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A New Awakening?

 Psalm 57:8 (NKJV) "Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn."
 
This January our church cooperated in a time of prayer and fasting called "21 Days for a New Awakening." And to be honest, I have sensed new life taking place in me and in our church. Yes, I might even call it an "awakening". An awakening involves bringing to consciousness something that has been lifeless for a season. For instance, a person who is asleep may seem dead but they are not. All they need is an awakening. A tree in the dormancy of winter may look dead, but it is still very much alive. When the season changes, it experiences an awakening. A bear in its hibernation may seem to have died. However, once spring comes, it too experiences an awakening. In the same way, a Christian or a church may look "dead", but don't be too quick to judge! Many look at the condition of the church and have concluded that it has died. They say, "There is no fruit! There are no leaves! The branches are bare! Surely it is dead!" Yet God is Lord over the seasons. He is the Giver of life. When winter gives way to spring, the sap begins to rise, leaves begin to appear, and fruit begins to form. What seemed dead is very much alive. Don't mistake dormancy for death. Don't count a Christian out just because they look dead. Don't count a church out just because it seems dead. God is the Lord of the seasons. God knows how to get the sap moving again. When He does, suddenly everything is different! I don't know about you, but I sense the sap beginning to rise. Don't be surprised if the church begins to experience a season of awakening!

Don't be a flake!

I've been around and seen many fads come and go in the body of Christ. The problem is that when people are not grounded in the objective truths of the Word of God, they are blown this way and that way by every wind of doctrine and experience. A few years ago I read and saved this description of "Flake-ism" by Lora Allison. I think it is just as valid today. Let's all make a decision not to be a flake. Enjoy!
 
FLAKE-ISM:  Think of paint
1. A flake is characterized by “non-stick-to-it-iveness.”
2. A flake refuses to surrender individual recognition in order to blend into the rest of the covering as one unit.
3. In the beginning, a flake begins to detach and then air separates (“airhead”).  This separation is a vicious cycle.  Separateness often looks beguiling.
4. When finally detached a flake flits and floats blown by every slight breeze.
5. Because they are blown this way and that, a flake has no choice or control of its destination.
6. Generally a flake ends up lying in some trashy corner forgotten and useless.
7. A flake always has a better idea.
8. A flake is very opinionated.
9. A flake is immature.
10. A flake is not grounded in Truth.
11. A flake is always listening to voices, especially when they say what they want to hear.
12. Flake-ism sometimes grows out of immaturity and a lack of wisdom.
13. Flake-ism is encouraged by a lack of structure.  Proper structure encourages proper growth.  Charismatics sometimes throw out the baby with the bath water and do away with all structure.  A river without banks becomes a marsh.

The LORD is our Judge

People often struggle with offenses and injustice. When we are wronged our heart cries out for justice. Without a proper Biblical perspective, we often take justice into our own hands by speaking and doing evil against those who have hurt us. Jesus, however, taught us differently:
 
Matthew 5:43–48 (NKJV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
 
Living out what Jesus said is easier said than done. How do we keep our hearts from being filled with anger and resentment? Does God expect us to just take injustice and act like it never happened? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but what about justice and righteousness? How should we respond?
 
Jesus is our example. He was treated more unjustly than any other person in history. Listen to how Jesus responded to personal injustice committed against Him:
 
1 Peter 2:19–25 (NKJV) "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
 
Rather than act as Judge and Lawyer in His own case, He turned His case over to God. Although Jesus was condemned by a human court, He presented Himself and His case before the Supreme Court of His Father and was declared innocent through the resurrection. When we are wronged, it is our duty to seek reconciliation with our brother (Matthew 18:15-17). If attempts at reconciliation are refused or the conditions ignored, then we are still responsible to love and bless them in spite of their actions as we take our case to the Lord and His heavenly court and ask Him to judge between us and them. The Lord Jesus, who is our Advocate (Lawyer), will plead our case. As we release the case to Him we must trust that God will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). We must avoid the desire to avenge ourselves or to try to plead our case in the court of public opinion. Do we want to be approved before men or before God?
 
