Wednesday, May 24, 2017

“Avoiding the Death Rattle”

The date is Tuesday, February 28, 2034. Winter has been particularly harsh in Fairfax. The power is out and conditions make it treacherous to drive. Signs of life are scarce in Fairfax because of the weather, but just because of life, in general. The town continues to fade and the most recent evidence of that is that Fairfax Baptist Church closed her doors for the final time – just two days earlier. What was meant to be a festive closing, actually ended with a whimper as only four people, including the pastor, his wife, and their two-year-old showed up to the final service of the church.  Just a decade before, people were talking about celebrating the church’s 150 years in the community. And the church tried to hang on as long as it could to make that celebration, but now just four months shy of reaching 150 years, the people are gone, the doors have closed, and another church will soon be forgotten.

Estimates show 80-120 churches close their doors for the final time each week. Fairfax Baptist Church will too. Just like a human has a certain lifespan, so do churches. Hear me, this church will cease to exist one day. That day might be in February 2034 or in 2023 or in the year 2280. None of us can truly know, but we can help to make sure that the date is later rather than sooner.

How do I know this church will die? Because all churches die. Some of the world’s great cathedrals still open their doors every day, but for all practical purposes, they are nothing but a place for tourists, major events, and a house of tombs, not worship services. A major reason many churches die is that they have no purpose, and thus they lose all hope. We have defined a purpose, but unless we embrace that purpose, we, too, may lose hope. And without hope, people, and church’s will die.

A few years ago, Thom Rainer wrote a book called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In the book, Rainer provides a glimpse into the common characteristics which cause churches to die. Please understand, most churches do not die an instant death, rather, over a period of time decline happens. The characteristics of this decline, as noted by Rainer, are:

The Past is the Hero
Typical: Everyone laments not being in the good ol’ days.
Fairfax: This was more true when I came, and is still true now, but I think some have a hope for the future.
Truth: God is the God of the present – I AM, not I was (Exodus 3.6). We need to engage Him now.

Refusing to Look Like the Community
Typical: People do not feel welcome in the church. The church focuses on preservation rather than on serving the community.
Fairfax: Again, I believe this was more true in the past. The attitude persists somewhat, but church members appear to be more accepting than when I came.
Truth: We need to be with people in the community to impact their lives (Acts 2.46-47).

An Inward-Focused Budget
Typical: When budgets cuts are necessary, the cuts are to missions and ministry, not to the buildings and personnel. What makes us comfortable is what we will not cut.
Fairfax: We do well here. Just shy of 20% of our budget is for missions. And that doesn’t count Annie Armstrong, Reuben L South, Lottie Moon, or piki piki, etc.
Truth: We are to be cheerful in our giving and give well knowing we reap what we sow (2 Corinthians 9.6-8).

Omitting the Great Commission
Typical: Most church members know the words of the Great Commission, but do not live by them.
Fairfax: We find it easier to give money so others will do this rather than give of ourselves.
Truth: The verb is to make disciples (the focus of this series). But to make disciples requires us to be going, baptizing, and teaching. These are the words of Jesus (Matthew 28.19-20). Will we ignore them?

Being Driven by Personal Preference
Typical: My worship style. My length of service. My activities. My minister. My, my, my.
Fairfax: You all put up with a lot from me. I know some of this is true sentiment is true here, but nothing like most churches.
Truth: Philippians 2.2-11 – We must consider others and we must have the mind of Christ!

Decrease In Pastoral Tenure
Typical: Every 2-3 years. Pastor is asked to restore hope, lead in a few changes, finds resistance, leaves (asked to)
Fairfax: Every 4 years since Momberg (9) and Hendricks (12). Grimmett  (9+, 1920s). With 6 years in Fairfax, I am tied for the 4th longest tenure in the churches 133 years.
Truth: Bible does not provide guidelines here, but modern research shows that a church often has its best years around the 6th-10th years of a pastor’s tenure. I have heard countless stories of 1974-1976 time-frame which was Hendrick’s 6th-8th years.

Not Praying Together
Typical: Church feels like it is praying, but does not really or is a ritual instead of a time of devotion.
Fairfax: Our prayer meetings here are all but dead. On May 3, we had 4. May 17, three. I am not saying people may not pray in homes and such. But let’s face it, we fail to pray corporately.
Truth: Acts 2.42 says they were devoted – including to praying together.

A Lack of Clear Purpose
Typical: Being in a rut. Going through the motions. Fearful to make any effort of change.
Fairfax: I think this was true in the past. I think sometimes it still is true. Although we have a purpose, I am not certain how many really know the purpose. And until we own it together, we will still have further to go than we have already come.
Truth: Exalt the Savior (John 12.32). Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13). Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).

A Focus on the Facilities
Typical: Fighting over pulpits, carpet, rooms, the color of paint, etc.
Fairfax: We have purchased property, made decisions about major repairs or updates, and now look to update the sanctuary – all with much discussion, but no real dissension.
Truth: Our focus needs to be on the things of heaven, not of earth (Matthew 6.19-21). As we update our sanctuary, one of the reasons I am strongly advocating we also give to support building churches in Kenya is to maintain a healthy balance in our approach to the use of money – as we build for us, let us build for others as well.

