Saturday, May 31, 2014

No Man's an Island

This entry is by guest writer, Josh Strickland.  He attends Refuge Church in Raleigh, NC and recently! 

            More and more frequently I meet Christians who do not go to church. I hear reasons for this choice such as "I love Christ, but can't stand Christians," "There's too much hypocrisy in the church," or even "I just never found a church I liked." Unfortunately, everybody is messed up, so even in the church sin is still going to happen. We who go to church on a regular basis are NOT perfected yet, and none of us will be until Christ returns for His true followers. Yet, even with this major hurdle in mind, I think there are several reasons why every true follower of Jesus Christ should be attending a local church.


            There are lots of problems in our world thanks to sin. We have personal problems, relational problems, health problems, and so on. It's very easy to get discouraged, especially when you are on your own. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." When we meet in the local church we are able to love and serve each other, organize for loving and serving the communities we live in, and remind each other that Jesus is coming back!


            As much as I think that I can, there are just a lot of things that I cannot do on my own. I need help fixing things, staying encouraged, and growing in my faith. A local church body is made of many members who can and will want to help you. "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We'll get to that law in a second, but serving one another and helping each other is a main concern for the church body. This also includes you. Don't just be helped; help others as well.

Spiritual Growth

            Can you learn about God on your own, and can you grow in your relationship with Him on your own? Yes. However, that growth and spiritual maturation happens much more consistently, deeply, and quickly with the aid of others invested in your life. That should happen through the church. Proverbs 27:17 describes this in saying, "Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." This is a big deal, since the church at large over the last few decades has been generally weak in this area. Church discipline is no longer standard operating procedure. We have segregated our lives "in church" from our lives "out of church." So sin runs rampant within believers when we should be checking it with each other. The best way to respond is to deal with the sin and conquer it through the Holy Spirit.

God's Glory

            Finally, being a part of a local church body gives God glory. This is the most important reason, since we should be giving God glory as much as possible. Remember the "law of Christ" we talked about earlier? Here it is in John 13:34-35: " A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Jesus is telling His disciples at the Last Supper that they should love one another. How do you love other Christians when you are never in contact with them in the church body? So we have to come together as believers to love each other. In doing so, we give God glory because we then show the world that Jesus Christ is worthy to be worshipped.

So if you truly are a follower of Christ's teachings, then you should join us in being a part of a local church body. Christ taught that His followers should be together. Yes there are problems and sin, but Jesus is the Son of God. He's bigger than hypocrisy or unkindness or anger or sexual affairs or different music styles. He is God, and worthy to be obeyed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

An Encouragement to Christians who are Waiting

           I am waiting, and I see others who are waiting.  Many who follow Christ are desperately waiting for God’s guidance or provision (and struggling with patience, frustration or doubt).  After months or years of confidently and steadily trekking in one direction, we might now be unsure of what step to take next.  We thought we were on track, but now are less certain; things do not quite look the way we expected.  Or, maybe we do have an idea of what is on the horizon – but despite our efforts and growing desires, it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  What is God up to?  Why must we wait for so long?

            These are three reminders for me, and for any of my brothers and sisters in Christ who may feel discouraged from time to time.

Our hope is in Christ.

            We were dead in our sins, fully deserving eternal separation from God.  In our rebellion and idolatry, in our selfishness and pride, we were headed for the fires of hell.  No pains or sorrows on earth can compare to what we earned by sinning against the perfect creator.  And yet, although a just judge, God’s love manifested itself in a wondrous way.  By his grace and mercy, he provided through his Son the means by which we might be brought back to him.  By our faith in Jesus, we are united with him forever.  God sees us clothed in the righteousness of his Son.  We are saved from our filth and wretchedness – saved from the darkness of being separated from him.  We are born again, that we might live in the light of his kingdom forever.  God has done more for us than we could ever imagine!  Our hope lies not in reaching goals, even if they're backed by the purest of intentions.  If we never get a decent job, never get married, never have a child, never become free from illness…we still have a hope, a relationship and a future that surpasses all others!

The Christian walk is marked by struggles, and requires steadfast faith.

