Wednesday, November 26, 2008

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

It is the Christian's nature to sing of the grace which God has bestowed upon him. "And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD" (Psalm 40:3) . The chorus above is one which all Christians should sing frequently with great joy in their hearts.

  • If you know Jesus as your Savior, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If sin no longer has dominion over you like it once did, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you are no longer walking according to the course of this world, with all its pitfalls and sorrows, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If your affections are on the glorious things above and not on the unfulfilling and fading pleasures of this life, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you have a new heart filled with praise to God rather than filled with complaints, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you enjoy fellowship with like-minded brothers & sisters in Christ rather than walking in the counsel of the ungodly, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you can read or hear God’s Word every day, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you can pray in faith, knowing God is always near, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If your outer man is perishing but your inner man is being renewed day by day, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
  • If you have a mind to know the things of God, a heart to love Him, and hands to serve Him, that is the grace of God and you are blessed.
Brethren, how many more blessings can we list? Take time to reflect on them every day. You will be amazed at what the Lord has done and continues to do in our behalf. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation” (Psalm 68:19). The Lord never fails to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19). He never fails to protect us from spiritual harm (Ephesians 6:10-18). He never fails in His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). He never fails to promote our spiritual growth (2 Peter 1:3). He never fails to sustain us (Psalm 55:22). He never fails to guide us (Psalm 48:14). He never fails to cheer us (John 16:33). He never fails to comfort us (Psalm 119:50). He never fails to give us peace (Philippians 4:7). He never fails to forgive us (1 John 1:9). He never fails in His love toward us, because “God is love” (I John 4:8).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Trust in the Lord and give thanks,

Pastor Tom

Thursday, October 16, 2008

BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING



Mark Twain once said, “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." Certainly, many of us would agree with Twain’s advice in theory, but in practice we often find ourselves drowning in a sea of anxiety prompted by circumstances over which we have no control. Why does the “inner peace” which is the Christian’s birthright so often elude us? Is it really possible for the Christian to be anxiety- free? The Scripture commands, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6,7). As I examined this exhortation I was immediately impacted by the notion that nothing is to take hold of the Christian’s mind which would keep him from enjoying God’s peace. Knowing that His gracious supply is all-sufficient, the children of God must never begin to doubt the wonderful truth of God’s provision in Christ for all their needs. Our heavenly Father will never promise what He cannot deliver. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

But how does this help when the dark clouds of life gather above your backyard and the hard rain begins to fall? What are you to make of your worries and fears? Are you sinning in worrying? First, we must understand that God knows the weakness of human flesh: “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). I take this to mean that the Creator’s knowledge of the creature is comprehensive. This includes intimate knowledge of our spiritual, physical, and emotional state at every point in time. Moreover, God attends to our sorrows as well as our joys. Thus, we should not be surprised that the verse preceding God’s knowledge of His children speaks of His benevolent compassion on His sons and daughters in the faith: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). To some extent, to be human is to worry, which means that Christians will worry at times without sin. The key lies in the word extent. The idea expressed in Philippians 4:6, “Be careful [anxious] for nothing,” is best understood to mean that the child of God must not allow his mind to continually be held captive by thoughts which undermine his faith in God’s care for him. This is one of Satan’s greatest tactics. He assaults the Christian’s mind with every possible worst- case scenario about the future outcome of the trials he may be facing. The prince of darkness is equally the prince of doubt. He calls into question the goodness, love, and faithfulness of God. The Christian’s “bulwark never failing” under such a wicked assault is what we find in Philippians 4:6: “ ... prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” Prayer (proseuche) is bowing the heart in the presence of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is the Divine Comforter (John 14:26). Supplication (deesis) is the mighty utterance of a mighty need to a mighty God. Thanksgiving (eucharistia) is a form of praise which sees the source of all goodness and blessing in God alone. These spiritual weapons will keep a frail mind from dwelling upon circumstances which can rob it of the joy of the Lord, wherein lies the believer’s strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Charles Spurgeon said, “The believer who is in a spiritually healthy state rejoices mainly in God himself; he is happy because there is a God, and because God is in his person and character what he is.” Brethren, I think this is the secret of victory over worry. If we set our hearts on the perfection of God’s character and petition Him on that basis, we will not wander the dark halls in the castle of despair. Let us never forget that “... the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Revelation 19:6). Even in the most troublesome times we can be certain that the promise of Scripture is true: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Turning to Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” we discover the blessed truth of the certainty of incomprehensible tranquility for those who earnestly seek communion with God and offer up the sacrifice of praise. They are assured that the Prince of Peace will bestow His peace upon them, and it will guard their hearts and minds. The word guard means to keep close watch over. In military terminology it describes a sentry on duty who is vigilant, always watching out for the enemy. In context, the enemy would be the negative and fearful thoughts that lead to a state of anxiety. The Old Testament parallel truth is found in Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” This must not be reduced to a mere human endeavor. Trying to overcome our thoughts by sheer will power does not work. God comes alongside those who turn to Him in faith. He is the “lifter up” of our heads (Psalm 3:3). We have a friend in Jesus who will all our burdens bear: He does not want you to carry them alone. The hymn writer had it correct: “In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.”

