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When “works” replace Jesus…

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Recently I came across an article that talked about pastors filling in their church calendars for the new year. The gist of this article dealt with whether or not the items that made their calendars was real ministry or simply “busy work”.

It made for interesting reading, especially when one of the pastors posted a link to his calendar for everyone to see. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold nearly every day of the week was filled from early morning till late in the evening.

Everything from early morning Bible studies and Zumba classes, afternoon staff and business meetings, to evening choir practice and healthy cooking classes filled this church’s calendar.

Frankly, it was the busiest church calendar I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. At first glance one would be inclined to say that this church was very busy, and they certainly were. I couldn’t imagine them squeezing anything else into an already stuffed daily agenda.

There was something odd however about this church calendar. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but I couldn’t shake the notion that in spite of so many agenda items something was missing.

Then it hit me. There was something missing! In fact, I noticed two missing items. The first was that there was no time built into the calendar for corporate prayer. The second thing that I noticed missing was there was not one single event or activity geared toward anyone outside the four walls of the church!

As I studied this I was reminded of something that Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.    Revelation 2:2-4(NKJV).    Emphasis mine

Lets look at these verses in detail because I think we might see ourselves in them.

Jesus recognized the works that the church had been doing. He called attention to their labor and patience, and how many of us can relate when it comes to having patience when doing the Lords work?

Jesus also mentioned the church’s disdain for those who practiced evil. All of us understand this don’t we? We are trying to live a Godly life in the midst of a perverse and increasingly evil society, and it’s only going to become more challenging.

He goes on to list several more very positive attributes of the church at Ephesus, leaving no doubt that He knew this church intimately. Hmmm…do you suppose Jesus knows the church you attend in such intimate detail?

At first glance this church could be the model for all other churches in the area. Things were going good, and I imagine there was quite a buzz about all the wonderful things the church at Ephesus was doing.

But, and there’s always a but, right? There was a problem in the church, a problem so important that Jesus couldn’t let it slide without calling their attention to it.

It all began with the word “nevertheless”. Just hearing the word sends thoughts of “uh oh, here it comes” to our minds. Even after all of the praise Jesus gave the church, there was a “nevertheless” that cast a dark shadow on what was an otherwise glowing report.

Nevertheless, he said, this church had lost their first love.

Ouch!

What does this mean, to have lost your first love? It means that the church at Ephesus no longer loved the Lord with the same level of intensity they once had. Their passionate love for Jesus had been replaced by something else.

They had lost their zeal for Christ. Typically when this happens, we just go through the motions of serving God. Our heart is no longer motivated by the love of Jesus, we become content to do as many good works as we can, placing our trust in the deeds themselves rather than Jesus.

Ask me how I know this!

Do you know what this is called? It’s called RELIGION, and it ceases to be about a relationship with Christ. The church at Ephesus abandoned their first love in exchange for cold, formal, impersonal RELIGION.

This is the same poison that has infected the Church today. The poison of RELIGION has suffocated the once fervent relationship she had with Christ. This is why there is such apathy in the pew today. We have supplanted relationship with form, with rules, with do’s and dont’s.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! There’s more to the story! In the next verse, Jesus gave the church at Ephesus an “out”. He told them to REPENT. That’s right, simply REPENT.

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”   Rev. 2:5   KJV

I believe that this is the message for the Church today. Remember where we came from, acknowledge we have strayed, repent and get going again.

Return to the love of Jesus, then watch how much impact our works will have on the world around us!

Maybe we should put THAT in our church calendars!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

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“I am the Lord…”

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I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:”    Isaiah 45:5   KJV

God revealed himself to his chosen people Israel as “I am The Lord” over 160 times. Repeatedly, God felt the need to remind his people that they need not look to another god because there wasn’t any other, that He stands alone as God.

This was necessary because Israel was surrounded by nations who served any number of false gods, and as Old Testament history shows us Israel went after these gods time and time again.

Indeed, idolatry was something that Israel struggled with throughout its ancient history, eventually leading to the destruction of both Jerusalem and the entire nation of Israel.

In today’s world however, many take offense at this verse, believing that it is the height of arrogance for anyone, including God, to declare Himself as the One True God. Today we seem to want to have options for everything, including our God.

