Pastor’s Blog Wk 5.6.19: Finish Strong

I have often said, “it’s not about how you start but how you finish.” Have you ever decided to read a book, start a project, a new business or go on a diet? At that very moment we tend to find motivation, but just as quickly as we decide to embark on that journey – it dies. The diet fails, the business never gets off the ground, we don’t get past the second chapter of the book and our project is left incomplete. I heard a quote a while ago and it said, “Commitment is doing what you said you would do long after the emotion you said it in has left.” We are living in a time where loyalty and commitment are becoming a thing of the past. Not just loyalty to anything, but to the most important foundational principles of life. It’s difficult for me to hear Jesus say, “when I return shall I find faith left in the earth” (Luke 18:8). After 46 years of living, I have seen the de-evolution of committed, faithful and trustworthy people. 

It wasn’t that long ago when a handshake meant something. People made agreements and a simple touch of the hands would solidify that commitment. Those were honorable times. We shared a mutual respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today we see a dark contrast between those days and today. What’s happened? Why is there such a lack of faithfulness today in just about every sphere of society? I believe the reasons are multifaceted, but let me take the time to highlight just a few. 

First, “God designed us to live through our heart and not our intellect.”The heart is governed by morals. There is one, and only one Supreme moral law giver. When you encounter that Supreme law giver and accept him, you also accept His nature, which is comprised of His moral code and value system. His nature is just and morally perfect. If we adhere to this codependent relationship with Him we take upon ourselves His nature and character, then whatever you believe in your heart, is what you become. It will drive your actions and reactions in life. If how you believe determines how you behave, then our actions can quickly tell on us. In other words, the depth of our relationship with God will extend into our daily living.

The apostle Paul was devoted to his Hebraic heritage and a belief system that even caused him to persecute the early Church until his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. After this encounter his name was changed from Saul to Paul and his life was drastically altered into the image of his savior. The piercing of his heart with the Gospel transformed his life. In a letter he wrote recorded in Philippians 3, he is expressing the contrast between the two worlds he found himself in and in verses 3-4 he says, “I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” 

But in verses 7-9 he said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” Paul’s encounter with the Christ radically changed the way he lived. When you truly encounter God and He begins a work in you the Kingdom will first be made evident in your decisions and your wants. Jesus supernaturally changes your want. Conversion first happens at the moral level. Your moral conduct is transformed. Being saved is not the same as conversion. Many people get saved because they want fire insurance. In essence they fear the prospect of Hell but when you are converted, Hell fears you.

Second, “At the Cross you surrender who you are, to who He is.”You make a decision to cease to exist. Your desires become His, your wants become His, your dreams become His. You die to yourself and you pick up the cause of the Cross and you follow him. The prodigal son was always a son, but he left saying, “give me” and he came back saying, “make me.” God is looking for a “make me” attitude. The world is teaming with people that are screaming to God, “GIVE ME!” God only responds to “make me.” The Pharisees said to Jesus, “give us a sign,” and he responded by saying, “a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign but none will be given to them except that of Jonah. (Matt 12:38-39)

Thirdly, “Faith without works is dead.” The Apostle Paul once again brings these heart matters to the surface when he says in James 2:14-18, “My dear brothers and sisters, what good is it if someone claims to have faith but demonstrates no good works to prove it? How could this kind of faith save anyone?”For example, if a brother or sister in the faith is poorly clothed and hungry and you leave them saying, ‘Good-bye. I hope you stay warm and have plenty to eat,’ but you don’t provide them with a coat or even a cup of soup, what good is your faith? So then faith that doesn’t involve action is phony. But someone might object and say, ‘One person has faith and another person has works.’ Go ahead then and prove to me that you have faith without works and I will show you faith by my works as proof that I believe. You can believe all you want that there is one true God,that’s wonderful! But even the demons know this and tremble with fear before him,yet they’re unchanged—they remain demons.” The Apostle puts this subject to rest in this one paragraph. He is essentially saying that true conversion brings about behavioral changes that compel you to action. If God is love and if love dwells in an individual, it brings him to a place of submission to the work of Christ. He is a bond servant to the Lord. He claims God as his Lord and Savior. Lordship always precedes Savior in a truly converted saint. 

Finally, “Don’t just finish what your start, but finish strong.” The Apostle Paul responded to a gospel of suffering. Acts 9:16 says. Iwill showhimhow muchhemustsufferforMyname.”

