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Life Is Hard! Now What?

As we continue learning how Christians are to live while they are visiting Earth, Pastor Craig shared this recap of his Sunday message. 

Jesus told Peter, and now Peter tells us—Christians are going to be insulted and persecuted for believing in Jesus. So the fact that life is hard shouldn’t come as a surprise. Peter then goes on to elaborate on how Christians should live in spite of the mistreatment.

“The more Christians are unlike the world, the more it hates us; the more we are like our Lord, the more the world will persecute us.”—Horatius Bonar

How should Christians respond to insults and persecution? Peter outlines the Christian’s response in 1 Peter 4:12-19

dear friends, do not be surprised (v. 12). I like this verse in the Amplified Bible: Do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your position) were befalling you. After all, Jesus told us this was coming (see John 15:18-20).

but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ (v. 13a). Notice that this should be the sufferings OF Christ, not of our own making.

—let suffering lead to Spirit-led reflection (notice the if’s in vv. 14-18, and the if’s in what Jesus said in John 15:18-20). We need to make sure our suffering is because we’re standing for Jesus, not because we’re being jerks! David asked God to check if his actions were the cause of his persecution (Psalm 7:3-4) and we should too. If we discover that we’re the one to blame, quickly apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make things right.

keep your focus on when His glory is revealed(v. 13b). Time is short, and the rewards are sure so don’t remain focused on the immediate pain, but look up to the longterm gain.

do not be ashamed to suffer for Jesus (v. 16). Jesus told us not to be ashamed of Him because He is not ashamed of us (Luke 9:26; Hebrews 2:11).

stay committed to your faithful Creator (v. 19a). Staying committed means getting even closer to God in the hard times.

continue to do good(v. 19b). What does continue to do good look like? Peter lists things like being self-controlled, helping others that are being persecuted, showing proper respect, having a good work ethic, not trading insult for insult, and many other commands. Bottom line: doing good means living like Jesus lived while He was on Earth (see Acts 10:38).

So, Christian, I’ve got two questions for you—

How are you handling insults and persecution? Are you continuing to do good despite the mistreatment?

Remember Jesus is coming soon, and His rewards are with Him for how we have lived. “Behold, I am coming soon, and I shall bring My wages and rewards with Me, to repay and render to each one just what his own actions and his own work merit.” —Jesus (Revelation 22:12)

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn how Christians are to live as aliens and strangers while we visit Earth. You can join us either in person or via Facebook Live.

Unlearning Limiting Fears

As we continue in our series called Aliens and Strangers, here is a recap Pastor Craig posted recapping his Sunday message. 

Did you know that you were only born with two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises? Yet the DSM-5 has a whole section to help mental health professionals diagnosis the specific phobia that may be limiting someone’s life. That might be because some places list upwards of 500 recognized phobias that constrict people’s lives!

Since only two of our fears are innate fears, that means the rest of the fears that trouble us are learned fears. Since God repeatedly says “Fear not!” throughout Scripture, that must mean He also tells us how to overcome our fears.

Christians—as aliens and strangers on this Earth—should have an alien response to earthly fears. So if we are going to unlearn some of the fears that have cramped our lives we will need to learn and relearn what God says to us.

Peter asks what might seem like a rhetorical question, “Who is going to harm you if are eager to do good?” Think about it: who wants to punish someone for doing the right thing? Apparently some people do because Peter goes on to add, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened” (1 Peter 3:13-14).

So even if people insult Christians for doing things God’s right way, God’s blessing is on them. Sadly, people without God’s blessing on their lives often give in to the FOMO (fear of missing out) and they end up lashing out at those being blessed. That lashing out is directly rooted in their fears.

Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that humans have, and obviously, there would be fears associated with any of those needs not being met. At least, that would be the Earthling response. Christians need to unlearn those fears by learning and relearning why God tells them to “Fear not!”

  1. Fear of not having physiological needs met—Jesus tells us why we shouldn’t worry (Matthew 6:25-34).
  2. Fear of not being kept safe—the psalmist tells us that God is our shield (Psalm 84:11).
  3. Fear of not fitting in with a certain social group—Jesus proudly call His followers His brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11-12).
  4. Fear of not being rewarded or recognized—Jesus says there are blessings for those that hang in with Him through persecution, including being called a co-heir alongside Him (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17).
  5. Fear of our life not having purpose—the apostle Paul reminds us that God chose us on purpose to be His example to the world (1 Corinthians 1:25-27).

