Feb 242015

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Hebrews 10:36 (ESV)

What occurs every four years and is just as popular, if not more so, than the Olympics? You guessed it: the World Cup. The World Cup is an international soccer tournament with 32 countries participating. Nations compete over a long period of time to qualify for this soccer (football) tournament, years of work culminating in a 64-game tournament watched by the world. In 2010, it was estimated that 3.2 billion people watched at least one minute of the World Cup. Over 1 billion people watched the final match between Spain and the Netherlands in 2010. The event with the largest viewership in history was the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

The sport of soccer has been a big part of my life since the age of 8. I played in high school and college and have even played on teams as an adult. I have coached teams for many years and I am presently the new middle school girls coach for Union County.

The objective of a soccer game is really simple: score more goals than the other team! Playing it, however, takes years of practice, coordination, skill, touch, and yes, endurance and speed. A team will not finish very well if they lack endurance. During a soccer match, a player runs anywhere from 4-7 miles, depending on his/her position. A soccer player runs virtually non-stop for 90 minutes. When I played, I happened to have one of those positions that ran about the 7 mile mark. Why would anyone put themselves through that much torture, you might ask? Score one goal for your team and you’ll understand why! There is something amazingly addicting about putting the ball in the back of the net. You want to do it over and over again. The training becomes a joy and not drudgery. One wants to get better and better so that one can score more often.

In the text above, the writer to the Hebrews exhorted these believers to remember the days in their early Christian experience when they faced many trials. They endured hard struggles with suffering (v. 32), publicly humiliated and afflicted. Some were treated as criminals and were thrown in prison. Christian brothers and sisters risked the plundering of their property to provide for and care for those in prison. You must remember that the Romans didn’t provide 3 meals a day, showers, weight benches, TV’s, and air conditioning. Any meals these believers received came from caring brothers and sisters in Christ.

These early believers endured these hardships since they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one: They were looking to the real goal – heaven! This is why the writer to the Hebrews tells them in verse 35-36, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God (that is, lived your life of faithfulness to God until the end), you may receive what is promised (the completion of their salvation in heaven).

Do you need endurance today? I do. For one, I can’t run like I did 25 years ago in a soccer match; but secondly, I have many struggles that are difficult to fight. Sometimes I simply want to throw in the towel. So I need this word from Hebrews because I need endurance too. Holy Father, please help us to keep our eyes on the only goal that matters. Grant to us enduring grace. I am so thankful that your people are not of those that shrink back and are destroyed (v. 39). You preserve and keep your own in your mighty hand. Amen.

Watch a World Cup match, even if you care nothing about soccer, and notice the endurance of the players. It really is amazing how they run. Let us fix our eyes on the prize and run with endurance the race set before us.

Running for the GOOOAAAALLLLLLLL! (That’s how the announcers of a soccer match say “goal” – they just stretch it out a little more!)

Pastor Bill

Jan 162013

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:56 (ESV)

Last Fall a dear friend of mine suddenly became a widower. In God’s wisdom and plan He took her to be with Him. I was with the man for a while the other day and the grief is still very fresh. The apostle Paul does say, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Most assuredly, even as believers, we grieve the death of a loved-one. But believers in Jesus grieve with hope. Their sorrow is surrounded by the comfort of God’s promises. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God has granted eternal life, and death is only a gateway to experience God’s glory forevermore. As the title of hymn so rightly proclaims, “It is not Death to Die” (H.A. Cesar Malan, 1832); believers in Jesus will enjoy all the comforts of everlasting joy in heaven.

Only God’s Word and the promises therein can give comfort to my friend. So I pointed him to the text above and I point you to the same. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death cannot hurt nor can death destroy a Christian! Death has absolutely no victory over the Christian, for Christ their Savior has gained the victory over death. Christ is the First-fruits of all who will be raised. At death He will carry His children to be with Him where death has no authority. Death has no power over the Christian. Where once the reality of death loomed over us and would surely capture us in its grip, God in mercy saved us, by His grace, and granted to us eternal life. Upon God’s regenerating work and the fruits of repentance and faith, death lost its grip and we fell into the grip of another. And no one or nothing can snatch us out of that grip (John 10:28).

Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Death spent all of its strength killing Christ; and in killing Christ, it killed itself!” Death is now but a shadow. It might appear to loom large, but a shadow cannot hurt you. A lion can hurt you, but a shadow of a lion cannot touch you. Where once death was like a lion, for the Christian death is like a lamb.

I understand that even believers are weak and sometimes the prospect of death terrifies us. But the very ground of our hope can never be shaken. The shadow of death is just that – a shadow. A child may be afraid of the dark and does not want to be in his room, even though nothing is there. We try to reassure the child: “It’s alright, there’s nothing there.” Sometimes in our weakness we fear death like the child fears the dark. But remember, there’s nothing there that can hurt you.

