Monday, February 25, 2019

Attend Church Every Week?

Church Every Week - No Excuses

I just read an article from a church growth specialist that we should expect the people of the church to be in church every week.  Personally, I never realized that church attendance was somehow optional. The moment I asked Jesus Christ into my life at the age of 14, I implored my mom and dad to take me to church. Mind you, I was not an avid "church goer". Truth be told, I went to church less than 100 times up to my teenage years. But, when Christ changed my life, I wanted to be in His church with His people. I started attending church because I had seen a billboard advertising a church that was 20 miles away and took nearly 45 minutes to get to, so I didn't know anyone there. My mom and dad brought me to church, and I begged them to stay. They did. And we never missed going to our church again for nearly 5 years. Yep, you're reading that right. We were perfect attenders. Almost everyone we knew did the same thing. We actually went on vacation and returned before Sunday morning so we could participate in church that Sunday. Oh yeah, did I tell you we loved it? Because we did. This was no cult. This was a Southern Baptist Church in the city. People were coming in droves. Lives were being changed. The gospel was being preached. We didn't dare miss. We didn't want to miss a thing. God was at work in our church and in our lives and we couldn't stand missing a single Sunday.
I know, I know. I do read the Bible, and it tells us that we can miss when the biblical "ox is in the ditch" (read about that poor old ox here in Luke 14:5). Problem is that we have extrapolated from these 5 words way more meaning than anything Jesus ever intended. First, this was about helping someone who has been injured, sick, or an invalid and cannot help themselves. Second, this is something that can occasionally happen but is the exception and not the rule. All I'm saying is that if you are constantly getting an ox out of a ditch, you have either too many oxen or too many excuses. Other than that one exception, I cannot find another single verse that we can use to give us permission to miss church 
Why do you miss? Are we really as feeble as we let on being? Or does the lake, the ocean, the hunting stand, the flea market, the road trip, or our own lackadaisical attitude take precedence?
In light of that, I wanted to pass on to you this article I read about the 4 reasons we should make a "HUGE" commitment to being in church when the doors are open:

"People are clearly busier than ever, and that does not help the situation. Others have been hurt or disillusioned by churches or “religious” people, so they use that as a “reason” for why they do not attend church often. However, most people just seem to be looking for something better to do on Sunday mornings than go to a church to worship and learn about God and His ways. Golfing, sleeping, sports, and many other things turn out to be that “better option” for them than church.
I would like to suggest to you four reasons why church is a big deal – a REALLY big deal!  Let me give you some reasons why you should plan to be in church every single possible moment you can.
Why You Should Make a Huge Commitment to Being in Church Whenever the Doors Are Open . . .
1) The local church is a central part of God’s strategic plan for your spiritual growth.
I have often heard the statement, “Well, I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” On a slight technicality, that may be true, but it is certainly far-removed from God’s true plan.
Jesus said, “On this rock [Peter’s statement that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God] I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not be able to stand against it” (Matthew 16:18). You see, the church is Jesus’ idea, not man’s idea. It seems like we should pay attention to His plan since it came directly from Him.
When a person says they don’t need the church, that is a departure from God’s plan. I would advise against that.
2) You are basically a composite of the five people with whom you spend the most time.
When I was a youth pastor, I could easily see how friends could influence young people for either good or for bad. Now that I am a pastor to “big people,” I can see that tendency is true for them as well! Even adults are influenced by their friends and the people with whom they spend time.
I have come to believe that we are basically a composite of the five people with whom we spend the most time. It is important, therefore, that we choose those people well. That is why it is so valuable for us to be in church every time the doors are open. We need to expose ourselves as much as possible to other followers of Christ who will draw us nearer to God.
Paul said it like this: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13 NIV)  We need the support of other believers if we are truly going to grow in Christ.
3) You need the voice of the church to counteract all of the deception that is crammed into your mind all throughout the week.
Paul warns believers in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”  (NKJV)
The word for “cheat” in this passage refers to kidnapping another person. We need to be careful that we are not “kidnapped” by false ideologies, by wrong thinking.
The term “traditions” refers to teachings. Do you realize how many ungodly teachers are speaking into your life every week? Internet. News media. Hollywood. Music. Co-workers. Friends and family. The list seems never ending. With so many messages streaming into your life every week that can “kidnap” you and take you away from God, it is extremely critical that you spend as much time in church as possible to fill your mind with godly wisdom and discernment. Soak in all you can whenever you can!
4)  Weekly ministry in a local church helps to build up your spiritual muscles.
In Ephesians 4, Paul says that we all are gifted in different ways. When we use our own particular gifts to serve within a church, it is a like a body with many body parts that all work together for a common goal.
As Paul discusses serving in this chapter, I find it interesting that he threw in the comment in Ephesians 4:14 in which he says, “... that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting….” In other words, when we use our spiritual gifts by serving within the local church community, we somehow become better-grounded theologically.  It will be more difficult for us to be deceived into thinking things that are not true according to God’s Word. Isn’t that amazing? Serving makes us more theologically astute. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but I do know that I have observed it to be true in my own life as well as in the lives of so many I have watched to grow in their journey with the Lord.
Commitment ain’t what it used to be. But I hope for you, you will go all out in your commitment to Christ and His church.
Begin this week!
Chris Russell, Pastor Veritas Church (More from Pastor Russell here:

