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Experience or the Word of God?

Recently I heard a preacher say that people don't need doctrine. They need an experience. The reasoning is that, "A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument." People are told to lay aside their doctrine and to seek an experience. The question is posed, "Are you hungry for an experience with God? Then come to the altar and have an experience with God tonight!" Granted, any true believer who has faith will also have experiences with God. No one can claim to be saved who has not had encounter with the Savior. But the growing emphasis on experience highlights a common misperception about how we can have a true relationship with God. The truth is that we are not saved by an experience. We are saved by faith. And it is not faith in an experience that saves us. It is faith in God's Word--the Gospel--that saves us.  Seeking an experience apart from doctrine is dangerous. Why? How do you know that the experience you seek is of God? Experience cannot validate itself. Experience only validates that we have had an experience. Experience cannot be the criteria for determining truth or else truth is at the mercy of experience. Unfortunately this gets real confusing because people are having many contradictory experiences and, of course, they all argue that their experience is real. Why? They experienced it. People are claiming religious experiences today on every hand and yet Christians are departing from the faith in record numbers here in America. Christians swoon at the altar of experience and live like devils the rest of the week. Preachers are falling left and right. Churches are full of people who live no differently  than the world. What is the problem? People are basing their spirituality on faith in subjective experiences and opinions rather than on faith in God's Word. People are living their lives based upon what they feel. Their life is built on experience rather than on the solid rock of God's Word. They cannot stand in the time of difficulty and storm. They are blown this way and that way because their spirituality is not built on the Word of God but on the changing winds of experience. They move from one experience to another. If they can't get an experience in one place, they move to another place. Because they build their lives around experiences, it is easy to justify the experiences of the flesh. They are like the man who leaves his marriage when the romance fades. His idea of marriage is based on experience rather than a covenant. He doesn't need another experience. He needs to commit to the relationship. When he does, he will experience the benefits and blessing of the relationship for which he seeks. In the same way, it is that the Word of God rather than spiritual experience that is the basis of our relationship with God. An experience cannot not validate itself. The Word of God is the only reliable criteria by which to judge and evaluate our experience. When Christians pursue experience at the expense of God's Word, they forfeit their only means of discernment and fall into the deception of embracing every kind of questionable experience simply because they or someone else experienced it. Can you see the end of this kind of experience based spirituality? The Scripture pattern for bringing people into a true knowledge and relationship with God is for God's ministers to preach the Word of God. Why? Because the day will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but will heap up to themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, the time will come when people will depart from the faith as they hunger for teachings and experiences found outside of God's Word.  As the faithful minister preaches the Word of God, people are sure be encountered by the God of the Word--the God of Truth. That encounter will be either positive or negative depending on their response. Preachers must preach the Word in such a way that people are brought into an encounter with the God of the Word. Because of their subjective nature, it is misguided to seek after experiences. We are to seek after God. As we seek the God of the Bible, experiences often--but not always--follow. Those who seek after God in Biblical ways will be granted all of the godly experiences they need. These genuine experiences will become a testimony to the truth of God's Word rather than a testimony to the experience itself. God's Word validates experience and not the other way around. Therefore the truth is, "A man with the Word of God is never at the mercy of a man with an experience."

Memorial Stones

Yesterday Grace Fellowship celebrated our 25th Church Anniversary! I want to thank everyone who attended and especially those who worked hard to prepare for our celebration. During the preparations for the service, the Lord impressed upon me Joshua chapter 4 regarding the memorial stones that would remind future generations of what God had done. As I reviewed the past twenty-five years, I was impressed with thirty-two things that needed to be highlighted for future generations. I wrote each of these things on a different stone and placed them on a table as a memorial for future generations in our church. I am calling this the "Memorial Table" that will showcase these "Memorial Stones". It will grace our church sanctuary as a continual reminder of what the Lord has done. When we forget the good things God has done we either become unthankful or become lifted up in pride. We need to be reminded of where we came from in order to better understand where we are going. I hope you will take time today to reflect upon the important events in your past that God used to bring you to where you are today.