The cross is not a comfort of life, it’s a new life. The alter is where God alters us. It is where your desires die and where His desires are awakened in you. Where something ugly dies and something beautiful is born. That’s the Gospel he answered to. In 2 Cor. 11 we know just how much suffering he went through, as recorded in versus 24-27, Five times I’ve received thirty-nine lashes from the Jewish leaders.25 Three times I experienced being beaten with rods.Once they stoned me.Three times I’ve been shipwrecked;for an entire night and a day I was adrift in the open sea. 26 In my difficult travels I’ve faced many dangerous situations: perilous rivers, robbers, foreigners, and even my own people. I’ve survived deadly peril in the city, in the wilderness, with storms at sea, and with spies posing as believers. 27 I’ve toiled to the point of exhaustion and gone through many sleepless nights. I’ve frequently been deprived of food and water, left hungry and shivering out in the cold, lacking proper clothing”. 

Paul who authored 13 books of the New Testament, many times behind bars and suffered beyond our ability to fully comprehend, finished strong. He writes in 2 Tim. 4:7-8, “I have fought an excellent fight. I have finished my full course and I’ve kept my heart full of faith. There’s a crown of righteousness waiting in heaven for me, and I know that my Lord will reward me on his day of righteous judgment. And this crown is not only waiting for me, but for all who love and long for his unveiling.” I often meditate on the meaning of life and why we are here. We are here to serve God and serve one another. Many times it is easy to just quit and live for myself and my family, but that wouldn’t honor the one who gave us everything. You see, even God himself manifested His love for us through the act of sacrifice. “For God so loved the world that He gave.” (John 3:16) Love is action. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) 

So do not quit this journey of faith, stay in the race. Soon our heavenly Father will give us rest from our toil and we shall reign with Him throughout eternity. Stand therefore, be courageous, ever abounding in good works, loving your neighbor as yourself and never neglecting your first love. God bless!

Pastor’s Blog Wk 4.15.19: LOVE & SACRIFICE

It seems the longer I live, the more I discover that there are truly so many beautiful things in this world that provoke some of the deepest human emotions that are too difficult to articulate. The most priceless of such things, I believe, are not the things purchased with money or gained by conventional means, but those things that have been gifted to us by our heavenly father. Where do you find beauty in a world full of darkness? I think beauty is ever present, but not everybody sees it. For instance, I think the most beautiful sound is the boisterous laughter of a baby as he plays with his dad, or the explosive joyful tears of an orphaned child as they’re told that there is a family who wants to adopt, or seeing the miracle of a child being delivered out of the mother’s womb. Beautiful and priceless. I remember when my first child Mikayla was born. I sat there as time seemed to stand still, while I witnessed the literal birth of life. I was filled with awe and every type of emotion one could ever imagine rolled up in a short moment. As tears flooded my eyes I was overcome with joy at the wonder of creation by witnessing my wife giving birth to another human being, my daughter. One life becoming two. I remember driving home from the hospital thinking how weird it felt. Two people drove to the hospital but three separate people came back. A life that was inside a life was now on the outside. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. 

I truly believe the most beautiful things on earth are those things that are birthed from a place of love and sacrifice. Yes, sacrifice…it’s funny isn’t it, how when we think about things that are beautiful, we don’t ever think about the word sacrifice; however, in all three examples I just mentioned, sacrifice is an inseparable component of each. Can one truly love without sacrifice? Take for instance the most well-known scripture, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” His love for us was demonstrated by His act of sacrifice. What did He sacrifice? His only begotten son to purchase you and I. If you’re a Christian, you’ve heard this many times before but I sincerely feel most of us fail to comprehend the depths of such a beautiful truth. You see, whatever we give our life to is what we value and whatever we value we love. You cannot love something you don’t give time to, at least not the way God intends for you to love. This can be applied to the relationship you have with your friends, your spouse, your mother or father, your children or most importantly, God. He loves us in ways so beautiful and so intense no amount of books, poetry or songs could ever convey how deep is that love.

But just as much as there are beautiful things on this side of eternity there are also constant reminders of the fallen natured world we live in. A world filled with hate, betrayal, pain, disillusionment, rejection, sickness and death. You don’t have to live long to be victimized by this fallen world. The world deforms us, but the Word reforms us. The Bible says in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”Did you catch that? Jesus knew that in a fallen world His children would go through many painful and agonizing stages of life, whether they were self-inflicted or not, but He also tells us that we could have peace, not in the absence of these trials or tribulations but in the very midst of them. I can tell you from experience, when things seem to come undone and you feel like you’re losing grip on life, it is very easy to slip into hopelessness. But we must remember that our salvation is Jesus. King David had some intensely difficult times in his life, but in Psalm 23:5-6 he said, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.” David reminded himself that although things were falling apart during that season of his life, God was able to give him peace in spite of his circumstance. 