Brethren, I would never pretend that the battle for a victorious thought life is easy, but it is winnable. The abundant resources of God are at our disposal. In addition to prayer and praise, we have the power of Scripture and the fellowship of the other believers to comfort us, counsel us, and encourage us. Never go it alone. If you are struggling in this area, find a trusted brother or sister in Christ and share your burdens (Galatians 6:2). There are those within the body of Christ with the God-given spiritual gifts of faith and exhortation. Others can help by way of life experience. They can be found in the local church, but you must be there when the church gathers. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is great news. No matter how difficult the testing, we can all praise God that the day of the Lord’s return is approaching. We are inching closer and closer to it. In the twinkling of an eye, the darkness of the night will give way to the glorious light of eternity in the presence of the Lord: “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Wow! What an encouragement to lift up the downtrodden. On that joyful morn, “life’s trials will seem so small,” so never give up. “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,” and let us not forget that His reward is with Him (Revelation 22:12)!

May His Strength be your portion,

Pastor Tom

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

Monday, September 22, 2008

TIME ALONE WITH GOD



The Bible has much to say about time. Certain significant numerical references in the form of days, months, and years make for interesting Scriptural studies. The Word of God mentions the creation of the heavens and the earth and all living things in six days (Genesis 1:31). Noah preached righteousness for one hundred and twenty years in the antedeluvian world (Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5). We are also told that the average life span of men on earth is limited to around seven decades: “For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:9-10). In light of that stark reality, the Christian’s responsibility as a good steward is to redeem the time for the glory of God (Ephesians 5:16), diligently praying for the Savior’s return and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth, the time of which no man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

We could advance many more ideas about the relevance of time to the Christian, but none are as important in this life as personal time in fellowship with God. For some, the very thought of time alone with God is an intrusion into an already busy schedule. The life of the worldly-minded Christian runs at a fast pace: Day follows day with little room for even the most basic spiritual activity, let alone the lofty pursuit of knowing God more intimately. It may not be that such ones are cold-hearted toward God; they simply cannot, in their thinking, prioritize communion with someone so distant and seemingly uninvolved in their daily affairs. Time for God is reserved for Sunday, if they manage to make it to church. What they fail to understand is that their very lack of desire for God is the cause of the great gulf between them and God, for He will not draw near on man’s terms: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). A.W. Tozer said, “We Christians must simplify our lives or lose untold treasures on earth and in eternity. Modern civilization is so complex as to make devotional life all but impossible.” Many of us know that Tozer’s insight is true. We scurry around like little mice in a maze, pursuing things which add nothing of lasting value to our lives. Few resist the current of the day, which takes them further and further away from God. We admire those godly saints who do seek after God but seldom emulate them. Brethren, the time for such indifference must end. Let us make the pursuit of God our greatest pleasure and reap the rewards. Prayer is the path that takes us into His presence. Do not forsake it any longer. You will never find time to pray; you must make time to pray! “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:22, 23).

Set aside all your excuses and enter into the court of His Majesty. There you will find rest for your weary soul, strength for every trial, and “bright hope for tomorrow.” Surely, if the Christian’s hope is in God alone, then to God alone we must go. The challenge may seem daunting, but do not let it deter you. Call to mind the familiar saying, "Begin small but start promptly.” Impossible goals usually end in failure. With your Bible in hand, find a quiet place, a quiet time, and God will meet with you there. That is His promise. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16). May your fellowship with the Lord be as sweet as honey and as delightful as manna from heaven.


