Friday, December 31, 2010

Ready for a Comeback

Last night I was watching the Tarheels "comeback" on the Volunteers in the closing seconds while beginning a journey through Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson's book, Comeback Churches. I thought it was unique that they began with chapter 0 instead of chapter 1.

Chapter 0 was about "foundations". I found the chapter very helpful. It fits well alongside other resources available to pastors and churches such as "healthy church" initiatives like in my home state of NC and the most recent book Transformational Church (which is an excellent book as well). Chapter 0 was simply laid out in a format for anyone to understand.

The chapter is broken down into three primary categories: churches should be biblical, churches should be missional, and churches should be spiritual. Under each category, the authors briefly describe what that means in a meaningful and helpful way that is not overwhelming nor is it done in a way that "ties" their descriptions to any one particular context of church. They can be used over all contexts. Incidently, that is what I am finding most helpful about the "models" employed through our state conventions "healthy church" initiative and Transformational Church as well. The coach-approach in asking questions in the chapter is helpful as well. It helps the reader think through the concepts and statements without being told the answers for the reader in his/her context.

In many of the churches in the United States, it's time for a "comeback". Regardless of the reason, many have fallen behind in impacting their communities. Depending upon the stats that you read, the majority (anywhere from 75-85%) of churches are plateaued and declining--in membership and more importantly in the impact they are having on their communities. It is clear from the beginning of this book that becoming a "comeback church" is a journey, it's a process of beginning with one step, making a turn toward significance, gaining momentum, making progress in significant areas of church life (vision, structure, strategy, or values--thanks NC Baptist), often making some difficult decisions along the way, maybe re-inventing ourselves for a new day according to how the community has changed around us, honestly evaluating where we are, having a "cathartic" moment (just learned what that word meant a few months ago), and believing that God is in the "comeback" business with his people as we respond to His call to be the church he is calling us to be repentance, faith, trust and obedience to His Word, particularly the Great Commission (cf. Revelation 2-3). All of this must be grounded in God's Word and a "prayerful dependence" (from Transformational Church) upon the Holy Spirit of God knowing that apart from His work in our lives, personally and corporately, we will not survive nor thrive. We must come to a point where we are broken in our spirits over the condition of our churches refusing to play the games we have played for so long.

Yeah, my Heels made a comeback last night. Some things fell into their favor near the end of regulation and their were some mistakes made by the other team. It happened so fast, it was pretty hard to believe. Life is a vapor. My time on earth is short. The opportunity to shepherd God's people toward becoming the church He desires for them to be, not according to "my" vision, but according to scripture is now. Sure, God isn't in a hurry, but he has called me to fulfill the responsibilities that he has given me by his grace and through his Spirit while it's still called today to shepherd his people along the journey to become what one writer calls a "church of irresistible influence" in our community for the sake of the kingdom of God and fame of the name of Jesus. We don't have time to play games--this isn't a temporary bowl game, there's no Gatorade coming down on our heads. There's so much more at stake.

Are you ready for a comeback?

An Ugly Picture

In Romans 3:9-20, Paul provides us with a most grotesque picture of our un-holiness apart from grace. These verses parallel those found in Ephesians 2:1-3. Both places are succinct descriptions of the extent of the fall of mankind into sin (cf. Genesis 3). Ever since the fall, mankind has been running away from God with a rebellious and stubborn heart and truly does not "want" anything to do with the one true God. We seek substitutes to fill the void and try to find alternative gods of our own making, ones that we can control and manipulate (cf. Romans 1).

It is a great joy to know that Romans 3 does not end in v. 20 and Ephesians 2 does not end with v. 3. God's work of regeneration in the heart of a person by the Holy Spirit is truly nothing short of a miracle. God takes a spiritually cold & dead heart and awakens it by grace to His great love and mercy. He imparts spiritual life into the spiritually dead. What mercy and what grace!

Rejoice this morning that God, by his marvelous grace, can take this ugly picture and turn it into a masterpiece with the "touch of the master's hand".

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Desires and Actions

Just read this from William Barclay: "Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a  certain driving emotion in his heart. He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so long as that desire is in his heart he is not safe. It may at any time explode into ruinous action"

God, save me from myself.


Thought this was an excellent quote about "devotional" books:

"Devotional guides tend to offer short, personal readings from the Bible, sometimes only a verse or two, followed by several paragraphs of edifying exposition. Doubtless they provide personal help for believers with private needs, fears, and hopes. But they do not provide the framework of what the Bible says—the “plotline” or “story line”—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible. Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of some Scriptures, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture, which is gradually fading from view. Only systematic and repeated reading of the whole Bible can meet these challenges." DA Carson

Something from the blogosphere this morning

Practicing Hospitality (what a great way to minister & build relationships with people)

Books from and about Church History (looking for a good book to read, pick one from this list)

Dropbox application (interesting way to share documents)

Holy, Holy, Holy (great reminder of the holiness of God in poem form)

A Bible Reading plan on steroids (check it out, you might like it)

Resolutions from a Worship Perspective (good thoughts here)

Where there is no encounter (excellent post about "community" and what it means for churches)

I pray that you will enjoy these.

Some reflections from my reading this morning

Romans 2:24 - "for as it is written, 'the name of God is blasphemed (spoken against) among the gentiles because of you"

Are people trampling the name of Christ because they see a disconnect in our lives between the Jesus we "profess" and the lifestyle we live? Our lifestyle (that is, of holiness--conformity to the will and character of God) is not our only witness, but it gives credibility to our verbal witness and proclamation of the gospel.

Romans 2:28-29 - "for no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God"

Neither being of natural, physical descent of a Christian nor the external participation in religious rituals makes one a Christian, but a heart whose trust is solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ upon the cross in our place and for our sins. Externals of religious activity are not the incontrovertible evidence of true faith or right standing before a holy God, but the condition and direction of one's heart through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Exchange We Don't Want to Make

Romans 1:25 - "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."