See you in church on Sunday! No excuses.
Blessings and prayers,
Trey Rhodes 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

God’s Plan for Your Life

Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:12
100 Days Through the Bible

Today we begin reading the prophet Jeremiah. There is more known about Jeremiah than any other prophet. His prophetic book is arguably the longest in the Bible. His life was the most hated. His words were all but completely ignored or rejected by the people of Judah, although one king appreciated his words, Josiah. However, his words would fall on deaf ears as the people were beyond the spiritual help they desperately needed. His words were not well received for one other reason: he called for complete surrender to Babylon who would eventually destroy Jerusalem. Not only did his words call for spiritual repentance, they also would have been considered treacherous. He was hated for spiritual reasons as well as political reasons. This is the life of Jeremiah, a priest & prophet who was called of God to speak God’s word to an ungodly, rebellious generation.

1. God’s Has a Plan for Your Life (Jeremiah 1:1-10)
We are introduced in relative detail to Jeremiah. From the priestly line, from the area of Benjamin, called in the time of the godly king, Josiah, and finished his ministry after the overthrow of Zedekiah’s reign when Babylon was victorious over the southern kingdom of Judah. It was then that the people of Judah were sent into Babylonian exile.
God’s call to Jeremiah was made known to him in vv. 4 & 5. Jeremiah found out about how God worked outside of time to accomplish His will. “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Jeremiah’s calls began before His conception. That’s God. He is a forward thinking, superintending God who knows not only what He wants to do, but also whom He will use to accomplish His will.
Some use this verse to prove that God has been with us since birth, but it is even more profound. God’s decreed will begins before human life was given by Him at conception. God’s choice for a life is planned before you or I were in existence at any stage of pregnancy. Actually, even with all the birth control and medical fertilization available to us today, God has made a plan your life before you were conceived! God intended for you to be who you are, born in your family, and has a plan for your life. Never forget that. Your life is important to the Lord and His work on this earth. We tend to be like Jeremiah who protested God’s call on his life. These words sound familiar to anyone God has called, “But I protested, ‘Oh no, Lord, GOD! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth’” (v. 6). God has no patience for that kind of thinking. The Lord replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you” (v. 7). When God calls, we say yes. But the Lord doesn’t stop there, He also gives you whatever you need to accomplish His will, “the LORD reached out His hand, touched my mouth, and told me: I have now filled your mouth with My words” (v. 9). When our Lord calls, He provides whatever we need to fulfill His will. His plan will not be stopped, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