25 Years is Something to Celebrate!

I can't believe its almost been 25 years since Grace Fellowship held its first service on Sunday, December 1, 1985! As I look back at pictures and read through my journals it seems such a long time ago and yet it also seems like yesterday. Time has passed, many faces have changed, and we have learned and matured along the way, but the reason why Grace Fellowship was birthed has not changed. This next Sunday, December 5th, at 3:00 p.m. we will hold our 25th Church Anniversary Celebration (we will also have our regular Sunday AM Service at 10:00 a.m.). The anniversary service will be followed by a reception. Our celebration will enable us to reflect upon and celebrate what God has done over the past 25 years while being challenged to look forward in faith and vision to the work still ahead. It is also a great opportunity to renew acquaintances and to reconnect. I want to invite you to our 25th Church Anniversary Celebration. Your presence will be a blessing to me and to our church family here at Grace Fellowship. We hope to see you Sunday! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving Holiday! But what is the Thanksgiving Holiday all about? The first day of thanks in America was celebrated in Virginia at Cape Henry in 1607, but it was the Pilgrims’ three-day feast celebrated in early November of 1621, which we now popularly regard as the “First Thanksgiving.” The first real Calvinist Thanksgiving to God in the Plymouth Colony was actually celebrated during the summer of 1623 when the colonists declared a Thanksgiving holiday after their crops were saved by much needed rainfall.  The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620.  They sailed for a new world with the promise of both civil and religious liberty. For almost three months, 102 seafarers braved harsh elements to arrive off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, in late November of 1620. On December 11, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed the “Mayflower Compact,” America’s original document of civil government and the first to introduce self-government.
          The Puritan Separatists, America’s Calvinist Protestants, rejected the institutional Church of England. They believed that the worship of God must originate in the inner man, and that corporate forms of worship prescribed by man interfered with the establishment of a true relationship with God. The Separatists used the term “church” to refer to the people, the Body of Christ, not to a building or institution. As their Pastor John Robinson said, “[When two or three are] gathered in the name of Christ by a covenant made to walk in all the way of God known unto them as a church.”
          Most of what we know about the Pilgrim Thanksgiving of 1621 comes from original accounts of the young colony’s leaders, Governor William Bradford and Master Edward Winslow, in their own hand:
 
“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degree). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.” -W.B.  (William Bradford)
 
“Our Corne did proue well, & God be praysed, we had a good increase of Indian Corne, and our Barly indifferent good, but our Pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sowne, they came vp very well, and blossomed, but the Sunne parched them in the blossome; our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a more speciall manner reioyce together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst vs, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed fiue Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed upon our Governour, and upon the Captaine, and others. And although it be not alwayes so plentifull, as it was at this time with vs, yet by the goodneses of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”  --E.W. (Edward Winslow) Plymouth, in New England, this 11th of December, 1621.
 
The feast included foods suitable for a head table of honored guests, such as the chief men of the colony and Native leaders Massasoit (“Great Leader” also known as Ousamequin “Yellow Feather”), the sachem (chief) of Pokanoket (Pokanoket is the area at the head of Narragansett Bay).  Venison, wild fowl, turkeys and Indian corn were the staples of the meal. It likely included other food items known to have been aboard the Mayflower or available in Plymouth such as spices, Dutch cheese, wild grapes, lobster, cod, native melons, pumpkin (pompion) and  rabbit.”
By the mid-17th century the custom of autumnal Thanksgivings was established throughout New England.  One hundred and eighty years after the first day of Thanksgiving, the Founding Fathers thought it important that this tradition be recognized by proclamation. Soon after approving the Bill of Rights, a motion in Congress to initiate the proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving was approved.
          Mr. [Elias] Boudinot (who was the President of Congress during the American Revolution) said he could not think of letting the congressional session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them.  With this view, therefore, he would propose the following resolution:
 
“Resolved, that a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God...”
“Mr. [Roger] Sherman (a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) justified the practice of thanksgiving on any signal event not only as a laudable one in itself, but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ...This example he thought worthy of a Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentleman who moved the resolution...The question was put on the resolution and it was carried in the affirmative.”
 
This resolution was delivered to President George Washington who readily agreed with its suggestion and put forth the following proclamation by his signature:
 “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
 
“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the  Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.  And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.” --Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, AD 1789 George Washington
 
After 1815, prophetically, there were no further annual proclamations of Thanksgiving until the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln declared November 26, 1863, the last Thursday in November, a Day of Thanksgiving:
 
“No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy...  I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens...[it is] announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord...It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.”
 
October 3, 1863, Lincoln’s proclamation passed by an Act of Congress.  That proclamation was repeated by every subsequent president until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day up one week earlier than had been tradition, to appease merchants who wanted more time to feed the growing pre-Christmas consumer frenzy. Folding to Congressional pressure two years later however, Roosevelt signed a resolution returning Thanksgiving to the last Thursday of November.
The reality is, we are still at our core, a nation eternally thankful to God. So express thanks to God for all of His blessings this Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Do You Need Direction?

