Does Acts 13:48 Teach Unconditional Election

For the last several months I have been preaching a sermon series on the Book of Acts and I recently finished a message on Acts 13. As I neared the end of the chapter, I was reminded of one of the “proof texts” Calvinists often use to point toward the doctrine that many refer to as “Unconditional Election.” Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”[1] (emphasis mine) During my message, I briefly dealt with the issue of Unconditional Election, promising my congregation that I would deal with this text in more detail in a future message. This article is birthed out of my desire to help people clearly see the error of “Unconditional Election” and why Acts 13:48 cannot be used to teach this doctrine. While I do not want to disparage my Calvinist brothers and sisters, I believe that it is imperative that we not shy away from difficult passages of Scripture that have been misunderstood and misinterpreted to teach something about God the Scriptures do not teach. God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). All of humanity has intrinsic value and worth and I do not believe He has left anyone out of His redemptive plan. Although not all will be saved, I believe everyone can be (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10), through the provision of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For those of you who may not be familiar with what Calvinists believe, Calvinism can be summed up with five basic points that can be remembered using the acrostic TULIP:

  • T-Total Depravity
  • U-Unconditional Election
  • L-Limited Atonement
  • I-Irresistible Grace
  • P-Perseverance of the Saints

In future messages and articles, I plan to deal with the other four points of Calvinism, but for sake of space and time I will only be focusing on the doctrine of “Unconditional Election” and why I believe it is incompatible with Acts 13:48 and the rest of Scripture.

Before going any further I would like to introduce you to one of the best explanations regarding election that I have ever read. W. W. Klein does a masterful job explaining the two main views of election in an article he wrote for the Faithlife Study Bible. Klein notes that election refers to God’s choice of who to redeem and restore through Christ. In his article he also points out the difference between corporate and individual election. Corporate election refers to God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants being His chosen people and the one’s through which the Messiah would be born. This corporate election did not guarantee the salvation of every Jew, because they still needed to have a heart commitment of faith toward God (Isaiah 29:13). He then talks about the New Testament shift in which God’s chosen are no longer identified by ethnic characteristics but rather by faith in God and His redemptive plan (Romans 2:28-29). Both Jews and Gentiles could become the true children of Abraham (John 8:38-40, 56-59; Romans 4:16-17). Klein goes on to say…

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith. But interpreters fall into two major approaches to the question of how God’s electing purpose comes to expression in the salvation of individuals: what might be called election unto faith versus election in view of faith. Are people believers because they are elect, or are they elect because they believe?

Many interpreters (like Augustine and Calvin) have understood the biblical data on election to mean that God has chosen to save an unknown number of specific individuals from the deserved consequences of all humanity’s sin—a choice based solely on God’s undeserved mercy. Because people are dead in sin if left to themselves, they cannot and will not embrace God’s gift of salvation apart from God’s own enabling power (Rom 3:9–19; John 10:26–29). God supplies His elect with a gracious and undeserved capacity to believe; election is unto faith, since faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:4–9).

Many other interpreters (like Arminius and Wesley) have understood the biblical data differently, taking it to mean that God does not elect unto faith, but desires to give all people equally the ability to receive His offer of salvation (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9) Everyone who believes is (therefore) included among the chosen…

Whichever approach is taken, the biblical theme of election should lead all believers to praise God, like Paul does, for graciously choosing—even before the foundation of the world—to love us and save us in Christ (Eph 1:4–5; 2:14–22; emphasis mine).[2]

There you have it. A summary of the two views on election. Calvinists believe that God elected certain people to faith, while I believe that we are elected based upon our faith. It is vitally important to understand faith is a gift from God, however, Arminians do not believe this is an “irresistible gift” as Calvinists would teach. We believe this gift can be thrust aside and that’s exactly what many of the Jews did in Acts 13:46. Jesus references a similar rejection in Matthew 23:37 when He said, “’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [3] (emphasis mine). To further demonstrate the Calvinist’s take on election and irresistible grace I would like to quote a very well known, and well-respected Calvinist of our day, John Piper:

Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.

We are not saying that final salvation is unconditional. It is not. We must meet the condition of faith, for example, in Christ in order to inherit eternal life. But faith is not a condition for election. Just the reverse. Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that he purchases our redemption at the cross, and then gives us spiritual life through irresistible grace, and brings us to faith.

Acts 13:48 reports how the Gentiles responded to the preaching of the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice, it does not say that as many believed were chosen to be ordained to eternal life. It says that those who were ordained to eternal life (that is, those whom God had elected) believed. God’s election preceded faith and made it possible. This is the decisive reason some believed while others did not (emphasis mine). [4]

I want to let John Piper’s words speak for themselves. Note that he says in the first paragraph above, “Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save.” He says there is NO condition man must meet, but in the next paragraph he admits that “We must meet the condition of faith…but faith is not a condition for election.” In summary, Calvinists, like Piper would teach that God arbitrarily elects according to His own good pleasure and for His glory those He will redeem and then gives the elect irresistible grace and brings them to faith.  In the last paragraph he then proceeds to share one of the proof texts that Calvinists often point out to demonstrate their belief in unconditional election—Acts 13:48.

In the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur, another well-known Calvinist, says that Acts 13:48 is, “One of Scripture’s clearest statements on the sovereignty of God in salvation. God chooses man for salvation, not the opposite.”[5] In his commentary on the book of Acts, Danny Dwyer, also reiterates the fact that Calvinists use this Scripture as one of their proof texts regarding Unconditional Election. Dwyer notes:

Calvinists hold that [this verse] confirms the teaching of sovereign election in the choice of people who are saved by the “sovereign good pleasure of God” (Berkhof). John Calvin states, “For this particular ordaining can only be understood of the eternal purpose of God…for He does not choose us after we have believed; but He seals His adoption, which was hidden, by the gift of faith in our hearts.” Calvinists therefore hold that some in Antioch had been elected to be saved by sovereign decree in eternity past and now they acted in faith as decreed…[6]

The questions Arminians must answer is, “Does Acts 13:48 teach Unconditional Election as many of the Calvinists so adamantly teach? If not, what is the correct interpretation and application of this passage of Scripture?” As with any passage of Scripture we must understand the context of the passage in order to understand its interpretation and application.