Now that we have looked at the results of the autopsy of other churches, let’s look at the scorecard for our church. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being near death and 10 being vibrant, this would be my thoughts. The parentheses represent what I believe to be our trend.
  • The Past is the Hero – 4 (up)
  • Refusing to Look Like the Community – 5 (up)
  • An Inward-Focused Budget9 (up)
  • Omitting the Great Commission – 3 (up)
  • Being Driven by Personal Preference7 (up)
  • Decrease In Pastoral Tenure3 (up)
  • Not Praying Together2 (down)
  • A Lack of Clear Purpose5 (up)
  • A Focus on the Facilities7 (up)

Scores < 5 = 4
Scores of 5 = 2
Scores > 5 = 3
TOTAL: 45 (90)

So, what can we do to prevent the death rattle from getting louder? Let me spend a few minutes providing two thoughts.

Two Objectives

Embrace Our Purpose
First, we need to embrace our purpose. If we, all of us, begin to embrace the vision, the mission, the strategy, and the steps, it will make a difference across the board. So, one aspect of our service in the next couple of months will include a time when we recite our GPS together. You have heard these statements from me for the last 5 years (and the E-E-E for 6). You have seen them in every bulletin for five years and in the newsletter or hanging in the church for the past several months. So, let’s internal them a bit by saying them aloud – together.

Vision: To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)

Mission:
  • Exalt the Savior (John 12.32)
  • Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13)
  • Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8)

Strategy:
  • Jesus (Matthew 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
  • Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
  • Unite (1 Corinthians 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
  • Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
  • Nurture (Ephesians 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
  • Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
  • You (Matthew 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.

Steps:
  • LEARN With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
  • LIVE For Each Other (Romans 15.1-2)
  • LOVE God and All Others (Matthew 22.37-39)
  • LEAD One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Timothy 2.2)
  • (LEAVE) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)

The key is that any purpose we may claim must be biblical. That is true for us as individuals, and it is true for us collectively as a church. That is the reason our God’s Path for Servants (GPS) not only has a statement for us to consider, but a verse or verses to guide us as well.

Make Disciples
Secondly, we need to focus on making disciples. (Make Disciples) The steps we just read are a process for disciple-making. The strategy encompasses all aspects of a kingdom-focused church and therefore embraces discipleship. Our mission will be fulfilled when all of us are living as true disciples, which will impact this town and achieve our vision. So, why doesn’t this happen. Well, over the past many decades many churches have focused more on being a church than on having disciples. Anyone can come to a church and feel like they belong. That is fine, but that is not what Jesus said we should do. First, Jesus said what He would do. He would “build His church” which includes each person within the church and then all of us collectively. Then, He said what we should do – “make disciples.” If we focus on making disciples our churches will grow. If we focus on being a church, the church will eventually die.

Next week we will look at what a true disciple should do. Then, over the next several weeks, we will review what a disciple-making church might look like and explore several reasons why some churches refuse to, or simply are unable to, make disciples.

In short, these reasons relate to trust, autonomy, initiative, ability, identity, intimacy, and purpose which ultimately lead people (and churches) to feel good about their lives or to be in despair. Again, we will review these items as it relates to a disciple individually, and to a church’s focus on making disciples in the coming weeks.

JOURNEY:  The JOURNEY letter for this week is: JOURNEY.  I chose the full word this week to remind us that we are all on a journey and need to be faithful to complete our journey well.

REMEMBRANCE: Jesus said, “I will build my church.”  But that building includes you and I going out to make disciples of all nations beginning in Fairfax.

NEXT STEP(S): Learn Prepare yourself to be a (better) disciple-maker for Jesus.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

“Answers About Salvation”

The following is a pseudo-outline of answers for the various questions. Scripture references are included, but are not all inclusive. The bold questions represent a category of questioning while the italicized are the actual questions being addressed.

What is Salvation?
What is salvation?
  • Simply, to be saved – to be delivered from something
  • The question we must each ask ourselves is “Do I need to be saved?” If so, “From what?”
  • Our answer to the first question is critical and makes the rest of this discussion necessary.
  • Romans 5.12-21

What is the plan of salvation?
1.  God desires that all will be saved and come to the truth – 1 Timothy 2.4
2.  God is patient that all have a chance to be saved – 2 Peter 3.9
  • Both of these verses provide evidence that God believes we need to be saved.
In the simplest terms:  Creation – Fall – Redemption
Further Explained: God had to make a way to save us because we could not save ourselves.
1.  A perfect sacrifice was needed to cover the sins of all who are not perfect.
2.  If the sacrifice had remained dead, we would have no reason to believe or have hope, so the sacrifice rose from the dead
3.  Jesus came to redeem, died to save, and lives to provide hope for all who trust in Him.


Does Salvation Come in Stages?
Is Salvation a Process?
What is the Doctrine of Salvation?
  • Regeneration (Born Again) – John 3.3-8; Ezekiel 36.26-27; 2 Corinthians 5.17
  • Conversion (Repentance & Faith) – Mark 1.15; John 1.12; 3.16; Matthew 11.28-30
  • Justification – (after faith) – Romans 3.26, 28; 5.1; 10.4,10; Galatians 2.16; 3.24 (Sins are forgiven AND Christ’s righteousness is imputed – Isaiah 61.10; Romans 3.21-22; 4.3; 5.19)
  • Adoption (into God’s family) – John 1.12; Gal 3.26; 1 John 3.1-2; (cf Matthew 6.9; Romans 8.15-16)
  • Sanctification – “set apart” (holy) but now growth

We Partner with God
  • God’s Part – Philippians 2.13; 1 Thessalonians 5.23; Hebrews 12.5-11; 13.20-21
  • Our Part – Romans 6.13; 12.1; Ephesians 4.1; Philippians 2.13; Romans 6.18 (free from sin so do not yield to it (12-13), but it is still present (1 John 1.8)
  • Grow to perfection – Matthew 5.48 & 2 Corinthians 7.11; Romans 8.29

  • Glorification – Romans 8.17, 30; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52


What is Required for Salvation?
What are the Steps to Salvation?
John 3.16; 20.30-31 (Believe=faith)

Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
No, consider the thief on the cross. But if Jesus commands it, why wouldn’t you want to

Does a Person Have to Confess Jesus to Be Saved?
Romans 10.9-10, not, but it is proof (1 John 4.2-3)

Is “Once-Saved, Always-Saved” Correct?
Can a Person Lose Their Salvation?
No, but many who think they are saved are not!