It's disturbing when so many evil things are going on around us, but then we take a deep look inside ourselves only to discover that the greater evil is in our own heart (Genesis 6:1-8). The idolatry spoken of by Paul in Romans 1 is deadly, damaging, and destructive. And, we are all prone to stumbles into this idolatry, including Christians. We all have the potential to "serve created things rather than the creator". This can happen within the church as well. We have the potential to serve our traditions, our man-made systems & structures, our own methodologies, our programs, as if they are "ends" in themselves. Now, is it wrong to have traditions, or structures or systems or methodologies or programs? No, as long as they are "servants" to the mission of the church and do not become masters. Instead of these "things" being "tools" & "servants", they can become the masters. And, as I am learning, they make terrible masters. They distract us from that which is most important to our lives as Christians and as churches. These things become what we focus on even if they no longer function in a way that serves the mission of the church, and therefore, the mission takes back seat. They also become the triggers for quarrels and backbiting and power struggles (James 4:1-2) within the church, which fuels broken relationships and unnecessary conflict.

How can we detect that these things might becoming masters instead of servants? Think about what would happen if we try to change one of them in the least little bit. Our idol becomes threatened and we get defensive, we try to hold on to our idol for security and stability and significance and meaning. All of those things we are supposed to find in Jesus, and in Him alone, aren't we?

Certainly, we can all agree that this kind of mentality is not "healthy" for the church, her mission, nor God's kingdom. And, unfortunately, the change that is necessary is not external, but internal. We may change the "way" we do things, but if the heart does not change, the "new way of doing things" will eventually become a "new master" one day--a vicious cycle that only has one cure--the gospel--a consistent exposing of ourselves to the gospel of God's sufficient grace demonstrated most completely and fully in the person and work of Jesus, a consistent calling back for us to be gospel-centered and cross-centered in everything we do and every decision we make.

I read this quote this morning from James Montgomery Boice: "Our hope, then, is Jesus, the Son of God. His death was for those who deserve God's wrath. And his death was fully adequate, because Jesus not need die for his own sins--he was sinless--and because, being God, his act was of infinite magnitude"

We all have the potential and propensity toward this kind of idolatry, including pastors, maybe even especially pastors. For us pastors, it probably takes a different form, but nonetheless, it is "crouching at the door". It is crouching at the door of many churches today. And, unfortunately, it has already pounced on some churches and they are being strangled to death by its grip.

For the sake of His mission and our assignment...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Set Ablaze

Read this from Oswald Chambers this morning:

"From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory."

The above is from the updated language one. I prefer, in this case, the other version in the last part of the sentence: "or we become more and more ablaze for the glory of God".

As we approach the end of 2010, in which direction is our Christian life heading? Are we becoming a useless branch (cf. John 15:1-8) or are our hearts becoming "more ablaze" for the glory of God?

Not sure? That's why there is grace; "grace, grace, God's grace; grace that is greater than all my sin." Not only forgiving grace, but enabling and empowering grace.

Father, set my heart ablaze for your glory today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Just read this quote by Leonard Ravenhill about prayer:

"Poverty-stricken as the church is today in many things she is the most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few prayers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere."


Thursday, December 23, 2010


For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
(Gal 5:13-15)

It is always interesting to hear people talk about things in the church. It seems to me that it is very easy to determine the mentality of a church by the language that is used to talk about what has gone on in the church and what is going on in the church. What is that language? It has to do with two very small words, pronouns to be exact (NOOOO, not parts of speech. Yes!). 

What are they? "We" and "they".

When we become part of the body of Christ expressed in the visible participation in a local church, there is no more "they". From now on, it is "we". Even if a person serves on a different committee from someone else, it is still "we". The use of language containing "we" and "they" instead of "we" exclusively reflects a mentality of competition instead of family. It reflects a competition of ideas and opinions and "ways of doing things" that, if not kept in check, eventually begins to resemble a democratic bureaucracy rather than a New Testament church that reflects the "body of Christ" or the "family of God". It also can reflect a refusal to take responsibility for action or non-action on a particular matter, whatever that matter may be. 

Unfortunately, one of the places this shows its ugly head is between "pastors" & "churches". Pastors are notorious for saying "we" when things go well (usually the way the pastor wants them to go) and "they" when things don't go so well. It's pretty sad because I thought "we" were in the same business, the Kingdom of God, right? Sure, we (pastors) may give the reason for our use of that language as "I'm just an outsider", but in reality maybe it's probably more about "us" (pastors) vs. "them" (congregation) because we all know how churches can be, right (sarcasm)? Maybe it's just the "power struggle" mentality that already exists in pastors & churches? Again, how sad the games we play as God's people--congregations and pastors alike. Maybe it has something to do with our view and practice of church, but that's a discussion for another day. Maybe it has something to do with the reality of sin in our hearts. Maybe...

However, it shows itself in the members of a local church as well. it may even exist before a new pastor comes to serve. Herein is the issue of competition again. Instead being "in this together", it becomes more about control and power and keeping guard. Splintered relationships are produced. On the surface, a family atmosphere might be present, but the deep, abiding relationships aren't there. In this environment of competition within the church, distrust, disloyalty, judging of motives, envy, jealousy, selfish ambition, cynicism, manipulation, and deception are bred and a vicious cycle of sin is begun. It festers and festers until this "way of doing church" becomes the norm and nobody seems to know another way because it becomes so en-grained in the culture of the church, it's hard to recognize that there's a better way (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).

The answer--the gospel. Confession and repentance are the cure--personally and corporately. Reconciliation is the result. Focus and clarification on the Great Commission is the goal. "We" are in "this" together. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simplicity of New Testament Church

I read this post just yesterday. It reflects many of my sentiments concerning the complexities of "church life" today that have "institutionalized" the church to the point that we have become "paralyzed", and even worse--more concerned about the "institutionalized" part than the mission we've been given.