Acts 13 begins with the church in Antioch responding to the Holy Spirit’s direction to set Barnabas and Saul (Paul) apart for a specific work (v. 2). This is what we would come to know as their first missionary journey. On their journey, they take the Gospel to various places including the island of Cyprus. While there, they share the Gospel and are confronted with two distinct responses: Barjesus, also known as Elymas, seeks to turn Sergius Paulus from the faith (v. 8), but despite the opposition, Sergius Paulus responds with faith (v. 12). After leaving Cyprus, their journey eventually takes them to Antioch in Pisidia (v. 14) and, as would become their custom, they first take the Gospel to the Jews in the synagogue (v. 15).

Paul addresses those who are in the synagogue and speaks to two distinct groups of people: (1) the “Men of Israel” and (2) “you who fear God” (v. 16). He refers to these two groups again in verse 26: (1) “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,” and (2) “those among you who fear God.” The distinction is made for a third time in verse 43 as Luke, the writer of Acts, demonstrates the two groups of people who had been listening to Paul’s message: (1) “Jews” and (2) “devout converts to Judaism.” It is important to establish the fact that there are not only Jews in the audience, but there are also Gentiles there who have embraced the God of the Old Testament by faith. They are referred to as individuals who “fear God” and who are “devout converts to Judaism.”

As Paul shared the word of the Lord the following Sabbath, the crowd has swelled in size (v. 44). This sent the unbelieving Jews into a jealous frenzy and they began contradicting Paul’s message and slandering him (v. 45). Paul and Barnabas responded to their vicious attacks by accusing them of rejecting God’s Word. As a result, their message would now focus on the other group of people, the Gentiles (vv. 46-47). This, of course, excited the Gentile believers because it reminded them they could be grafted into the family of God by faith (v. 48). Verse 48 reads this way in the ESV, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.[7] (emphasis mine)

To clearly understand what is being taught in this passage, it is important to answer two questions about this verse: (1) What did Paul mean by the word “appointed,” and (2) who was being appointed? In his commentary on the book of Acts Dr. Dwyer deals with the meaning of the word:

The Greek word translated [appointed] (Greek tetagmenoi) is a perfect passive participle and is taken from a military term meaning “to appoint, arrange, position, or assign” …Brian Abasciano argues strong for the translation “were disposed”…[8]

Greek scholar, Dr. Robert Picirilli, seems to agree with Abasciano’s assessment. He adds:

Even in the English language a passive voice verb can be used with such a ‘middle’ sense, having no reference at all to some agent other than oneself. Thus we say, for example, ‘I am disposed’ to do something or other, or ‘I am inclined’ to act in a certain way, and we do not mean that someone else has disposed or inclined us…There is no convincing reason, then, to think that Acts 13:48 means that God had already ordained or appointed to eternal life those who were saved by faith in Antioch.[9]

With that said, Acts 13:48b could be rightly translated, “and as many as were already inclined to eternal life believed.” Who would have been the individuals “already inclined to eternal life”? In my opinion, it was the Gentiles who were already known as those who “fear God” (vv. 16, 26) and who were “devout converts to Judaism” (v. 43). Therefore, we have answered the two questions referred to above.

Calvinists believe, however, that God elects people to faith, rather than electing people because of their faith. They not only believe in total depravity, but they also believe in fallen man’s total inability to respond to the Gospel. In the same article referred to earlier, Piper said, “all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God.” Calvinists believe that man must be regenerated before they can believe. They assume that being “dead in trespasses and in sins” (Ephesians 2:1) is the same as total inability to respond to the preached word and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Piper went on to say, “Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So, there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.” (emphasis mine) Arminians would agree that lost mankind cannot respond to God apart from the Word (see Romans 10:14-17) and the influence of the Holy Spirit (see John 6:44). Forlines admits, “In both cases, the human personality exercises faith by divine aid. In Calvinism, the divine aid is regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In Arminianism, the divine aid is the drawing and assisting power of the Holy Spirit.”[10] However, as stated above the drawing of the Holy Spirit can be resisted and thrust aside.

One of the clearest passages to me, that demonstrates the ability of man to respond to the Word of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit prior to regeneration is found in Acts 28:23-28:

When they had appointed a day for [Paul], they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 “ ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”[11] (emphasis mine)

After Paul expounds to them the “kingdom of God” and seeks to “convince them about Jesus” from the Law and the Prophets (v. 23), some were “convinced” and others “disbelieved” (v. 24). As Paul contemplated the results of his message, he was reminded of a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah (see again vv. 26-28 from the above passage). Why would they never understand? Was it because of their total inability due to their deadness? Was it because they were not elected to faith? No! It was because their hearts had “grown dull.” If we assume that being spiritually “dead” and being totally depraved means total inability to respond to the Gospel and the drawing of the Holy Spirit then why would Isaiah say their hearts had “grown dull.” The reason they had become calloused to the truth is because they had RESISTED the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit. They closed their eyes (v. 27). Yes, they were depraved, and yes, they were “spiritually dead” but they still had the capacity to respond to the truth and the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result of their resistance, their eyes were being blinded to the truth (see also 2 Corinthians 4:4…why would the “god” of this world seek to blind people’s eyes to the truth if they are so dead they are unable to respond?). In contrast, what would have happened if they had positively responded to the Gospel? Verse 27 makes it clear: “…lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them (emphasis mine).”

I do not believe Acts 13:48 is a good passage of Scripture to teach Unconditional Election. For that matter, I do not believe Unconditional Election is taught anywhere in Scripture when God’s Word is rightly understood in its context.

In conclusion I would like to present to you what Dr. Picirilli refers to as “The Arminian Doctrine of Election”:

  • Election is Christocentric…Christ (not election per se) is the foundation of the church; salvation is by Christ (not by election, except as election is an expression of God’s love in Christ); the gospel is about Christ (not about God’s decree of election). God saw man as lost, He said: “I will make my Son a mediator and love men in Him.”
  • Election is personal and individual. This is not to deny that there is such a thing, in the Bible, as national election or election to particular roles of service. But these are not election to salvation…What Arminius taught was election of individuals as believers, but individuals nevertheless.
  • Election is eternal. God’s will to save (which includes both determining what the condition is and knowing who will meet it and electing to save them) is as eternal as He is…Arminius…defined election as the decree of God by which He determined from all eternity to justify believers (emphasis mine).
  • Election is conditional. This is Arminian’s main point of departure from Calvinism…faith is the “condition” for election. For Arminius, if salvation is by faith, then election is by faith. If salvation is conditional, election is…God’s eternal decisions are made without any conditions imposed on Him. He has unconditionally decreed a conditional election, electing people as believers (emphasis mine).[12]

Conditional election is decreed by God, not by man, therefore it does not in any way deny His sovereignty. God is sovereign, but in His sovereignty, He has chosen to give man a limited free will. Part of the free will that he has given mankind allows them to choose to respond positively to His revelation and working of the Holy Spirit or to cast it aside and refuse it.