Back to idea of Justification – once the gavel falls, it has fallen

We can not earn our salvation, so we cannot lose it – salvation is dependent on God’s work, not ours
  • Jesus promise – John 3.36; John 10.28
  • No Condemnation – Romans 8.1
  • Sealed with the Spirit – Ephesians 1.13-14


How Can I Have Assurance of Salvation?
  • Perseverance – Matthew 10.22; Colossians 1.22-23; Hebrews 3.14; 1 John 2.19
  • Don’t believe false signs – 2 Corinthians 11.15 (e.g. Judas)
Challenging Passages:
Galatians 5.4: Fall from Grace – not about losing salvation but how it is secured – back to the false idea of earning it
Hebrews 6.4-6: If a person truly understands the gospel (but does not embrace it, and then turns away, it will not be possible for that person to return (Parable of Soils)

Does a Person Have to Get Saved More Than Once?
No, actually, it is impossible. You are either saved or not. You cannot get saved again, but you might get saved for the first time.
We often need to recommit to God, but that is for our growth – our sanctification.

Sin vs. Salvation
Does a Person Have to Be Sorry for the Sins to Be Saved?
Hebrews 12.17
Does a Person Have to Repent to Be Saved?
Acts 2.37-38; 20.21; Romans 2.4; 2 Corinthians 7.9-10

Succumb or Surrender
Does a Person Have to Forsake Their Sins to Be Saved?
Proverbs 28.13
  • Yes, we should. But, no we can’t (fully, at least not in our strength).
  • We can’t remember all past sins. We confess our sin (sinful nature) trusting God has covered that.
  • As we grow in Christ, we become more sensitive to our sin, so we should confess as we sin (or realize we have). This does not mean all of our past sins necessarily, but our present ones (1 John 1.9).


Does a Person Have to Surrender Their Life to Jesus to Be Saved?
To be saved?
No. BELIEVE – John 20.30-31
To know we are saved?
Yes. Another aspect we should want!
  • Paul did. Galatians 2.20; Colossians 1.27 (hope of glory)
  • Peter says to set apart Christ as Lord. 1 Peter 3.15 (Isaiah 8.13)


The Issue of Faith And Works
Is Salvation by Faith Alone or by Faith Plus Works?
  • Paul – Ephesians 2.8-9 (grace through faith alone – to be saved)
  • James – James 2.14-26 (faith will have works – because we are saved)
  • Paul – Ephesians 2.10  The regenerated will work for Jesus!


I Will Go to Heaven Because...
of Jesus, not because of anything I do.

Misconceptions of Salvation
The Prayer of Salvation / Praying For Salvation
  • Jesus says, “Follow Me.” Matthew 4.17 (Mark 1.17)
  • The prayer is not a magic formula. Not even the Lord’s Prayer is a magic formula. It is a template given because in that day no one prayed spontaneous prayers. But that must wait for another time.
  • Our prayer is simply admitting that we agree with God about our need for a Savior. That is, we cannot do it on our own.

Asking Jesus into Your Heart
  • Ephesians 3.17 (cf. John 14.17)
  • We do not have to ask Him into our hearts. If we are saved, He dwells within us.

The Unpardonable Sin
  • Matthew 12.22-32 (Mark 3.28-30)
  • Speaking against the ministry of the Holy Spirit
  • I believe in the ultimate sense – we cannot commit this sin – it was for a particular people at a particular time. BUT, in essence, when we reject the Holy Spirit, we commit a sin that does lead to destruction.


Questions from Congregation
What is Predestination?
  • Election – God chose some for salvation (reprobation for others).
  • Happened before He created the world – so this is not about what we do (or might do).
  • Scriptures: Acts 13.48; Romans 8.28-30; 9.11-13; Ephesians 1.12; 1 Thessalonians 1.4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; Revelation 13.7-8; 1 Timothy 5.21 (angels)

Objections
Fatalism – our choices do not matter
  • Contrast – we must believe (John 3.16, 17, 18)
  • Those who do not believe made their own choices (John 8.43-44; Romans 1.20)

Mechanism – fixed order of events so God is impersonal
  • Contrast Ezekiel 33.11 (no pleasure in death of wicked); Matthew 11.28-30 – Come to me (personal invitation); Ephesians 1.5 – “in love” we are “his sons”


Our Response
  • If chosen by God, we should want to please Him in all we do.
  • We must proclaim the Word – Romans 10.14, 17 (we do not know who the elect are or are not)


Can a Christian experience depression?
Depression is, in part, when one organ of our body is not functioning optimally. No one questions the salvation of someone with heart issues (for instance), so why do many feel that depression, or anxiety, or other mental aspects means someone must not be saved.

