Archive | February, 2017

CONNECTING

27 Feb

perichoresis

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it or ever noticed but regardless of whatever I preach on, there is one thing I am always sure to include in every message…. the good news of Jesus Christ.  The good news that..
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. – John 3:16-17

I believe this is the main point of scripture and everything flows out of this central truth – – -God loves you, He sent His Son for you, He died for you, because He didn’t want to condemn you!! He wanted to save you!!

Yet, the sad fact is many people don’t live like that matters.  We don’t understand that Jesus did not just die so that we could escape Hell but also so that we might experience abundant life here on earth. I am not talking about a life without heartache but I am taking about a life with this amazing peace that nobody understands . I am talking about a constant Friend.

It breaks my heart that people don’t seem to understand all that Jesus has to offer. That for so many, church attendance is a sideline. Following Jesus is on a cursory level and nothing more.

We introduced a theme this year.. “Following Jesus: It’s Not  A Game!”

Our goal is to move people out of just occasionally talking about Jesus to being sold out to Him and consumed by Him.

So last week, in keeping with that idea, I began a series where I wanted to introduce the vision statement  of First Baptist Church of Lillian, Texas.

“Worship, Grow, Connect, Serve, Tell”

I introduced what worship was all about last week. That it is more than just a song. That it is in fact a verb and it is reflected everyday in how we serve Him… especially in willing to take care of the less fortunate.

So today, I want to talk about connecting with other believers.

I believe that the last part of Acts addresses adequately the law of connection. In fact, I believe this is the best scripture to describe what the early church looked like when it came to community. Luke wrote the book of Acts, and we’re going to look at the last 6 verses of Acts 2. Luke tells us ~

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

Church is not a social club. Sometimes we develop great friendships at social clubs, I’m not against them. But, the fact is, we live in a broken world. A world which is filled with sin, hurt, pain, injury, illness and ultimately, death. We often don’t find the comfort and community we desire by going to a meeting, instead, we find what we need when we are surrounded by people who are like minded. We have to be intentional about cultivating these relationships and friendships.

You see, when we talk about making friends with people, forming a community at church . . . I’m going to say something which may shock you . . . for the most part, community and friendships do not occur in this room. There are just too many of us in here and there is not enough time to sit and talk and really get to know one another . . . and form those friendships. This room was designed for worship, not necessarily community. Yet, we worship together as a community. Tt doesn’t mean you can’t find friendship in worship, it’s just more difficult.

I want you to be able to nurture deep friendships with a handful of other Christ followers who push you closer to God, who know the good and the bad about you, and whose love is not contingent upon either, people you can call at 2:00 a.m. if you’re in a crisis. This should be one of the joys of being part of a church.

I really believe, deep, enriching, and real friendships are part of God’s plan for His world.

Acts 2 talks about how devoted the early church members were to one another. Listen to some of the phrases Luke uses to describe the early church ~

42 devoted themselves . . . fellowship . . . breaking of bread . . . prayers.

43 Awe came upon every soul . . . wonders and signs.

44 All were together . . . had all things in common.

45 Selling their possessions . . . to any who had need.

46 Daily attending together . . . breaking bread in their homes . . . glad and generous hearts.

47 praising God . . . having favor with all people. The Lord added to their number daily those being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

That should rock your world!

To listen and to feel what the early church was like.

Now, I get that it’s almost impossible to be at church everyday (I am).  Back then, they lived a different lifestyle.. But do you get a sense of their community? That’s the point I don’t want you to miss. It’s too important.

Here’s the fact, we are all in this together! It’s pretty assumed, but I think we forget that. Understand God has existed forever in a perfect relationship. The Father has a perfect relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit, as does each with the other. It’s something called PERICHORESIS! It’s not a biblical word.

It’s a Greek word, and Perichoresis is the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit being perfectly embraced in love and harmony and expressing an intimacy that no one can humanly comprehend.

It would be like a Venn Diagram showing the interconnectedness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father flows into the Son and Spirit, and the Son flows into the Father and Spirit and the Spirit flows into the Father and Son. There is an amazing intimacy in the trinity.

I believe that’s supposed to be the way we live our lives. It’s not supposed to be an enmeshed, unhealthy relationship where we’re into each other’s business and can’t get away from someone poking their nose into someone else’s stuff. We’re not about having no boundaries and not being autonomous and unique.