Christians are, of course, fully aware that there are those that teach that there are many paths to God, just as there are many today proclaiming the existence of many gods. True Biblical Christianity however refutes such doctrinal error, as we believe God to be the One True God, Jehovah.

You may be asking why any of this should matter to you. Well, it matters because all of us will face the day in this life when we will need God. Whether it’s a crisis of faith or a personal tragedy that brings catastrophic news, all of us will need God at some point.

It’s in those times of crisis that we need assurance that the One we call out to is indeed the “I am The Lord” of the Bible, and not an impostor.

This is when having a personal relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, becomes most real in our hearts. To know that we can call upon him and that he hears our cry, is worth more than anything we could ever acquire in this life, and is yet another aspect of this Abundant Life we live in Him.

One of the greatest commentaries on this passage of scripture was penned by none other than Matthew Henry. I enjoy reading the commentary of Matthew Henry for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was written long before the divisive seeds of “political correctness” were sown in the Church.

In other words, he explained the truth of scripture without regard to man’s opinions.

I have included his commentary on Isaiah 45:5 so that you may read his clear and concise rendering of this verse.

“That he is God alone, and there is no God besides him. This is here inculcated as a fundamental truth, which, if it were firmly believed, would abolish idolatry out of the world. With what an awful, commanding, air of majesty and authority, bidding defiance, as it were, to all pretenders, does the great God here proclaim it to the world: I am the Lord, I the Lord, Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God besides me, no other self-existent, self-sufficient, being, none infinite and eternal. And again (v. 6), There is none besides me; all that are set up in competition with me are counterfeits; they are all vanity and a lie, for I am the Lord, and there is none else.”

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to be Heavenly minded?

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Everyone is seeking something. That’s how God made us. We’re inquisitive by nature; always searching, looking, wondering.

Life would be pretty boring if we just sat around and became a lump of nothingness, don’t you think?

As Christians however, we must learn to temper our searching, looking, and wandering by prioritizing and aligning the things we deem so important against God’s Word. Paul explains it here in Colossians 3:1-3.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”.‬‬

Does this now mean that because I’m a Christian that I can no longer be passionate about my favorite cause? Of course not! If God’s children don’t participate in this earthly life, if we’re too Holy to get our hands dirty while ministering to others, of what value are we?

You no doubt have heard the expression that we can become “too Heavenly minded to be of any earthly good”. Speaking only for myself, I have yet to meet the person who accurately meets this description! Seriously, if any person becomes as Heavenly minded as Paul describes above, they would do more earthly good than they could ever imagine!

What Paul is saying to us is that as Christ’s representatives on earth we should be involved in what’s going on around us. We should care deeply about the plight of others. If not us, then who will?

But our first priority must be Him. If we will make Him our first priority, if He becomes the focus of our passions, our care and concern for others will be greatly enhanced.

You see, it’s only by seeking those things that are above, that we are then able to effectively reach out to those around us. Or to put it another way, before we can pour into others, we must first be filled ourselves. And we get filled by seeking those things which are above.

I think all of us would agree that we need more of Him at work in our lives. I know I certainly have enough rough edges to keep Him busy for a while! As we endeavor to seek those things that are above, we begin to die to self a bit more each day. Those rough edges become smoother, even our attitudes are improved.

Seeking those things that are above transforms our wants and desires into His wants and desires. When we seek to become more Heavenly minded we become more like Jesus. We love like Jesus. We have compassion like Jesus. The world can then see Jesus through us.

Isn’t that what this Christian life is supposed to be about anyway?

Be blessed,

Ron

Stuck at the starting gate…

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Do you ever think about whether or not you are making progress in your walk with the Lord? Are you growing in your faith? Are you steadily marching along toward the goal of spiritual maturity?

Tough questions for all of us, aren’t they? Even after all these years, there are times when I think to myself “am I really growing like I should be”?

Do you feel like instead of progressing, it’s more like you’re stuck in neutral?

If we’re being honest, does it feel like you’ve been taking two steps backwards and one step forward?

Or are you one of the millions that have started on a journey with Christ, yet you are neither going forward or backwards, like you’re not moving at all?

In other words, are you stuck at the starting gate?

starting gate

If this is you, then read on because this post is for you!

Being stuck at the starting gate describes those of us who know the Lord as our Savior, who attend church regularly, read our Bibles, and for all intents and purposes are doing all the right things. We’re on our way to heaven.