Possible Examples from the Bible

  • Job – 3.11, 26; 10.1
  • David – Psalm 42.11; 2 Samuel 18.33
  • Elijah – 1 Kings 19.4
  • Jeremiah – Jeremiah 20.14, 18
  • Paul – 2 Corinthians 1.8 (God comforted – 2 Corinthians 1.3-7, 10)
  • Jesus? – Mark 14.34-36 (Isaiah 53 – man of sorrows)

BUT GOD – Psalm 34.18
God never abandons His children (Deuteronomy 31.6; Hebrews 13.5)

So What?
Now What?  Discipleship!!!  And that will be the focus of our upcoming series.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“Questions About Salvation”, A Closer Look by Rick Sons

Questions People Have About Being Saved

QUESTIONS:
1. What is salvation?
2. What is the plan of salvation?
3. What is the prayer of salvation?
4. What are the steps to salvation?
5. Is Salvation a Process?
6. Can a Person Lose Their Salvation?
7. Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
8. How can I have assurance of my salvation?
9. Does a Person Have to Ask Jesus into Their Heart to Be Saved?
10. Does a Person Have to Be Sorry for Their Sins to Be Saved?
11. Does a Person Have to Repent to Be Saved?
12. Does a Person Have to Forsake Their Sins to Be Saved?
13. Does a Person Have to Pray a Prayer to Be Saved?
14. Can a Believer Commit the Unpardonable Sin?
15. Does a Person Have to Get Saved More Than Once?
16. Should a Person experience feelings at the Time of Salvation?
17. Does a Person Have to Confess Jesus to others To Be Saved?
18. Does a Person have to Surrender Their Life to Jesus to be Saved?
19. Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?
20. What is the Christian doctrine of salvation?

ANSWERS:
1. Salvation is deliverance from danger or suffering. To save is to deliver or protect. The word carries the idea of victory, health, or preservation. Sometimes, the Bible uses the words saved or salvation to refer to temporal, physical deliverance, such as Paul’s deliverance from prison (Philippians 1:19). More often, the word “salvation” concerns an eternal, spiritual deliverance.

2. The Bible is very clear about man’s need for God. It is clear about the eternal afterlife. It also clearly states that God Himself holds the keys to Heaven and Hell. God offers only through Jesus the remedy for man’s sin problem and its eternal consequences.

3. There is none; however a “prayer of salvation” can be the most important prayer we’ll ever pray. When we’re ready to become a Christian, we’re ready to have our first real conversation with God. When we pray a prayer of salvation, we’re letting God know we believe His Word is true. By the faith He has given us, we choose to believe in Him.

4. Believe: Believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness from sin. John 20:30-31 says, 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

5. See Answer above. Believe. Do not confuse Salvation with Sanctification.

6. The issue is simple: the salvation that Jesus Christ offers is either conditional or unconditional.   If is unconditional, then there is nothing we can do to lose it. If it is conditional, then there is some thing or some things that we can do to lose it.
The Bible says:
  • Jesus said those who believe in Him will never perish.
  • The Bible promises eternal life to all who believe in Christ.
  • Nothing shall separate us from Christ. 

Salvation is a gift. A gift is often confused with something earned. No one can earn their salvation, it is God’s gift to us.

7. The belief that baptism is necessary for salvation is also known as “baptismal regeneration.” It is our contention that baptism is an important step of obedience for a Christian, but we adamantly reject baptism as being required for salvation. We strongly believe that each and every Christian should be water baptized by immersion. Baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial.

8. The Apostle John wrote an entire chapter to assure God’s people that they are indeed God’s people. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God: that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13). The word “know” means absolute assurance.

9. Do you want to be saved? Then just ask Jesus to come into your heart.” While this statement is not anti-biblical, neither is it expressly biblical. The wording generates a mental image that can easily lead to wrong impressions, especially among children, who tend to take things literally. Paul prayed “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). But Paul is writing to believers who had already received Christ.

10. Sorrow is an emotion, which may or may not accompany the realization of one’s guilt of sin. A person DOESN’T have to feel sorry or remorseful for their sins to be saved; but rather, must simply admit that they are guilty of violating God’s commandments.

11. NO! The Greek word for “repent” is metanoia (noun) or metanoeo (verb). It basically means a change of mind and the context must determine what is involved in that change of mind. Believe and repent are never used together as if teaching two different requirements for salvation.

12. “NO!” You do NOT have to stop sinning to be saved! Truthfully, no one can stop sinning! No one can live above sin—NO ONE! The Bible says that even our own goodness is as filth in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners (1st Timothy 1:15). You do NOT have to give up anything to be saved except your UNBELIEF.

13. We are not saved by saying particular words or by praying a particular prayer. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When we trust in Jesus, we are saved on the basis of his death and resurrection. Salvation comes as we gladly welcome the Good News that Christ has paid the debt we owed so that salvation itself is the free gift of God.

14. Can a true believer, whose salvation is eternally secure in Christ, still be guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? No. Because the meaning of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a willful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit. And Christians cannot commit that kind of sin.

15. A person can no more “work” his way out of salvation, they say, than he can “work” his way into salvation.  The idea is that since there is nothing a sinner can do to earn salvation, there is nothing a saved person can do to lose it. The moment a person Believes they claim, his salvation is secured and he faces no risk of ever losing it.