Seek the Lord all ye saints,

Pastor Tom

Thursday, July 10, 2008

RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN AMERICA AND THE COMING APOSTASY


No one should be surprised that in a country founded upon the principles of individual liberties, tolerance for a diversity of religious traditions would find fertile soil. What may come as a surprise to some is the extent to which Americans now embrace a faith without dogmatism.[1] Just as moral absolutes have fallen by the wayside in the land of the free, so have theological absolutes. This is the finding of a recent survey of 35,000 adults conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the words of Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay: “Religion in America is 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep.” Paul’s words to Timothy ring more clearly today than when they were first written: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). The faith Paul spoke of was the body of Christian truth, including the gospel of Christ, revealed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16) to holy men of God (2 Peter 1:21). As predicted, the body of Christian truth has come under persistent satanic attack throughout the course of church history.

What is most startling about the findings of the Pew Forum survey is the degree to which Americans now dismiss even the fundamental teachings of their own brand of Christianity. Fifty-seven percent of evangelicals now deny Christ’s claim that He is the only Savior and way to eternal life (John 14:6), and twenty-five percent of Catholics and Protestants surveyed expressed doubts about the existence of God. It is no wonder that the Democratic presidential nominee, Barak Obama, can say out of one side of his mouth, “I’m rooted in the Christian tradition,” while out of the other side of his mouth come the words, “I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.” The truth is that Barak Obama may be connected to the religious inclusivists of our day, but he is not connected in any way with the teachings of the historic creeds that define the Christian faith. His view, like that of many other Americans, demands a radically new interpretation of Scripture[2] that disdains dogmatism and presents “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) and “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). I cite the example of Barak Obama’s version of Christianity only because the media refuses to question him on the particulars of what he believess and because he is representative of an all-embracing religious pluralism that dominates America’s spiritual landscape.

What does this all mean? It means that we are living in days of great apostasy and religious deception. It means that the label Christian has lost its real meaning. We read in the first history book of the Christian church: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The word Christian was originally used as a term of derision to identify the early disciples of Christ. A disciple is, by definition, someone who follows the teachings of his master; he doesn’t redefine them. In this case the master teacher was Jesus, the One who was God manifest in the flesh, the one and only Savior crucified on the cross for sinners, raised from the dead on the third day, and coming again to rule and reign over all the earth. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior, the only path to eternal life. This is the central truth of the Christian faith in its undiluted form. Christianity in America has become a spiritually diluted, toxic brew. Roger Oldham of the Southern Baptist Convention is right on target in his analysis of religion in America: “If by tolerance we mean we’re willing to engage or embrace a multitude of ways to salvation, that is no longer evangelical belief.”

To where does all this lead? The answer to this question is found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, in which he spoke of a time when the greatest religious deception of all time would be inaugurated, culminating in the revelation of the antichrist: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Know for certain that not only America, but all the nations of the world are well on their way to accepting the ultimate deception. Much more could be said about the climate of religious tolerance in our country, but even worse is the climate of tolerance to which the professing church has succumbed. This has been thoroughly documented in exposés of pseudo-Christian cults and popular movements such as the Signs and Wonders movement, the Emergent Church movement,[3] and the Ecumenical movement, which seeks unification with Roman Catholicism. It can also be seen in Rick Warren’s Global Peace Plan, which he calls “a new reformation,” while others label it as nothing more than the New Age blueprint. A Bible-loving Christian must be a discerning Christian.

What should Christians do? Brethren, no one knows the day of Lord’s appearing, but one generation of Christians will be end-time pilgrims. We know for a fact that every day brings us closer to that reality. As America continues in its unprecedented acceptance of religious pluralism under the influence of satanic deception, and as the professing church slides more and more toward apostasy, the true believer must stand firm in the truth, pray without ceasing, and be about his Master’s business before “the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). Do not grow weary, do not grow complacent, and above all, do not give in to the spirits of the age who promote ungodly living and spiritual lies.


In His Holy Name,

Pastor Tom



[1] A clearly defined set of beliefs.
[2] An interpretation that allows for homosexual marriage and a woman’s right to murder her
unborn child.
[3] The Emergent church embraces mystical practices and redefines Christianity in a post-
modern context.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The LORDSHIP OF CHRIST CONTROVERSY

