What Are We Expecting When We Come Together

In the world we live in, meetings are a common factor. Everyone has meetings to be attended in virtually every arena of commitment they are involved in. Certainly “church” is no different. In fact, churches are notorious for calling people together for a lot of meetings. Some meetings are informational. Some are inspirational. Many meetings are convened so a small core of leaders can strategize an activity, event or volunteer team assignment. Such meetings are designed to facilitate and enhance the ministry of the church.

As the Pastor of a thriving and vibrant local church here in the upper Midwest, I have made certain that we have a wide range of ministry groups, core team leadership strategy sessions, inspirational gatherings, task force committees, and more. The objective of any gathering at our church is to facilitate the ministry of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit in the mission of challenging, inspiring and impacting people to be changed, so that they will become “change agents” in our world for the glory of God.

Meetings are necessary—church services, prayer meetings, small groups, Bible studies, work projects, outreach initiatives, corporate board meetings, elder’s meetings, worship rehearsals, staff meetings ….! Trust me; the list could go on forever. We pastors do know how to convene meetings. Recently, during a period of unexpected transition which created a major change of direction for our ministry—I felt led by the Spirit of the Lord to redress our mission statement. My goal was to clarify the kind of environmental impact and inspirational transformation that I believe God looks for when we gather in HIS name. I’ve defined that expectation with five 2 word descriptions.

When we meet for any reason at Open Bible Fellowship, I have asked God that through the presence, power and inspiration of HIS Holy Spirit, our people and their guests (HIS CHURCH) experience the following dynamics. We come together with the hope and faith that when we gather in His name one or more of the following will occur in the lives of those who are present and participating with us in faith.

Encountering God – Matthew 6:25-34
Experiencing Scripture – James 1:21-27
Equipping Saints – Ephesians 4:12-11-12
Empowering People – Acts 19:1-6
Edifying Believers – Ephesians 4:11

I believe that worship and faith are dynamic activities. I believe that God is fully alive in our universe and our world today. I believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). What God did in the early church, He has always done and is still doing today. God is Alive. Jesus is Lord! The Holy Spirit is among us! Come on “church”, let’s receive all that God has given us in Christ so that we can truly be all that we can be and do all that we are called to do!

The WORD of God – believe it!
The WAY of God – walk in it!
The POWER of God – submit to it!
The PURPOSE of God – pursue it!
The PEACE of God – embrace it!
The CONVICTION of God – be changed by it!

Making it Personal

The Prophet Isaiah foresaw the time when New Covenant believers would be indwelt by the Spirit of the living God and empowered to be witnesses unto HIS glory as they experience the resurrection power of the Living God. 

“Arise; shine; for your light has come!  And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.  For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you.  The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3). 

The light of Israel/Judah was never totally extinguished because they were protected by the Lord—to host the coming of HIS MESSIAH.  Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ—King of King and Lord of Lords.  He will become the Savior and Lord of all who believe on and receive Him as their Lord! 

Into this darkness and confusion—a child was born.  This child was none other than the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  As time progressed—those with eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe would come to repentance and faith realizing that Jesus, son of Mary and of his earthly father Joseph, was actually to be revealed as: 

The Sun of Righteousness Arisen with Healing in His Wings
The Rose of Sharon
The Great I Am
The Lamb of God Slain from the Foundations of the World
The Resurrection and the Life
The Rose of Sharon
The Bread of Life
The One who is the Way the Truth and the Life
The Door of the Sheep
The Mediator of a Better Covenant
The Author and the Finisher of our Faith
The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End
The One and Only King of Kings and Lord of Lords
The Light of the World 

Genuine faith in the Living God is bathed in the light of HIS presence, HIS acceptance, HIS favor and HIS love.  When we come to the end of ourselves and turn to God with genuine repentance for the nature of sin, which has driven us toward the darkness—the Creator of life responds.  Through the sacrificial offering of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who emptied Himself of the rights of deity, came to earth as a baby, lived a sinless life—though tempted in all points, as we are tempted, He never sinned!  He died a criminal’s death, was buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day arose triumphantly from the dead as the light of the glory of God burst into the world with the assurance of abundant and everlasting life for those who will believe and receive HIM.  From that moment forward, within the spirit of those who believe and receive HIM as their personal Savior and Lord—this light of abundant and eternal life is never to be subjected to the dark intimidation of sin, death, the grave and the forces of hell again. 