16. Some people do experience emotion, joy, and relief; however, most people don’t feel anything at the time of salvation.  Remember, salvation is NOT an experience; it is a lost sinner placing faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins.  Emotions and feelings are not necessary for salvation.

17. Matthew 10:33: “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”  Jesus here is speaking about those who reject Christ as Savior; not believers who remain quiet about their testimony.  Certainly, a mature Christian in faith, such as Stephen (Acts 7), is going to stand up for the Lord.

18. The Bible does NOT indicate turning away from the act of sin itself, but rather from the guilt and condemnation of sin.  Romans 3:19 states, “Now we know that what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and the entire world may become guilty before God.”  The soul that TURNS to Jesus Christ by faith to be forgiven of sin has repented.  The Gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times without ever mentioning “repent” even once.  Clearly, to believe is to repent.

19. This question is the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and Catholic Church. John and James approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

20. According to Christian belief, salvation from sin in general and original sin in particular is made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which in the context of salvation is referred to as the “atonement.” While some of the differences are as widespread as Christianity itself, the overwhelming majority agrees that Christian salvation is made possible by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

“Grace Freely Given”, Guest Post by Sam Hood

A message based upon Isaiah 55.1-7
--

I love getting invited to weddings. At weddings you watch a beautiful covenant form between two people, and after there is free food! Invitations come in the mail and all you have to do is RSVP and you’re set! Of course the main event of a wedding is the male and the female becoming one, but we celebrate around food, drink, fellowship, traditions, and dancing–depending on whether or not you view dancing as sinful. Nicole and I only had cupcakes at our wedding, but a few months later we attended a wedding with a buffet. Next month I will be attending my sister’s wedding where we will feast. The celebration of the marriage leads to feasting. As we dive into Scripture we will examine an invitation to feast found in Isaiah 55:1-7. Before we begin I’d like to give you a roadmap to what we will be seeing. First, we will take a look at an invitation to a feast. Second, we will take a look at a promise of an everlasting covenant. Third, we will take a look at a proper response to the invitation and the promise of an everlasting covenant.

The Invitation (v. 1-3a)

Are you thirsty? Come! Are you hungry? Come! Echoing into every human heart is the call to be satisfied. Even our bodies long to be satisfied by water and by food. We have hunger and we have thirst causing us to have three meals a day typically. We are also driven by hunger and by thirst that doesn’t relate to food or water. Some hunger for the day when our bills are paid, yet others hunger for the day when marital and familial strife has ceased. We are thirsty for our lifelong goals, dreams, and longings to be met and achieved. At times, we waste our efforts and our resources in pursuit of these goals. Other times we are satisfied in our accomplishments, but later we realize it wasn’t enough to keep us satisfied. I toil at work to be one of the best employees my store has to offer. This is my goal and aspiration at work, and others also have this goal. Working at a Christian bookstore means the majority of your employees have an excellent work ethic. I work my hardest to try and get a positive survey with my name in it, yet every time I do someone within the next couple of days will get a positive survey mentioning their name as well. Satisfaction will only last for a couple of days at my job. Others come along working just as hard as me to also be known as one of the great employees of LifeWay. You also have goals and aspirations in your life that you chase after hoping that it will bring you satisfaction, yet it won’t last. Why do you long after things that won’t last and won’t satisfy? Why do spend money hoping for satisfaction in material things?

In the passage, the question is posed, “Why do you spend silver on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy?” During the time of Isaiah coins were not yet used. Every payment had to be weighed out, and generally the form of payment was precious metals. The weighing out of these precious metals conveys the idea that it’s not only the precious metals the people barter, but their labor as well. They worked for these earnings and then they spend their earnings. In the same, we work for our paycheck and we go out and spend it on what we please. We labor and labor, yet it never feels as if our labor is properly rewarded. With our paychecks we try to satisfy ourselves by bartering our labor for things in the end that either don’t satisfy or only momentarily satisfy.

Notice was is written next. “Eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.” The choicest of foods in Hebrew means to, literally, enjoy fatness. Fats and oils were precious to the Israelites for their diet was poor. They didn’t have a means of obtaining all the foods that our bodies need. Ingesting fats and oils would sustain them giving them extra energy for their day. How often to do we avoid doing that which is good? I’m not speaking of helping move someone’s furniture, or doing good for the community, or even purchasing someone’s groceries. I’m speaking of obeying the Lord. We slop around in our sin on a daily basis hoping our good deeds outnumber our bad deeds. Boldly, we tell God that we have everything we need to be satisfied. This isn’t something that needs to be done verbally either. God hears us by our actions as we spend our efforts chasing that which we believe will satisfy. We create idols in our hearts worshipping them rather than the true God, Yahweh, who made us. John Calvin says, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Much like Israel we have abandoned God and sinned against Him. We have chosen to forsake our obedience to Him to hold on to momentary satisfaction.

The beginning part of verse three contains some very important words, “Pay attention and come to me; listen, so that you will live,” and how foolish it would be not to listen. One of my pastors, Sam Beirig, has been known to say, “You are listening for your life!” Your life is utterly dependent on how close you listen to these words. Pay attention, live, come to me, these are all phrases that we should be listening to. COME TO THE WATER YOU WHO THIRST! We aren’t talking about mere food and water, we are talking about how our spirits are thirsting for more. Our spirits thirst for God and He has just given an invitation of grace to every single human being. How foolish we would be not to come to Him, not to heed these words!