2. God Has a Message for You to Share (Jeremiah 1:11-19)
And so, God fills Jeremiah’s mouth with words. But, the words God gave to him are not comforting words: “Disaster will be poured out from the north on all who live in the land” (v. 14). Think for a moment what kind of message he could have been given. For instance, it could have been about restoration and wonders like Isaiah 61:1-3 detailed:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD to glorify Him.”
But that was not to be the message of Jeremiah. He was called of God to proclaim that judgment was imminent and the people of God should give up.
In the same way, we don’t get to choose what God wants us to say. We are called to share God’s message as well. It is also a message of judgment. But the judgment of God fell on His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. We are called to share with those we know and love that we too are deserving of judgment because we sinned, but God took that judgment upon Himself on the Cross. And we must ask, what will you do with Jesus? I like to talk about how wonderful God’s love is. I like to share all the good things He does for me. I like to let them know that there is a wonderful Heaven that we can go to if we will but trust Him. But if there is a Heaven to gain, there is a hell to avoid. If there is a loving God, He must also be just. If life can be good, it can also be hard. Once again, Job asked, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10). When we speak, we speak the whole message of God. Not only do we share how much God loves, but also the consequences of sin. That is what makes the Gospel so powerful: we messed up; God took our judgment; but only to those who believe. That is why we share that message, to get people in touch with their evil so they may experience God’s forgiveness if they repent and believe.

3. God Has a Way He Wants You to Live (Jeremiah 2:1-12)
God’s specific message began with a longing for who Israel was when they first followed Him, “I remember…” (v. 2). God declared that Israel was, “the firstfruits of His (the LORD’s) harvest” (v. 3). Then the Lord asked the question, “This is what the LORD says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?” (v. 5). God had remained faithful, but the people were spiritual adulterers as they worshiped worthless idols. You see, they became what they worshiped. The worship of worthless idols directly affected the outcome of their lives. God had such great plans for them, but their lives became worthless.
God calls those who follow Him to worship Him as well. Jesus told the woman at the well that, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It has been said that worship is not something we do on Sundays, but how we live daily. It is our everyday lives that demonstrate to a watching world what we really worship. We want them to see Jesus in us. Every. Single. Day.
                                                                  -Trey Rhodes

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cover Up - 1 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalm 51

These two chapters in the Bible are some of the most sobering in all of Scripture. Once we read these, we recognize that there is no one who is beyond a hard, deep, and lasting spiritual fall. That is not an exaggeration. Think of whom David was: an anointed man of God, a prophet, a wise sage, a worship leader, a spiritual leader to royalty, an obedient son, a fearless warrior, a gentle shepherd, but most of all, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22). Yet, we have this heart-breaking story of what can happen when any one of us chooses to go our own way and delight ourselves in momentary pleasure. The Bible deals with David without apology as he becomes a warning to all who come after him that no one is given a “mulligan” in life. We must choose to be engaged every moment of every day, lest we too fall. And shockingly enough, it was the cover up that made bad sin worse.
Let’s look at why we must all be on guard, and what to do when we fail.
1. Be Aware of Choosing the Easy Life (2 Samuel 11:1-2a)
David has now gotten to the point in his life when he could leave the work (that is, the battles) to others. Joab was his greatest general and when the time came to go to battle with the enemies of the Lord’s people, the Ammonites, he would let the soldiers take care of what they do best, military campaigns that would result in victory after victory (v. 1). Although it wasn’t unusual for kings to stay at home during battles, we have to wonder what it was that kept David at home. After all, he had been a warrior since his defeat of Goliath on that mountainside near Gath as a young man. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he had to deal with some things at home. Maybe he had some kingly duties to attend to. But for reasons we do not know, he stayed home. What a contrast! This man who was resting at home, waking up in the late afternoon, taking evening strolls on his roof had become soft. Didn’t we read earlier in his life, “David left his supplies…and ran to the battle line”? (1 Samuel 17:22). Now we find him languishing and taking it easy at home. It is a stark reminder to us all what the prophet Amos warns of, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Isaac Watts asked a similar question in his hymn, Am I a Soldier of the Cross? with these haunting words:

