The Importance of Prayer

When someone responds to the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation that person begins a wonderful, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The good news is that the new person in Christ will never be alone again, and through prayer and an opened Bible a close relationship with the Lord develops. I have found that my walk with Jesus helps me better than anything this world has to offer. I can certainly relate to the song Give me Jesus by Fernando Ortega, “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus. You can have all this world but give me Jesus.”

One great leader that comes to mind when I think of prayer is Nehemiah. When we read Nehemiah it would be easy to focus on the great things that Nehemiah did without realizing the key to him doing those great things. Nehemiah always prayed before he did anything, and that is a lesson that every Christian should learn and keep to heart. When we don’t pray we are really saying “God I don’t need you,” and when we do pray we acknowledge our need for God. When we rely on God through prayer we bring God’s power into our lives. It really is true that a prayer-less Christian is a powerless Christian.

Jesus said that “men ought always to pray” so let’s make sure that we realize the importance of prayer each and every day. Imagine how different our lives, our homes, and our churches would be if we wouldn’t neglect to pray. I like what the hymn writer wrote, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Love in Christ,

Pastor Mark

Nehemiah 1:5-11

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Signs of our Times

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As I watched the Carolina Panthers game last Sunday I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing as two of the best, Odell Beckham Jr and Josh Norman, competed against each other. Well, actually they fought against each other, and it kept getting worse until Beckham completely lost it and attacked Norman with the crown of his helmet by launching himself with everything he had. Fortunately the league suspended Beckham for a game (should’ve been at least 2) and fined him over $50,000 for his actions. There’s no doubt that Beckham was taken out of the game (not literally though he should have been) by Norman and that resulted in Beckham losing his cool and letting his emotions get the best of him. What a sad testimony to kids everywhere that were watching and never saw Beckham get ejected.

I believe Beckham’s actions are a sign of the times in our culture: We are led by our emotions in a “me-centered” way. Add to that the fascination of not offending anyone and you have America in 2015, oh the new American way! Really, we’re just immature, irresponsible babies that must have it our way or we’re going to take our ball and go home! Yes we’ve come a long way from the “greatest generation” who grew up during the Great Depression and during World War II…imagine if our generation today was placed during that time in our nation’s history. Thank God for that generation of selfless, hardworking, responsible, honest Americans during a very difficult time and may we see their characteristics come back.

As a pastor my concern is how the mindset of our culture has been handled by the church. Some churches have scrambled about what to do and their response is disturbing. It really can be described in one word: Compromise. The church has begun to “preach another gospel” that is “me-centered” and in an emotional way, and in most cases highly emotional. The goal of modern worship is to touch emotions (the flesh) instead of touching the heart (spiritual), in fact the more emotional the experience the better. If Beckham Jr. teaches us anything it’s that emotions are a horrible leader. Also emotions will only take you so far which is why the emotional experience doesn’t last. Only when the heart is touched through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit will there be lasting change, actually a change that will last forever. You see what God does will last (spiritual), what man does won’t last (flesh).

It’s true that worship can often be emotional, especially when we consider all that our Savior has done for us, but emotions should not be the goal, true worship should be the goal. Jesus said “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Notice that Jesus didn’t say worship in emotions and in truth but worship must be in “spirit and in truth.” Often times true worship offends as the Spirit gets our attention through conviction, which puts us in a position for lasting change because God is working. Yes the Holy Spirit will make us uncomfortable. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). The word reprove means convict, yes God will offend us, make us uncomfortable, and He will do that because He loves us and wants to change us. The sad reality is that when we try so hard to not offend anyone during their worship experience we are really telling the Holy Spirit to take a hike! When the Holy Spirit doesn’t work then there isn’t real and lasting change.