That promise was not only for David but for all of God’s children. The world is quickly turning into a very ugly place. The evolution of evil is taking full form and it is bringing with it immense suffering. The world is now teaming with selfish people and those who’s love has grown cold. But be not troubled, be not dismayed, be not discouraged, for we have already overcome. As the old saying goes, “this too shall pass.”  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin – Hebrews 4:15

So take courage son or daughter. And I pray as the day approaches, that we will hold firmly to the promises of God and be found worthy to be counted within the membership of Gods eternal family. Keeping our eyes on the beautiful gift that is Christ Jesus. Loving Him and loving others for Him, because he first loved us – living for Him and dying for Him, because He died for us and rose again for us. So go and find beauty in the simple things, not the worldly things. Remember, whatever you have lost, whatever you have suffered, know that God is working everything out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Let us finish as the Apostle Paul finished. “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”Philippians 3:8

Pastor’s Blog Wk 3.4.19: Is Church Membership Biblical?

 

WARNING!

The content of this subject is controversial. Reader discretion is advised. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I AM THE CHURCH?

Okay, this one is going to be a doozy. For the record, I make no apologies for what I’m about to say here, because it is birthed from scripture. This topic has become the thorn of controversy in today’s casual complacent culture. Many Churches and Pastors are flailing like fish out of water trying to figure out how to address it. There is a movement that has picked up traction over the years of whether or not you should be an active member of a local church. It resembles much of what has happened in Europe within the last 100 years.

There was a time when Pastors and anyone called out of the fivefold ministry was held in high esteem by virtue of this position and the church was seen as an institution of respect. Those days are gone like the wind. The church has fallen on difficult times. The scripture calls it perilous times, a bit more on that later. Unfortunately, some of that has been self-inflicted. Media coverage of sexual abuse and mismanaging of money by laymen has only fueled the critical perception of the church. The failures of a few have made the job of many goodhearted and God-fearing leaders much more difficult, creating a deeply antagonistic and defiant culture towards those of authority within the church.

IS THE CHURCH RELEVANT?

Many on the outskirts perceive the church as being more preoccupied and concerned with buildings and budgets, nickels and noses, piety and pretense, than people and their problems. People are still in search for the meaning of life but under their own terms, and while spirituality is “in,” church is definitely “out.” There is another group who goes even further, claiming that they needed to escape the claws of the church as to not commit spiritual suicide. The church for these individuals is seen as an institution that puts form before substance, tradition before truth, conformity before creativity, and seems more concerned about holding to constitution and by-laws than the leading of the Holy Spirit – even though they have no idea what that actually means in real life application. A Barna poll stated that large numbers of American Christians are disillusioned with the church. They even label these church dropouts as “revolutionaries.” Incredibly, many of these professing Christians see themselves as part of the universal church of Christ, but do not participate or belong to a local body. Others outright openly discredit the idea of formal membership in a congregation.

While many have given up on the church, I assure you that Jesus Christ has not. The bride of Christ, the church, is still the center of God’s work in this world, and if you belong to His kingdom you must belong to His church. Remember that the church is the bride of Christ and just as it would be very difficult for you to have a good relationship with me, while bad mouthing my wife, I fear many will come to that sobering reality when it is too late.

 

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

The word church is first mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus asks Peter the question, “who do you say that I am”, and Peter responds, “you are the Messiah”. Jesus in verse 17 says, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father in heaven” and in verse 18 is where we see the word church first mentioned. V18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The word church here in the Greek is ekklesia, which literally means,“called out ones, a popular meeting place, especially a religious congregation, a synagogue, Christian community of members.” So, by Jesus’s own mention of the word “church”, it means a congregation of believers devoted to community and worship. Church and Kingdom is used in tandem, which leads to the next question…

 

WHAT IS KINGDOM?

In the very next verse, we see Jesus giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom. V19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus’s mention of keys here speaks of authority and the word Kingdom can literally be translated as government. In essence, Jesus is saying I will give you the keys or, “authority”, of my Kingdom or, “government”, and you will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail…

What we must understand about Kingdoms is that a Kingdom must have a King; and a King must have Institutional Laws that govern that Kingdom. No legitimate nation on earth exists today without laws and government. Even a bad government is better than no government, otherwise, you will have nothing but anarchy and chaos. The Kingdom of God is governed by Ephesians 4:11-12, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” This is what I call the Five Fold Fingers of Gods managing hand on earth. It was Christ Jesus that appointed these offices to govern the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry and the edifying of the body. Let me put it this way: “Without God man cannot, without man God will not.” It begins to make sense of why Satan would sow a doctrine that would indirectly call into question the fivefold ministry and its authority. I was born in Brazil and have lived in the U.S. since 1980. After almost 38 years of legal permanent residence here, I finally overcame my procrastination and filed for my Citizenship. Although I enjoyed the benefits of living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident, I have never been recognized as a citizen of this great country. After a series of complex applications and in-depth background checks, including written and verbal tests to determine my eligibility for citizenship, I was granted approval. Once I met all of the requirements, which I did, they then sent me a notice regarding my swear-in date, which is set for March 13, 2019. This entire process was used to determine my loyalty to this Country of which I sought citizenship. It prodded, probed and pricked every aspect of my life to make sure I was ready, committed and prepared to swear an oath of allegiance to love and protect the country and the Constitution by which it is defined.