Those who have not trusted Christ will find that all their earthly comforts will fail them on their day of death. Their foundation will be swept away and they will be consumed in God’s wrath. But God’s elect have hope in great and precious promises. Christ has conquered death once for all. Death has been defeated and it cannot hurt us anymore.

Knowing these truths should cause us to take great risks for Christ’s Kingdom. We should pray today for an American pastor who is being tortured in Iran right now for proclaiming the Gospel. His trial is set for January 21. Let us pray for his wife and children, that they would remain strong and look to Christ and His Gospel. Let us remember what it will take to carry the Gospel to the lost. But let us also remember that God’s promises are sure. So let us encourage one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:18). Death’s grip is gone and it can’t hurt us anymore! Hallelujah!

Jan 012013

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

Isa 43:19-21 (ESV)

The New Year presents an opportunity to reflect on our lives. This is not something I am always eager to do, and that would probably be true of most of us. I think back to all my failures and the things that do not seem to improve (which seems to be the first thing I do) and I cannot see how it all fits in God’s plan. I know God is working all things together for my good, to conform me into the image of Christ, but sometimes it hurts. Yes, today begins the New Year, but things in my life do not seem so “new”. Well, one thing changed when I woke up this morning: I am told that I am falling down a fiscal cliff! But all in all, I woke up still trying to fight the good fight of faith. I know God holds the future, but I struggle to trust. Maybe that’s your story today also. Today was just the continuation of the “same ol’ stuff”.

I am very blessed and I do have much for which to be thankful. I really don’t want to sound like I’m in a “downer” frame of mind, but I am. I know I have so far to go; and besides prayer and Bible reading, I don’t always know where to start.

This last Sunday I was able to attend the church I attended as a child. I was blessed to see my childhood pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Tom Sizer. I only had one pastor from age 5, when we moved to Cincinnati, until age 18 when I went to Toccoa Falls College. Pastor Sizer faithfully taught and lived God’s Word before us. Mrs. Sizer was my Sunday school teacher when I was a teen. There were many Sundays when I was the only teen there and Mrs. Sizer prepared and taught like there was a room full. I still remember many of her lessons from 1 Peter! Yes, Mrs. Sizer, you taught me to hope in God!

Pastor and Mrs. Sizer came to Calvary Chapel Alliance Church in the infant stages of the church. They gave themselves for the work of the ministry and labored there for 31 years! They are faithful to ask my father, who still attends the church, of my well-being and the well-being of the new work that I pastor. But this Sunday, Mrs. Sizer was able to ask me in person how things were going. I told her that I and the church have many ups and downs. There are good days and bad days. My emotions go from very excited, as I see things moving forward, to very helpless, as I see the effects of sin and the brokenness in this world. I see physical distress and I think, “How can I help and encourage this one?” I see financial stress and I pray, “O God, please prosper your people and provide for their needs and give them grace to trust.” I see broken relationships, broken promises, friends moving away, and rejection.

Mrs. Sizer told me of the many struggles they had in the infant stages of Calvary Chapel. They started with 25, and by the end of their first year there were 17. But then, Mrs. Sizer pointed me once again to our God of hope. She said, “Look at the church now!” By God’s grace, Calvary Chapel is full. To the Sizers, it was worth all the sacrifices and all the financial strains and all the trials. God is faithful and I know he will care for me and RBC. God knows my heart and my motives. My one desire is that the lost will hear the Gospel and be saved and that the members of RBC will grow to full maturity in Christ.

God is doing a new thing. First, He is doing it in me and you. We may not perceive it, but He is working in ways I cannot always see. Secondly, He is working in RBC. Again, we may not perceive it, and it might appear otherwise, but God is doing a new thing. He is making a way in our wilderness and he is providing rivers in our desert. Christ is building His Church and God is working in the hearts of His people to cause them to honor Him. He will give drink to His chosen people. He knows we need refreshing and He is faithful to quench our thirst for more of Him.

I am thankful today that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Christ. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. Jesus came to rescue pitiful sinners like me and you. Without Him I have nothing. So let us pray for Christ to be glorified in our lives and in our church. This Sunday begins prayer emphasis week. The sermon, Lord willing, will come from Isaiah 59, particularly verse 1: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”

Through all the adversity and trials that were still with us when we woke up this morning, let us hope in God. Let us not throw in the towel of defeat, in spite of our failures. Let us press on trusting in the kindness of Savior.