Since Jesus overcame all the things that could cause us fear, Peter counsels us to arm yourselves with this same attitude(1 Peter 4:1). The Greek word for arm yourselves only appears here, and it means for us to repeatedly remind ourselves of God’s truth. The Greek word for attitude is only here and in Hebrews 4:12, where we are reminded that the Word of God helps our minds unlearn, learn, and relearn God’s truth.

Have the borders of your life been squeezed by your fears? Do you feel like you’re missing out on the “abundant life” that Jesus said you could have? The Word of God can help you unlearn those fears, and fellow Christians would love to come alongside you to help you continue to relearn that truth over and over again until your fears are banished from your life!

Don’t let fear keep you from being all that God has planned for you to be!

Please join me on Sunday as we continue our study of how Christians are to live as aliens and strangers while on Earth. You can join me in person or on Facebook Live.

Living Lives That Make Sense

As we rejoined our series on Aliens and Strangers, here is Pastor Craig’s recap of his message. 

This sounds totally contrary to common sense, but I’ll bet you’ve seen this before—Someone does something unexpectedly nice, and gets criticized for it.

Why would that be?

Christians can expect to experience this more frequently. Jesus told His followers to be prepared for persecution from those who didn’t believe in Him. One of Christ’s disciples named Peter added a few other warnings for Christians:

  • Non-Christians will accuse you of doing wrong even when you’re doing right
  • Non-Christians will think it’s weird that you don’t do the same evil deeds they do
  • Non-Christians will heap abuse on you for not doing the evil deeds they do (1 Peter 2:12; 4:4)

This is because living good, Christ-honoring lives causes a burning in those hearts that don’t know Jesus yet.

Solomon said there’s an aching void in the heart of every human being. It’s a longing to know what makes sense in life (see Ecclesiastes 3:11). When Christians live their lives focused on God, and they live—as Peter said—“such good lives,” it reminds non-Christians of what they’re missing.

Christian, you need to remember why we live this way. The belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:18) is the foundation for our lives. In fact, Peter called Jesus the Living Stone. As His followers, we are also called “living stones” that the Holy Spirit is building together to make a spiritual signpost to point others to Jesus (see 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9, 12).

We cannot do this under our own power. Jesus Himself reminded us that we need the Scriptures which all point to Him (Luke 24:27, 44-45), and the Holy Spirit which will help us apply the revealed Scriptures (John 14:26) and live “such good lives.”

So here’s how I’m challenging myself this week, and I’d like to extend this challenge to you too. For the next seven days, just before going to bed I’ll be asking myself these three questions:

  1. Did I read the Word of God today?
  2. Did I see the God of the Word in the Word of God a little more clearly today?
  3. Did I live a good, Christ-honoring life today that pointed others to Jesus?

Join me this Sunday as we continue our look at how Christians should live as aliens and strangers while visiting Earth. You can join me in person or via Facebook Live.

Aliens and Strangers

Christians are not citizens of Planet Earth. Our citizenship is in a place called Heaven, and yet we are traveling on Earth during our present lifetime. So the question is: How is a citizen of Heaven supposed to act while visiting Earth?

The Apostle Peter was one of the most active disciples of Jesus. During Christ’s first visit to Earth, Peter is recorded as speaking more than all of the other disciples combined. And not surprisingly, Jesus speaks more words directly to Peter than He does to all of the other 11 disciples combinedPeter got a lot of training!

With that background, Peter gives us invaluable instructions in his first letter to the church. He calls Christians things like: strangers in the worldchosen peoplepeculiar people, and aliens and strangers in the world. He tells us travelers not only how to behave while traveling on Earth, but why we should travel in a God-honoring way.

We will be continuing to work our way through these fascinating themes of Peter’s instructions for aliens and strangers this Sunday. If you don’t have a home church in the Cedar Springs area, we would love to have you join us! If you cannot join us in person, we will be broadcasting each message live on our Facebook page, and then we will make the video available later in the week.

We are excited to continue this journey of discovery together!

Grudges Can Block God’s Blessings

Scott Troost shared a challenging word in our Selah series from Psalm 7. Here’s a recap that Pastor Craig shared on his blog.

In Psalm 7, some guy named Cush is giving David trouble. How much trouble? David felt like Cush was a lion about to rip him apart!

We would naturally expect David to cry out for God’s help from this tormentor (which he does in the opening verses), but then what David does next is quite unexpected—he asks to God to search his heart to see if he might be the cause for Cush’s attack:

  • Have I done something wrong?
  • Is there guilt on my hands?
  • Have I done such an evil to cause him to attack?
  • Have I somehow robbed Cush of something?

This introspection in God’s presence was apparently a regular habit for David. He made this a regular habit when the heat was on, and also when he was at peace (see Psalm 139:23-24).