Regardless of what you believe, I think every believer, whether Calvinist or Arminian can agree with the assessment given earlier by W. W. Klein. I would like to end this article with a portion of his words as quoted previously:

Historically, nearly all Christian interpreters have agreed that God’s electing choice flows entirely from His grace, that human beings are moral agents responsible for our actions, and that personal participation in the community of the elect is by faith…

Whichever approach is taken, the biblical theme of election should lead all believers to praise God, like Paul does, for graciously choosing—even before the foundation of the world—to love us and save us in Christ.[13] (emphasis mine)

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 13:48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Klein, W. W. (2012, 2016). Election. In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 23:37). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism

[5] MacArthur, John. (1997). Brief commentary on Acts 13:48 in The MacArthur Study Bible, Nashville, Word Publishing.

[6] Dwyer, Danny L. (2018). p. 207. The Randall House Bible Commentary: Acts, Nashville, Randall House.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 13:48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Dwyer, p. 208.

[9] Picirilli, Robert E. (2017) p. 115-116. Free Will Revisited: A Respectful Response to Luther, Calvin and Edwards, Wipf & Stock.  

[10] Forlines, F. Leroy (2011) p. 121. Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation. Nashville: Randall House.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 28:23–28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] Picirilli, Robert, E. (2002) pp. 49-54. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism, Nashville: Randall House.

[13] Klein.

Lessons From the Arizona Desert

It was 29 degrees when I left the Pittsburgh airport headed to Phoenix. I knew warmer weather, friends and new experiences were waiting for me on the other end. The plan was to speak for a couple of my friends (Howard Gwartney & Mike Cash) and share with their church families about what God was doing in and through Flagship FWB Church in Erie, Pa. I was looking forward to seeing them and their families again, as well as visiting the great state of Arizona.

Pastor Gwartney suggested a few places to go sightseeing and after taking his suggestions into consideration and looking online I decided to do some hiking on the Peralta Trail in the Superstition Mountains. The website suggested a hike that would take 3-4 hours and after speaking to the Ranger at the trailhead that’s the hike I decided I would take.

I wanted this to be more than I hike. I wanted to spend some alone time with God. I needed Him to teach me some things and minister to my soul. I wanted and desperately needed His encouragement from my Father. When it was over, I felt like this hike was just what the Great Physician ordered for my soul.

While on this journey God taught me and reminded me of many things. I was desperate to hear from God and He did not disappoint. I was desperate because the last several years have been filled with spiritual warfare, difficulties, concerns and mental, as well as spiritual exhaustion. I’d like to share with you some ordinary things God used along the trail to encourage and help me as I continue on this other journey, called life.

First He reminded me to be an encourager to those who are struggling. The trek to the top was exhausting. I was breathing heavy, sweating and at times my pulse rate exceeded 140 bpm. As I was hiking I kept seeing people who had already conquered the mountain. Some of these people appeared to be older than me. This motivated me not to quit. As I gradually made my way up the incline, occasionally people would say, “You are getting close now. Only a few more minutes.” I think they could sense my exhaustion and they didn’t want me to give up without conquering what I had come to see.

I am so thankful for the many other encouragers I have in my life. Countless people pray for us regularly. Our daughter, who has battled some very severe physical and spiritual issues has been prayed for by people all over the globe. Occasionally I will receive a text message or a phone call from someone who supports the ministry in Erie and they will just remind me they are praying for us. They are like those on the mountain who say, enthusiastically, “Keep going. Don’t quit. It will be worth it.”

I was able to return the favor for others as I was coming down the mountain. I was able to say, “You are getting close. Only a few more steps. It will be worth it.” There are many things I cannot do, and there are many talents I do not have, but I can be an encourager and share an encouraging word with those who are struggling on their journey. Be an encourager!

Another thing I was reminded of was this: sometimes all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. There were times on my way to the top I could barely keep moving. I was wheezing and exhausted. There were times I felt as if I would just fall over. However, I was determined I was going to conquer this trail. I slowed down, I stopped to rest, but I was resolved by God’s grace I was not going to give up. There were times on the journey I seemed to be barely moving and making any headway. However, I was determined to keep moving and I did.

There have been so many times in life I’ve felt the same way on this church planting journey. There have been days I have had so much to do, my head would spin. I do not want to complain, but I do think people should know that church planting is not all glitz and glamour. Until you get people trained and discipled, until you find willing and able volunteers, much of the work of the ministry falls on your shoulders as well as those on your leadership team (if you are blessed to have one). Without the volunteers, you are also the treasurer, the deacons, the trustees, the janitor and the list goes on. Sometimes you feel like you are taking a step forward, only to feel like you’ve taken two steps back. There are times when people leave, often without explanation, and it’s very hard not to take it personally.

I have also felt exhausted spiritually. There are times when the enemy whispers, “Just quit, it’s not worth it. You aren’t really making a difference. No one would miss you if you packed up and moved closer to your family. You could find an easier place to serve.” The “father of lies” is an expert discourager, but dear friend, even when you are exhausted, decide by God’s grace you are going to continue putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward on the trail God has for you.

Third, your pace does not have to be the same as everyone else. It took me three hours and forty minutes to complete this hike. I am sure that is a very slow time compared many who have done the same journey. As people walked by me on the way there, it was a little discouraging to know I was slower than them. If my only focus was the pace of this trip I would have gotten discouraged quickly. However, I realized this was not a race, but a hike. I had a goal in mind and it did not include a specific time limit. My goal was simply to make it to the top and safely make it back home. By God’s grace that is exactly what I did.