Through inviting the hearers to come to the water, we catch a glimpse of something greater. Earlier I explained how we all thirst; we need water to be satisfied and to maintain life within our bodies. But there are other choice beverages that will help sustain our bodies as well. Having been told to come to the water we also are told there is wine and milk without cost. The water quenches thirst and maintains life, but the wine and milk will continue to grow and sustain the body. Wine–no matter what your thoughts are on consuming alcohol–is known to make the human body “slow down.” Simply put, as one consumes a little alcohol one’s brain will have some neurotransmitters blocked. This causes one to feel less pain, let loose some, and to generally feel happy. In this passage wine simply makes one cheerful. This isn’t an invitation to get drunk, but rather to relax and be happy. Milk is offered to grow and sustain us. There are nutrients in milk that we need to grow and to have energy. The invitation is proclaiming, “Not only will I quench your thirst, but I will make you cheerful, give you sustenance, and I will grow you.” Come and feast on the grace of God! He has offered satisfaction and growth to those who are thirsty. But all of this is offered freely, without cost. How was this accomplished? How can we simply come to God and receive this grace and growth and sustenance without cost? God sent His Son, the God-man Jesus, to come and establish His covenant with not only Israel but all peoples everywhere. This leads me to the second point.

The Covenant (v. 3b-5)

The Lord is establishing an eternal covenant with Israel on the basis of King David. David is the most famous king of Israel. Still, he had his own sins. Even so, Yahweh has promised David that his throne shall be an eternal one. David has also been a witness to Yahweh. King David was a leader of Israel and commander of its army. He faithfully revealed God, the Lord of Israel, to his own people and to the surrounding peoples. Having an intimate relationship with the Lord, he was continuously testifying to the glory, splendor, and majesty of the Lord. His witness was known through his leading and commanding of people. Every march into battle and every victory is a testament to David’s God, Yahweh. This man’s throne would not be emptied, but would rather require another who would lead the people of God and command them. This man would also be a witness to the nations, and it being an eternal throne this would last forevermore.

The promise of an eternal covenant is directly implied to Israel, but then God adds a shocking statement, “so you will summon a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you will run to you.” How can Israel summon a nation they do not know? How can nations who don’t know of Israel run to Israel? The only clear explanation of what God is promising is to understand this as a prophecy of the Messiah. He is promising a better David. A king that is a better David and one who sits on the throne eternally. The eternal King will be a witness of His God to the nations. The eternal King will lead and command a people, and other peoples will flock to this King to be led by him. He is the Davidic Messiah.

Previously in Isaiah 53, Isaiah describes the Davidic Messiah as a servant. We are told that this man shall suffer. The servant became so disfigured that he did not look like a man, his appearance made him undesirable, and he was despised and rejected. The servant also bore our sicknesses, carried our pains, and was sent to the grave. His life promises of punishment for our sin being put on him for our peace, our healing from his wounds, and our life for his death. The servant is said to sprinkle many nations, be given a portion of many, and intercede for people. This is Jesus. And he came to establish this covenant. Without his establishing of the covenant the prior invitation would not exist! The offer to satisfy would not exist!

But what exactly does this covenant satisfy? This covenant will satisfy multiple things, but I have two important ones to share with you today. God’s Wrath is the first thing this covenant will satisfy. Because of our sin we have been cut off from the Lord. Our sin has tainted the image of God within us. Sin sentences us the wrath of God. Just punishment is due us for the blatant rebellion against the commands of God. Condemnation is looming around the corner ready to strike. But because of this covenant that God is establishing through His Son Christ Jesus this can all be avoided. Jesus lays down his life to pay for our sins, to remove the spiritually dead flesh from us. He makes us alive, removes the wrath of God by his sacrifice, and gives us union with him.

Our longing of grace is the second thing this covenant will satisfy. Mercy is where we will not receive that which we deserve. The reciprocal of mercy is grace. Grace is where we will receive that which we do not deserve. Others have said it to be God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The effects of sin run deep causing death, pain, and destruction to us. Grace is the reversal of these consequences of sin. The grace of God will take our spiritual and physical death and bring us life in the Spirit and a soon coming glorified body. Awakened by the Spirit, the believer will experience true life with God. This new life brings union with God. To have union with God is much more than obeying his commands and reading the Bible. Having union with God is fundamental to our salvation. It is the believer’s union:
  • to Christ’s death that has brought about the death of the believer’s sin.
  • to Christ’s resurrection that has brought about the surety of the bodily resurrection where the believer will receive their glorified body.
  • to Christ that brings them into sonship with God.
  • with Christ’s purity and his bloodshed that declares the believer pure in the sight of God.
  • with Christ that sends his Spirit to dwell in the believer allowing them to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
  • with Christ that can bring about peace in the believer’s life; peace that will cause us to have a correct understanding of the pain, destruction, and suffering this world has to offer. 
  • with Christ that breaks the stronghold of idolization within our heart. 

It is the believer’s union with Christ that satisfies every longing of our hearts.