Some years ago, the evangelical church world was caught up in the debate over a controversy about the nature of Christ’s Lordship. Some prominent names in the evangelical landscape were pitted against each other in an attempt to defend their respective beliefs. On one side were the Lordship advocates, who maintained that the grace-based salvation which comes through faith in Christ is accompanied by a transforming power that is evident in the life of a convert. Lordship Salvation emphasized that submission to Christ as Lord over your life cannot be divorced from trusting in Him to be saved. They proposed that a lack of obedience in the life of a professing Christian gives a warrant to doubt that genuine salvation has occurred. They believed that obedience is the mark of a true disciple. On the other side, the non-Lordship or “free grace” crowd saw themselves as the strict protectionists of the truth that salvation is by grace, apart from works; no turning from sin is required for salvation. To them, obedience to Christ is the mark of a committed disciple. Sadly, charges of heresy were hurled from each side against the other. This struck me as odd because I was personally acquainted with some who differed on this controversy, and none of them were heretics. As far as I knew, they all loved the Lord and desired to live a godly life in obedience to the One who had set them free them from Satan’s spiritual death-grip (Ephesians 2:1-9). All of them were saved freely by God’s grace and were in varying stages of spiritual transformation (sanctification), which I believe is the normal Christian experience. Perhaps the whole debate focused too much on the articulation of biblical truths taken out of proper balance and out of their true theological order. The fact that these truths were presented by some very zealous defenders of the faith only added to the controversy. As is often the case, both sides appealed to Scripture in defense of their views, and when the fire died down and the ashes settled, the debate wasn’t really settled. The smoke still lingers. Looking back years later, as someone who was an interested observer at the time, I have to wonder why it went on as long as it did. Why were numerous books written on the subject? Why so much division among God’s people? Why all the confusion? Perhaps I will be charged with “easy believism,” but it seems rather foolish to me to dispute the fact that the free, saving grace of God is not free if so much as a hint of works is required: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). On the other hand, I also know that God will not fail to perform His sanctifying work in the life of the man, woman, or child whose sins have all been washed away: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1) . We must be mindful that of the correct order: Salvation comes first and sanctification follows. They are distinct; the one gives birth to the other. Paul and James are not in conflict when their epistles are rightly divided. I preach hard against sin (2 Timothy 4:2), and I do believe in “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). No one who knows me can justifiably charge me with antinomianism. However, I also confess with equal passion: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Praise God, who didn’t make salvation too difficult for sinful men! I didn’t make promises of any kind when I came to Christ. I knew little of the great doctrines of the faith. The theological vernacular of repentance, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and Lordship was all foreign to me. What I did know was that I was a great sinner and that Jesus was my only hope for forgiveness and eternal life: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Praise be to God that, through simple faith in Him, I am numbered among His children.

Where does this leave me, as far as the Lordship controversy goes? I guess you might say I am not in full agreement with either group. Both camps have said things worthy of our careful attention and study, and both camps were guilty of labeling the other side falsely to some extent. The free grace men I know do not believe in cheap grace, although some have erred in the rather strict limitation they have placed on the meaning of repentance. On the other side, the Lordship men I know are not tottering on the edge of heresy, although some adherents of this position have said things that could undermine the nature of saving faith. It is dangerous to stray even a little from the foundation of sola fide –- faith alone! Christians must beware of teaching something akin to the Catholic doctrine of formed faith.[1] All agree that Jesus is Lord and that true Christians should act like true Christians. I say amen to that! Those who don’t live in obedience will have a problem with their assurance of salvation.

I feel that both sides of the Lordship controversy have fallen short of claiming a victory for a number of reasons: One is the tendency for zealous men to overstate their case; a second is due to the employment of significant words without delineating their range of meaning; yet another is the simple fact that no man can see into the heart of another man. No one can claim to know what God alone knows. No man is endowed with the foreknowledge of God to see the end from the beginning. Having been involved in pastoral ministry for nineteen years, I have seen enough to be practically convinced that spurious conversions are a reality. Some abandon the faith because they never had true faith to begin with: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19). Men I knew have professed Christ with their lips when their hearts were unchanged (Mark 7:6). I have also judged some to be among the unregenerate because their lives appeared to lack a Christian testimony, but in hindsight, my judgment was wrong. Some turned out to be extremely immature believers; others were deliberate backsliders who were enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season; both types were miserable in their condition. Absent from their lives was the joy of the Lord and a testimony worthy of the Savior’s love. They could not be used in fruitful service for Christ because they were too busy serving their fleshly desires. They were truly carnally minded. What I am learning through all this is to be more cautious when performing my spiritual examinations. I have been guilty of false diagnoses on more than one occasion. I should express my concerns, but not a final verdict. I am also learning to be patient, to set a good example in word and deed through my own life, and to pray earnestly that everyone who professes the name of Christ will seek His sanctifying grace day by day. A life of godliness doesn’t come effortlessly: “But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself (discipline yourself) rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Finally brethren, let me conclude with the thought that no Christian of my acquaintance has fully surrendered his entire life to the absolute Lordship of Christ. If that is the requirement, none will be saved. The truth is that no born-again believer will ever be sinless this side of glory, though we must all strive diligently to be blameless in God’s sight. Liberty in Christ is no excuse for disobedience; we must take sin seriously (Romans 6) while we extend our hands in Christian love and grace to those struggling in what could be an intense and prolonged spiritual battle. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). I would like to conclude by exhorting you to examine your profession of faith and walk in the Lord in the light of the whole counsel of God. Men can and do err in their theological pronouncements: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21).