One of the biggest temptations I face in ministry is to play the “comparison game.” I have struggled with this ever since I began ministering over twenty years ago. I know it is a result of my sinful nature and I have to confess and repent of comparing regularly. When I look at other pastors who are about my same age, or other church planters who have been on the field the same length of time I have, I can get very discouraged because they seem to be much more “successful” than I am. The way I often define success is far different than God’s definition of success. God’s definition seems to do more with faithfulness than with numbers. I’m not going to be judged on the number of people who sit in the pews, the offerings that come in on a weekly basis, how stylish the church logo is, the number of likes on the ministry’s social media page or how well I pulled off a big day. God’s Word tells me we are stewards and it is required that stewards are found faithful.

I am thankful that God doesn’t require stewards to have the same pace as someone else with different gifts, personalities or abilities. He wants me to be faithful and by His grace, I can be. It is God’s business who He gifts and how He gifts people. It is our business how we use these gifts and abilities for His glory. We must be sure we are on the right trail and move along that trail faithfully every day. There will be people ahead of us and there will be people behind us. There will be those who will pass us along the way. However, it is not our job to try to “keep up with them,” but rather walk step in step with the Holy Spirit and move in His direction. There have been far too many times in my life that I have been so enamored with the “success” others and my lack thereof, that I have literally felt paralyzed from even doing what God has called me to do. Do we really think that is of God? Certainly not! It is a ploy of the enemy to keep us discouraged and distracted! Stay focused on Him and His path for YOUR life!

Another truth I was reminded of is when you get off the trail, go back and correct your course. The trail I was on had no markers or signs (except at the beginning). The ranger whom I spoke with said that the main trail would be clear, and if you got off the main trail you would eventually hit a dead end or a lot of brush and undergrowth. One particular occasion I missed a turn and mistakenly got off the main trail. I knew I needed to turn around and find out where I went off course. Sure enough, I was able to backtrack to the main trail and get back on track.

There are times in life when we do the same. We make choices outside of God’s will and we take detours. Whenever we do so, it leads to problems. However, we serve a merciful and gracious God who gives us the opportunity to confess and repent and get back on track. I am reminded of the verse of Scripture in Revelation where Christ commands the church to “repent and go back and do the first works.” Go back to the detour point and get back on the path God has for you.

Obstacles can serve as stepping stones. The trail was extremely rocky all along the way. There were even a few places that were slippery and treacherous. However, those same rocks that could be perceived as obstacles, ended up serving as places to step upon or hold onto to as I ascended and descended the mountain.

Once again I see a parallel in life. There are always obstacles, however, I believe God can enable these difficulties to serve as stepping stones. When Joseph confronts his brothers at the end of the book of Genesis he confesses the things they meant for evil against him ended up being used by God for good. Joseph could have easily used these difficulties in his life to destroy him, however, he responded with faith in God and overcame. He allowed obstacles to become the stepping stones that enabled him to be exactly where he needed to be in God’s providential plan. We must do the same. Though obstacles may come into our lives, God can turn trials into blessings and He will work all things together for our good and His glory.

There are several other life lessons I wrote down that day in the Arizona desert. It was a trip I will not soon forget, if ever. I wonder how many life lessons I miss because I don’t take time to ask God to teach me or because I am so busy with the hustle and bustle of life I just do not take the time to listen. I am thankful for this trip and I am sure there will be many days and trials ahead that I will need to remind myself of these principles. In some way, I hope they can be a blessing to you as well.

What I Learned From a Couple of Fish Sandwiches on July 4th Weekend

bs-five-loaves-two-fish-6989695Although most people would not have known it, I have been struggling for quite some time with discouragement and depression. There are many factors that have played into this struggle, but one thing kept rising to the surface–my own, personal inadequacy. I felt inadequate as a dad, a husband, a leader, a pastor, a church planter, a teacher . . . the list went on and on. I just wanted to quit, but something, or Someone wouldn’t let me.

The Holy Spirit kept reminding me of the Apostle Paul’s inadequacies that were magnified by his “thorn in the flesh.” Yet, God was using this thorn and Paul’s insufficiency to drive him to a deeper dependence upon God and His grace (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). I see many similarities between myself and Paul in this regard. One of the motivating factors behind this thorn was to prevent Paul from becoming self-sufficient and prideful as a result of the unique blessings Paul had experienced. I too have been a prideful and independent man. I know God hates pride and maybe God was opening my eyes to my own inadequacies, not to drive me to quit, but rather drive me to complete and humble dependence upon God and His power!

However, real victory came as I studied for the message I preached over the Fourth of July weekend (2016). It was the passage in Luke chapter 9 (also mentioned in the other three Gospels) about Jesus feeding five thousand men, plus women and children, with an inadequate food supply. This message was just what I needed to remind me it’s never been about me! It’s not about my leadership or communication skills . . . it’s all about me placing myself, my inadequacies, my faults, my failures, my time, my talents, my treasures . . . placing ALL OF ME into the hands of a MORE THAN ADEQUATE GOD!

For so long, I have depended upon myself without even realizing it. I gloated in my self-sufficiency even when I wouldn’t admit it. I patted myself on the back when no one was looking. However, there is a huge, huge problem that we self-sufficient folks face . . . that’s when we come face to face with an area where we feel “less than sufficient.” Because we depend so much on self, talents, abilities, etc., when we come across a situation we can’t handle we tend to get discouraged, depressed and frustrated. However, if we would learn to depend upon God 24-7 in every way, we would relieve ourselves of this pressure to perform.

I honestly believe there are some things God allows us to do in the power and the energy of the flesh. We know this to be true because unbelievers accomplish things and design inventions every single day, and they are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Imagine what would happen if we would become more like that nameless little boy who offered Jesus his inadequate, insufficient meal. Not only was the meal small, but it was probably the meal of the poor. Some commentators suggest these loaves were more like small, barley rolls. Barley rolls were the bread of the poor. His meal was inadequate in every way. It was inadequate in size, and it was inadequate in quality. The awesome thing is God was pleased to use it! I believe with all my heart the same is true about what we offer to God from humble and sincere hearts. God can do so much more with our inadequacies, our talents, and our treasures than we could ever dream.

So go ahead, and give it all to Jesus! The good, the bad and the ugly. Only He can take inadequate, insufficient human beings and save their souls and use them for His glory. Oh, by the way, it sure takes a whole lot of pressure off of you when you let Him have it all. Then you realize that all along, it’s never been about you and what you can do; it’s all about what He can do with and through you!