The Apostle Paul revealed that the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Why did Jesus die? Because of our sin, yes we are responsible for Jesus’ death. Now this is included in the “me-centered” gospel but only as an afterthought, it’s just kind of rushed through because after all we don’t want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. The “me-centered gospel” is more about Jesus being our friend to solve our problems. It’s about receiving God’s great love and wanting to go to heaven. It’s about using the powerful name of Jesus to change our circumstances so that we can have it our way. Now it’s true that when we’re saved we have a best friend in Jesus Who is the answer to all our problems, it’s true that there is power in Jesus name, we do have a home in heaven, and God’s love is great but we don’t get saved because we want to go heaven, we don’t get saved because we want our problems solved, we don’t get saved because we want a best friend; we only get saved when we realize that we are lost and hopeless in our sin (work of the Holy Spirit and not emotions) and we place our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

My fear is that many trust the eternal destiny of their soul on an emotional experience when they were declared saved but it was not a real work of God because the Holy Spirit was not welcome since He makes people uncomfortable. Salvation is of the Lord and is only available when God works in hearts. Let’s not think so highly of ourselves that we actually believe we are gifted to do the work that only God can do. Let’s not think that we can take the place of the Holy Spirit and that is better because it’s more what people want.  Also let’s make sure the gospel we preach is the true gospel, the same gospel that the Apostle Paul preached because there is real danger in preaching a different gospel, “if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:9). I’m grateful that the gospel is powerful and really needs no “tweaking” because “it is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).

Love in Christ,

Pastor Mark

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Things you don’t have to do to see God’s church go forward…

A timely article for the modern church of America by Cary Schmidt

1. You don’t have to stop using Bible Words—Bible words are true and powerful words. Define them. Teach them. Cross-reference them. Illustrate them. But don’t stop using Bible Words—sin, hell, heaven, Spirit, worship, propitiation, justification, mercy, grace, sanctification, etc. Bible words grow the church in depth and health.

2. You don’t have to minimize the gospel—From Genesis the Revelation, the gospel is the core of God’s heart to mankind. Paul told Titus to affirm the gospel “constantly!” Keep giving the clear gospel—to both Christians and non-Christians. By it we are saved, by it we live! You cannot exhaust the gospel, and it is the single emphasis that will bring both new life and maturity to your church.

3. You don’t have to stop preaching good doctrine—The heart of man was designed to thrive on truth. Good doctrine and theology is the foundation of all of life. Doctrine is attractive when made understandable and when connected to every day life. It stabilizes the soul. Good doctrine is not negotiable. Don’t remove it or minimize it. In a day of pluralism and secularism and relativism, people are desperate for true absolutes upon which they can anchor their lives.

4. You don’t have to have performance-driven ministry—A lot of churches today more resemble a nightclub than a place of spiritual activity. Are we trying to worship Jesus and grow in His Word, or impress people with performance? Keep the lights on, lead in corporate/heart-felt worship, lift up Jesus Christ, open and expound the Word, and watch Jesus draw people to Himself.

5. You don’t have to stop using the word “church”—Jesus died for the church, promised to build the church, loves the church, and is the head of the church. Choose to love the word “church,” and help people experience real loving, healthy, dynamic church every time they attend yours. Bad church experiences are common, but so are bad restaurant experiences. We don’t need “alternative” words—we need authentic, healthy churches.

6. You don’t have to downplay doctrinal distinction—God is the final authority. He defines life, love, sexuality, marriage, and all other doctrinal and moral issues. And He is good. He is love. He is grace. Messing with His message to men is the most unloving, ungracious, uncaring thing you can do. Help people build their lives on uncompromised truth, and watch them grow. Likewise, teach sound doctrine and help people discern “bad doctrine”—this was exactly what the Apostle Paul did in New Testament contexts.

7. You don’t have to marginalize an age group—Some strategists encourage church leaders to focus on specific ages, to the exclusion of others. This is really unbiblical thinking. A healthy church is multi-generational—it’s a church full of all ages and kinds of people—loving, praying, serving, and caring for one another across all generational, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries.

8. You don’t have to target a demographic—Again, strategists would teach you to define a demographic—how you will reach a particular group, usually “income focused.” God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus is not exclusive—everyone in every life-stage deserves the truth. A healthy church will flatten society’s stratums and bring every kind of person together around the person of Jesus Christ. Attempt to reacheveryone, and guaranteed, God will provide for His church.