We are to live in a perichoretical relationship. It’s a constant flowing into one another. It’s a deep love that we have for one another. It’s a desire to be together as a family in Christ.

Imagine if we had this type of love for one another?
Imagine if the world saw this type of true and real Christ – centered love? If they saw who we’re supposed to be and what it looks and feels like?

The world would never be the same again.

Think about what would happen if the church really became the church God intended it to become? Too often we think we’re in this alone. We think it’s about me and my wants, my likes and my dislikes. Church is not all about you! It’s about Christ! It’s about how we can give ourselves to Christ and experience His power, His grace, His mercy, His peace, His strength and courage! But to do that by ourselves does not get us very far. We need one another.

On your own, you’re weak, when you add one other person, you gain strength, and add 2 or more people, and you’ve gained more strength in so many areas than you ever realized. We can’t do it on our own, which is why community is so vital to our existence and the future of the church.

Think about the Lord’s Prayer – – – how does the prayer start? We start with “OUR FATHER.” It’s not my father, it’s our Father, because we are in this together. We are to be a community of believers who come together because of one reason – – – Jesus, the Christ. This affirms our need for relationships, it affirms that we call this the family of God. We are in this together.

When we proclaim Jesus, besides salvation, what else happens? We are adopted into the family, we become one of God’s children, and we become brothers and sisters in Christ. So, if you think you’re an only child, you’ve got that wrong, because you’re part of a huge, huge family! The family of God!

I believe part of the problem is the fact that we’ve become really, really bad at making and cultivating friendships. We talk about being a self-made person, we look up to the lone rangers of the world, those who take life by storm, doing it their way and on their own.

American culture celebrates individualism and personal achievement . . . but have you ever considered that we follow a Messiah who celebrates community? When Jesus invited the disciples to “come, follow me,” the Greek translation is plural. It was the Biblical equivalent of Jesus saying “y’all” because He was calling them into community.

Jesus lived in a society that was built around the idea of community. Families lived with multiple generations under the same roof. They had family gardens and they still have them today. They are terraced plots stacked side by side on a hillside where the neighborhoods worked together to maintain the retaining walls and care for the produce. If one garden failed, they all failed. Life was built around relying on community.

And as the church was in its infancy stages, they got it more right than they ever would have imagined. They ensured the power of community by ensuring “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” People lived off of community!

Think about how often people just get together in the middle of the day to sit and talk . . . to have a cup of coffee. One pastor told the story about the time he was with a missionary from Brazil. He asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee.

The missionary responded, “Really? We have time? I’m honored. That would be great.”

The Pastor was thinking – – – – I don’t know why he’s so thrilled. Because I was about to pull into a drive through coffee stand. After doing that, the missionary said, “Ugh, you Americans. I feel so sorry for you. I thought you were asking me to be my friend. I thought we were going to sit together and share life.”

We don’t do that well do we? We don’t take time out and just sit and get to know one another. How else can we form friendships, form community . . . maybe even get over our animosity towards someone or sense of distance. If we don’t stop, we will be the most alienated and lonely people around.

So . . . who are the people in your community of faith? Like the people of Israel who lived in community and helped one another, who helps fix your retaining walls and ensures your faith is growing? Who can you call when there’s that need? Who can you call at 2 a.m. needing help?

We are not going to change overnight. Some people like to be alone, they are more comfortable that way. Yet, we all need people. If you are newer to the church, if you are saying, you know, I’d like to have a few more friends, I’d like to have someone care about me, to check on me . . . then I’d tell you get involved. Come to Sunday School. Ask me about classes.

Come to Bible Study! Ask about volunteering in some ministry. God has promised that He will be with you wherever you go . . . but you know what, sometimes it’s nice to look at another person, sometimes it’s nice to get a hug, sometimes it’s nice to go someplace where everyone knows your name!

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The Israel Report

19 Feb

I have said it before and I’ll continue to say it because so many times, this awesome body of believers in the saving power of Jesus Christ has proven it.

This is not a small church. This is a God-sized church.

There is absolutely no reason I should have been able to go to Israel. There is also no reason I should have been able to go for the third time in fifteen years.

What is even more remarkable is that the first two were free but this time, it was asked that we pay a large portion of it out of pocket.

This church recognized the biblical significance of Israel. They recognized the importance of partnership with Shlomy and Miriam Abramav and they stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. The majority of this trip was paid for by my church family. You gave nickels, dimes, dollars because you believed that this was important and you supported the idea of your Pastor going. You guys are truly awesome.