Can I Fix It . . . No I Can’t

If you have raised boys in the last fifteen years, the “Bob the Builder” theme song may be bobimplanted in your brain. Even as you read these words you can hear the music and the lyrics marching through your memory bank. It appeared that Bob the Builder could fix anything! No problem was too big or too challenging for Bob. It seemed that using Bob the Builder and the phrase, “I can’t” in the same sentence was unthinkable!

“I can’t”, are two words despised by every coach and every positive thinking guru out there. However, there are times when the phrase “I can’t” is necessary and useful.

Recently, I have been reading quite a bit in the Gospel of Luke, and at the time of this writing I am preaching a series of messages from this book. I am excited to share with our congregation week after week the many wonderful truths from these powerful chapters. Lately, I have been reading and rereading Luke 5:1-11. I want to share a few of these verses with you:

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.”

When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:4-7 HCSB (emphasis added)

I don’t know if you have ever fished all night and caught nothing, but I have. Many times my dad, my grandma (mammy) and myself would load up the bait and tackle and head for one of the piers along the North Carolina shoreline. Although Mammy could always catch fish, I wasn’t so blessed with her talent. If the fish weren’t biting, I would soon get bored and was ready to head for home. However, my dad and grandma wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth, so they would continue to fish all through the night. I can relate to Simon’s frustration of empty nets.

But, don’t forget Simon was a professional fisherman. It had been his livelihood for much of his life. If anyone knew where the fish would be, it would be him. After a long, fruitless night, Jesus instructs Simon to let his nets down into the deep water and he would receive a catch. Jesus was not a fisherman by trade. He was raised by a carpenter, not a fisherman. Simon, although not fully convinced, was willing to obey the Lord regardless. He was willing to do what the Son of God said even though it did not seem rational at the time. Even though his faith was weak, he still had enough faith to obey.

When he obeyed, God worked in a miraculous way! When he followed Christ’s command, God did something in a moment that he had not been able to do all night. I would dare say this was more than likely the biggest catch Simon had EVER seen! This catch did not come FISHon the heels of human ingenuity, counsel from other fisherman, better weather, a fish radar, a better boat, a different lake or any other man-made tactic. This catch came as a result of simply obeying God.

What does this ancient story have to do with you and me in 2016? The fact of the matter is there are many things that you and I face on a regular, even daily basis, that leave us frustrated and empty. It may be a struggling marriage, a prodigal child, a difficult work situation, a problem at school, a personal health issue or the pain of watching a loved one suffer. Many times these situations drain us, discourage us and even depress us. We feel helpless as we try to figure things out on our own and discern what we can do differently to change the problem. Day after day, night after night, we give it our all. Time and again we try to come up with a solution only to find ourselves more and more discouraged. It is as if we have “fished all night and caught nothing.”

The wonderful reminder in this passage of Scripture is that the marvelous catch Simon Peter experienced was not a result of what he and his buddies could accomplish on their own. Rather, it was all about him having enough faith to launch out one more time and do what the Son of God said to do. It was all about obedient faith. When Simon exercised this obedient faith God took over and provided in a miraculous and marvelous way. As a result the catch was so massive, it took two boats to haul in the fish and both vessels began to sink.

Whatever your situation or your problem is, no matter the thing that has your stomach in knots and your heart in turmoil . . . learn to, by God’s grace, handle it with obedient faith. Your ingenuity and energy may be exhausted, but often it is then that God shows up on the scene and just asks us to trust Him. Our responsibility is not to trust our wisdom and our capabilities, but rather to trust His wisdom and His capability. Someone once said, “God likes to work, when nothing else can.”

Recently, I have been very discouraged and frustrated about a particular difficulty in our family. I have said everything I know to say. I have done everything I know to do, and I have tried everything I know to try. Quite literally I have “fished all night and caught nothing.” As I was reading this passage of Scripture a few days ago, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit reminded me of this truth as I read Simon’s words when he said: “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing.” It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “It’s not about what ‘you’ can do, but it’s about what ‘He’ can do.”

I can’t help but to think about the widow woman in the Old Testament that was down to her last dinner. She and her son were about to eat the last meal and then they were going to wait and die as a result of the famine. The interesting thing is God sent Elijah to this widow woman and said that she would sustain him. How on earth could she sustain Elijah? She was literally down to her last bit of food for her and her son. Somewhere, deep inside her soul, she still had a glimmer of hope that led to obedient faith. When she responded with obedience to the Lord, God supplied her every need (see I Kings 17:7-16).

I do not know what you are facing today. Maybe you, like Bob the Builder, have been trying to “fix it.” You have exhausted your efforts. You have run out of human ingenuity. You have been crushed time and again by disappointment. You don’t know where to turn, you don’t know what to do and you don’t know how to fix it. Maybe today, you need to stop trying more and begin trusting more.  Maybe today, you need to begin to search the Scriptures and find out what God says about your scenario and your need, and you simply need to exercise obedient faith. So often, we like to be in “control,” but the reality is we have very little control over anything. Life happens and disappointments come. We live in a sin cursed, messed up world that is only going to deteriorate more as the return of Christ draws near. God has not called us to figure everything out and solve every crisis. However, God has called us to trust Him and obey Him. As the hymn writer said so long ago, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” We may not be able to control whether or not the “fish swim into our nets,” but we can lower our nets and be ready if God chooses to send them our way. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can raise our sails.

When it comes to the difficulties and struggles my family faces, I must lay it at the feet of Jesus. I must completely and wholeheartedly give it to Him. I must exercise obedient faith and do what He says and leave the outcome up to Him.

Is there something in your life you need to surrender? Let’s choose to let go together.

Mary’s Response to an Amazing Announcement

Put yourself in the shoes of this teenage girl. She has just received news that will forever change her life and forever change the history of the world. She, a virgin teenager, is going to give birth to the Son of God. The announcement came from the angel Gabriel, who had given astonishing news to Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, just a few months before. God was on the move, and He was about to do something BIG!

She had questions. In Luke 1:34, she asked God, “How?” “How in the world is this going to happen? I’m a virgin. I’ve never been intimate with a man. I am pledged to be married to Joseph. What will my parents think? What will my friends think? What will society think? What will Joseph think?” Those questions and more must have been swirling around in her head. Scripture indicates she was perplexed and agitated (Luke 1:29) when the angel first appeared. Imagine what she must have been feeling after the announcement!