“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Colossians 2:6).


Saved by grace through faith alone,

Pastor Tom


[1] Good works are an integral part of saving faith.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

FIGHING SPIRITUAL BATTLES




Every day, the Christian who desires to please the Lord in all that he or she does (1 Corinthians 10:31) will encounter opposition from the enemies of God. Notice that I use enemy in its plural form, for we have more than one. Scripture reminds us of the hosts of spiritual forces confronting the believer: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We face opponents who are not only a threat in numbers, but by their very nature. Flesh and blood would be more than enough to contend with, but an unseen, immaterial opponent is all the more dangerous. As spirit-beings (fallen angels) they are undetected and their assaults come without any advance notification. I liken them to a physical virus that brings a sudden illness upon our mortal bodies without warning. How did we contract it? From where did it come? Seemingly out of nowhere, yet the evidence of its appearance in our flesh cannot be denied. We can also ascertain from Scripture that the legions of darkness are very experienced in the art of warfare, with a superior intelligence that subjects their victims to a vast array of effective tactics, mentioned in Scripture as “the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). In addition to this, we know that Satan’s minions can operate at lightning-speed without growing weary; they are deathless, organized in ranks, and unified in their wicked purposes.

Thankfully, the Lord has not left his embattled children ill-prepared. One of the great warriors of the Christian faith, the apostle Paul, outlined the Christian’s strategy for victory in the book of Ephesians (6:11-18). Each combatant must be fully clothed with the spiritual armour that God has provided. No part can be missing. Vigilance is the watchword of the hour in days that are evil (Ephesians 5:16) because Satan will never let up in his desire to ruin the testimony of those who have been washed in the blood of Christ. He is as persistent as the day is long and a very determined foe. Jesus told Peter that Satan desired “to sift [him] as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The prince of darkness hates the holy character of God, despises all the wonders He has done, and fights foolishly onward as if he could overthrow what the Lord of Glory has willed for the consummation of all things in heaven and upon the earth. He knows that he himself will be caught up in the scope of God’s final judgments and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Surely the thought of endless torment and the ignominy of defeat is motivation enough to compel him onward in a relentless campaign against all that is good, true, and worthy of praise. Although the fierceness of the foe may seem daunting, the saints of God need never fear, suffer discouragement or sound the trumpet of retreat. God’s grace always prevails because Christ has prevailed. In His temptation in the wilderness, in His sufferings on the cross, and in His resurrection from the grave, Jesus has proven that He is the all-powerful, all-sovereign King of Kings. It is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, not the roaring lion Satan, “who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Peter 3:22). Thus, when we reflect on the armour of God more deeply, we see it is none other than Christ Himself, in the fullness of His power, who is being made available to us:
“Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). Certainly, every child of God can be “more than [a] conqueror through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).
I will conclude with this thought: Abiding in Christ is the surest way for a Christian to find refuge, rest, and resources for resisting the devil and putting him to flight (James 4:7). "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).


Pastor Tom

Friday, March 14, 2008

THE CONSEQUENCES OF A SINGLE SIN



“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16,17). Several things can be observed as we consider these words spoken to Adam in the garden of God. First is the immediate impression of ultimate authority that accompanies them. This is not a casual conversation between equals in the form of a suggestion from one to the other. The command bears the full imprimatur of magisterial authority. The omnipotent Creator has addressed the creature He formed from the dust of the ground and animated with the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). He whom the seraphim and cherubim hasten to obey has commanded the man who was made a little lower than the angelic order. Next, we must not fail to consider the perfect clarity of the message from the mouth of God to the ear of the man. Proverbs 20:12 declares, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.” At the dawn of creation, all that God made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Thus, the first of God’s creatures, formed after His own image, suffered from no defect of hearing, nor did the Lord stammer or stutter in His speech. Thirdly, we must acknowledge the abundance of grace that was manifested along with the single prohibition. God had provided a banquet filled with wonderful things for Adam’s pleasure and well- being. From this table of delights Adam was free to eat until his heart was content and his soul satisfied. The last observation of note is the dire consequence should Adam’s will be moved contrary to the will of the Lord. God had not spoken in terms of probability or possibility. His words bore the mark of certainty every bit as much as clarity: Adam would “surely die” if he ate of the forbidden tree. The Hebrew reads more literally, “dying thou shalt die.” He who had given Adam life would require it from him should he rebel against his Maker’s sovereign rule. We must surmise that God had in some fashion instilled within the man a primitive knowledge of the meaning of death and what it entailed. This sure and foreboding pronouncement must have resonated deeply with Adam, even in his state of innocence.