The Response (v. 6-7)

Arriving to the conclusion that we have been invited to come and feast on the satisfaction found in God and do so eternally, we need to know how to respond. Just as we must respond timely with a wedding invitation, so we must come to the Lord while He is near. The prophet Isaiah uttered these words signifying that the Lord was near for Israel, but we’ve been sent the Son – and God has never been more near to us. Jesus dwelt on the earth as 100% man and 100% God. God in the flesh dwelt among us! Don’t miss this! The Lord didn’t proclaim from the skies, “Hey I have a plan for us to be restored, but I can’t come down there because of your sin.” The Father sent His Son down to redeem us. Jesus didn’t just come down to earth and plant himself in one place hoping people would come to him; Jesus knew they wouldn’t come to him. Jesus went to many people and many different cities forgiving them of their sins on account of their faith, he performed miracles in front of them, he taught them how to know God more intimately, and he did many more wonders as well. God desires to be near to us; that’s why he sent the Davidic Messiah, that’s why he spoke about the Messiah through his prophets, that’s why he sent the Messiah to a cross to pay for the sin that you and I could never pay for. Seek him because He is near.

How exactly are we to seek the Lord? We are to turn away from our wicked ways. The repentance of sin is not just the stopping of sin, it is the abandoning of one’s way. Sinners who just stop sinning don’t progress but rather stay exactly how they were the moment they stopped sinning. This isn’t good enough. Abandon your way you wicked is the command. Abandoning your way is to stop sinning and pursue godliness.  It’s the reversal of our wicked thoughts and ways to seek that of the Lord’s ways and thoughts. Our thoughts must be changed. The gospel must be heard and believed. Our repentance is based on the changing of our thoughts which will produce faith. Faith in Jesus Christ and his work is what saves us. Let us go and be satisfied in him! Let us go to the Lord for there we will find the Lord’s compassion! The forgiveness of the Lord is abundant. Christ’s sacrifice can cover every single sin of yours! He will forgive freely, without cost. For this cost has already been paid by Jesus. Grace will be poured upon you if only you shall come.

Conclusion

Having heard the invitation, the covenant, and the response there is more application for us.

First, let me speak to Christians. Christians, you have heard this invitation and you have come to feast on the all-satisfying free grace of God. Let me remind you that this is a feast. There is spiritual wine and milk to make you cheerful, to give you growth, and the give you sustenance. The grace of God will continue to cover your sin all the days of your life. Because of God’s grace you will see Him more clearly. The Spirit that abides in us believer will reveal to you more of God! You’ll grow to know Him more and He will become your complete satisfaction and joy. Believer’s grace is abundant in your life. Remember, the grace of God is receiving that which we do not deserve. Every good, every spiritual blessing, every mercy in your life is due to the grace of God being present in your life. Savor God’s goodness in your life. Know Him better through prayer, Bible reading, proclaiming the gospel, etc.. Acknowledge the grace He has given you. In His gracious love, He has given us union with Christ. We don’t have to labor and toil for our own salvation because it has been won by Christ! Rest in him!

Secondly, I would like to address those who are not true believers. Many of these people have the impression they are a Christian and have been most of their days. These are the people that desire to go to church because mom and dad raised them right or to maintain their attendance so nobody asks them where they have been; they don’t desire to be with the body to fellowship in unity, worship in song and sermon, seek the Kingdom of God, and seek to make the gospel known in the surrounding communities and to the ends of the earth. These are the people that may have stopped sinning like they once have, but they have never taken the time to pursue godliness and know the Savior. Simply put they have NOT placed their faith in the God and what His Son has accomplished here on earth and repented of their sins. They learn morals and values from the Bible, but never come to know the Lord. To my understanding, Andy will be addressing the assurance of salvation over the next couple of weeks in his sermons; if you are having doubts right now about your salvation listen to his sermons but consider the fact you may not be saved. Examine your heart. If the Spirit has revealed to you that you don’t possess the grace of God then come to the feast! Come and taste of the goodness of God! Have faith in the gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Repent of your sinful ways!

Thirdly, I would like to address those who aren’t believers. Where do you place your hope and satisfaction? In that which does not last? Come to the water, come and eat and without cost! Christ came to this earth to pay for your sin debt. He came and died so that you might be restored to God. God has invited you to come and eat without cost. Will you play the fool and deny his offer? Be satisfied in the One True Triune God, for you will gain eternal satisfaction. At the end of your life you will be responsible for the sin you have committed. Eternal Hell awaits those who have chosen to continue in their sin. Hear the gospel, and respond to it appropriately, for then will your sin be forgiven and your satisfaction be found in God.

Consider the words of Revelation 22.17, “Both the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let anyone who hears, say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.”

Will you come today?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“Overflowing”

On Sunday, our church unofficially announced a giving to help renovate the sanctuary. This message is meant to encourage us to consider our giving to this project when the campaign becomes official in the next few months. The passage for review is 2 Corinthians 8.1-14. Paul’s words about the attitude for giving were meant for the Corinthians then, but should still speak volumes to us today.

We are to be a people overflowing with generosity. (1-4)

Paul begins by writing to Corinth about the people in Macedonia. The Macedonian churches would include those in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea (basically the churches in Acts 16 and 17). He writes about the grace of God which, in this case, is about human purpose. God’s grace allowed the humans to give despite being afflicted. The Macedonian believers were able to find an abundance of joy despite poverty, and generously gave until their offerings were overflowing.

You may ask how this could be. Notice Paul does not provide details of how much was given (in fact, he doesn’t even use the word money in this passage, although it is obvious that he is referring to financial contributions). The reason Paul doesn’t focus on money is because the people of Macedonia were not driven by material matters, but by attitudes. Joy and generosity do not come from a factual reality, rather they represent attitudes about their reality. The same is true of poverty. Of course, poverty has been given a standard, but an understanding of poverty is partially dependent on what your experiences and expectations are and that can vary from culture to culture.