After the angel answered her question and revealed to her that Christ would have no earthly father…and after the angel revealed that God had miraculously intervened in Elizabeth’s life…and after the angel reminded her that NOTHING was impossible with God (Luke 1:35-37) she finally speaks again. Her response is the response all of us should have concerning God’s will, but unfortunately many of us do not. She simply said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; LET IT BE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD” (emphasis mine).SC-PES-001-Yes-Lord

What a difference it would make in our lives if we humbly and genuinely approached God’s will and God’s Word the way Mary did!

  • Let me think on the appropriate things, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me renew my mind, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me walk in the Spirit, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me live in YOUR freedom, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let the Truth set me free, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me follow the greatest commandment, according YOUR Word!
  • Let me love my neighbor as myself, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me train up my children, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me love my spouse, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me give, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me be changed into a new creation, according to YOUR Word!
  • Let me ______________________, according to YOUR Word!

God was calling Mary to leave her comfort zone, suffer a potentially devastating misunderstanding and ridicule, and eventually watch her precious Son give His life for the sins of the world . . . and she simply surrenders it all to God and says, “OK Lord, may YOUR will be accomplished in and through my life, according to YOUR Word. I’ll be a willing vessel!”

How about YOU? The question is not, “What would you do if you were in Mary’s shoes?” The question is, “What are YOU doing RIGHT NOW with God’s revealed will?”

The statement,  “No Lord” is an oxymoron. The only right answer to give is, “Yes Lord.” The songwriter said, “Yes, Lord, yes, to Your will and to Your way, yes, Lord, yes, I will trust You and obey. When Your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I’ll agree, and my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.”

12 Reasons I Quit Drinking (Before I Ever Really Started)

I have only been intoxicated two times in my life. Both were while I was in High School running from God and His plan for my life. Both are times I regret and experiences I cannot change. Thankfully these two occasions are only memories and serve as life lessons to me and those I desire to help. Although there have been numerous decisions that I have regretted through the years and addictions I have struggled with, the decision to quit drinking (before I ever really started) is not one of them. Here are a few reasons “Why I Quit Drinking (Before I Ever Really Started)”:

  1. My flesh longs for pleasure and satisfaction apart from God. There are many things people run to for pleasure and satisfaction apart from God—alcohol, comfort foods, immoral relationships, etc. Alcohol would only serve as yet another cheap substitute for God in my life. I already run to too many broken and empty cisterns to quench the thirst as it is. There is no need to add one more alternative.
  2. Untold children have been harmed and scarred for life due to alcohol use and abuse. My wife has seen and experienced things in her life that I cannot even begin to comprehend as a direct result of the use and abuse of alcohol. These memories cannot be erased from her mind and the scars cannot be removed from her soul. Alcohol served as a contributing factor to these horrific experiences. My children have suffered from my imperfect parenting, but I am thankful they have never suffered anything as a result of an intoxicated childmom or dad.
  3. If my children decide to use or abuse alcohol it will never be because they followed my example. I have the responsibility to be an example to my children. If I do not want them using profanity, disrespecting others, dishonoring God, harming their body (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), and having sex outside of marriage, etc., then I have the responsibility to teach them not only with my lips, but also with my life. Since I have absolutely no desire for my children to ever experiment with alcohol, and possibly fall prey to its addictive nature, it is incumbent upon me to set the example in this area.
  4. I understand that the wine referenced in the Bible and the alcoholic drinks available today vary in large degree. First, when you see the word “wine” in the Bible it could mean non-fermented juice of the vine or a fermented beverage. The context must determine the type of beverage being referred to. Second, the alcoholic content in ancient beverages was far less than the alcoholic content of today’s beverages.[i] Fermentation was often impeded and alcoholic beverages were often watered down to prevent intoxication. Distillation (to boost alcohol content) was not invented until the Middle Ages, long after the Scriptures had been written.[ii]
  5. I have many more choices than my biblical counterparts. In Bible times beverages were very limited. Water sources were often polluted. Milk was available from a variety of animals, but refrigeration was not. Keeping the fruit of the vine from fermenting was challenging, but not impossible. However, today I have hundreds of non-alcoholic, non-intoxicating beverages available to me. I can drink all of these without harming my influence, clouding my judgment or compromising my self-control.
  6. Alcohol use can lead to alcohol abuse and addiction. Ken Idleman, former president of Ozark Christian College and pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, Indiana notes:

No one starts out to be an alcoholic. Everyone begins with a defensive attitude saying, “I’m just a social drinker and there is nothing wrong with it!” No one says, “It is my ambition that someday I want to lose my job, my health, my self-respect, my marriage and my family. Someday I want to be dependent on alcohol to get through my day.” Yet, this is the destination at which several millions of people have arrived. Why do you suppose that is? It is because alcohol is promoted and elevated as a normal/sophisticated activity in life…. It is also expensive, addictive and enslaving. People get hooked by America’s number one legal drug. And just like all illegal drugs, alcohol finds its way into the body, the bloodstream and the brain of the user/abuser.

One of my most memorable conversations in the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO, was with a young man facing a 28-year prison sentence for the brutal sexual assault of his own 8-year old daughter. I will never forget the image. The tears literally ran off his chin and splashed on his shoes as he gushed, “I guess I did it. I don’t know. I was drunk at the time.”

Could you live with the knowledge that your dangerous exercise of Christian liberty factored into your children’s ruin?

A good friend during my growing up years was the only child of social drinking parents. When his folks were away, he would go to the rathskeller [German for tavern] in the basement where he developed a taste for alcohol. I won’t bore you with the details. He is 65 today. A broken life, broken health, broken marriages, a broken relationship with his only son, a broken relationship with his only grandchild, a broken career and a broken spirit that . . . Tragically . . . he tries daily to medicate with the alcohol that led him to this tragic destination.[iii]