Here it is...even if you disagree with any or all of his points, ponder them and ask, "how much more could we do for the kingdom if we were much simpler in our churches with regard to, well, everything?"

This morning, Dave Black (Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 7:38 a.m.) shared a comparison/contrast of today’s church with the church that we see in the Book of Acts.

He says:
Much of what we call “church” today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.
  • The Lord’s Supper has changed from a celebration to a ceremony.
  • Worship has changed from participation to observation.
  • Witness has changed from relationship to salesmanship.
  • Leadership has changed from servanthood to professionalism.
  • Mission has changed from being missionaries to supporting missionaries.
  • Body life has changed from edification to entertainment.
  • Buildings have changed from functional to sacred.
  • Child care has changed from the hands of parents to the hands of strangers.
The book of Acts shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.


Matthew 12:33-35 "...for a tree is known by its fruit..."

If the "fruit" coming from the tree of my life is not matching up with the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16-26), what does that mean?

At least two conclusions:

One, either I'm not a Christian. Sure, even a non-Christian can have a "flash" of "common grace", but nothing sustainable can ever be produced by "human effort and willpower" alone, at least not in any true spiritual sense.


Two, I'm a Christian who is temporarily and miserably (note the word "temporarily") not walking in the Spirit. We all stumble (slip up) at times when we are off our guard (James 3:2).

A very convicting question for me from my devotions this morning: "If you have children, what would they say?"

Am I walking in the Spirit? Am I being led by the Spirit? Am I being influenced by the Spirit? Am I yielding to the Spirit? Am I obeying Jesus?

What kind of "fruit" is being produced?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Revelation 3:21

Revelation 3:21 - the one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne

What an awesome promise in the midst of one of the most devastating letters to a church. The love of Jesus for his church was being demonstrated through "reproof and discipline". Jesus was trying to get into "his" church and the people of Laodicea didn't even know He had left. He was standing outside the door and knocking to get in. Jesus desired fellowship and relationship with his people, but they had grown cold to his affection and his presence. They had begun to trust themselves, their ingenuity, their appearance...instead of the Holy Spirit and his infinite supply of resources.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Are we listening?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Power of the Gospel

From Oswald Chambers this morning:

"The gospel of God creates a sense of need for the gospel"

"It is God who creates the need of which no human being is conscious until God manifests Himself"

"Nothing can satisfy the need but that which created the need. This is meaning of redemption--it creates and it satisfies."

We don't even know we need the gospel until God creates that need in us. Then, with great love and grace, he supplies for the need that He himself created in us. "Salvation belongs to our God..."

Were it not for the grace of God to create my sense of need, I would never know the one who could meet my need.

"Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord, 
Take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above"

Strengthened and weakened churches

I read the following in my bible study this morning:

"What makes a strong family? When siblings recognize clearly their commonalities in having the same heritage, and also honor their distinctive differences as individuals. What makes a strong church? When believers acknowledge their common faith, and enter into a giving and receiving relationship with others, when it comes to the function fo their life empowered by the Holy Spirit. What weakens a family? When siblings regard one another as rivals, never fully believing that the parents love each child equally. What weakens a church? When members begin to compete against one another, striving to gain more spiritual power or influence." (Blackaby)

The games of jockeying for position of influence and power and control within "institutionalized" churches played by many members are a detriment to the body of Christ. It reflects a "selfish ambition" and an "ownership" mentality that the Apostle Paul would condemn (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). This kind of mentality disrupts the unity of the church and distracts the church from her primary purpose to "make disciples". Oftentimes, these attitudes are couched in language that seem to express "love" for the church or done in the name of "good leadership", but in reality this language is deceptive and manipulative so as to keep hold of one's "sway" & "control" over the members of the church for selfish gain.

What's the cure? Humility and repentance, from pastors who think they own the church they serve with a bull in a china shop mentality and from members who think "membership" or "family lineage" means "ownership".

What is the Spirit saying to the churches? (cf. Revelation 1-3)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reflections from Malachi 3

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
(Mal 3:1-4)

What does the Lord need to "refine" in our lives that we might be a "pleasing" offering in his sight? What does the Lord need to "refine" in our churches that we might be a "pleasing" offering in his sight? (i.e., Ephesians 5:26-27)

In order for the "dross" and the "impurities" to be eliminated from our lives, the fire must be at right temperature. We must trust the one who sits as the refiner who makes sure the temperature is just right. Sometimes the process is painful, but it is necessary for us to be "recreated" in the image of Jesus. At times it involves the judgment of God, the conviction of the Holy Spirit over our sin, and the response of confession & repentance from us. The process involves moving deeper into the gospel. This applies not only to individuals, but also to local churches (i.e., Acts 5:1-11). We are God's people through whom God desires to work and reach the nations.

Remember the words of Job 23:10 - "but he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold"

Then, Malachi 3:16-18 - Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. "They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. 

Where am I in this process of refining? Where is my church? What is the Spirit saying to the churches?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections from Malachi 1

"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?' By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the LORD's table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.
(Mal 1:6-8)

Though we do not offer blood sacrifices any more because is the "once for all" sacrifice for our sins, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices according to Romans 12:1-2. Everything we do, say, and think is an act or expression of worship to God. Therefore, in the same way that the "sacrifices" in the OT were expressions of worship and the offering of blemished or less than the best of one's flock to God was condemned by God, how can we think that God is pleased today when we "offer ourselves" in expressions of worship in such a way that does not reflect the greatness and worth of Jesus Christ?

Because of the worth and value and supremacy of Jesus, He deserves our very best. He deserves that we strive for excellence in everything we do as Christians and everything we do as a church. Does that mean perfection? No, because we are fallible humans, but that is not an excuse for us not to give our very best to the one died in our place and for our sins as an offering of worship to His great name. It is not an excuse to fulfill our calling in life with a half-hearted commitment. It is not an excuse for us to "do ministry" with an "oh, well" attitude.

