Urgent?

I have been continuing my journey through the book of Romans and recently was convicted by this verse, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Rom 10:1” In the verse we have Paul continuing from chapter 9 his desire to see the Jews saved. The word for prayer here is ‘dee’sis’ which gets translated prayer or supplication in the New Testament. The root that it comes from implies a felt need that is both personal and urgent.

Meditating on this I was convicted of my sinful heart that at times obsesses with maintaining the peace in relationships with people outside of God’s Grace and if I am honest a prayer life for my unsaved friends that is often lacking in being either personal or urgent for their situation.

In the verse we see Paul pleading to God for the salvation of the Jews. These are the same Jews that for the most part totally rejected Paul’s message, slandered his reputation, incited mobs to stone with the intent of killing him, and caused him to be imprisoned in Jerusalem for two years … and Paul is still pleading for their salvation.

Father, forgive me for the coldness of my heart at times toward the lost. Change my prayer life that I might plead for your grace and mercy to be revealed in the world you have placed around my life. Move by the power of your Spirit both in my life and the lives around me to bring a harvest for your Glory.

  • Steve Selle
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Being Thankful

The world is filled with thankless people and ingratitude is a core trait of unbelievers. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way when writing to the Roman Church, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Natural man usually sees positive circumstances as either a matter of good luck or that their success is the product of pulling things together through hard work. There is little interest in being thankful to the Lord for His goodness and common grace.

Conversely, a believer is thankful. During regeneration the believer receives a new nature through the work of the Spirit. Inclusive in His sanctifying work is a heart of thanksgiving towards God. The believer grows in grace and, in turn, thanks God for everything. Stated another way, genuine thankfulness is evidence that God is at his work in the life of His child.

Luke 17:11-19 tells a story of ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus saw them, was moved with compassion and healed them.  Sadly, although ten were healed, only one returned to Jesus, glorifying God and giving thanks – ten asked God for mercy, nine failed to be thankful. Unfortunately, there are times when believers, like the lepers, ask God for help and forget to give thanks.

Our bounty of thanksgiving, even during the twists, bends and flips of life is founded on a right understanding of God. The reason for ongoing thanksgiving is found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Thanksgiving is an admission of dependence on God who controls all things. Through Scripture, prayer, and the wise council of fellow believers, our confidence grows, as we see His hand of provision. We learn to observe the ways that He is at work in all of our circumstances, even when the path is difficult and unclear, for our good. God is never surprised or caught off guard in adversity, scrambling to make the best out of a hard situation. On the contrary, the Sovereign Lord knows how He is going to use the problem for our good, before it enters our world.

So, if you are a struggling Christian, trust your trustworthy God, He is near. Be assured that in His sovereign love and wisdom you can be confident that He is in control of everything and the ultimate outcome will be your everlasting good.

  • Selby Brannon

Gift of Faith

Before I say too much about spiritual gifts, I want to give you some personal context; my viewpoint is beginning to be reshaped.  As I’m getting older the theological arguments that once intimidated me are beginning to fade.  In the suffering and joy of parenting and pastoring, I am changing.  I have more moments where I long for simplicity rather than complexed explanations.  I do appreciate the clarity of truth.  But the clearer my theology becomes, the more I appreciate the simplicity of mystery.  I can confidently say, “I don’t really know how God works.”  And outbursts like, “God! really?” are a part of my life.

I once thought that in order to function in my spiritual gift, I had to know what it is.  Because wise people said it, and because it seems to make perfect human sense, I spent time worrying about what my gift was.  As if once I crack the code, I’ll know what to do.  The odd thing is, I’ve been a believer for over 40 years and pastor for almost half of that and I’m not really sure I know what my gift is.  Yet, I think the Lord is using me more today than ever before.  Not because I’ve got the “gift code” figured out, but because God is great and I need him.

Friends, this season of life for me is not a reflection of futility, but of faith.  I spend less time trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do and more time fighting to trust the Lord.  To be transparent, as I see God more clearly, I also see people and feel the effects of sin more clearly as well.  I need faith.  I need Him.  By grace, I trust God more today than I did 10 years ago and I love better too. Maybe he is developing in all of us, the gift of faith.

I’m not sure what my gift is.  I’m ok with you not knowing what your gift is.  But I want to encourage you to move forward in your day by faith and love the people around you.

“God can be trusted to work his will in ways both ordinary and extraordinary, and he does not leave it to us to decide which is which. Let’s not, in other words, be timid where the Spirit has made us courageous. He is gifting us for the powerful work of making Jesus look big in the church and in the world.”

For more on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, I recommend Supernatural Power for Everyday People by Jared Wilson

  • Jeff Pierce

Does Unity Mean We Never Disagree?

David writes in Psalm 139:14 – “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Is it not implied in our wonderfully-made-ness that we are therefore not clones of each other, but unique and special? And if we are unique and special (and yes, you are!), then does it not also follow that we will not always see things the same way. We are wonderfully different, and fearfully designed by God with a blueprint that is unlike anyone else’s. If you’re with me so far, then that can’t mean whenever we disagree we are not walking in unity, but simply expressing our different-ness. So how does this work?

Unity is Deeper than Disagreement

 I wish I knew more of the back story with Paul and Barnabas disagreeing over including John Mark on their missionary trip (Acts 15:36-41). It appears that Barnabas saw potential in John Mark and was willing to take a chance on him (like he had on Saul of Tarsus), but Paul thought this was a really bad idea. Apparently, John Mark had bailed out on them previously in the midst of ministry labors. Paul and Barnabas didn’t see eye to eye on their observations about John Mark, nor on a decision to include him in their ministry team. So they lovingly agreed to go different ways with different teams. Was this disunity? I don’t think so. Paul and Barnabas get to be different and have different opinions about people and problems. What we do know is that they were both committed to the mission of the Gospel and as a result of this disagreement, God multiplied the number of workers sent out for the building up of the churches. They remained steadfast and unified on the mission even as they disagreed on some of the details, because unity runs deeper than human differences and even disagreements.