On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?”
“Must I be carried to the skies
There is no moment in the Christian life when we should somehow think, I’ll just settle down, lay at ease in Zion, and let someone else do the work. No, fellow laborers, each one of us is called to the work until our last and dying breath. To do otherwise is to risk our spiritual lives on the altar of an easy life. We are encouraged to never let that happen. The results could be disastrous.
2. Be Aware of the Destructiveness of Covering up (2 Samuel 11:2b-27)
Here is where we begin to see how deep man’s heart can dive into the abyss. It all begins with luring at the temptation. “He (David) saw a woman bathing” (Ch. 11:2b). Remember the words of One, the Messiah, who would come from his own family line some 1000 years later who warned, “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
After enquiring as to who she was, David learned she was married, a part of the royal court, the daughter of a trusted advisor, and the wife of one of his loyal elite soldiers.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before David gave the order to have her brought to him and in the simplest and shortest of explanations, “he slept with her” (v. 4). But as often happens, although the sin may be bad, the cover-up is worse. David finds out from Bathsheba in the only words she will say in this book, “I am pregnant” (v. 5). For the next days, all David does is consumed with failed attempts to hush his sin up. He had three (3) schemes. First, he tried a clean scheme to have Uriah come home from war and sleep with his own wife. But Uriah was too much of a man of character and would not do it (vv. 6-11). Then he tried a dirty scheme by getting him drunk so he would forget his vows and sleep with his wife, but even then he didn’t do it (vv. 12-13). Finally, David sends Uriah back to the battle front, and with him instructions for Joab concerning how to execute him. Uriah carried his own death warrant! David told Joab to send Uriah into the heat of battle then remove all support; death would be fast and sure. Joab took it one step further and has many other men killed as well to further sell the cover-up. So, Uriah is murdered (vv.14-24). David resorted to platitudes with these words, “the sword devours all alike.” (v. 25). There was only one who cared, Bathsheba. The Bible tells us, “she mourned for him” (v. 25). We also know about One other that cared, “the LORD considered what David had done to be evil” (v. 25).
There is only one way for us to deal with sin and that is confession and repentance. It is healthy when we confess our sins to one another (James 5:15-16) and don’t try to make like it never happened. Often, we will find that the cover-up can be worse than the sin we are trying to cover up. Transparency with someone you can confide in and trust is always best. “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:11).
3. Be Assured of the Blessings of Restoration (2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 51)
What seems to be the most horrible part of the story for David becomes the beginning of restoration for him.
David is confronted by his favorite prophet, Nathan, who told a story of a “rich man” who “had a large number of sheep and cattle” (2 Samuel 12:2). But there was also a poor man who had “one small ewe lamb” (v. 3). It was beloved to this poor man. So, when it came time to entertain an out of town guest, the rich man takes this one little lamb from the poor man and prepared it and served it for dinner so he won’t have to use any of his own lambs (vv. 4-5). At this, David doesn’t wait for anything else from Nathan, but exploded in anger, “the man who did this deserves to die!” (v. 5b). Nathan didn’t hesitate to bring down the hammer either as he looked David straight in the eye and shouted back, “You are the man!” (v. 7). After the entire plot is revealed, David is humiliated in his own court and admitted, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13a). At that moment, David repented, and God forgave Him. We get to hear the words of grace that God has said to us as well, “The Lord has taken away your sin, you will not die” (v. 13b).

What was going on in David’s heart? You can read that in Psalm 51:4a, “Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done evil in your sight.” But, this no was no “get out of jail free” card. He knew that by his words, “You are right when you pass sentence” (v. 4b). What sentence? Nathan was clear with God’s judgment upon David. In 2 Samuel 12: 10, 11, & 14 we are told, “The sword will never leave your house” Then God said, “I am going to bring disaster on you from your own family: I will take your wives and give them to another”. But it was the last thing he heard that hurt the most: because he took innocent life, an innocent life would be taken from him as one more would die, his own baby. The very child he conceived by Bathsheba, “the son born to you will die” (v. 14). Yet, even then, David knew that God had more for him to accomplish, so he pled further with God in Psalm 51:10-13 “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”

Sin is horrible. Its consequences are heart-breaking. Yet our Lord hung on a cross to let us know that no matter what we did, he paid the penalty for us that our sin might be forgiven and that we could be restored to a relationship with Him. Don’t walk, run to the Cross and experience that kind of forgiveness today. That’s how we should cover our sin, not with schemes like David, but in the blood of Jesus that dripped from His Cross.

—Trey Rhodes