Figuratively speaking, the thought of Divine judgment cast a dark shadow that day in the beauty of the garden, but Adam could never have imagined, even with his incredible mental faculties, the full consequences of disobedience: broken fellowship with God, the beginning of sorrow and pain, toil and sweat, thorns and thistles, sickness and death (Genesis 3:16-19). Not only would this come upon him, but upon all humanity born after his image: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). One can only wonder what thoughts raced through the mind of Adam when he heard those pronouncements of judgment prior to his being expelled from Eden. Paradise was lost over one single sinful choice: “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:23,24).

What about you, reader? Do you realize that a single sinful choice can have lasting consequences which could drastically alter the rest of your life? Wisdom utters her voice and pleads with you to consider carefully the consequences of every moral decision you must make, knowing that it is sometimes impossible to reverse a course of action. God is merciful and forgiving, but bear in mind that Lot chose Sodom and afterwards suffered great distress living among the wicked (Genesis 13:11-12; 2 Peter 2:7). We would be wise to learn from his mistake and not to repeat it. Many of us know people like Adam, who listened to the wrong voice, or Lot, who followed his selfish desires only to discover that they led to ruin and regret.

Freedom of choice is a wonderful blessing when used properly. When exercised in sinful directions, that freedom can lead to alienation from God, enslavement to carnal lusts that never satisfy, depression, and spiritual darkness. Don’t head down that dark road; it is not the path of joy, but of heartache, tears, and multiplied sorrows. Keep your eyes on the Lord; choose to do what is right in the sight of God at all times; make friends only with those who will encourage and strengthen you in godliness; walk in the light of God’s Word; and “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

To God be the glory,


Pastor Tom

Monday, February 04, 2008

THE CHRISTIAN MUSIC CONTROVERSY


That the Creator God alone is worthy of the creature’s adoration is the undeniable truth revealed in Holy Scripture in the form of many commands, exhortations, and personal examples. But we also know by the same Holy Word that men separated from God because of sin cannot worship God in an acceptable way. True worship must come from one who has received spiritual life through the miracle of the new birth. David’s words of praise for God’s deliverance exemplify the wonderful joy of salvation experienced by the Christian: “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:2-3). Brethren, this is our testimony. Everyone who has been rescued from Satan’s dominion and transferred into the Kingdom of God has a new heart, the natural impulse of which is to boast, or glory, in God. The indwelling Spirit inspires such worship (John 16:13-14; Ephesians 5:18-19). It could be said that the chief duty of all who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19) is to praise and exalt His name together (Psalm 34:3). The assembly of believers is the one place where the proclamation of God’s faithfulness in word and song should never cease: “Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1). Our meeting places should be filled with loud hosannas and the sound of music which proclaims the glorious truth that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Revelation 19:6).

Thus far we may all be in agreement. God alone is worthy of our worship and must ever be the sole object of it. However, a question arises on which there is no agreement among God’s people. In fact, it is a question which has brought great division among true believers: How shall we worship God? Many of us have, perhaps, heard of the “worship wars” taking place in evangelical churches. The battle lines have been drawn; churches have splintered; saints have been wounded, and the cause of Christ has been hindered by this issue. More particularly, the frontline of the battle has to do with MUSIC. To add further confusion to the traditional or contemporary music debate, the Emergent church movement brings a worship style that is reminiscent of New Age mysticism.