So the churches Paul mentions gave. But they didn’t just give from their leftovers, they actually gave according to their means – and beyond. And they did so not because they were forced, but because they wanted to do so. Paul uses the word “begging” here – not to get money, but to give it. The idea is that the Paul made known a particular need and the people responded in a way that was well beyond what Paul expected. We get the impression that he was trying to talk them out of it, but they “begged” him for the privilege to give. They wanted to bless others. Consider their attitude against their reality. The reality was that they did not have much, but their attitude was to bless others with what they had.

Principle: It is the attitude that counts, not the amount.

Why could they do this?  Because they gave themselves first to God.

2. We are to be a people overflowing with excellence. (5-7)

Paul says that the response of the Macedonian churches was unexpected. Here is the truth, when people are doing things for God, they will exceed expectations. In verse 5, Paul says these churches gave themselves to God which, in turn, allowed them to be a blessing to Paul and others with him (e.g. Titus, v.6).

Having spoken of the great help these other churches provided, Paul now turns his attention to addressing how Corinth can help. First, he appeals to their excellence. It is important to know that Corinth was the capital city of Achaia. As such, they city was not only prominent, but many of its citizens were prominent. Furthermore, as a Greek city, they would take pride in themselves and thus Paul uses words that are true, but are also meant to gain their attention. If I were to paraphrase, it might sound something like this: “You, Corinthians, you are excellent in what you do – whether in faith, or in your great oratory skills, or in your understanding of philosophical matters, and even in your desires, you are excellent. So, be excellent in your attitude about giving for this is what God requires of you because He is working within you.”

It is at this point, Paul expands on their earnestness, or as we would say desire.

3. We are to be a people overflowing with desire. (8-11)

Many people consider desire a bad thing as if desire itself is sin. But that is not the case. Desire is God given and can be used to fulfill God’s plans. The key is what we desire. Let me provide two examples from both the Old and New Testaments to show that desire itself is amoral – that is, it can be used for good or bad.

Mark 3.13 – And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

Psalm 37.4 – Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

On the other hand, we have the negative aspects of desire found in the following two passages.

James 1.14-15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Genesis 1.6-7 – The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

When we look at Paul’s words in verses 8-11 of 2 Corinthians, we see him appeal to what was started in the people of Corinth. Verse 10 says that one year prior they had a desire to do what was necessary. Now, apparently they do not. Like many of us, they had good intentions, and according to verse 11 may have begun the work of sharing, but soon backed out. Thus, Paul reminds them of their previous desire and says that their intentions were not enough. It is now time to complete what you started! For desire without completion will lead to a great deal of wasted time and energy.

4. We are to be a people overflowing with abundance. (12-14)

In the conclusion of our passage today, Paul uses the phrase that each should give “according to what you have.” This instance of you is singular, meaning each person should give according to what s/he has. The language is similar to the words in verse 3, except in that case it was plural because Paul grouped the churches together. Here, Paul is referring to each individual of the church in Corinth. His point is this: The tithe is not enough for some. The example of tithing was established hundreds of years before Moses and the Law came into place, so it is a worthwhile standard even today. But the New Testament talks about giving of ourselves – not just what is expected, but whatever is required. The truth is that some must still rise to the level of tithe, while others can give more than a tithe. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is about our attitude, not the formula or dollar amount.

Remember, Corinth was the capital of Achaia and, thus, the city had a great deal more wealth than the Macedonian cities. But when we have an abundance, it is not for us to hoard, rather, some of the extra should be given to God for the benefit of others. You might recall the story Jesus told of the farmer who tore down his barns to build bigger storage houses (Luke 12.13-21). It is not that we should not save or that we must give everything away (unless God tells us to do so), but rather that what we have is not ultimately ours. As Jesus said in concluding the parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.21).

What we receive in abundance is not for us, but for God. Our abundance is for the need of others – including others who may sit in this building in the future. Just like we have been blessed by having this building for the past 62 ½ years, we can now do our part to make sure it is ready for another 30+ years, at least.

Principle: Abundant receiving requires abundant giving.

CONCLUSION

I have mentioned attitude a couple of time. As we prepare to close, let me go back to verse 8. Paul says he does not command the people to give. If anyone had a case to do so, it would have been Paul. But like Paul, I cannot command you to give. But I can urge you to do so. As Paul says, our giving shows we think beyond ourselves.

I know we all only have a certain amount of money. And besides our regular tithing, we take up collections for Annie Armstrong, Reuben L South, Lottie Moon, Operation Christmas Child, and for gas money for two Kenyan pastors. Today, we are talking about another collection to help renovate the sanctuary. I am not asking us to give everything, but I am asking you to consider what you might give to help. People in the past, including some of you, have given so this building would be here, this carpet could be laid, these pews could be in place. The question for us now is: What will we give so it will continue to be a good place for worship?

This campaign which will start in a few months will need our commitment. We will need to be a people who are overflowing with our money because we are overflowing with God’s love. We will all need to make a sacrifice, but the benefits could bless this church’s ministry for years to come. And the truth is that the more we raise up front, the less money we will have to borrow later.

So, what can you do in the mean-time? At this time, all that the Finance Team, the Propery & Space Team, and myself ask is to pray over what you will give. Again, this will be over and above what you may be currently giving and for some the extra may not be much. For others, it may be considerably more. But we must all consider what we might sacrifice for the future of this church just as others had to sacrifice for us to be here today.

So, ask God what He would have you do. Then, when the time comes, be ready to do it because He is overflowing within you.