Yet for all of that, something is missing. There is no passion, no excitement, no enthusiasm for the things of God. Just going through the motions of “churchianity”. We’re described in the Bible like this:

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” Matthew 15:8

OUCH!

We’re present in body only. We can’t seem to find a way to become engaged. We just “are”. We’re stuck at the starting gate. Nothing moves us, nothing motivates us. We just “are”.

motivation not

This is a long way from the life that Jesus describes in the second half of John 10:10!!

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

The Abundant Life. You’ve no doubt heard about it. You’ve probably heard a sermon or two about it.  TV preachers talk incessantly about it. Book shelves are filled with volume after volume of authors who attempt to link prosperity with the Abundant Life. You know the ones:

  • The Laws of Prosperity
  • Blessed
  • Biblical Keys to Financial Prosperity
  • Christian Prosperity Secrets
  • The Prosperity Bible

OK, you get the point I’m sure. It seems there is no end to the amount of information out there about prosperity and the Christian. The world, and sad to say a great many preachers, says that living an Abundant Life means living a life of financial prosperity.

But that is NOT what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of the Abundant Life! Truth is, you can live an extraordinarily Abundant Life while being flat broke!

The Abundant Life is a life of meaning, purpose, contentment, joy, strength, and faith that culminates in eternal victory in Jesus Christ.

Now that’s an Abundant Life!

Of course, this does not mean that God doesn’t want us to be blessed and prosperous. Of course He does. What we have to ask ourselves however is what good does wealth and prosperity do us if we are miserable, unhappy, living in fear and doubt, and without hope?

Or what good does wealth and prosperity do us if we can’t get past the starting gate?

If you’re feeling like you are stuck at the starting gate, I have great news for you! The only thing keeping you there is YOU! The Gatekeeper is Jesus, and he has left the gate wide open for you to walk through and begin the journey of a lifetime!

The key to an Abundant Life is Jesus!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

Looking with HOPE to the future

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New Years. new_year_sign_19648

I have to be honest and admit that this is one holiday that I just don’t get. For millions of people it’s an excuse to get crazy drunk. For millions more it’s all about a traditional meal that includes sauerkraut and pork.

And then there are the millions who think of New Years as a chance to start over by saying goodbye to the previous year. Oh well, no one said I had to “get it”!last_year_garbage_can_custom_800_clr_21288

 

Today I asked my mailman if he was looking forward to 2018, and he answered very quickly “I don’t have much hope for the new year,and I don’t expect things will get better until we get a new leader in office”. UGH!

 

Hmmm…..no holiday cheer there, and it was too late to say Bah Humbug!

Actually, his response surprised me as I’ve always thought mail carriers led a pretty good life. But hey, what do I know?

 

What really matters in the big picture is where our hope lies. If, as in the case of my mailman, our hope lies in the next presidential election,there will always be a large percentage of the population left disappointed and wondering what might have been.

This is just one of many reasons why my hope is in Jesus Christ. With Jesus, I never have to wonder what might have been. In addition, with Jesus I already know what to expect, therefore I know in advance that I will not be disappointed.

Now, how cool is that??

Hope in Jesus does that! This hope says that irregardless of situations or circumstances, Jesus will make a way somehow, even in the darkest of nights. Which reminds me of a fish story. Well, sort of.

There was once a fisherman in the Bible whose faith and hope wavered when circumstances began to spiral out of his control. Fact is, he lost all hope and eventually denied even knowing Jesus, in spite of the fact that he had been with him nearly every day for over three years.

Who would have thought that within a very short time his perspective would do a 180?

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ‘     I Peter 1:3

This one time fisherman and denier of Christ became a giant of faith and hope once he fully understood the power of the resurrection. I love the way that Peter uses the words “lively hope” to describe his new found hope in the resurrected Jesus!

As Christians we don’t have a dead hope. Our hope is not in dead religion or rituals. Our hope is alive! Our hope is in the risen Jesus!

light at end of tunnel

Because of this lively hope we have in Jesus Christ, I am looking forward to seeing God do great things in our lives in the coming year. Who can tell what He might have in store for us? Who can tell what He has in store for YOU?

One thing is for certain and that is that while we may not have all the details and particulars, we know that with God its going to be a great adventure!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

What If…

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Recently, I watched a YouTube video produced by a church in Kentucky that featured a number of people giving their reasons why they had given up on the Church.