Not only did David want to make sure his hands were clean, but he also wanted to make sure he wasn’t carrying a grudge against Cush. A grudge is a feeling of anger or resentment toward someone who has wronged us. But the most devastating thing about a grudge is that it takes our eyes off God and places them on our tormentor.

In other words, as long as we hold a grudge, we continue to give our tormentor power over our lives.

So after asking those introspective questions, David writes Selah. One definition of this word—which is probably quite appropriate here—is pause, and calmly think of that.

After this Selah pause of introspection in God’s presence, David must have felt clear of any guilt (because we don’t see him repenting, as is his habit), but we also see him being very careful of not holding on to a grudge against Cush.

David then begins to affirm in the remaining verses that God is more than capable of handling evil people and keeping the righteous protected. David determines that he will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Most High (v. 17).

Here’s an important thing for anyone who has been injured by someone else to remember—

By holding on to a grudge, you’re holding yourself in bondage!

How can your hands be free to receive God’s blessings if your hands are full of the grudges you are holding?

Learn from David’s Selahthese two lessons when someone torments you:

  1. Ask God: am I to blame? If so, repent. If not, ask question 2.
  2. Ask God: am I holding on to a grudge? If so, let it go so your hands are free to receive God’s blessings!

Join me next Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Psalms.

Looking Ahead To The Second Advent

Throughout 2017 we have been reviewing our foundational truths. Here is Pastor Craig’s recap of his message covering our belief statements on the end times events. 

Celebrating Advent means both looking back at Christ’s First Advent in Bethlehem and looking ahead to His Second Advent at the end of time. Faith in the First Advent fuels hope in the Second Advent. Let’s take a look at the events leading up to and surrounding Christ’s Second Advent to help us appreciate what was begun at His First Advent.

Overarching all of the end times events is a Christian’s blessed hope: “The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church.”

The word “rapture” doesn’t appear in Scripture, but we get this word from the Latin word raptu, which comes from the Greek word harpazo. We first see it when Philip is “caught away” from the Ethiopian’s presence in the desert (Acts 8:39). This is the same word Paul uses when he says that Christians will be “caught up” to meet Christ in the air (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Note that the rapture of the Church is not the Second Coming of Christ. His Second Coming takes place at the end of the period known as the Tribulation when Jesus returns to earth as a conquering King and establishes His Millennial Reign on earth (Revelation 19:11-16; 20:1-4).

During Christ’s Millennial Reign, the devil and his cohorts are locked up until the end of the 1000-year reign and are allowed to tempt people one final time. The devil will succeed in tempting quite a few people, as he will once again muster a sizable army to attack Christ and His followers. This decisive battle will culminate in the final judgment.

“There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

After this will come the New Heavens and New Earth where Christians will commune with God for ever and ever (Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5, 12-21).

In light of Christ’s First Advent in Bethlehem, and His soon return (His Second Advent), how are Christians to live? In a word: HOPEFUL!

In all of these passages discussing the end times, hope-filled words are used—

  • therefore encourage each other with these words
  • wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior 
  • stand firm … let nothing move you
  • Jesus says, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me

Jesus also pointed out that Heaven is a place “prepared for you since the creation of the world,” while Hell is “prepared for the devil and his angels.” GOD WANTS YOU WITH HIM IN HEAVEN!

As you rejoice in the First Advent, remember that Christ’s First Coming was to provide a way for you to have your sins forgiven and be able to spend eternity with Him. So as we look forward in hope to Christ’s Second Advent we say with the Apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

What Does The Bible Say About Church Leaders?

In our series on our foundational beliefs, here is a recap Pastor Craig shared on his message about church leadership.

God’s plan has always been for His leaders to organize and oversee His ministry.

The important thing for us to distinguish is “His.” It’s not a man or woman saying, “I will be a leader,” or even a God-appointed leader saying, “I am going to build up my ministry.”

The New Testament gives us a fourfold purpose for the Body of Christ:

  1. Mobilizing for evangelism
  2. Organizing for more meaningful ministry
  3. Making disciple-makers
  4. Caring for one another

We see God’s leaders involved in all of these aspects—

Mobilizing for evangelism—Peter pointed out the need for an apostle to be appointed to replace Judas, thus returning their ranks to the 12 apostles just as Jesus had originally said (Acts 1:15-22).

Organizing for more meaningful ministry—Everywhere Paul founded a church, he also appointed leaders to oversee and shepherd that church.

Making disciple-makers—Paul tells us that God appointed five offices of leaders in the church who had the specific task of preparing church members to do the ministry of building maturity in the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Caring for one another—The First Church set the pace for providing care for all who were in need, including organizing leaders to oversee specific care ministries (Acts 6:1-5).