JESUS CHRIST IS THE LIGHT OF ALL LIGHTS
HE IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Light

Light in all of its forms surrounds us everywhere we go. It is so prevalent that we hardly pay attention to it—until for some unknown reason it ceases to be!  Here in the 21st Century such seems impossible!  We have all manner and means of manufacturing light—whatever the setting, wherever the place or however bright we feel we need it—it is virtually always here. 

Why is light important?  As we sit in a room suddenly overtaken by darkness, most of us undoubtedly have an unsettled feeling within.  We may have a sudden urge to reach out and touch someone near us—just so that we can avoid a feeling of aloneness, vulnerability, uncertainty and danger! 

 So much of life depends upon light.  Light emanates from various sources, but all sources are designed to produce the necessary brilliance for vision, movement, healing, revelation, clarity of purpose, sense of direction, even safety from unseen hazards. 

Where does light come from?  Is there One who is the source of light?  Is that One also the Creator of life?  Can the Creator of life be the Sustainer of life, the Judge of all life and ultimately the One who has legitimate power and authority to determine the end of life? 

The answer to all of the above is a resounding YES! 

Listen to a word from Genesis:  “The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness” Genesis 1:2. 

In these words, there is a foreboding sense of helplessness and powerlessness in an environment of “total” darkness.  Time seems boundless but it also appears to be meaningless! Life has no context without light.  There is no point of reference to help us focus without special equipment; nothing concrete to help distinguish reality versus fantasy, good versus evil, right versus wrong or sanity versus insanity. 

The Spirit of the living God who hovered over the deep is both real and powerful; yet, the earth without light was also a planet without life.  Darkness without the balance of light is a prohibitive environment for all forms of life. 

God created light and the earth experienced a most glorious awakening!  Life in all forms began to thrive, as the command to become fruitful and multiply stimulated a miraculous transformation in every species of life created by God.  

This is the Day the Lord has Made—Let us Rejoice and be Glad in It

Among believers one of the most revered and easiest remembered verses of scripture is abbreviated in the title above.  “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).  Does this mean that we have a non-stop worship service all day long?  Well—yes and no!  If you mean by worship, that we attack the day with a grateful heart and a serious commitment to glorify the Lord in all things, then certainly it is a day devoted to worship.  If on the other hand, you believe we should stop several times in the course of the day to perform a ritual of worship, much like the practitioners of Islam; then the answer would be no. 

Religion has created a superficial dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.  In other words, we have isolated worship to be a “religious” activity.  However, the scripture makes it clear that worship is broader and more dynamic than that.  Worship is defined in such a way that it can be encompassed in virtually any activity we engage in throughout the course of any given day.  Psalm 150 concludes with the proclamation, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (v. 6).  Paul the Apostle declares, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

 I don’t know about everyone else, but I basically breathe while doing everything that I do.  I personally believe that the divide between sacred and secular activities is oversold.  Because God is the Creator of all things and He has decreed, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 50:6).  I should have praise for God foremost in my heart in the midst of everything which I do. 

Here is the great thing about this whole idea!  I don’t have to invest a lot of time and energy in “sin management” when I keep the Lord at the forefront of my thought and behavior cycles throughout the course of any given day.  The intentional pursuit of wrong behavior is counter cultural to such beliefs and patterns of thought.  The dissonance between my praise for God and sinful reactions to frustration, irritation or temptation creates an emotional environment that is ripe for repentance when it is warranted.  In other words, my heart and my mind are more attuned to God’s presence and the direction and conviction of His Spirit.  This is because my heart is His.