  1. I have absolutely no desire to support an industry that has caused untold heartache for millions of people. More than 55% of highway deaths are alcohol related. There are drunk drivingmore than 17 million alcoholics in America alone. Alcohol use and abuse has left death, disease, disability and fractured relationships in its wake.[iv]
  2. Drunkenness and other sins resulted both times I decided to drink alcohol. It is crystal clear from Scripture that drunkenness is a sin and that drunkenness is often accompanied by other sins (Proverbs 23:20-21, Romans 13:13, I Corinthians 5:11 & 6:10, Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:21).
  3. I do not want my senses clouded, and alcohol use clouds ones senses. This is a scientific fact[v] and is one of the reasons why God did not allow the priests to use any alcohol while preforming their priestly duties (see Leviticus 10:8-11). While one may argue this makes it ok to have alcohol when not performing their priestly duties, why would a Christ follower ever want their senses clouded? Repeatedly in the New Testament we are commanded to be “sober-minded.” The idea of being sober minded is the idea of thinking seriously and clearly about things. Alcohol use dulls these senses and impairs rational thinking.
  4. Since alcohol use clouds the senses, decisions made during under the influence of alcohol are not the same ones that would be made under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 clearly says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Our choices should be “Spirit” influenced, not “spirit” influenced (the word “spirit” is often used as a synonym for alcohol).
  5. My alcohol use may negatively impact others. Even if I did not have an addictive personality and even if I could be content with one glass of low alcoholic wine, those whom I influence and who look up to me may not fare so well. This is what led Paul to say: “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21, see also Romans 14:19 & Habakkuk 2:15).
  6. Scripture warns me about the addictive and destructive nature of alcohol.[vi]
    1. Proverbs 20:1-Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
    2. Proverbs 23:29-35-Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

dwi1I have witnessed first-hand the dangers associated with alcohol use and abuse. Both of my grandfathers used and abused alcohol; as a result they left painful memories with my parents as well as other members of my family. Two of my brothers used and abused alcohol and suffered relational, physical and spiritual harm as a consequence. One of my brothers was tragically gunned downed in cold blood, in a bar, where he was drinking alcohol. Thankfully my other brother turned from his drunkenness and sin and found forgiveness and grace in the arms of the Lord Jesus Christ who set him free from his addiction.

There will be many things I will regret when I stand before my Lord. There are many things I have done in my life and things I have struggled with that I regret. However, I have never regretted, nor will I ever regret, the decision I made as a teenager to quit drinking after those first two experiences. Apart from my own salvation in Christ and my marriage to my beautiful bride, the decision to live an alcohol free life is one of the best decisions I believe I have ever made. I have been in the ministry since 1996 and have met multitudes of people who regret their first drink, but I have never met anyone who said they regretted abstaining. I can’t imagine anything I have missed in my life because of my decision, except more regrets.

If you would like to know more about how Christ can set you free from any addiction, including alcohol, please contact us. We would be glad to point you to the “fountain of living waters,” the One who can quench the thirst of your soul.

[i] http://christianstandard.com/2012/08/to-drink-or-not-to-drink/

[ii] http://www.olsenpark.com/Sermons11/Alcohol.html

[iii] http://christianstandard.com/2012/08/to-drink-or-not-to-drink/

[iv] http://christianstandard.com/2012/08/to-drink-or-not-to-drink/

[v] http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

[vi] http://www.crossroadschristian.org/blogs/blog/12806077-can-a-christian-drink-alcohol

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 3)

Please take time to read Parts 1 & 2

  1. Consistent and regular worship meetings are commanded in Scripture. One of the most well-known passages Scriptureregarding church attendance is found in Hebrews 10:24-25. This passage instructs believers to be a part of these assemblies and gives the reason why. It says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB) One of the purposes of church attendance is to promote love and good works amongst other believers. The writer of Hebrews indicates there are some who choose to stay away from these meetings, but he clearly instructs his audience not to be like them. As a matter of fact, he encourages more of these gatherings as the day of Christ approaches!
  1. Believers are to be under the protection and encouragement of church leadership. If a believer is not attending or involved in a local church they are isolating themselves from the elders/pastors God has called to instruct, guide, encourage and direct them. Once again we turn to Hebrews for some insight in this regard. Note the two verses from Hebrews 13, “Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 HCSB) Did the necessity for elders/pastors die off with the apostles? Scripture gives us no indication of that, whatsoever. As mentioned in the previous point, church attendance should increase as the return of Christ draws near. As long as there is a need for a local church, there will also be need for local leadership within those churches in the form of elders/pastors. They have the responsibility to speak God’s Word, live a life of faith and integrity, guide believers from Scripture, and watch over those in the congregation.
  1. Jesus Christ referred to the existence and the importance of the local church. If there is still doubt about the reality of God’s design for local, distinct churches, please consider the admonition found in the last book of the Bible. John is writing to seven distinct, localized congregations in Asia. Notice his words in Revelation 1:4, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne. Not only that, but Jesus Christ, Himself, addresses each of these seven local churches in the second and third chapter of the book (see Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:14).

Every Christ follower needs to take the time to find a local church they can call home. They need to find out what the church teaches and see if it lines up with Scripture. They should also talk to the pastor and look at their website or informational materials and find out what they believe. Pray and ask God to lead you to the congregation that He would have you to serve through.

Please contact us if we can be of assistance or if you are looking for a church in the Erie, Pennsylvania area. We completely understand Flagship Church is not for everyone, however we are a church committed to Scripture and to sharing God’s message of hope and forgiveness with the Flagship City. If you know Christ and want to know Him more, we would love to have you “on board” with us!

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 2)

Please take time to also read Part 1. Here are three more reasons to attend and be involved in a local church:

  1. Many of the books in the New Testament were letters written to individual local churches. Some have indicated the references to church in the New Testament are references to the universal church, not to local assemblies. While Scripture does indicate there is the universal body of Christ, which encompasses all believers everywhere, there is an abundance of evidence indicating the universal church is made up of believers who are a part of local congregations. These local congregations listed in the New Testament were located in the cities of Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica and more. Not one person who studies Scripture with an honest heart can deny the existence of local churches. Here are a few references for further study: I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2, Philippians 1:1, I Thessalonians 1:1, II Thessalonians 1:1.