Listening to these heartbreaking stories, it quickly became apparent that there is a common theme among all of them. For these people, they believe the church has failed to reach them where they live.

The Church has stopped being the Church.

Tales of judgement and condemnation, outright rejection, and worse have left these people doubting whether there is any validity to Christianity. I mean, just imagine how you would feel if you had invited your family to your baptismal service only to be told by the pastor that “he forgot about it”.

The Church is the Body of Christ here on earth.

Do we truly understand what that means, or do we blindly accept the statement as just another one of those religious sayings?

The Church is made up of Christ’s representatives on earth. If that is the case, how representative of Christ are we when our primary purpose is to hand out judgment? How well are we representing Jesus when our churches are known as places of condemnation instead of love?

Speaking with those outside the Church, we hear that our churches have become places of rejection for all who do not look or act the part. Seriously, how many of our churches actually reflect the community in which they reside?

Much to the angst of many, I as well as a few others have been saying for some time now that the Church is broken. It is broken because those who are supposed to be the leaders of it do not know Him. If they knew Him they would go beyond the four walls of their castles and see how much hurt there is in their community.

And they would do something about it.

They most certainly would be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Because LOVE is the greatest motivator of all.

If they knew Him they would reach out, not with angry words of criticism and judgement, but in compassion and LOVE.

Ah yes…Love.

What if our churches actually believed and practiced LOVE?

‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

What if our churches actually believed and practiced this?

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

What if our churches actually believed and practiced this?

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.’  I Cor.13:1-3

What if…

What if the Church got back to being Christ’s representatives here on earth?

Here’s what I think would happen if the Church did this.

There would be a huge reduction in the problems that currently plague our society. Drug abuse, hunger, crime, divorce, abuse of all types, all would see a dramatic reduction if the Church got back to being the hands and feet of Jesus.

What if the Church somehow rediscovered the courage to LOVE those in our communities who are hopelessly trapped on the outside looking in?

What if….the Church started looking outward instead of inward?

Ron

A Wedding Invitation That Demands a Response

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Nearly everyone loves to receive an invitation to a special event. Whether it’s a family reunion, a Christmas party, or perhaps a wedding, these invitations are normally met with a high level of excitement and anticipation upon receiving them.

Of all the different types of invitations, it seems as though weddings rank at the top of the list. For some, it’s the romance that makes the day so special. For others, it’s all about seeing old friends and the opportunity to catch up on each others lives.

For a lot of people it’s all about the Big Event, especially those who are still dreaming of having their own wedding one day. Ladies especially are fascinated by weddings, and the bigger the better. Who can forget the grandeur of the royal wedding of Princess Diana for example? Princess Diana

Speaking of weddings, did you know that there is soon going to be a wedding the likes of which this world has never seen, one that YOU have been given a very special invitation to? Did you know that? Well, it’s true!  wedding invitation

Amazingly, as “over the top” as the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was, it pales in comparison to the upcoming wedding known as “The Marriage Supper of The Lamb”.

Best of all, you’ve already been sent an engraved  invitation!

You see, nearly 2000 years ago, your invitation was engraved in the hands and feet of Jesus. Cruel Roman nails left their scars, evidence for all to see that He was indeed the risen, crucified Christ. An engraving unmatched by anything the greatest artist or sculptor could ever envision.

And here is why all of that matters.

One day, all this hurting will be over. The day is soon coming when child abuse will be a forgotten horror never to be heard from again. As impossible as it may seem, the day is coming when hunger pangs will never again be felt in a little child’s belly.

Diseases of the most hideous kind will no longer have a hold on our bodies, as the day is soon to come when all sickness will disappear. Those who languish in torment and pain will one day be freed from their chains of misery.

How can this be, you ask? Listen to the words of hope and encouragement recorded by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation when he was in exile on the island of Patmos.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” ‘ Revelation 19:6-9

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”. Jesus bids all to come to this marriage supper. The invitation containing the nail prints of His hands has been sent out to all of humanity.

Yes, you have been sent an invitation, for Jesus leaves no one off of His guest list.

Today, you have a decision to make. The invitation that Jesus has sent demands a response.

Will you say “YES” to His invitation?

Be blessed,

Ron

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