We should always be quick to listen and slow to speak, inviting the observations of other trusted friends and counselors, but uniformity and blind allegiance is not what unity is about. Unity is about the love of Jesus that has been poured out on needy sinners. Holding fast to that will preserve the unity even in the face of humble, loving disagreement.

  • Mark Spansel

Building Biblical Discernment

As I write this blog on the subject of discernment, I find myself considering Jesus’ admonition from John 7:24 where He says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” It leaves me in a bit of conundrum: should I make a judgement, or am I really called to discern?

There is a difference.

Our English word for judge generally connotes a legal sentence. A judge is one who makes and passes judgement, based on law. But discernment is different: It is about peering into and differentiating the essentials from the non-essentials, with the intention of deriving the true value of something. Discernment considers deeply, evaluating the valuable from the worthless, or better, truth from falsehood.

We live in a broken world and as followers of Christ we are constantly facing the need for right discernment. So how are we to discern? We discern with theology – the study of God.

Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote a book called, Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Sproul’s assertion is that everyone, regardless of his or her religious point of view, has a distinct view of God. The question for Christians is not are you a theologian but are you a good theologian? Our discernment, the outcome of how we think, separating truth from error, has a direct correlation to our theology. I imagine most of you would agree with that statement, as it relates to biblical matters, but I want us to recognize that discernment goes beyond the walls of the church proper and includes our interactions at home, work and play. Our theology drives how we live and act, not just how we worship.

Pastor Mark has just concluded a three part series on the “Hearing Church.” God is speaking to His people. Are we listening? Pastor Mark’s first sermon was on expository preaching – the simple, clear and straight-forward exposition of God’s Word, which alone, discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Next, he taught us about Biblical Theology and the “Whole Story of God.” Lastly, the important role of Systematic Theology.

Why do our pastors and the elders earnestly desire for you to know multi-facets of theology? So that as our Heavenly Father speaks to us through His Word we will be able to hear Him rightly.

What is the benefit? The answer is good discernment.

We are constantly evaluating the world we live and hopefully we are becoming ever more skillful to discern the correct thoughts, appropriate actions and glory-filled worship that please Him.

  • Selby Brannon

The Day Sanctification Became Possible

I have been working through the book of Romans slowly, reading it and using John MacArthur’s teaching alongside my reading. Recently in chapter 6 MacArthur said something that was shocking but profound. He was talking about how before we come to faith in Christ we are slaves to sin, that we really can’t help but do anything that wasn’t sinful. He contrasted this with how now that we have come to faith in Christ, we have been made into a new creation (II Cor 5:17), have gone from dead to alive (Eph 2:1-5) we have a new heart (Ez 11:19-20), we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Rom 5:1-5) and we are no longer subject to Satan but have been transferred into Jesus’ Kingdom (Rom 6). What he said next shocked me, he said, “It is not unreasonable to think of the change that you went through when you surrendered your life to Christ as greater than the change you will go through when you are translated to heaven.”

I know we could debate that statement to death but what I found myself realizing was I had greatly undervalued that depth of change that happened the day I gave my life to Christ. Dead is the old Steve whose every inclination was to do nothing but to sin and God has done a new work in me that frees me from the dominion of Satan and the power of sin over my life. Do I still stumble at times and sin, battle with the sinful nature, fall to temptation …..yes (Rom 7), but in Christ I have been made new with the Spirit in me giving me the ability to not live as a slave to sin but freed as a slave to righteousness (Rom 6).

The day I gave my life to Christ I was not only sanctified in Christ, but further sanctification through the work of the Spirit became possible for the first time in my life. (Heb 2: 10-11). I pray God will encourage you as you walk in this truth.

  • Steve Selle

Gifted

If you’re like me you’ve often felt inadequate without the resources and information needed for the day’s challenges. Sometimes we continue the search when we really need to just take a good long look at the data that’s already there and use it. You might be suffering from analysis paralysis. You already know what you need to know.

“He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

Paul is telling us that the Father’s grace is operating to give each and every one of His elect everything they need. “All things”. What are the things included in the “all things” package? Let’s start with your election from before the foundations of the earth and His effective calling of you to Himself. No you didn’t see that coming, but nevertheless His gracious love planned it. Secondly, our justification purchased by the Father who “did not spare his own Son”. Then because the Son in perfect and complete loving obedience to the Father, bore our sin at the cross we have been adopted as sons of the Father Who is working all the events of your life in a gracious process of progressive sanctification bringing you into the likeness of His Son until finally we will stand complete before Him in glorification.

Still feel inadequate? Still searching for the courage to walk in this world? Still wondering if there’s a place to stand in full confidence? Rest in this. “He (the Eternal Father) did not spare” (not one thing was withheld in His judgement) but gave “his own Son” for you so that you can rest in the fact that He’s graciously giving “all things” to you that is everything and anything necessary the Father says is needed to bring you home. Take that as a guarantee of grace. Slow down and return to the argument Paul is laying down here in Romans 8:32. Don’t jump ahead. Stop trying to build a case with more data but start where it all begins. With the greatest gift given from which all others are given. The Son given for us and to us. If the Father has already given that much how can we not be confident that we are already in possession of the grace to face anything?

  • David Ortiz