 

  1. Spiritual gifts were to be used for the common good of believers. Isolated believers cannot use their gifts toGifts-1024x768 serve others, nor can they benefit from others. Scripture indicates Christ followers have been given spiritual gifts. God does not administer these gifts for selfish purposes. Paul and Peter, both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it clear these gifts are to be used for the benefit of other believers. However, if a believer is not in fellowship with other believers, they will not have the opportunity to benefit the congregation. According to these verses, an isolationist mindset is incompatible with God’s design for believers and their spiritual gifts. Notice the words of Paul and Peter:
    1. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:7, ESV)
    2. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: (I Peter 4:10, ESV)

 

  1. Paul gave Timothy clear instructions about things to be included in the meeting of the local assembly. Timothy was a young preacher of the Gospel and was Paul’s protégé. Paul writes two letters to instruct him about a variety of topics to help him in the ministry. As he concludes his first letter, Paul explains what he expects to be included in the public worship services. Note his admonition, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (I Timothy 4:13, ESV)

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 1)

I have been involved with ministry through local churches in one form or another since 1996. It has been an honor to serve as a pastor, Christian School Administrator and Evangelist. I am currently a Church Planter and Pastor of Flagship Free Will Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. I have heard numerous reasons, opinions and even excuses why people do not attend church faithfully. However, I have not heard one legitimate, scriptural reason why people should not attend and be involved in a local, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church. I believe Scripture gives plenty of reasons why faithful church attendance and involvement should be a “no-brainer” amongst followers of Christ. The following are just a few reasons:

  1. God designed Christ followers to need other Christ followers. God never designed for His children to grow, mature and flourish in isolation. Even Christ Himself, brought a group of men into His daily ministry known as the disciples. Being the God-man, He needed nothing, but He set the example for us. He made it a practice to go the Temple regularly. The Old Testament reveals this truth as recorded for us in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, HCSB)

Christ-Follower-Logo-for-webAs the Apostle Paul addressed the local church at Corinth, he explained to them that the church was much like a body. In fact, the church is the body of Christ! In this explanation he said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” (I Corinthians 12:21, ESV) A Christ follower may say he/she does not need other Christians, but when they do they contradict the very truth of Scripture. We need other believers in our lives just like our body needs all of our body parts. For a hand to fulfill its function and design it must be attached to the body; therefore, for a Christian to fulfill his/her function or design, they must also be connected to the body of Christ.

  1. After the church was born in the book of Acts, Christ followers gathered together on a regular basis. Acts 2:42 records, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 20:7 records another occasion of believers gathering together, this time to hear the Apostle Paul preach, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, ESV) They did not get together for a one-time event, but rather devoted themselves to learning the Word of God together. They also spent time with one another and prayed together. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates this should be optional or if there will be a time when this type of gathering would cease. As a matter of fact, other Scriptures indicate this type of gathering and fellowship would become more and more necessary as time went on.

 

  1. Scripture refers to “elders” or “pastors” of specific churches. If local churches were not part of God’s plan then why did God ordain elders/pastors to oversee local congregations? The New Testament repeatedly alludes to this. Here are just a few references that you can turn to for your own personal study: Acts 14:23, 15:2-6, 15:22-23, 16:4, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1-5.

What Ray Rice and I Have in Common

By now multiplied millions have seen the infamous Ray Rice video. On the video, he knocks his fiancé out cold and then drags her body out of a casino elevator into the hallway. Many adjectives have been used to describe this despicable act. Horrifying, sickening, brutal . . . just to name a few.

Social media and news programs erupted into angry tirades against this athlete. ESPN anchors talked for hours about the ramifications of the video and how it would affect Rice as well as the entire NFL. Speculation will likely continue for days on end regarding who knew what and why more wasn’t done to verify the facts.

While the newscasters continue to talk about this problem and speculate regarding what will happen next, many people are using this opportunity to cast stones at this “awful person.” There is no doubt that Rice’s punch was blatant, cruel, and gruesome. However, we must remember Ray Rice is not the standard of righteousness that God will judge us. Jesus Christ, God robed in flesh, is the standard and that is a standard of which we ALL fall short of (see Romans 3:23). James makes it clear that if we are guilty of breaking any part of the law, we are guilty of breaking the law . . . period. Listen to the words of James inspired by the Holy Spirit: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11 ESV, emphasis mine).

The Law rises or falls as a unit. Picture in your mind the Ten Commandments represented by a chain of ten links. Each link represents one of the commandments. The chain is connected to a crane on one end and a 5,000 pound weight hanging over your head on the other end. With this scenario in mind ask yourself a question, “Does it matter which of the ten links are broken?” Absolutely not! If the link labeled “taking God’s name in vain” is broken, the weight comes crashing down. If the link labeled “murder” is broken, the weight comes crashing down just the same! You see God’s standard is perfection. It doesn’t matter how close to perfect you were, if you aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect!

Let me share one more illustration. Suppose you had to swim a thousand miles in under an hour to win a million dollar prize. Of course this is humanly impossible, but if you can do it you are the winner. Let’s suppose you swam 5 miles in an hour and your competitor swims 7 miles in an hour . . . who wins? Neither of you won! It doesn’t matter who swam the longest distance and who looked good doing it! You both failed. You both lost.

Though you may have never punched a woman and drug her body into a hallway, you have still SINNED and fallen short of the glory of God. You need the same Savior and the same forgiveness that Ray Rice needs. Your sin may look better to society than Ray’s sin, but sin is still sin in God’s eyes. It is a transgression of the Law. It must be punished. The wonderful news is that Jesus Christ came and paid the penalty for your sin, my sin and Ray Rice’s sin. The penalty that we all deserve, which is separation from God, was experienced by Jesus Christ when God’s wrath was poured upon Him while He willingly laid down His life on Calvary.
My lies, my lust, my dishonesty are just as responsible for Jesus being nailed to a tree as Rice’s knockout punch is. We are both guilty and we both deserve to be judged and suffer in Hell as a result. However, God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but He wants us all to repent of our sin and trust Christ for His cleansing and forgiveness.

You have a choice to make if you haven’t already done so. You can compare yourself to Rice and feel pretty good about yourself, or you can compare yourself to Jesus and realize just how far you are from perfection. You can depend upon yourself to make it to Heaven and fail, or you can cast yourself at Jesus’ feet and plead for His mercy and forgiveness. You can continue to point the finger at everyone else’s mistakes and ignore your own and act dignified, or you can admit your own wickedness and rebellious heart and be justified by the blood of Jesus.

I hope Rice, if he hasn’t already done so, will come to Jesus and confess his sins and be forgiven through Christ. We have more in common with him than we would like to admit. We are all sinners in need of a Savior! If Jesus can forgive the murderous Saul of Tarsus, and change him into Paul the Apostle, he can surely forgive you and I. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved today (see Romans 10:9-10, 13).
In conclusion please understand that I am in no way, shape, form or fashion trying to make light of what Ray Rice did to his fiancé. It was truly a despicable act that needs to be repented of and forgiven. My prayer is that we would all recognize our own sinfulness and the consequences that we deserve and plead for the same mercy and grace to be extended to us for our own sins.