Though giving our best effort in following Jesus does not earn the favor of God, the intensity of our effort and the motivation for our effort certainly does reflect what we think of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.

Is Jesus not worthy of our best as a response of worship to His sacrifice for us?

Friday, November 26, 2010


Having talked about pursuing holiness in the last two sermons on Sunday morning to some degree or another, here is a helpful post that lists several motivations for that pursuit based upon a study of 2 Peter:

Motivations for Pursuing Holiness

Enjoy reading today as the turkey slowly fades away...hopefully.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Genuine Ministry

First, it is important to understand that every Christian is a "minister". What is different is the "role" in ministry that one plays. The unhealthy degree to which "clergy" has been distinguished from "laity" over the years, I believe, is an unintended by-product of not teaching fully what the scriptures regard as a "calling" for every Christians to be a "minister."

With that being said, during my personal bible study this morning, drawing from 2 Corinthians 6, Henry Blackaby gave a list of several marks of a mature minister's profile.

Here they are:
- patient with others and with the unfolding of the plan of God
- willing to endure tribulations, and times of intense needs or stress
- faithful even if publicly punished or imprisoned
- calm in times of intense conflict
- willing to work hard and put in long hours
- engaging frequently in fasting and prayer
- a life of purity
- studying God's word diligently
- bearing with "difficult others" and showing kindness to them
- led by the Holy Spirit
- expressing sincere love
- giving to others the truth of God in the power of God
- a righteous life
- steady even if ridiculed or overlooked
- steady even if given great honor or recognition
- countering all lies with an exemplary life
- knowing that God sees all and is the final judge of all
- having assurance of "riches in glory" and authority in Christ Jesus
- having confidence of God's love and eternal life regardless of persecutions

As I reflected upon these statements, several questions came to mind:
1. In what areas do I need to grow?
2. In what areas does God want to stretch me?
3. How can I cultivate an attitude of "life-long learning & growing" as a disciple toward spiritual maturity?
4. How can I know that I am growing toward spiritual maturity?

It is my prayer that this "profile" and these questions will be helpful in evaluating our spiritual progress for the Lord.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What are we laboring for?

John 6:27 says, “Do not labor for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give to you. For on him the Father has his seal.”

Then, in my personal bible study of John’s gospel, Henry Blackaby wrote the following. I’m reproducing it in its entirety for our edification. Read slowly and take it all in. Then, spend some time in John 6 for meditation and reflection on the depth of what Jesus is saying to us and the application that Blackaby makes to our daily lives.

“The sign in the restaurant said in large letters, ‘we serve slow food, not fast food.’ In smaller type were these words: ‘We spend hours preparing our meats by a slow-cook method. We take hours to chop up the freshest ingredients to make our salads every day. We bake our own bread and make our own desserts. We have only three employees to take your order, put together, your order in the kitchen, and serve you. If you have the time, we’ll provide for you a great meal. If you don’t have the time, come back. We’re worth waiting for. But no, we can’t ‘hurry it up’ on demand.’ The restaurant does a steady business, but it will never become a franchised chain or serve hundreds of people a day. It is too slow to jockey for position in life’s fast lane. We live in a world that demands immediate gratification at every turn! We want fast food, even though we prefer the taste of slow food. We seem irresistibly drawn as a culture to purchase lottery tickets and pursue get-rich-quick schemes. We admire and desire overnight success. We want to earn academic degrees in less and less time, regardless of what is or isn’t learned. We want to get something right the first time we try it. We want to fall in love at first sight and if things don’t work out, get a quick divorce at a low cost. We want wars to end forty-eight hours after they are started, crimes to be resolved in real life at the pace of a prime-time television show, and to have at age twenty all it took our parents or grandparents a lifetime to acquire. What about our spiritual life? How long should it take for a person to become spiritually mature? How long should it take for God to answer your prayer? How long should a preacher preach or a teacher teach? How long should a church service last? How long is long enough to spend reading your bible? How long is long enough to pray?”

What are we laboring for?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Reformation and the Ordinances

Happy Reformation Day! It was October 31, 1517 when the monk Martin Luther nailed his now-famous 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg. Martin Luther desired to reform the church, but historians tell us that he wanted to do it from the inside. He did not desire to divide the church into various groups. He wanted to begin a conversation about many of the things that were happening in the church he believed were not in keeping with the scriptures.

Well, the conversation started and the reformation began. And, now we stand as “protestants”, spiritual descendents of the reformation some 500 years later. Out of the “protestant reformation”, a variety of protestant denominations came into existence. There are Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and others.

Some of the most heated debates among the founders and early leaders of what we now call “denominations” were over baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church governance, and the relationship between the church and the state (government).

We began our journey talking about some of these subjects this past Wednesday night as we began to discuss baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This coming Wednesday, we are planning to explore the subject of baptism. 

Over the next several weeks, we are planning to answer questions such as:
·         Why do we not baptize infants?
·         Why do we believe in believers’ baptism and baptism by immersion?
·         What are the differences between Baptists and other denominations with respect to baptism?
·         Are our differences valid reasons for not “fellowshipping” with other denominations?

As we learn about our spiritual heritage, particularly about two of our Baptist contributions to the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, I hope that you will consider joining us each Wednesday as we study these very important subjects.

I hope that these discussions and studies will prompt us and motivate us to study our bibles so that we might be able to know better what we believe and why we believe it.

Happy Reformation Day!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Transformation in Discipleship

At the heart of discipleship is “transformation”, the transformation of the believer into the “image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). In fact, that is our aim in everything that we do: to see people surrender to Jesus as Lord and be consistently transformed into His likeness.

The context of that transformation is the local church, the body of Christ, the community of believers who have committed themselves together as an identifiable group of believers for the purpose of mutual edification and mission in their community and beyond.

I want to share a few quotes this week from a friend of mine to help us think about the God-given means of “transformation” that are available to us in the context of the local church and her ministries. Here are three of them:

“Transformation takes place when a surrendered disciple understands the role of the Holy Spirit and lives daily with a fresh awareness of his power and presence, and regularly engages wholeheartedly in meaningful, God-focused worship experiences.”