Trusting only in His sovereign plan for us,

Pastor Bill

Oct 262011

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

My teaching for the men’s group this week begins with this verse from the 12th chapter of Hebrews. The great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us are those immediately mentioned previously in the 11th chapter. Of course, it also refers to all those that have died trusting in Jesus Christ. This verse does not mean that the dead saints are “looking down” on us and they are watching us and cheering us on. The verse is a call for believers to look back at the heroes of the faith and to imitate their hope and trust in God. When you read the end of chapter 10 and all of chapter 11, you cannot help but see that these were extraordinary people, men “of whom the world was not worthy.” From 10:34, they helped their brothers and sisters in prison, and while they were out, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. I do wish that we were such people of faith; that we might love Christ more than our things. The saints of old did not put their hope in earthly places or things. They knew they were strangers on earth and they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (v. 16). By faith Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. He left Egypt, not fearing the king. By faith, God delivered some and by faith God did not deliver some (see 11:32-39).

I want to highlight this verse because yesterday, October 24, was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s leaving this world and entering into the glory of her Lord. She is part of that great cloud. I look back on her life and I thank God that He blessed me with her. I want to mention quickly two things that I desire to imitate in her life. There are many more, but I don’t want to write a book right now, and you probably do not want to read one!

First of all, my mom loved the local church. She grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid). Her father had planted a church in Birmingham, AL, when my mother was born. There was never a time in her life that she was not in the house of God! From birth to death, except on rare occasions, she was in His house with other believers. During my entire life, there has never been a time when I have not been in fellowship with other believers. The importance of the local church was ingrained in me. There was never another place I wanted to be on Lord’s Day but in the house of God. Now that I have studied church history and I’m pastoring RBC, the local church is even more precious to me. The local church is God’s plan for evangelism and discipleship. It is the “ark of safety” for believers. To use the imagery of Pilgrim’s Progress, it is that Palace Beautiful. So many today have spoken ill of the church. But Christ loves the church and He gave His life for her. I actually heard someone say, “I love Jesus but hate the Church.” No, this person does not know Jesus! A person who says they love Jesus should love that which Jesus loves, and that is His Church. Christ is building His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. My mom didn’t worship the church. She worshiped her Savior through the God-ordained means of the local church, the visible manifestation of the body of Christ. She was deeply committed to her brothers and sisters in Christ.

Secondly, my mom loved music. From her earliest days she learned to read music and play the piano. She also had a beautiful soprano voice. Do you remember when CB radios were popular? Her CB handle was “High C”! She could hit the high notes! I still hear her voice in many hymns that I sing today. I miss her voice. When my mother was a young girl, she and her sisters would take an afternoon and sing through the entire hymnbook! She was the choir director at church for years. After her death, we found some annual letters that she had written to the choir members. They were filled with Scripture and communicated her love for God and her thankfulness for the gift of music. When I was a boy, she tried to teach me to play the piano. Sadly, I was too restless and I gave her a hard time during lessons. I regret that today. But I do love music of all kinds, and especially music that is Gospel-centered. At the time of her death, my mother was singing in a choral group that performed with the Cincinnati Symphony. It was a great honor to be a part of that. Mom inspired me to keep a song in my heart and I try to do that every day. This morning it was As Long as You are Glorified. We sang this song Sunday, and I can’t get it out of my head. That is a very good thing and I believe my mom can be credited with training my mind for music.

I could say many more things about her, but I want to close with the rest of the verse above. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. What can we learn from their example? There are three things:

1. Let us also lay aside every weight. Notice that it doesn’t say “lay aside every sin” yet. That is coming. But the author directs our attention to things that may not be bad in and of themselves, but are like a weight that slows our spiritual progress. Let me get very practical here. Here are some possible weights that you might be carrying. They might not be weights for everyone, but they just might be something that takes much of your time and attention: cell phones, internet, Facebook, iPods, cameras, cars, magazines, shopping, friendships, etc. Are there things in your life now that are not necessarily bad, but are taking time away from your walk with Christ? The writer of Hebrews tells us that people of faith strive to rid themselves of these weights. Examine yourself today. What is weighing you down and hindering your progress in the faith?

2. Let us also lay aside the sin which clings so closely. How diligent are we in our struggle against sin? How are we trying to cast off things that cling to us? Sin is like a dryer sheet that clings to your clean clothes. You can go half-way through the day and you finally realize that what is itching your leg is a dryer sheet stuck inside your pants. Sin clings to and entangles us. It trips us up and causes us to stumble. One of the themes of Hebrews is that Jesus is our Mediator, our great High Priest (4:14-16). We have one that prays for us and, by one single offering, has perfected for all time those that are being sanctified (10:14). That is a verse that gives me hope in the struggle to lay sin aside.