            Although as followers of Christ we have been saved and set aside for eternal life with God, the time here on earth is not easy.  Waiting in all its various forms can be a struggle, but we are not alone.  Sarah waited 91 years for a son, Jacob waited 14 years to marry Rachel, and the Israelites waited 40 years for the Promised Land.  As Christians, we have been waiting around 2,000 years for the 2nd coming of Christ!  If you’re feeling weak or forgotten, remember: faithfully following Christ requires great endurance.  Let us not be passive or build up resentment, but rather draw closer to God in our current circumstances.  During seasons of waiting, let us earnestly pray, read Scripture and worship God with other believers.

God is sovereign.

            God knows you are waiting.  He sees you, he hears you.  He knows your heart and mind.  Do not let this statement become cliché, recognize its magnitude: God loves you.  He is a compassionate Father, aware of our needs and wants, and he is constantly at work in the life of every believer.  He is not without plans and not without power.  Even if every single one of your personal plans gets flipped on its head, know that you are in God’s hands and there is no better place to be.  Pursue him and trust him more than you chase and value your temporary dreams.  God is supreme and victorious, worthy of every drop of our affection.  His plans will be fulfilled and he will be glorified. 

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

For further exploration:
James 1:2-8 & 5:7-11, Hebrews 10:35-11:13, Psalm 119:4-5, Psalm 139, Ephesians 1:3-14

Song - "While I'm Waiting"

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Glimpse of the Gospel

            I’m known for being quiet, but there are many things I want to say.  There are so many thoughts pressing to get out, but often I struggle to turn them into words!  So, I’m attempting a blog this summer because I want to share truth and encouragement.  I want to think out loud and spark conversations.  I have a relationship with the God of our universe and a growing knowledge of him that compels me to speak.  My hope is that some might listen, reflect, and respond.

            I’d like to start with what should be the foundation to all I write about: the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If someone had asked me 5 years ago, as a life-long church goer, what “the gospel” was…my response may have been something like this: “Um, I think it’s all the stuff in the Bible.  Or maybe just about Jesus.  He died on the cross for us.”  Now, however, I’d like to share a more specific, less cringe worthy answer.

The faith of millions (including, perhaps, you?) hinges on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, what is it? 

“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31

            God is the eternal creator.  He is perfect and made all things good, enjoying an intimate relationship with humanity.  Creation was a Trinitarian effort, involving Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I’m not going to attempt a dissection of the Trinity right now, but I want to emphasize that Jesus was present and active. [See Psalm 90:2, Hebrews 1:1-3, James 1:17]

The Fall
“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8

            Although God’s original creation was perfect, he endowed mankind with the ability to make choices.  Unfortunately, the choice was made to disobey God’s commands in Eden, ushering in a broken relationship between God and man.  Rebellion continues today in every person, and the punishment for such sinfulness is death.  This death is a physical and spiritual separation from God, and therefore a separation from all that is good. [See Romans 3:21-26, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-5]

Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Galatians 1:4

            Jesus is God’s Son, sent in the flesh in order to be a sacrifice for mankind.  Unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus was perfect in committing no sin.  He died in our place, absorbing that punishment we have all earned.  He took upon his shoulders the wrath of God for all our wickedness.  But he didn’t just die, that would be a tad counterproductive and also…he’s GOD!  He rose, defeating death and sin.  Being united to Christ in his death, we are also united to him in his eternal life.  He took our filth and we are clothed in his righteousness - we are made free, no longer condemned!  Jesus is the only means by which our relationship with God can be made right, and eternal life with him is an act of grace that comes through faith.  As a continuing helper, since Jesus has returned to Heaven, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit to be empowered as witnesses, convicted of sin, and guided through the Bible. [See 1 Peter 2:22; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8:1-4; Acts 1:8; John 14:6, 14:15-23, 16:7-11]

Eternal Life
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new…It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Rev21:3-6

            Jesus is eternal, and one day will judge mankind.  Those who continued in disbelief and rebellion will be separated into eternal torment.  However, for those surrendered in faith to Christ, salvation will be made complete; sin will no longer be a struggle in our relationship with God and our worship of him.  All things will be made new, returning forever to the perfection we glimpsed in Genesis 1. [See Hebrews 1:1-4, 1:10-12; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 25:31-32, 25:41]

            God does not delight in evil and death – he loves us and that’s why he sent Christ!  Despite our sins against him which continue before and after salvation, his steadfast love endures forever!  Let each of us live a life worthy of being called a child of God.

Links for further exploration:
Book recommendation video