 Romans 8:14 (NKJV) "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
 
Have you ever been in a situation where you were lost and had to ask for direction? In general, people are lost and are looking for direction in their lives. For instance we often say that a person is "lost" or "clueless" on a certain issue or area of their life. Unfortunately, many lost people are looking for direction in all of the wrong places. Just turn on your television today and you will find a wide array of offers to give you direction--lawyers, counseling centers, and psychic hotlines are just a few. Go to your bookstore and you will find a host of resources claiming to have discovered the key to happiness and fulfillment. Open your newspaper and you will find the horoscope giving you the daily forecast for your life. False religions and the New Age movement offer contact with a spirit guide who can help you discover the god inside of you. However, God's word forbids certain ways of seeking guidance for our lives (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). God has provided the only legitimate guidance for His people. Guidance is simply finding the will of God. God's guidance comes in both conscious and unconscious ways. Unconscious guidance can be described as the sovereign or providential control of God over the events and circumstances of our lives. Conscious guidance is when God reveals to us the path He wants us to take. He primarily gives His people conscious guidance through His Word and by His Spirit. Are you lost and looking for direction? Are you looking for the will of God for your life or in areas of your life? Repent of using unbiblical means to seek guidance. Break off any involvement with these things. Then begin to ask God to reveal His will for your life. Read His road map for your life, the Bible, and listen for the voice of His Holy Spirit. Believe that God will give you the guidance that you need. Remember, those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

The Hunger Test

 Deuteronomy 8:1–3 (NKJV) “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD."
 
God led Israel into a season of hungering for physical food in order to test their hearts. Would they obey God and keep His commandments or would they allow their hunger to cause them to act independently of God? In a similar way, God allows us to experience seasons of spiritual hunger in order to test our heart. How will we respond toward God and others in our season of spiritual hunger? Consider how Israel responded. Rather than to allow their heart to look to God, they complained against Moses, they disobeyed God’s commandments, they did not believe God’s promises, and they despised God’s provision. Sadly those who responded this way did not enter the Promise Land. They did not pass the hunger test. There is a hunger test involved anytime God allows us to experience hunger in our lives. The hunger test reveals what is in our heart.  Will we obey God’s commandments, remain submitted to His delegated leaders, and wait on God's provision or will we allow our hunger to drive us into violating God’s will for our lives?  It is possible to be sincerely hungry for God and yet violate God’s principles in our quest to satisfy that hunger. Some, impatient with God's provision, have attempted to satisfy their hunger on a questionable spiritual diet leading to deception and even shipwreck. God warned that we are not to live by bread alone. We are not to allow our hunger to direct our choices. Rather we are to live in obedience to God's Word. It is better to remain in a state of spiritual hunger while obeying God's Word than it is to attempt to satisfy our spiritual hunger prematurely by violating the principles of God. Are you hungry? If so, make sure you pass the hunger test.

True Believers

 John 6:64-65 “’But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
 
This is a sad and sobering Scripture. Great multitudes followed Jesus--for a while--but not everyone who followed Him truly believed. In the same way, not all who gather in the church are truly part of His kingdom. Not all who say, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). People gather around Christ for many reasons, but not all of these reasons lead to eternal life. Some gather around Him because of His love and compassion. Some gather around Him because of the miracles. Some gather around Him because of the peace and tranquility they feel in His presence. Some gather around Him because of His popularity. Some gather around Him because He speaks with authority. Some gather around Him simply because they are disillusioned with the current religious establishment. Others may gather around Him with political motives. But not all who follow Him believe. Not all willing to “eat His flesh and drink His blood” which is covenant language for total commitment. Not all are willing to receive Him as who He truly is and make Him their one and only Source of eternal life. They are okay with Jesus being a part of their life equation, but they are unwilling to allow Him to be the totality of their life equation. As a result, they cannot accept the demands of His Lordship over their lives and thus can walk away. 1 John 2:19 reveals the reasons: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” The twelve disciples had the same opportunity to walk away. When Jesus asked if they too desired to leave, Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You ALONE have the words of eternal life.” For them, Jesus was not an option of convenience and personal preference. Rather, He was the ONLY true and eternal option. The twelve proved to be genuine believers as the others walked away. Where do you stand today--with the crowd or with the twelve?

Christianity without the Church?