 

In much of the same way, the Kingdom of God functions on earth. In heaven, there is a King who governs a Kingdom, on earth, there are Presidents and Kings who govern their Countries and Kingdoms, and in the spiritual realm we too have to make our loyalty known by the spiritual laws we abide under. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

A Christian that’s not plugged into a local body is like a television that is not plugged into an outlet; it has no power. Although it has a purpose, it serves none, because it is not connected to the power source. Ever wonder why Jesus chose to identify His children with sheep and His leaders as Shepherds? A single sheep is called a lost sheep because sheep are natured to flock together and each flock needs a shepherd. And again, Satan knew that if you strike the shepherd out of the picture the sheep will scatter, and scattered they have. Just this past weekend I had a gentleman walk in right before Sunday morning service and ask to speak with me. I didn’t know this man from Adam. After a series of strange questions, he then presumptuously began to tell me that he is a watchman on the tower and starts railing against our church body claiming we were 90% dead and 10% alive. Mind you, he had no exposure to our church or its members. I then responded by asking what church do you belong to, which he replied, I belong to God and don’t fellowship with any local body; “I am the church” type of response. I thought, “well that’s obvious,” then politely said, “if you’re not under any authority you’re not in authority, certainly not here.” I went on to explain the governmental order of God’s kingdom, from Jesus saying, “I only say and do what my father says and does,” to the Roman centurion approaching Jesus and saying, “I also am a man under authority, I say to this one go and he goes and this one come and he comes.” The centurion was not only in authority but under it. Anyone can put a police uniform on but it doesn’t make you an officer until you have been deputized by the power you claim to represent. There is a record number of rogue Christians today claiming Kingdom authority, but in reality, have none. They refuse and are defiant to leadership and have made it a mission to destroy and bring down the authoritative government of the local church. Good luck with that one. You’re not fighting man or an institution, you’re fighting God. Aaron had Moses and Moses had God, Elisha had Elijah, Samuel had Eli, David and Saul had Samuel, Timothy had the Apostle Paul, the disciples had Jesus and Jesus had the father. Do you see the pattern?

It quickly becomes clear why such an attack has been levied against the church. In the New Testament they met in homes but if you keep reading they also never neglected to meet in the temple or synagogues. In fact, the New Testament is riddled with letters that were sent to specific church bodies. In Matthew 18 Jesus is instructing their leaders how to deal with a person who is unrepentant of sin in a church body and he says in v17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. In Revelations, there are letters sent to the seven churches… “plural,” not a universal church but seven individual local bodies, because they each had their own distinct issues that the Lord was addressing. This is just scratching the surface of scripture regarding the Biblical commandment of being connected to a community of believers and submitted under a Shepherd of that church body. And we can’t leave out Hebrews 10:24-25 when apostle Paul had to deal with the same trend we are seeing right now at the birthing of the New Testament church. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves togetheras is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I once heard a story about a believer who was completely and utterly deaf. Despite him not being able to hear, he faithfully attended and participated in the local church of which he was a faithful member. When asked why he bothered, his response was: “I want everyone to know whose side I’m on.” You see, Christians are like individual snowflakes, alone they are frail, but when they stick together they can stop traffic. Before you can ever be an avalanche for God, you must first be a snowflake. Scripture declares that “one man can chase a thousand and two, ten thousand”. (Deut. 32:30) Another scripter says, “a three strand cord is not easily broken”. (Ecc. 4:12)

AND FINALLY… THE ANTI-CHURCH MOVEMENT IN PROPHECY!

I will save you a lot of time by not flooding this blog with biblical prophecy explaining why I believe this trend is taking place in our time. There are hundreds of scriptures unmasking this repulsive lie about Christians not having to be a part of a local body to be effective in the Kingdom, but let me just give you this one and final passage.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” In verse 3, it states that before the coming of our Lord, one of the main signs would be the great falling away from the faith. The falling away is translated from the Greek word Apostasy which means; defection from state, falling away or forsake. Watch this!

Here is the English definition of defection: a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state in exchange for allegiance to another, in a way which is considered illegitimate by the first state. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause, or doctrine to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty. In other words, you have abandoned your loyalty/defected, and in doing so, have surrendered your allegiance to a state and although you claim authority, it is illegitimate by the very state you defected from.

 

In closing…

I implore you if you are reading this and you are not connected to a spirit-filled church, or you have been hurt in church, or you are disillusioned and discouraged with the church, or whatever the reason may be, find your way back to the body of Christ. Get connected, get rooted and get plugged back in. A severed limb is not considered a body but a corpse. I am the body! (1 Cor 12:27-28

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