Florida to small town, laid back Tennessee. There are definately things that have taken a time to adjust to, but as a family we are thrilled to be in Livingston.

I am now the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Livingston. God has used this transition from being an associate pastor at a larger church to senior pastor of a smaller church to teach me some important things. I am most grateful that He had put in me the knowledge that I don’t know everything, so the transition could be less tramatic. So, what are some of those things that I have learned?

  1. Home is where your family is. I knew this before, but our move to Livingston has confirmed to me that I can be almost anywhere if I have my family. Shay and Elizabeth have adapted well, which has made it possible for me to focus more of my energy on the church.
  2. The Bible Belt is not really the Bible Belt any more. Again, I already knew this one, but I’m surprised at how it is more obvious than in the past. The Bible Belt used to reek of “cultural Christianity” (I must be a Christian because that is what everyone else around me believes), now people who are not active Christians are more honest about it. This is actually a good thing. It is easier to share the Gospel with someone who acknowledges they are lost than sharing with someone who is lying to themselves and you that they are a Christian. The most recent demographic information says that over 60% of Overton County are not followers of Christ. Life everywhere else, things are changing.
  3. The nations are no longer “out there” but here as well. We have over half-a-dozen adopted kids from China in our church, and several more international adoptions in our area. More and more people from other countries are relocating to rural Tennessee. When I grew up here, I knew plenty of people who had never left Overton County, so it would have been impossible for them to experience a different culture. God has seen fit to bring that culture here.

There are other things of course, but those are probably best left for another time or personal conversations. I plan on posting from time to time to help share more of what I’ve been learning in my walk with Christ.




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