To tell you everything about this trip Israel would take a couple of hours. And certainly, if you would like to have my wife and myself over for dinner, I would be honored to come tell you everything there is to tell!

But for my purposes today, I will simply share with you three things.The land. Shlomy and Miriam. The Bridge of Hope.

First of all, let’s talk about what I saw in the land of Israel.

There is an eight hour time difference between Texas and Israel (incidentally, when anyone there asked us where we were from, we did not say “The United States”, we said “Texas”). So when it was 2 p.m. there, it was 6 a.m. here. Needless to say, when we stepped of that plane, we were already exhausted. It was 10 a.m. there so when I texted my wife to say we had landed, it was 2 a.m.. Praise God my wife keeps her phone in the other room!

The first place we went was Caesarea Maritima.

caesarea

According to the book of Acts, Caesarea was first introduced to Christianity by Philip (the one who baptized the Ethiopian) who later had a house there in which he gave hospitality to the Apostle Paul. It  was there that Peter came and baptized Cornelius and we learned that the Gospel was not just available to the Jews but to anyone who would receive.

I love that story… I love it because it has special meaning for me.  I know that though I am not an Israelite, though I am not a Jew, I have been adopted by God into His family. That adoption took place when I recognized what He did on the Cross. I understood that I could not save myself. I understood that He paid the penalty for my sin. Like Cornelius, I was a Gentile who received the Gospel and my name is now written in the Lambs Book of Life (Heaven’s roll sheet).

What about you? Do you realize that Jesus died for you as well? Do you understand that you cannot get to Heaven on your own accord?  You have a chance to be adopted into the family of God but only by agreeing to follow after Jesus and surrending your life to Him.   There is no other way.

From there we went to Mount Carmel, which is one of my favorite stories in Scripture. I remember visiting there seven years ago and saying excitedly to my Mom… “Do you realize where we are?”

carmel

That’s the centerpiece of one of my favorite stories of Biblical history. That’s where Elijah called down fire from Heaven.

Do you remember that story? It’s in 2 Kings 18:17-40.

Elijah was one of the greatest of all the OT prophets. During the dark and difficult days of King Ahab and Jezebel he was a voice in the wilderness and light in the darkness that existed.

He was willing to stand in the gap for God when it was needed most.

And the big showdown on Mt. Carmel is the climax of his life.

There was a severe famine in the land after 3 years of no rain.

King Ahab wanted to blame Elijah for causing the problem.

The bold prophet goes nose to nose with this wicked king and tells him the truth about himself and what is happening in the land.

Ahab challenges him to PROVE IT and the showdown is ON.

Elijah is going to publicly embarrass and expose Ahab’s false gods.

It’s the GREAT CONFRONTATION.

The Living God of Heaven v. The false idols of men of earth

Who is in the majority? There are 450 prophets of Baal and another 400 of Asherah all eating at the Kings table. As then you have Elijah’s own countrymen who followed these false gods.

Then you have one prophet plus God. Who would you wager would win this confrontation?

This is essentially the same battle that we face today as Christians. The names may have changed but nothing else has. Faithful Christians who are standing on the Word of God against the unbelievers of this age, with all their idols, and unfaithful brethren, who have departed and deserted the truth.

Paul once warned Timothy that in “the latter times, so shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim.4:1-2)

We must stand firm and strong against the forces of evil just as Elijah did on Mt. Carmel – and not compromise.

Elijah challenged the people to make up their minds. ” How long will you hesitate between two opinions?”

The Hebrew word PASACH means to limp. The people were limping from God to Baal and Baal to God. It was time to make a decision, and stop sitting on the fence.

Who is on the Lord’s Side? We must make the same decision, and the sooner the better.

The Prophets of Baal had failed to contact their god. Despite all their ranting and raving, scratching and screaming – NOTHING

Now it’s Elijah’s turn to show the POWER of God. He builds an altar, presents sacrifice, pours on water and PRAYS.

The result is AMAZING – fire from Heaven, everything consumed, Zap – God’s response is immediate, instantaneous and spectacular.

The Response from the People is one of Awe and Respect for the God of Heaven.

THEY HAD SEEN GOD!!!

Needless to say, it was once again a thrilling experience. I was jet lagged, tired, a little cranky, and thrilled to be there.