A growing number of people are interested in God. However, at the same time church membership is declining in the United States. The reason? It seems we have adopted a "Jesus and me" approach to Christianity. Our culture stresses the importance of the individual and independence. People have adopted the attitude that their faith is personal and that they do not need the church. Of course, Jesus did come to save individuals and restore our relationship with God. However, that is just the beginning! In Matthew 16, Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Jesus did not say, "You are right Peter! Now go your way and build your own relationship with God." No, Jesus called each of His people to follow Him. His disciples followed Him together. When we all follow the same Jesus, we will follow Him in community like sheep with a shepherd. Jesus said to Peter, "I will build My church." The church is a new community of people who each share Peter's confession. This community of believers is universal in scope--spanning every age and every nation--but it is local in expression. Jesus is building His Church by calling people out of this world to Himself and placing them in little flocks called local churches. Jesus intends to build His universal church by establishing local churches who carry out His work in Christian community. Have you made a commitment to a local New Testament church? Are you faithful to attend, support, and serve? If not, I challenge you do be part of the Church that Jesus is building. There is no Christianity without the Church.

Learning to Hear and Discern God's Voice

John 10:4 (NKJV) "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice."

Recently I was reading through some of my journals. One thing that stood out to me was how as a growing Christian I struggled to discern the voice of God. I was listening but was often unsure if what I was hearing was the Lord, my flesh, or the devil. Have you ever felt the same way?  As a young man I struggled to discern God's voice in areas of who I was to marry, true or false prophetic words, if and where to go to Bible school, where to live, what church to attend, and direction in ministry. I often vacillated back and forth, thinking I was hearing God and then finding later that it was not God or that I was not hearing God clearly on the matter. I asked God to help me know His voice. What I discovered in reading back over these journals is that hearing God clearly had a lot to do with where I was in my walk with God. I found that being open and transparent with God was important when things were unclear. Most of all I now see how the sovereign hand of God was involved in the course of my life. In areas that I thought were the will of God but were not, the doors closed. At other times when things weren't going like I believed they should, I sometimes blamed the devil or other people. Looking back now I see God was in control of the details of my life. These lessons are still fresh for me today. I have learned to hear and discern God's voice more over the years but I must say that hearing and discerning the voice of God is still a big challenge especially when, as a pastor, I must discern between the many voices claiming to speak for God. I am here in East Texas because I obeyed the voice of God. I am convinced of that. Is it possible to be in the will of God and still have doubts? To be honest, there have been a few times I have questioned the Lord when things got tough. However, when I read back over my journals, I see the sovereign hand of God at work in my life--His fingerprints on my life--those unexpected and divine moments that convince me once again that I am not here by accident. God has a plan and I am privileged to be a part of it. This confidence gives me renewed faith to embrace the vision He has given me. When I am assured that I have heard from God, it infuses me with a fresh desire to pursue holiness, pray, fast, stay in God's Word, remain submitted to divine authority, to be obedient, and to trust God's sovereignty which are all keys to knowing God's voice. Holiness removes the mixture of sin that distorts our hearing. Prayer puts us on the right frequency to hear God's voice (including praying in the Spirit). Fasting brings the appetites of the flesh under submission so that we are able to hear the voice of God above the competing voice of our flesh. The Word enables us to know and discern God's voice clearly. Submission enables God's voice to be confirmed to us by legitimate God-appointed leadership in our lives. Obedience enables us to attain the blessing of hearing God's voice. Faith in God's sovereignty enables us to stand firm during times of testing and uncertainty. In looking back, when I violated any of these principles, I struggled to hear the voice of God. I hope you will make it your aim to hear and discern the voice of God in your life. The ability to hear and discern the voice of God is the most important thing you will ever develop. Everything else that is worthwhile hinges on that one thing.

Fruit or Dead Works?

John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."
 
Hebrews 9:13–14 (NKJV) "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"
 
For years biologists have manipulated the structures that contain life, but they remain unable to produce life itself. The "spark of life" is still an illusive mystery. The reason? God is Life and the true Source of life. God has designed His creation so that living things derive their life from other living things. Life has the ability to multiply and reproduce whereas the work of man does not. For instance, I may build a beautiful birdhouse but that birdhouse is dead. It cannot reproduce another birdhouse. It is the work of my hands rather than the work of God. Man has been unable to activate the "spark of life" into the works of his hands. Fruit on the other hand is different. Fruit develops naturally on the tree or on the vine as it simply remains connected. In the same way, we can only bear fruit unto God as we abide in Him. When we try to produce fruit in our own strength, it is no better than lifeless artificial wax fruit. It may look good on the outside, but it is not real. It cannot satisfy or reproduce.  All that God does has life and brings life because God is its Source. If we try to live the Christian life in our own strength, then we will only produce dead works that cannot glorify God, edify others, or satisfy us. The true Christian life is one that ceases from its own works as it rests and abides in Christ as its Source. As we abide in Him and allow His life to flow through us, His life will reproduce itself in whatever He chooses to do through us.
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