Romans 12:19–21 (NKJV) "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 20 Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
 
While our case is in the Lord's docket, we must keep our heart right by walking in love, doing good to those who do evil, and praying for reconciliation. If a heart change occurs, we must be willing to approach the Judge's Bench to settle out of court. By taking our case to the Lord, we let go of the judgment in our own heart. We rest in the fact that the Lord Jesus, our Advocate, will plead our case before the Father. Once judgment is made, we must pray that God will bring ultimate reconciliation through extending mercy and forgiveness to those who are found guilty and repent. In this way justice and judgment can lead to ultimate mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is made possible through the Cross of Christ.

Are you "bewitched"?

When growing up I remember watching the television show, "Bewitched" starring Elizabeth Montgomery. I didn't know much about demons and evil powers at that time and it all seemed so innocent and comical. But many watched the show being fascinated by the ability to cast a spell on someone. Those who were the object of the spell were said to be "bewitched". Those who are bewitched are victims. Unfortunately sincere and hungry believers can be bewitched into departing from the truth. Consider what Paul said in Galatians 3:1–3 (NKJV) "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" These believers had once had a very clear understanding of the message of the Cross and salvation through faith rather than by works. Now they were acting like completely different people. Paul asked if someone had cast a spell or "bewitched" them into disobeying the truth. Are you holding firm to the faith by which you were once saved and the principles you once lived by or has someone bewitched you into disobeying the truth of God's Word? If you are no longer obeying the truth that you once believed, it might be time to wake up and ask God to break the spell.

I Hope Somebody and Everybody Reads This!

I read something the other day that EVERBODY needs to read. I hope SOMEBODY reads it. It would be bad if NOBODY does. Enjoy!
 
Fred Somebody, Thomas Everybody, and Joe Nobody were neighbors, but they were not like you and me. There were odd people and most difficult to understand. The way they lived was a shame. All four belonged to the same church, but you would not have enjoyed worshiping with them. EVERYBODY went fishing on Sunday or stayed home to visit with friends. ANYBODY wanted to worship but was afraid SOMEBODY wouldn't speak to him. So guess who went to church--uh, huh--NOBODY. Really, NOBODY was the only one of the four. NOBODY did the visitation. NOBODY worked on the church building. Once they needed a Sunday School teacher. EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it, and ANYBODY thought SOMEBODY would do it. And you know who did it? That's exactly right...NOBODY! It happened that a fifth neighbor (an unbeliever) moved into the area. EVERYBODY thought SOMEBODY should try to win him for Christ. ANYBODY could have made an effort. You probably know who finally won him: NOBODY!

To Know Him, Love Him, & Worship HIm

In the beginning there was nothing--or might I say "no one"--but God. God exists in the form of the Godhead: One God in three Persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Godhead exists in complete love, unity, and oneness. So, why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did He create you and me? He did so out of a desire to reveal Himself to those who would in response choose to know Him, love Him, and worship Him. God is spirit. We cannot know Him apart from God revealing Himself to us. First God reveals Himself to us by what He has created (Romans 1:20). Creation is God's classroom of object lessons intended to reveal His existence and divine nature. God has revealed Himself to us in His Word (John 17:17). Because sin caused man to distort God's revelation of Himself in nature, God revealed Himself through His Word to address sin's distortions. God uses His Word to reveal His true nature and character. God also revealed Himself to us through His Son--the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus Christ came to reveal the existence and nature of the true God--the God of the Bible. God also reveals Himself to us through the Person of His Holy Spirit who enlightens our spiritual understanding to God's truth (1 Corinthians 2:10). God desires that we know Him. In essence, eternal life comes through knowing Him: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3 NKJV) God reveals Himself to us so that we might know Him and in knowing Him to love Him. God wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). It's true--the God of the universe wants a relationship with you and me! Think of that--God loves you and He wants you to know and love Him. God not only wants us know and love Him, but He also wants us to worship Him as the only true God and Savior. Worship is our response to what we know and love. Jesus said that the Father is seeking worshipers--true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). God is revealing Himself to you and me today. He is revealing Himself to us through creation, through His Word, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. He wants you to know Him and, in knowing Him, to love Him. In knowing and loving Him, He wants you to worship Him. Yes, God is actively seeking a relationship with you today. He is actively trying to reveal Himself to you today. Will you take time to look, read, listen, and respond? 

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!
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