“Transformation takes place as a surrendered disciple nurtures his relationship with God by consistently growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, increasingly reflecting His attitudes, behaviors and character in every aspect of life.”

“Transformation takes place when a surrendered disciple pursues the daily spiritual disciplines of personal prayer, Bible study, and reflection; recognizes every resource comes from God and is to be used generously for Kingdom priorities and purposes; practices God-honoring servanthood and develops personal life management skill within the context of a safe and affirming group of like-minded believers who are accountable to one another.”

Now, I would like to ask us a question: are we availing ourselves to these God-given means of grace for our transformation in a consistent manner?

These are some very thought-provoking statements, aren’t they? They help us to think through and process the “transformation” that is happening in our lives, or the lack of it. Transformation doesn’t just automatically happen. Certainly, it is by grace through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives believers the desire for transformation and draws believers to those means of biblical transformation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Going Back

God gave me an awesome privilege yesterday. I was able to be the guest speaker at Seven Springs Baptist Church in Seven Springs, NC. To some, that isn't very significant, but for me, it was. You see, when I was about 10 years old, my dad received a call to be the pastor there at Seven Springs Baptist Church back in 1984. Yes, that was a long time ago. Those two years there were significant in my life as a preacher's kid--even when I got in trouble! The relationships and the memories that were built have never left me. And, yesterday, I got to stand behind the same podium that my dad stood behind over 20 years ago and share God's word with people whom I love. And, I believe that God used those brief years there to shape and mold me for where he would take me in years to come.

And yesterday, God, by his grace and providence, gave me the opportunity to go back and be the homecoming speaker. It was great! The building was in a different place because of flooding. But, in so many ways, it still felt like home for me--getting to see Sunday school teachers that put up with me and seeing childhood friends with whom I "ran" the neighborhood--from one end to the other. You see, Seven Springs is a small town right on the Neuse River. So small in fact, we could ride our bikes from my house (the parsonage) to a friend's house on the other end of town in, oh....about 5 minutes--the only obstacle--main street, but it wasn't usually too busy. What great times--playing GIJoe in the back yard, playing basketball, riding our bikes, being able to walk the entire town on Halloween to trick or treat, going "down to the river" under the bridge, or just standing around waiting for the bus playing soccer at 7 AM. Memories and friendships like that are very important to me as a preacher's kid who moved several times. Some people stay in the same town all their lives; that wasn't the case for me. Maybe that's why I hang on to memories like that. I've always had an affinity for that kind of small town; I don't know, maybe it's the country boy in me that you can't get rid of.

Needless to say, being there yesterday was very special to me. Some of the folks I hadn't seen in 24 years. Yet, there was still a sense of family. Yeah, I know, I was a kid back then, but the people loved my family and me--and I could still sense it yesterday. My eyes are watering right now because of thinking about those times and the friendships that were made. After yesterday and with the advancement in technology (Facebook), now I can get back in touch with many of those friends. I probably will need to apologize to some of them if I was mean to them back then--I'm sorry if I was. I know we were just kids, but...

So, thank you Seven Springs Baptist Church for the hospitality, love, and friendship you showed my family and me--back in the 1980s and yesterday.

May God grant you the grace to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." I love you all.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Detecting Our Idols

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reading Tim Keller’s book, “Counterfeit Gods”, and now I am nearing the end of the book. So far, the ending has been the most provocative as the Holy Spirit is using it to examine my heart for the hidden idols that are there.

Here a few statements from the book’s epilogue:

Idolatry is “what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart”. (p. 165)

“Idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.” (p. 165-166)

“Idolatry is not simply a form of ritual worship, but a whole sensibility and pattern of life based on finite values and making created things into godlike substitutes.” (p. 166)

One thing is for certain: everyone worships something or someone. We are all worshipers. Everyone gives his allegiance to someone or something. Everyone finds security, significance, and importance in someone or something. Ultimately, if it isn’t Jesus, then that thing, whatever it is, is an idol.

What changes is not whether we worship or not, but the object of our worship. Piggy backing off of what Keller says above, our fundamental problem is that we assign ultimate value to things and people that only Jesus rightly deserves.

I believe it was John Calvin who said, “The human heart is a factory of idols...Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”

Well, what do we do about these idols? How can we detect these idols?

Keller offer four ways:

Check our imagination – “what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?” (p. 168)

How we spend our money – “your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love.” (p. 168)

How we respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes – “but when you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.” (p. 169)

Our most uncontrollable emotions – “look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong” (p. 169

May God’s Holy Spirit transform our hearts and replace our idols with the supreme greatness of Jesus.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vision for Transformation

I began reading a book this week entitled “Tranformational Church” by Ed Stezter and Thom Rainer. The basic idea is that as a disciple-making missional community of believers our primary goal in aiming for the glory of Jesus Christ is to see transformation taking place in people’s lives.

They say, “transformation is at the heart of God’s mission to humanity” (p. 3). Certainly, this is taken right out of Romans 8:29, “for whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Through the power of the gospel, God takes a life that is ruined by sin and transforms it into “his workmanship” for His glory.

God’s agent and tool for accomplishing this is through the disciple-making missional community of believers called the church.


“The alternative to this biblically-mandated transformation is to pick a rut and make it deeper. And this is just what many churches have done, preferring, even if not consciously, repetition or even stagnation. As leaders, we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that just managing the status quo is good enough. Some leaders take the merry-go-around approach to church. They think that is they can just keep everyone moving, the flashing lights shining bright, and the music happy, they won’t get any complaints. Some leaders try to take the “don’t rock the boat approach” approach. They think that if we all remain very still in the boat, it won’t turn over. But it also won’t go anywhere.” (p. 3)

“Rather than missionary disciples for Christ going into the world, we have a group of people content to go in circles.” (p. 3)

All of this had gotten me thinking about us as a church. Have we caught this kind of vision for our church—to be a disciple-making missional community of believers who desire & seek to cultivate transformation by the power of the gospel & the Holy Spirit in the lives of our members and our community?