Is there an answer to the question of what constitutes acceptable music in worship that will satisfy everyone? No, there is not; however, there are some other questions that should be asked to help guide our personal decisions. First and most important is the matter of WHOM the music is designed to please. This sounds a little odd when the point has already been made that we meet together as Christians to worship God. But if this is the purpose of our gathering, why does the style of music often dictate where Christians go to worship? Living in the generation of multiple choices when it comes to just about everything, could it be that we choose worship music no differently? Could it be that the sound of the music has to please the musician or listener first of all, rather than the musician or listener endeavoring to prove what is acceptable unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:10)? Someone has aptly labeled what I am speaking of as taste-generated music. It is much like choosing whether I prefer Starbuck’s or Seattle’s Best, except the choice is other than coffee. Maybe that is why a lot of contemporary music is theologically weak and hardly says anything about the great doctrines of the faith: The message is not as important as the music. As an unsaved young man growing up with the rhythm and beat of the rock music culture, I know just how pleasing to the flesh the sound of music can be. The flesh factor is clearly a danger many believers are ignoring: “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

The second question that must be asked is the WHAT of music. What is the purpose of music in the church and in the life of the Christian? I see a two-fold goal in the choice of our worship music. First, the glory of God is primary. The music must be centered on the greatness and majesty of God in the context of what He has done and will do according to the outworking of His redemptive plan. All music that speaks of God’s glorious attributes should, by definition, be sacred - distinct from secular music in its essential qualities. This means that it should be clearly distinguished from the music of the world. Just as the unregenerate are not attracted to godly hymns and other compositions that have served the church well for many years, the child of God should not be enticed by the pop music sound of Babylon that rises and falls on billboard charts. Can God truly be glorified in the selection of music that seeks to be popular with those who are very immature in the faith or who know not God? I don’t believe He can; however, this philosophy governs musical selections in many churches. It should not. The other goal of music should be the edification of the saint. Here too, I see little in contemporary music which would help to promote a solid spiritual foundation based on the revelation of God in Scripture. Paul labored in ministry to present every man perfect (mature) in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28). Music plays a vital role in developing spiritual maturity: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). We must guard against worship music that is geared to stir emotions but does little to bring the worshiper a greater vision of a holy God. Perhaps the church should begin to ask the question, “Where’s the beef in our music?” Theologian Millard Erickson believes that some of the great indicators of theological change are popular piety and practice. He writes, “One indication of what people believe, or what they will believe, is what they sing in worship.”[1] This is one good reason why music in worship should be carefully evaluated. While the preaching of God’s Word demands the place of prominence in the church, the words we sing to God and about God must not contradict or diminish the ministry of the pulpit. We must not come to church to feel good about ourselves, but to see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. There must be both joy and solemnity in our worship as we bow in our hearts before a majestic and transcendent God.

The final question to be asked concerning music in worship is the question of HOW. How shall we sing to God? This touches upon the form or arrangement of musical expression. Is there a balance between the melody, harmony, and rhythm? Melody is the musical story line of music, composed of notes in a pattern that we can sing. Melody helps us to remember the song. The term harmony originates in the Greek harmonia, meaning joint, concord, or agreement. Harmony is the relation of notes to notes and chords to chords, when notes are played simultaneously. The word rhythm comes from a Greek word meaning flow. It is the basis or heartbeat of music. Some have called it the flow or energy of music through time that moves the music forward. It is a critically important part of worship music. Professor of music Calvin Johansson notes: “Generally whenever rhythm engenders a response that attracts us to attend to our own feelings and desires, it detracts from worship and works against the maturing of God’s saints.”[2] Much more could be said about the how of music, but that is best left to those skilled in music whose music standards have not become compromised by the hedonistic age in which we live. The God of the Bible is a God of order, beauty, and variety. Our hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs should reflect that, not only with regard to the words, but also in the style and manner of presentation.

My concluding thoughts come down to the question of personal responsibility in our music. As an elder of the church, I can regulate congregational music, but I cannot regulate the music to which you listen. Each child of God must decide for himself in his personal life and give an account to God. I may seek to inform and persuade to some degree, but in the end the choice is not mine. One thing I can and will continue to do is to pray that God will direct your steps through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in all that you do, so that, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). In regard to the subject at hand, my prayer is that you will exercise your Christian liberty in this dark world in a way that does not violate the counsel of Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
In His name,

Pastor Tom

1 Erickson, Millard. “Where Is Theology Going”? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994) p.23
2 Johansson, Calvin. “Discipling Music Ministry: Twenty-first Century Directions”. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992) p.73