9. You don’t have to condone sin—Strategists would tell you to not speak out on sensitive issues. God tells you to speak the truth in love. I’ve heard plenty of preachers speak the truth in anger, irrationally. I’ve heard many speak the truth in love with sound reason. It is possible to speak truthfully, lovingly, and convincingly against sin and it’s destructive nature. If you don’t speak truth, you are not loving. Love is truthful. Truth is loving. You always help people grow when you teach them God’s best.

10. You don’t have to stop inviting people to respond to God’s Word—Some would say, “don’t have a planned time for response, like an invitation” or “don’t invite people to accept Christ.” But truth always calls for a response. When you speak truth, the hearers must decide what to do with it. Whether in their seat or at an altar—keep encouraging people make right decisions based upon God’s Word.

God builds His church when we get out of His way. Let us not become victims of the “growth at all costs” thinking. Let us see God develop His church, His way—as a pillar and ground of the truth. Only biblical growth is healthy growth.

If you will couple sound biblical content, a clear gospel message, a loving church family, and a well-prepared environment of hospitality—you will see God take His church forward with new life and spiritual maturity.

The gospel is still powerful to transform lives! What a privilege we have to partner with Him in the greatest work on the planet—seeing Jesus build His church!

“Make Room for Jesus”

As I write this article I’m preparing a message for this Sunday entitled “Make Room for Jesus.” Many times we are guilty of not doing that this time of year because we are so busy “celebrating.” For those of us who are believers who have been adopted into God’s family by faith in Jesus, we know how great the gift that God has provided to us through His Son. So why do we struggle with making room for Jesus during the season that we celebrate His coming?

I don’t believe that we intentionally don’t make room for Jesus, in fact I believe Christmas motivates us with good intentions: We are motivated by the fact that Jesus is the best gift we have and will ever receive, we are motivated to make sure our families have the best Christmas because we want our loved ones to share in God’s love, we also are motivated to include our friends with the joys of Christmas, we are motivated to make as many good memories as possible, and maybe our motivation causes us to simply try too hard? Yes Jesus truly is the greatest gift of all, but more activity doesn’t necessarily mean that we are truly taking Christmas seriously. If Christmas to us is more about social events, shopping, decorating the “perfect tree,” Santa Claus, jingle bells, winter wonderlands, and Christmas movies then we will struggle with crowding Jesus out of His own birthday.

There’s nothing wrong with parties, shopping, decorating, jingle bells, and Christmas movies…but we need to make sure that we sing “Joy to the World” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him” more than “Jingle Bells” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” We need to make sure that we turn off the movies and share the sacred words of Isaiah 9:6 and Luke 2 in our homes. Let’s make sure that our lives demonstrate to a lost and dying world that Christmas is Jesus. Christmas is about God sending His Son to save us from our greatest need so that we could be restored to a right relationship to God through faith in Jesus.

How sad would it be if we were guilty of being so busy with “Christmas” that we didn’t make room for Jesus? After all, without Jesus we really don’t have Christmas. Christmas is not about gifts under the tree, but about the gift that God gave on the tree so that we could have a personal relationship with God through His greatest gift, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s make sure that others clearly see in us that knowing Jesus is the only way to truly have a Merry Christmas.

From my family to yours, have a Jesus-filled Merry Christmas!

Pastor Mark

Isaiah 9:6

A word to College and Career Young Adults: I’m sorry!

nextlevel

I have the privilege of teaching some great college and career young adults every Sunday morning at 9:15 at LFBC. Yes, these young adults make it to small group Bible study at 9:15 on Sunday morning! Ministering specifically to these young adults has left some lingering thoughts in my heart and mind.

I begin by stating my apologies to college and career young adults. Generally speaking, the church puts a lot of emphasis in youth ministry (as we should), but when students graduate there is little to no emphasis for young adults. Is this not an important time in their lives? Do we really think that all that we did for them in youth ministry was enough?