“I can only imagine…” what the Lord wants to do through us for the sake of His kingdom. Let’s dream together for the future that God has for us…catch the vision…transformational church!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fellowship of the Unshamed

I used this in the sermon yesterday. May it motivate all followers of Jesus to give him our all:

We are part of the fellowship of the unashamed. We have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. We have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. We are disciples of His. We won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

Our past is redeemed, our present makes sense, our future is secure. We’re finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

We no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. We don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. We now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

Our faces are set, our gait is fast, our goal is heaven, our road is narrow, our way rough, our companions few, our Guide reliable, our mission clear. We cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed.

We will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

We won’t give up, shut up, let up, until we have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up, for the cause of Jesus. We are disciples of Jesus. We must go till He comes, give till we drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops us. And when He comes for His own. He will have no problems recognizing us – our banner will be clear.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Church Discipline, part 7

Last week, we touched on the qualities or characteristics that must be present in order for a church to practice church discipline in a God-honoring, Christ-exalting manner.

The natural question that comes to many people’s minds is this: What conditions or circumstances would require the exercising of church discipline, specifically corrective church discipline?

Formative discipline should be taking place consistently through small group discipleship classes like Sunday school and through one to one relationships where “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). These relationships need to be cultivated so that we can lovingly confront sins in each other’s lives in order that we might all grow toward Christ-likeness (Matthew 7:1-5). We all have “rough edges” and “blind spots” in our character formation where we need others to lovingly admonish and exhort us toward the gospel to overcome those sins.

However, there are times when a person who has been confronted about their sin and refuses to confess and repent of that sin. There are several factors that would determine the proper course of action in a particular set of circumstances on a larger scale.

The following must be evaluated by much prayer and scripture investigation:
  • ·         The ongoing nature of the sin
  • ·         The public or private nature of the sin
  • ·         The attitude of the wayward church member
  • ·         The effect the sin is having on the church (unity, fellowship, and witness)

Evaluating the answers to these questions are helpful in deciding what the proper course of action is in the particular situation.

Christ Fellowship Church in Kansas City uses the following categories to guide them through this process of determining the course of action to take:
·                     Minor Faults
·                     Unverifiable sins (gossip)
·                     Personal Offenses
·                     Public Disobedience
·                     Insufferable wickedness

One thing that must be said is that God hates all sins. We try to separate “big” sins from “little” sins, but there really is no distinction. The distinction can only be made with respect to the immediate consequences of one sin versus another. All sin is ultimately against God (Psalm 51:4).

Next week…the conclusion to our series on Church Discipline.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some more to ponder...

7 Principles to avoid burnout (good to remember, especially for me)

Congregations Gone Wild (thought this was interesting)

On the blogs for 8/12/2010

Overcoming Laziness (some practical tips I thought were helpful)

The Compound Effect (thought this was insightful as well)

Church Discipline, part 6

If we are going to practice church discipline in a biblically healthy way, what are some things that must be present in our church to do so?

Here is a list of attitudes & characteristics we must cultivate and realizations we must come to and understandings we must possess and scripture references to consider:
·                     Love, honesty, openness, vulnerability, humility
·                     Concern for the holiness of God (Acts 5:1-11 and Hebrews 12:14)
·                     Concern for the testimony of Jesus to our community (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)
·                     Biblical understanding of church membership—what does it mean to be part of the family?
·                     Understanding that we are all on a journey toward a destination that none of us has reached—guarding against jugdmentalism (Matthew 7:1-5)
·                     Realization that discipline, including corrective discipline, is for our good (Hebrews 12:3-11)
·                     Guardrails & boundaries & accountability (w/o being legalistic, but for protection) to keep us from straying (Ephesians 4:15 and 25)
·                     Submissive attitudes toward one another (Eph. 5:21)
·                     Recognition of the authority of the local church over her members; we belong to each other (Matthew 18:15-20)
·                     Recognition of the inter-dependence of the local church (1 Cor. 12)
·                     Motivated by love & restoration for the individual (Galatians 6:1-2)
·                     Culture of peacemaking in our church; willingness to do the hard work of confrontation & reconciliation (Matthew 5:9, 21-26)
Several of these scripture references could overlap to other points.

I would like to encourage us this week individually to think about these points and then evaluate our church with respect to the presence of these characteristics in our church. Are we cultivating this kind of atmosphere in our church? Are there areas where we are healthy? Are there areas that need to be strengthened? Are we healthy in this particular area of church life?

Pray about it. How can we move toward healthiness in this area?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Church Discipline, part 5

We are continuing our series on church discipline this week. I pray that these are informative and thought-provoking as we seek to be a healthy church in loving one another toward godliness.

Today, we continue looking at more common objections to the practice of church discipline. We examined three last week and will examine two more this week.

A fourth common objection to practicing church discipline is the attitude, “it’s not any of your business.” Ultimately, the underlying cause of this attitude is pride. It does not express the humility that Jesus calls all Christians to exhibit within the church. This objection also comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be part of a local church and is fueled by an overemphasis on the individual’s “rights” that is promoted by the American individualistic mindset that is pervasive in our culture. In the body of Christ of Christ, we belong to one another. 
We are not islands, nor do we live unto ourselves. We are all on a journey toward becoming like Christ and honoring him with our lives. We need each other to encourage, exhort, and admonish us toward godliness. We all have blind spots that hinder our progress in spiritual growth. We need each other to lovingly point out areas that need attention as we walk with Jesus.