Friday, January 11, 2008

THE GREATEST NEED OF THE CHURCH


What is the greatest need of the church in our day? Is it better methods? more programs? effective leadership? a more active and vibrant membership? All of these things and many more have been proposed as crucial to the success of the church’s mission in the world; but are they? What does the church really need? I believe that the greatest need among those who have joined together in one body by a common faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4), in a common ministry (Matthew 28:19-20), must be defined by the Word of God. God’s Divine revelation in Scripture opens the window of heaven so that we can see more clearly the work of God in human endeavors and earthly affairs. Present day surveys may help to identify the degenerate condition of the church, but only God’s Word addresses the cure. When I look at the history of the church in the book of Acts, I see only one plausible explanation for the impact it had as it crossed geographical, cultural, and religious barriers to change the lives of people through the good news of the gospel. The explanation I see is the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those first followers of Jesus Christ who called themselves Christians. As the growth of the church continued throughout history, nothing else could account for its survival and expansion in the face of many hostile forces. The Holy Spirit appears over and over again in the Bible, not only in connection with powerful preaching and spiritual teaching, but also with holy living. The latter is the visible essence of the reality of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Last Sunday in my morning sermon I briefly touched upon the lives of Enoch and Noah. It was said of them that they “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22 and 6:9). What a wonderful testimony these two saints of God had as they lived Spirit-filled lives in earthly tabernacles, prone to all the proclivities and temptations arising from the sinful nature within. This is authentic Christianity, long before the dawn of the New Testament era. How can we explain it apart from the presence of God’s Spirit upon them? George Whitfield said, “Walking with God implies that the prevailing power of the enmity of a person's heart be taken away by the blessed Spirit of God.” In the case of Enoch it is written, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). This is the highest testimony one could have. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ spoke from heaven concerning His blessed Son in language adorned with similar praise, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Oh that our lives might be pleasing to God!

Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). To preach righteousness in a wicked world as Noah did for one hundred and twenty years required a constant yielding to God’s Spirit, whose presence was not a permanent possession until the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit would begin (John 7:37-39). It has been said that the church-growth experts are looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men. I wholeheartedly concur. Noah was such a man. The church stands in need of men like Enoch and Noah, men who do not follow God from a distance but who draw near to Him. The church needs men like the shepherd-king, David, who said, “My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (Psalm 63:8) and women like Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39), and who, prior to His death, took a pound of costly ointment and anointed the feet of her blessed Master, wiping them with her hair (John 12:3). This is devotion in its purest form. This is worship that cannot be arranged, rehearsed, and presented on a Sunday morning. This is the fruit of a life that treasures a nearness to God.

Brethren, if we choose to walk with God, the supreme attraction of our lives must be God himself. No Christian duty should be neglected, but none is as important as the time spent alone with Him who promised to be always near to us (Hebrews 13:5; James 4:8). This is a blessed promise and one that exceeds every earthly reward. To know the presence of God is to experience the power of God, not for personal gain, but for His eternal glory. Enoch knew the intimate presence of God for three hundred years before God called Him home. That is a slow, persistent walk. One little girl told the story of Enoch in a beautiful way. Her version went like this: “Enoch used to take long walks with God. One day he walked so far God said, ‘It's too far to go back; come on home with me.’ That is what happened to Enoch.” Perhaps that little girl knew something about theology that many of us don’t. How far do we walk with God every day before we part company and go our own way? But this is not a fair question to ask; God never parts company with us, “for he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (Hebrews 13:5b). The problem is that we allow the busyness of life to keep us from enjoying the sweetness and beauty of His Divine presence: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

In Ephesians 5:18 we read, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” This characterizes the course of a man who walks with God; he is influenced and controlled by the Spirit just as a sensual man is influenced and controlled by the intoxicating things of this world. Such a person will be noticeably different from those whose lives are always occupied with matters of no eternal value. This man or woman may not stand out in a crowd, nor receive the applause at large Christian gatherings, but I know that God takes special note of him or her, just as He did with Enoch. In the end, at the judgment seat of Christ, this is all that matters: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I could write much more on the subject of walking with God, but that must come at another time. Certainly we lack nothing now which would enable us to enjoy His presence except the desire to experience it. With such desire there is always a cost. That cost will always include a radical change in one’s prayer life. The high peaks of a spiritual journey are reached only in the solitude of prayer. There are no shortcuts.

Brothers and sisters, I do not pretend to have achieved as close a walk with God as did the saints of old, or as some have done in our day, but I would ask you to pray that God might stir up an ever increasing desire within my heart to draw nearer and nearer to Him. Pray that I will not be content with anything less. Pray that my time in prayer will increase yet more and more. I will pray for you in the same way, so that the prevailing power of the Spirit of God might take hold of your heart, mind, soul and strength.

"Oh, the closest walk with God is the sweetest heaven that can be enjoyed on earth!"
- From the diary of David Brainerd:

May the Lord have His way in our lives,

Pastor Tom