Certainly the young adult stage is very important. There should be a ministry that continues on after youth ministry, a ministry that will help college and career with “the next level.” Most ministers would agree with me that there is an abundance of information received in our offices for children, youth, and senior adult ministries but rarely anything for young adults. I really don’t understand why this is the case, but the church doesn’t seem to be interested in young adults anymore. Perhaps we got the “numbers” out of them during their youth ministry years and now we’re “done” with them.  Maybe we no longer can use you to brag about how we’re doing it “right” because you have graduated? Whatever the reason, it’s a bad one.

The generation of 18-29 year olds has been labeled “the drop out” generation. Maybe we didn’t do as well as we “bragged” about when they were in youth ministry? Again, generally speaking, the church may be busy with many youth activities, but are these activities really changing lives and equipping students for the next chapter? Could it be that when students graduate they soon realize that what they received in youth ministry wasn’t relative for college and career? I’m convicted that a major restructure is in order in most youth ministries today. We need to stop asking questions like: Did everyone have a good time? Did we have a large turnout? How can we be popular? We need to ask only one question: Are lives being changed? All other questions are secondary.

The truth is that college and career young adults need ministry as much as they did when they were in middle school and high school. They need an environment of growing in their faith together, building each other up together, and supporting each other through the power of prayer. So I offer my sincere apologies to college and career young adults. You didn’t graduate from church when you graduated from high school and you certainly didn’t outgrow church. There is a place for you at LFBC.

Let’s Have Church!

I wonder how many of us as believers appreciate being a part of the church? When we keep in mind what the Apostle Peter wrote about the fact that we have been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, I believe we will maintain an appreciation for being a part of the family of God. The right perspective of how we are a part of the church will lead us to the right reason for meeting with other believers for worship. What is the right motivation? Jesus.

My fear today is that our motivation for meeting together at church is everything but the one main reason including: obligation, social reasons, entertainment, self-help therapy, feel good emotions…Certainly not all of the above are bad but they all have in common a focus on self and not a focus on Jesus. I believe that when Jesus is our motivation then we won’t attend out of obligation, we will enjoy socializing better, our entertainment will be healthy and Jesus will be honored and glorified, we will receive the ultimate self-help, and our emotions will be kept in check as opposed to being driven by emotions. What drives real, lasting help from God is receiving His Word in faithful obedience from a love relationship with Jesus. Does this sound anything like your experience at church?

My prayer is that we don’t treat church merely like a social event or a selfish experience but rather an encounter with the true and living God when Jesus is exalted and God’s Word is received in faithful obedience. Just like an old song I used to enjoy singing in choir years ago, “Let’s get together and praise the Lord, everybody make a joyful noise even though we’ve come together, from all over the earth. Let’s come together in one accord everyone that’s listening to my voice let’s get together, let’s have church!”

Your Powerful “God Story”

Want a powerful testimony? If you’ve been saved by faith in Jesus then you’ve got one! It’s great to hear dramatic testimonies, or “God stories,” of how God brought someone from addictions and changed them, but the reality is that it took the same grace and power of God to save someone who wasn’t brought from a life of addictions. We were all dead in our trespasses and sin but when we put our faith in Jesus we were literally brought from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-10)! Now that’s as dramatic as it gets! Praise God for His power to transform lives for His glory! Christians, let’s all tell our “God story” because our salvation is the greatest things we have! Let’s share it! “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As we continue to strive to be a lighthouse for Liberty here at LFBC, we must keep in mind that the best thing we can share with others is not about a pastor, great music, or even a great church, the best thing we can share with people is our “God story” of when we came to faith in Christ, and the difference Jesus continues to make in our lives. My fear is that we don’t talk about Jesus like we should because we either don’t know Him or we aren’t as close to Him as we ought to be. Like the Apostle Paul, we will never reach a level of complacently where we have obtained perfection, but we should keep growing and going forward in Jesus name that will show a steady change by the power of God (Philippians 3:12-14). The most powerful witness to a lost world in darkness is a changed life through a personal relationship with Christ. Do you know Him? Is He changing you? If so, let’s share the facts of what God is doing in your life because that is the best story that you can share!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Mark