The goal is not sinless perfection.  However, it is that I long for the capacity for swift recalibration of my heart when necessary.  My heart or soul has been uniquely designed to believe in, seek after and long for the presence of the Lord.  Purposeful activity such as prayer and praise grant ready access for conviction and the repentance that must follow.  This keeps the intimacy of my devotion to the Lord fully intact.  “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord”!

Strength for the Journey

Back in the days of my involvement with organized athletics, we were regularly reminded that were to give it our all. In fact, practice was usually equally as demanding as the real game; at times, even more so. I know that in my work as a Pastor, one of the highlights is that I get to teach the Word of God and share the inspiration given me by the Holy Spirit with people. However, it is virtually always true that the labor of preparation proves to be more demanding than the presentation itself.

 Preparation is not all mental or physical. It is also very much spiritual. The Apostle Paul declared, “. . . . Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). There is more to that statement than a casual acknowledgement that he had a job to do. Paul knew that he had been charged with the duty to represent the heart of God and HIS divine expectations to his generation, with accuracy and clarity.

 Unless your faith is merely a childhood tradition, you will soon discover, if you haven’t already, that the advantages of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are exquisite. However, no personal relationship can deepen in levels of intimacy and significance if the giving and the investment is a one way proposition. The truth is that there is more impact upon your heart when you are on the giving as opposed to the receiving end of the equation. “Give and it will be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38).

 So many of us live a subpar spiritual life because we do not know this principle. Religion is often painted as an obligation to endure and get through. In other words, it is a “check list” obligation; hastily completed so we can get back to “real” life. Frankly, if that is our mindset it would be better just left alone. Faith is actually a gift that keeps on giving. The more we believe and place our trust in God, the greater revelation we receive of who He truly is, how much love He has for us and all that He longs to do in and through our lives.

 True religion is fully relational and life giving. As we pursue a meaningful understanding of and passionate friendship with the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:7), we begin to meet other believers who are in a like-minded pursuit. With the companionship of others, we gain momentum in our passion for the Lord and His ways. Together we learn to hear God’s voice, perceive His presence and discern His will. As we share our experiences with each other, seeking to complete rather than compete with each other, we will experience a heightened awareness of the presence and the power of God’s Holy Spirit together.

 Greater things are yet to come because He lives in us!

We Cannot Make It On Our Own

Here in America the entrepreneurial spirit is widely celebrated and highly valued. We are often in awe of those who seemingly step out into an uncertain undertaking and become highly successful.  The truth is, no one makes a success of himself or herself on his or her own.  There is always a company, be it large or small, of partners and co-laborers who help the dreams become reality.

 You know, in my world the most successful hero whom I long to emulate is Jesus.  That probably comes as no surprise to anyone. Because He is the Son of God, the living Word, the King of Kings and Savior of the world – it might be assumed that He was utterly and totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining.  Of course, in His deity, that would be totally correct. However, as a man (fully human), He relinquished His authority and privilege to act independently as some heavenly super-hero.

 The Bible says, “. . . Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

 God, in His mission to redeem mankind, positioned Himself (in Christ) to be totally vulnerable to the human condition and all of its weaknesses.  He literally placed Christ in this world with the same limitations that any other human would have.  He even made Him vulnerable to temptation and the limitations of time, space and normal human processes.  How can we not cringe at the intensity of Jesus’ testing when He cried, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.  Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  In that scenario, he called three of His associates and implored them to watch with Him in prayer.  They failed and He chided them, “Could you not watch with Me one hour” (Mk. 14:37)?

 Jesus doesn’t expect us to be super-heroes.  He knows we are better together.  When He sent His men out on mission, they went two by two.  The first Century AD spiritual champions traveled with teams.  Through all of history, great leaders and heroes have had co-laborers, fellow soldiers, assistants, supporters, etc. surrounding them.  When we speak of “church” structure, we eventually always refer to the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.  Here you have the principle of “body” ministry wherein each member has a part, indeed a crucial role to play.

