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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.

Revival and Forgiveness

Revival removes the stumbling block of unforgiveness from the hearts of God's people. In fact, there can be no revival where people refuse to forgive. Jesus made it clear that offenses will come (Matthew 18:7). Let's face it, we have all been offended by others and we have all offended others. It seems it is least expected in the church. But why should we be surprised? It has been said that the church is really a collision of sinners rather than a sanctuary for saints. It seems we have an unrealistic expectation of Christians. Christ saves us while still in our fallen condition. Then he begins the work of sanctification--making us like Jesus. Has anyone arrived there yet? (I hope we would all answer "NO" to that question!) We know we often fail to act like Jesus but for some reason we expect other Christians always act like Jesus. We ask for mercy when we offend, but demand justice when others offend. What does God think about this double standard? Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV) Unforgiveness not only builds a wall between us and others but it also builds a wall between us and God. Unforgiveness rejects mercy and reconciliation and insists on justice and vengeance. Unforgiveness hurts us more than the one it is focused against. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die! Unforgiveness closes our ears to others and to God. It is impossible to have an open and honest relationship with God when we refuse to forgive. Forgiveness is not condoning sin. God does not condone our sin when He forgives us. Forgiveness is undeserved. God forgives us not because we deserved it, but because He does not want our sin and offense to determine the final outcome of the relationship. Neither is forgiveness ignoring the reality of the offense. Forgiveness offers the possibility of a new beginning. What is forgiveness? Gregory Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, offers this definition: "Forgiveness is not so much a word spoken, an action performed, or a feeling felt as it is and embodied way of life in an ever-deeping friendship with the triune God and with others. As such, a Christian account of forgiveness ought not to simply or even primarily be focused on an absolution of guilt; rather, it ought to be focused on the reconciliation of brokenness, the restoration of communion--with God, with one another, and with the whole Creation. Indeed, because of the pervasiveness of sin and evil, Christian forgiveness must be at once an expression of commitment to a way of life, the cruciform life of holiness in which we seek to "unlearn" sin and learn the ways of God, and a means of seeking reconciliation in the midst of particular sin, specific instances of brokenness." We all live in the midst of particular sin and specific instances of brokenness. We often offend, and we are sometimes offended. In the midst of a world of sin and brokenness, Christ died so that we would no longer live under its power. Forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and love is the message of the Cross. Revival is a return to living out the reality of this message.

Are there any real athiests?

An atheist is one who says that he knows there is no God. Obviously this statement is unsupportable because no human being has knowledge of everything. Our knowledge, no matter how vast, is greatly miniscule compared to the vast amount of knowledge we are ignorant of in our universe. So there is a possibility that God exists in the realm of what we do not know. So there really is no such thing as an atheist because no one can know for certain that God does not exist.
 
There are, however, many agnostics. The word "agnostic" means "without knowledge". They do not know that God exists. In reality, they are doubters because they are not convinced that God exists. There are, however, two different kinds of doubters: honest doubters and dishonest doubters. If a person doubts that God exists and he is honest, then he will search to find out if God exists. A dishonest doubter is not interested in finding out if God exists. Dishonest doubters want to remain in their doubt because believing in God would mean that they would be accountable to God for their deeds, choices and lifestyles. Jesus said in John 3:19-21 (NKJV), "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”  An agnostic can find out if he or she is an honest doubter or a dishonest doubter. An honest doubter will be willing to genuinely pray this prayer (they don't have to be convinced that God exists to pray this prayer): "God, I don't know if You are real, but I want to know if You are real. I don't know if the Bible is true, but I want to know if the Bible is true. I don't know if Jesus is Your Son, but I want to know if Jesus is Your Son. I don't know if there is life after death, but I want to know if there is life after death. I don't know if my life has meaning, but I want to know if my life has meaning. I am open to discover whether You are real or not, if the Bible is true, if Jesus is Your Son, if there is life after death, and if my life has meaning. I am willing to follow the evidence no matter where it takes me, how it might challenge me, and what it will cost me."
 
The best place to start looking for answers is reading the Gospel of John because it was written for this specific purpose: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31)
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