I would then spend a few days with Shlomy and Miriam which I will get to later.

But after I got back from that time with them, it was back to touring that amazing land.

One of the first places we got to visit was the Western Wall… better known as the Wailing Wall.

wailingwall

If you’ll recall, the Temple was the centerpiece of Jewish life during a great portion of Israelite history. Conceived by David, built by Solomon, it had housed the presence of God.

Twice it was destroyed and even now, we know that Christ will come to that Temple again at the Second Coming. One problem: it’s not there now. Now, there is a muslim mosque standing just to the left of where it used to be. The western wall of that mosque was actually the western wall of the Temple.  And the Muslims, bless their hearts, allow the Jewish people to pray at that wall. As you stand there, you can see prayer requests placed into the crack of the wall.

That same day, we saw the ancient Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11), went through the original quarters of King David, and walked through a portion of Hezekiah’s tunnel.

The next day, it was a visit to the Garden Tomb, the place traditionally believed to be where Christ’s body was to have rested before He rose again.  In the distance was Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified.

garden-tomb

Now, nobody knows for sure that this was the place.  But standing there and being reminded of that event and how it changed the course of history.  The truth is it changed my life as well as many of yours. For some of you, you have yet to experience the power behind that empty tomb. But please, if you hear nothing else, hear this:  You and I are sinners according to Romans 3:23. We are separated from God, according to Romans 6:23, because of that sin. But that second part of that verse lets us know that Jesus came to provide us the precious gift of eternal life.  And Romans 5:8 explains why.. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”  And we can receive that salvation by turning our lives over to Him, recognizing that He is Lord and that He died on the Cross for our Sins (Romans 10:9) Why? Because He is the only way to an abundant and eternal life (John 14:6).

I got further reminder of what my Savior did for me as I stood in the Garden of Gethsemane where the part of him that was fully man prayed for another way out, to not have suffered the pain of the Cross. Nevertheless, He went just the same.

gethsemane

I stood on the Mount of Olives where Christ is said to first land when the Second Coming occurs and got a beautiful view of the Temple Mount.

temple-mount

And then I saw where the Pool of Bethesda used to be. John 5 tells this story about a man who laid there for 38 years supposedly waiting for someone to help him get to the water in that pool because he believed that water had healing powers.  Jesus goes up and asks him “Do you want to be healed?”

bethesda

Why would Jesus ask that question? For the same reason that many get asked that same question today. Because many people do not want to be healed from their afflictions. They do not want to be healed from their sin of lust. They want to keep looking at pornography. They do not want to be healed from their sin of hatred. They want to keep nursing a grudge. They do not want to be healed. Oh, they’ll talk a good game. But when it comes down to it , they would rather not let go.

But to the ones who do want to be healed, Jesus says the same thing to them that he said to that man. “Get up, take your mat, and walk.”  IN other words, healing from those types of afflictions is there for you.  Now, don’t misunderstand. There are many physical afflictions where God may choose not to heal for one reason or another. But when it comes to the types of habits I have mentioned, God wants to deliver you.  So get up and walk in Him!

I teared up as I visited a school for victims of terror in Shiloh

shiloh-school

(which is also the site where the tabernacle set for 369 years and where the prophet Samuel was brought to Eli to be raised up in the ministry).

tabernacle

I enjoyed hearing David Rubin, a former mayor of Shiloh who you will also have a chance to hear in Cleburne at the end of next month.

david-rubin

My group went to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.  Probably no other discovery has helped authenticate the stories of Scripture and given us greater insight into those times than these scrolls.  To get to be there where they were discovered and even see one of the caves where they were found was indeed awesome.

dead-sea-scrolls

On the last day, we were exhausted and we still had a banquet to attend that night.  But our tour guide, Kirah, wanted to make one last stop. And she took us to a place called Perat.  This turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip. There is a monastery built there in the side of the mountain because it is believed that it was in a cave near there where Elijah was fed by ravens as he hid from Queen Jezebel during his time of depression.

perat

Now, I have to tell you that this trip was incredible! It was not my first trip to Israel. As a matter of fact, it was my third.  And yes, I did get to see some sites I had not seen before. But this trip was more amazing not because of the sites but because of Shlomy and Miriam Abramov.

abramov

Let me first say that Shlomy and Miriam, whom many of you have met before, treated me awesomely well. In the four days that they hosted me, they treated me like a king. Taking me to Masada and even for a soak in a sulfur bath at the Dead Sea spa.

dead-sea-spa

I had my own apartment with a kitchen and a living room. They insisted on paying for everything.  They were incredibly gracious hosts.