A fifth common objection to practicing church discipline is a general desensitization in churches to how much God hates sin. It was our sin that Jesus died for. Many people have forgotten how deceptive and destructive sin is in our lives, even what we call “little” sins (there really is no such thing). We forget that sin in the life of a Christian has detrimental effects on the effectiveness of a church in reaching the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All sin harms the body of Christ. However, the consequences of on-going unrepentant sin in the body of Christ cause strife, discontentment, disunity, distractions, and harm to the body of Christ and her witness of the gospel. It has the potential to destroy the church. It is like an infectious disease for which there is only one cure—the cross of Jesus.

Of course, we have not exhausted all the objections that could be raised, nor have we examined these objections extensively.

Our goal through this series is to help us grow toward a healthy view of church discipline. Church discipline is a Jesus-commanded biblical practice. It is our responsibility to obey Jesus as the Holy Spirit guides. We have been given sufficient principles to guide us in this endeavor for the health of the church.

Next week, Lord willing, we will begin looking at the characteristics and biblical attitudes that accompany the healthy practice of church discipline. Tune in next week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Church Discipline, part 4

This week, let’s look at a few common objections to the practice of church discipline.

One of the most common objections is that we are not to judge others. This is usually quoted from Matthew 7:1 – “judge not that you be not judged.” It is true that Jesus is declaring a certain kind of judgment off limits, but not any and all judgment. One of the things that many fail to do is to read all of what Jesus says in this passage. He calls his disciples in this passage not to be hypocrites. He says in v. 5, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” He condemns hypocritical judgment of a person who fails to deal with his/her personal sin before dealing with another brother or sister’s. It is also helpful to review Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

Another common objection is the statement, “God is love.” No one who believes in the practice of church discipline will deny the veracity of that statement. The bible declares that one of the expressions of God’s love is discipline—formative and corrective—in the lives of his children. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” The absence of discipline from the Lord actually reveals that the person is not one of God’s children.

One more common objection for this week is the humanistic perspective: “We’re all humans. We all make mistakes.” In one sense that might be true. However, when it is used in the context of a discussion on church discipline, it is usually delivered in such a way as to “excuse” the sinner from any responsibility for his/her sin with respect to the body of Christ and without any attempt at dealing with the sin by calling the person to confession and repentance from that sin as the bible instructs us to.

These are three common objections to the practice of church discipline. We will examine three more possible objections next week.

Church discipline, if done rightly, can be a beautiful process for the person caught in sin, for the church, and for the watching world to demonstrate the application of God’s holiness and His love in the life of the church.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Church Discipline, part 3

This week, we are continuing our reflection on the subject of church discipline. We began last week to look at several biblical purposes for God’s institution of church discipline.

Today, we will finish out that list. We got through five, so here are six, seven, and eight.

Sixth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the spiritual health of the church body. Through formative and corrective measures (see part 1 for explanation of these two types of discipline), discipline is essential to being a healthy church. Un-repented of sins, in my life or any believers’ life, is detrimental to the spiritual health of the body of Christ; it is like a disease that if left un-checked could destroy that local church. It is my conviction that if we (church members & leadership) were better equipped in mutually accountable and edifying relationships, much of the angst over church discipline would be eliminated because the difficult conversations that needed to take place would be taking place on a small group level (cf. Matthew 18:15-20—notice the first part of that text).

Seventh, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the corporate witness of the church to the gospel. How many times have we heard stories of people saying, “there are too many hypocrites in the church.” 
Unfortunately, there is a reputation like this for many people who are part of a church. And, unfortunately, there is some truth in that statement. Formative & corrective discipline helps the world to see that we, the church, seek to live what we say we believe. And, though, we may not do it perfectly, we are striving in that direction. The purity & health of the church body is an outworking of the effect the gospel is having on a particular church.

Eighth, the right practice of church discipline is necessary for the obedience to Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church. He has given us instructions to practice church discipline in all the forms as is necessary depending upon the circumstances. Jesus has also given us the authority to practice church discipline, and in the corrective form if necessary.

Next week, we will discuss some common objections that are offered against the practice of church discipline. We’ll deal with each one briefly in their context.

Jesus desires for his church to be spiritually healthy. One of the means of God’s grace to cultivate that spiritual health is the right practice of church discipline in obedience to his commands.

What happens when we die?

Here is a transcribed outline of yesterday's sermon entitled, "Do Ghosts Really Whisper?" from 2 Corinthians 5:1-10--