 Through the nearly forty years of ministry life, I have always had teams around me.  Even in church situations too small for paid associates, I counted on laymen and women who were vital to the work of the ministry.  Equipping them to do the work of the ministry was and is the most crucial thing I do as a leader.  Being part of teams under leaders I worked for and with, was the training ground for my development as a minister and a leader of co-laborers who made ministry effective.

As for me – I love teamwork.  I love to see others excel in their own right.  I appreciate them in that their success enhances my effectiveness.  I love to watch them build teams around them in the sphere of their assignment and responsibility.  I love their success and I appreciate their companionship.  I thank God for investing their heart, gifts and talents in the ministry with which I’ve been entrusted by God. Thank God for teamwork!

Abortion!

Abortion! What a hot potato for today’s politician. Pro choice, pro life, women’s rights, conception, trimester, human life, fetus, baby, post abortion syndrome, etc.—all of these terms can almost make you dizzy. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does anybody know? Does anybody really care?

Well, as Christians it is our claim that we believe the Bible to be God’s Word and the absolute standard for our moral choices. What does the Bible say?
First, there is overwhelming evidence in scripture for only one postulate as to when life begins. If we are to believe the Bible, life begins with conception (see Psalm 139:13—16; Jeremiah 1:5; Judges 13:3—5; 1 Samuel 1:19—20; Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:31, 41; James 1:150.
Beyond scripture, medical science itself supports this claim. Those of you who are parents will remember that from the very first visit you made to the obstetrician’s office every word of counsel, every piece of literature, and every precaution taken was addressed to the well being of the mother and the health of the baby in the womb. Your baby was never referred to as less than human life.
Secondly, there can be no doubt that the Bible mandates that the execution of an innocent life is inherently evil and blatantly immoral. The penalty for murder, according to scripture, is death. There is even a prescribed penalty for someone who unintentionally harms a life within the womb (Exodus 21:22—25). We can only imagine how God must view the intentional slaughter of babies within the womb! He “hates hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17).
Very simply, the Bible speaks with undeniable clarity, that abortion is an evil thing. What then should righteous people who believe in Christ think about it? It seems to me that the answer is obvious!

Does God Have Grandchildren?

Does God have any grandchildren? Often times we hear it said by both secular and religious people, “we are all God’s children.” It sounds good, but is it true? I don’t think so. The only way to become a child of God is by being born again through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:1-16; Romans 8).
Mere religious tradition, regardless of its form, including “evangelical”, will not result in a person’s redemption, salvation or eternal life. No, the Gospel is not in eloquent words of philosophy or theology. It isn’t in religious ritual—liturgical, evangelistic or otherwise. It is in sprit and in power with signs following (1 Corinthians 2).
It is very possible to be “Christian” and not be “saved”. In other words, it is clear from scripture that a person can be morally or religiously motivated and still go to hell (Matthew 23, Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 7:20-23). In order to be saved we must be “born of the Spirit of God.”
Literally our human spirit which makes us different from all other created beings in that we were created in the image of God (John 4:23-24), must be resurrected from the state of being dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-10). This is a work of the Holy Spirit who enters into our life through personal confession and repentance of sin along with the act of faith wherein we believe that God has raised Jesus from the dead and we commit ourselves to His Lordship over our life (Act 2:38, Romans 5:1‑2, 1 John 1:9-2:2, Hebrews 4:1-16, Revelation 7:9-10).
If salvation is real, it will result in a radical change of nature and life (Romans 6). Though we don’t enter into sinless perfection, our spirit is suddenly alive with the presence of the Spirit of God, and we begin to exhibit a progressively pure lifestyle which is patterned after the life of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:15-18).
If you’ve never had a personal conversion or salvation experience, why not contact your pastor and ask him to explain from scripture how you can be born again.