I knew about their ministry, “Awake Israel”, before I came to Israel this time. But to sit and visit with them gave me a clearer insight into what God has called these amazing people to do.

They are committed to bringing the Good News of Salvation to the Jewish People, mainly in Israel.

For many Jews, their Jewish identity is more cultural than it is religious. But this doesn’t mean that their Jewishness is unimportant to them. Most Jews also think that the opposite of Jewish is Christian and so for them to consider Jesus is problematic because it means considering losing their Jewish identity. Therefore in witnessing to Jewish people about Jesus it is important to stress that they do not need to give up their identity as Jews in order to embrace Jesus as Messiah.

But the biggest problem is this: one can be jailed or ostracized for sharing their Christian faith in Israel. In fact, if you share Christ with anyone under the age of 18, it is most certainly a jailable offense.  And lets not forget all of the fighting that goes on there and the huge population of Arabs that also hate the Jewish and Christian people. Shlomy and Miriam basically put their whole livelihood on the line every day by seeking to share Jesus there.

Now unlike you and I , they can’t just go to a mall or street corner and start preaching. Rather, they have fellowships at their house, community get togethers.

Shlomy has had an interesting life… having once been a bodyguard for men like Ariel Sharon and Sylvester Stallone… and he has written several books about his experiences that also tell of his conversion to Jesus. He was actually led to Christ by Miriam when they were still getting to know each other. Every place I would go, Shlomy would engage people in conversation. Then, as he would leave, he would give a copy of his book (which contains a clear outline of how to come to a relationship with Jesus) and ask them to read it during their spare time. In America, we may criticize that and say he should be more bold. In Israel, that IS bold.

I was already fond of Shlomy and Miriam but previous visits with them when they had come to the States. But after my time with them, I can truly say I love them and am honored to be partnering with such godly people in a “Bridge To Hope”

This brings me to my final point. What is a “Bridge to Hope”.

One of the greatest, yet often untapped resources for Johnson County churches is the Christian Heritage Foundation.

The Foundation was started in 1982 by Walter and Mary Ann Mize. Walter was a successful Christian businessman who felt a burden in his heart to do more for Jesus. The foundation was created with the idea of helping churches in their mission for Jesus. They offer to help churches in Johnson County in three areas… evangelism, outreach, and benevolence.  This church has been able to do much because of the foundation and their willingness to partially fund many of the things we have been able to do including Vacation Bible School, Thanksgiving in the Homesteads and Christmas and Easter outreaches.

Shortly before he died, Walter got a burden for Israel. He wanted to do more for the people of that country.  God fulfilled that vision when a few years ago, my friend Kevin Bentley was hired to head up a new organization called “Johnson County For Israel” and their main purpose was to begin building Bridges to Hope.

The idea behind this is to pair churches in our area with Christian churches or ministries in Israel. It is not necessarily a monetary partnership but one of encouragement.  It is to seek to help them out in whatever way possible, especially through prayer, in their evangelistic efforts.

Why is this necessary? Why should Christians in America support Israel?

First, let me say that there are many who do not. There are many who subscribe to something called “replacement theology”. In fact, there are churches in Johnson County that subscribe to it. It is the idea that when the Jews rejected Christ (John 1:12) , that they were replaced with those who came to salvation.  Therefore, they say that anytime the Bible refers to blessing  Israel, it is really talking about Christians in general.   This is a huge error.

Let me be clear that a Jew cannot enter Heaven simply for being a Jew than I can enter Heaven for being a Texan. It is only through salvation in Christ that we get to Heaven. So the Jews do not have an automatic pass.

But the reason we support Israel goes all the way back to a pact that God made with Abraham.

Genesis 12: 1-3

Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The second half of the verse is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. The first half of the verse clearly means that God will bless those who bless the people of Israel and curse those who curse them.

We need to bless Israel by continually encouraging those in government leadership to support them. As a nation, we must never turn our back on Israel. But honestly, one of the best ways to support Israel is for us to point them in the direction of Jesus. And the best way for us to do that is to support Israeli Christian ministries in their efforts.

it should always be remembered by Evangelicals that we are to follow the admonition and command of the Apostle Peter, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).