3. Let us run the race that is set before us with endurance. Each one of us has different obstacles, but believers are called to endure. The race often seems very long and the finish line is a faint image. But the finish line will get here sooner than you think (James says “life is a vapor”). My prayer today for all of us is for endurance. Let us not throw away our confidence, but let us hold fast to Christ. Christ is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (13:20). The message of Hebrews 11 and 12 is that God designs difficulties for a purpose. Look at 12:7: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” So friend, do not despise the Lord’s discipline. It is evidence of His love for you. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

My mom’s race ended sometime in the early morning of October 24, 2005. I don’t know when my race will be over, but I have need of endurance. How about you? O, Lord, please tear me from the love of this world. Help me never to be comfortable in this world, but to forsake the things that are hindering me in my race. Having the things of this world torn from me is painful, but please give grace and healing. I’m thankful for the life of my mom. She now lives in your presence. That confidence is a gift of your grace and I give you all the praise. In Jesus name, Amen.

Aug 232011

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

In Part 4, we saw that we can be strengthened by grace because God gives grace to the humble. The humble “cast their burdens on the Lord, for He cares for [them].” Part 5 (today’s post) is related, and to explain I now want to draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 12. I want to ask the question, “What if my burden is not removed? What if, in my casting my cares upon Christ, He sees fit to leave them in my life? Does that mean something is wrong with me? Does that mean my faith is weak or that there is sin in my life?” These are very good questions and they are answered in this text.

The core message of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 is this: no matter what you are facing today, no matter how desperate the situation and no matter how deeply your heart is hurting, God’s grace is enough. Speaking as a pastor, there is nothing that hurts me more than to see members of my church go through very difficult trials. If it was up to me and I had the power to remove these struggles, I would do it in a second. My church is small. We have 30 members and we average around 40 in attendance each week. But I have some folks in the midst of very stressful, hurtful and difficult trials. Some are physical, some financial, some spiritual, and some a combination of all of these, but they all are very real and they weigh heavy on the hearts of my people. (I’ll come back to this.)

The apostle Paul, in my view, is writing autobiographically in 2 Corinthians 12. In verse 2, he speaks of a man he knows who experienced great spiritual revelations. He was even caught up into paradise – whether in the body or not, Paul did not know. But whatever the case, this was the kind of experience that could have awed a crowd, and “this man” might even have used the experience as a platform to display his great spirituality. But in verse 7, Paul says, “So to keep me from being elated . . . a thorn in the flesh was given to me,” that is, a messenger of Satan to beat him up or harass him. Note that Paul is in fact speaking of himself and note that this event happened fourteen years prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (v. 2). So many years have passed and yet there is no indication that the thorn is gone, even after he prayed and prayed and prayed. It was not removed.

The purpose of the thorn from the messenger (lit. “angel”) of Satan, whatever it was, was to keep Paul from becoming puffed up with pride. Ultimately, this thorn came from God. Why do I say that? Since when is Satan in the business of humbling anyone? God ordained this messenger of Satan to accomplish His purpose, and that was to keep Paul humble so that his life would be a display of God’s grace. Paul desired that his weakness would be a platform to display the strength of Christ.

Some of you have endured trials for a very long time. You have prayed and prayed and prayed some more and the troubles are still there. Like Paul, you may have faced years of a certain trial. I don’t know all of God’s purposes for the trials that surround you. But this I know: His grace is enough. Do you trust God’s sovereign care for you? Do you trust that God is working all things for your good and His glory? The trials in our lives show us very clearly just how weak we are. We cannot control them. This should humble you, and me, by showing us just how weak we really are. But as we trust in Him and find His grace ever so sufficient, our lives become a display of His power. Only through Christ’s power can I really consider it joy when trials come. Only through Christ’s power can we face each day with hope.

So, let me make this clear: if we are wallowing in self-pity because of our circumstances, we are sinning, and our practices reveal that we really don’t believe what we say we do. After we have prayed and prayed and the issue still remains, we must press on. We will be sustained by His grace. His power will be seen in our trust in Him.

Allow me to give one more word of admonition from Paul’s experience: Let us get the focus off of ourselves and begin to serve others. We should not isolate ourselves from other believers, but rather realize that God can use us to help those who need comfort (2 Cor. 1). Do you see your trials as a means not only to share the gospel with others, but also to exemplify to the world a heart that is deeply satisfied in the sufficiency of Christ? I am not saying that this is easy to do, but this is what the fight of faith is all about.

I know that many who read these words are hurting. Please know that God’s grace is enough. Let’s be strengthened by His grace today, for when you are weak, that is when you are really strong!