I.             Introduction
a.    Title: TV show, Ghost Whisperer (similar to Medium and Supernatural)
                                          i.    Star has the ability to see & communicate w/ the “spirits” of people who have died
                                         ii.    “Spirits” have not “crossed over” into their final resting place
                                        iii.    Must resolve something from their earthly life; star helps them do this
b.    John Edward’s Crossover
                                          i.    Goes around the country to help people “contact” & “communicate with” relatives who have passed away
c.    How do we evaluate these issues as we encounter them in our culture?
d.    How should we, as Christians, respond to the issues of death, the grave, and beyond as they are presented in our culture?
e.    What does the bible say about these subjects?
II.           Couple of qualifications as we get started
a.    Emotional subject & I want to be sensitive
b.    At the same time, I want to exhort us to find hope& peace in dealing w/ death not in the pop culture of our day, but in Jesus and the scriptures—not that the grief will suddenly vanish, but that Jesus is sufficient for whatever we face
c.    That the scriptures would shape our thinking on these issues; guard against misconceptions about death & what happens when we die that are pervasive in our culture
III.         Nature of man
a.    Vv. 1 & 4 – “tent” as an analogy for our physical bodies;
b.    Physical bodies, like tents, are temporary dwelling places for our true selves, the real us
c.    Conclusion: distinction made about our nature/composition; how humans are made up—material part (body) & immaterial part (soul)
d.    Our soul is “housed” in our physical bodies, our “tent”
e.    Distinction clear: vv. 6 & 8
f.     Distinction is realized at the point of physical death—the body dies & the soul enters another state of existence, separated from the body
IV.          What is that state of existence like?
a.    Called the “intermediate state”—refers to the period of time between a person’s death and the resurrection
b.    What happens to the body?
                                          i.    It decays and returns to the dust from which it was made—Genesis 3:19—“till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
                                         ii.    It awaits to be reunited w/ the soul at the resurrection at which time the soul will be housed in a glorified body—one not subject to decay—1 Cor. 15:53—“for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”
                                        iii.    Intermediate state is temporary—not the final state that we will be in when the new heaven & new earth are revealed in Rev. 21
                                       iv.    The eternal state is where the streets of gold & the crystal sea are
                                        v.    Either at the resurrection for those who have died in Christ or at the second coming, we will receive our glorified bodies (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
c.    What happens to the soul/spirit?
                                          i.    Popular theological positions
1.    Soul sleep – the soul is in a state of unconscious existence until the resurrection
a.    “sleep” – used as a metaphor, but it’s used to show the temporary nature of death, not as an exact analogy
b.    Rich man & Lazarus story – both are conscious & aware of what is happening
2.    Purgatory
a.    RC tradition – soul stays in limbo until it has suffered for the sins committed in the body for which it did not receive punishment while on earth
b.    Fails to acknowledge the sufficiency of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross for my sins
3.    Reincarnation – Buddhism; Hinduism
a.    Ideas of karma; coming back as something better or worse than before depending upon your karma
                                         ii.    Popular culture positions
1.    Soul hangs on earth “floating” around trying to resolve some inner conflict or trying to communicate w/ relatives hoping to eventually cross over to the other side
a.    TV  shows – Ghost Whisperer, Medium, & Crossover
2.    Naturalistic position – evolution; nature worship – our energy that connects us to the earth (not soul) returns to the earth to continue the circle of life
V.            What do we learn from 2 Corinthians 5 for the believer in Jesus Christ?
a.    V. 8
b.    At physical death, an immediate separation occurs, and the spirit/soul for the believer is transported immediately into the presence of the Lord
c.    Jesus is at the present time at the right hand of the Father, which we call heaven
d.    During the intermediate state, believers are ushered into the presence of Jesus—this is between our death and our resurrection
e.    Then, we enter the eternal state of Rev. 21 & 22 after we receive our resurrection & glorified bodies
f.     Intermediate state is a state of blessedness & joy that will only get better; a divine foretaste of what is to come
VI.          What about the unbeliever, those outside of faith in Christ?
a.    Immediate separation of soul from body—transported immediately to a place of realization that they are relationally separated from God b/c they rejected Jesus as Savior & Lord
b.    Beginning of the eternal punishment & torment for those who reject Jesus
c.    Personally, I do not take this to mean “hell”—at this point
d.    Hell (not dogmatic about this) is the “lake of fire” referred to in Revelation 20—the second death, the eternal death—it is the carrying out of the sentence of judgment & condemnation
e.    Place of torment before the “lake of fire” is like those who are sitting on death row w/o the possibility of pardon until the sentence is carried out—they are already judged and condemned waiting to receive their just punishment
VII.        Some practical considerations (3 questions)
a.    Is it possible to communicate w/ the spirits of those who have died?
                                          i.    No, but…two cautions
1.    Two incidents in scripture are worth noting
a.    1 Samuel 28:3-16 – Saul consults a medium and calls for the spirit of Samuel who shows up—scares the medium out of her wits—probably a con-artist
b.    Luke 9:27-36 – Mt. of Transfiguration; Elijah & Moses are there
2.    Explain these two incidents: They are isolated events  through which God intervened for a specific purpose in a special set of circumstances, but they are not normative nor are they something we should go seeking after or expecting to happen on a regular basis (so someone can make a TV show)
                                         ii.    What about stuff people claim is going on today? (my conclusion)
1.    OT forbids seeking after a medium to conjure up a spirit of someone who has died to make sure they are alright (psyhics, hypnotists, etc.)
2.    Why—b/c this is an act of dabbling into the world of demonic
3.    Our comfort does not come by getting in “contact” w/ someone who has died, but in trusting the promises of Jesus Christ and finding comfort in who he is and the reality that he has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf
b.    Is it possible for spirits to haunt houses or make after death appearances?
                                          i.    No—spirits of humans who have died are transported to one of two places, immediately—the presence of Jesus for believers or the place of separation from the relational presence of God for unbelievers
1.    So, what is my conclusion—either our minds are playing tricks on us in our sub-conscience, the power of suggestion, or demonic activity—therefore, ghosts do not whisper
                                         ii.    Don’t want to discount anyone’s experience, but I want to strongly urge us to interpret our experience by the scriptures & caution us against allowing popular culture or even our own imaginations to shape our thinking
c.    Are there any second chances after death?
                                          i.    No…”today is the day of salvation”
                                         ii.    Rich man & Lazarus - Luke 16:26 – “and besides all this, b/t us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us”
                                        iii.    It is during this life that one has the only opportunity to enter into a saving relationship w/ Jesus Christ through repentance & faith—there is no purgatory, there is no praying for the dead, no baptism for the dead—no hope for those who die w/o Jesus Christ
VIII.      Conclusion
a.    Though there are some uncertainties surrounding death & what happens next, it is certain that death is a reality for all of us…the bell will toll for all of us, unless Jesus comes back first
b.    In the resurrection of Jesus, He conquered death & the fear of death for us
                                          i.    1 Cor. 15 – “death is swallowed up in victory; death where is your sting; hades, where is your victory; the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
                                         ii.    Hebrews 2:14-15 – Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
                                        iii.    Though the pain & grief we experience at the loss of a loved is real, as Christians, we need not fear death b/c Jesus has conquered death
c.    Our comfort in death is not in wondering whether our loved one has crossed over or not—but, rather, our comfort is found in knowing whether or not our loved one trusted in Jesus Christ as his/her personal Lord & Savior & is in the presence of Jesus right now—it doesn’t necessarily make us cry less tears, but it gives us steadfast hope & confidence for facing eternity b/c we trust the one who has conquered sin, death, and hell