What about a church congregation’s responsibility to their leaders? I see five areas:

  1. Hold them accountable to the Word (Acts 17:11). The Bible has to be THE standard to which leaders are held.
  2. Give them your confidence and submission after they have shown accountability to their biblical mandate (Hebrews 13:17).
  3. Pray for them (Ephesians 6:19).
  4. Pay them (1 Timothy 5:17).
  5. Be very careful about accusing them (1 Timothy 5:19).

A church and its leaders following this biblical pattern is a church that can effectively fulfill the Great Commission which Jesus gave us.

What Is The Church Supposed To Be Doing?

As we continued in our series looking at our Foundation Stones, here is a recap of the message Pastor Craig shared yesterday about the mission of the Church.

Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus commissioned His followers. He gave them a mission which Christian often refer to as The Great Commission.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

There are several pictures in the New Testament of how the Church could live out this Great Commission, but one of the pictures that I find the most helpful is that of a Body.

The human body is an amazing creation! Just to accomplish the simple task of picking up something between our thumb and forefinger is a miracle in itself. The structure of bones and ligaments and tendons, the interaction of nerves in the fingers coordinating with the optical nerve, not to mention the enzymes and blood vessels that are all doing their part.

Yet if any part is not functioning properly, that simple action becomes more difficult. Maybe it even becomes impossible.

The Church is the same way. Every part of the Church Body has to be functioning in healthy order for the whole Body to be effective.

Here are four aspects of a healthy Church Body that the Apostle Paul lists in Ephesians 4:

  1. Caring for one another
  2. Mobilizing for evangelism
  3. Making disciple-makers
  4. Helping organize for more meaningful ministry

If every part of the Body is doing its part, we’re Living out the Great Commission.

If some parts are missing or unhealthy, we’re Wallowing in the Great Omission.

It’s not about your church (small “c”) or my church. It’s about all Christian disciples being a part of one Church—one Body—going into all the world and making disciples of all peoples. That’s what the Church is supposed to be doing!

One-And-Done? Ongoing? Later?

In our ongoing series looking at our foundational truths, Pastor Craig shared some insight into the concept of sanctification. Here is the recap he posted on his blog:

If I were to ask five different Christians to give me a definition of sanctification, I just might get five different definitions!

Part of this comes from incorrect either-or thinking. However, Jesus seems to tell us that sanctification requires a both-and thinking.

In Christ’s prayer for His followers in John 17, He uses the word sanctified three times (see verses 17-19). Although He is using the same Greek word each time, He uses a different “flavor” of the word to make it really clear what He means.

First of all, the Greek word for sanctified means the process of being made into a saint. So I sometimes I like to say the word this way: SAINT-ified.

Check out Christ’s prayer. First He says, “I sanctify Myself,” and then He says, “that they too may be truly sanctified.” Same Greek word, but each time is slightly tweaked.

Jesus uses a “flavor” of Greek which means sanctification is something that He has done completely and totally on His own once and for all. In other words, Christians are completely and totally sanctified at the very moment they surrender their life to Him.

But when He talks about His followers, the “flavor” of Greek means sanctification is something that is an ongoing process. In other words, we are being SAINT-ified.

So which is it? Sanctified once, or sanctified through an ongoing process?

It’s not either-or. It’s both-and!

Think about a married couple. From the moment the pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” they are married. It is done; fully completed. There is nothing the bride or groom can do to become more married.

However, the groom can begin to look at the marriage through his bride’s eyes. Then he can serve her in a way that helps her feel more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within the marriage. Neither of them becomes more married, but they can get more enjoyment within the marriage.

The same thing for Christians. At the moment we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we are saved from the penalty of our sins. We can’t be more saved. But through the process of SANIT-ificiation we can experience more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within our relationship with Jesus.

My paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:15-16—But just as He who called you has paid for your once-for-all saint-ification, so keep on being saint-ified in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

What about you? Are you satisfied with just being saved, or are you striving for a joy-filled, more fulfilling, increasingly satisfied relationship with Jesus Christ? It can truly be a wonderful both-and relationship!

The Promised Power Of Pentecost

As we continued our study of our foundational truths, here is a recap Pastor Craig shared from Pentecost Sunday.

When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt on the night of Passover, fifty days later they arrived at Mount Sinai where God delivered the Ten Commandments to them. This became the birth of the Jewish nation. For millennia following this, not only did the Jewish people observe Passover but they also celebrated “The Feast of Weeks” (also known as Pentecost) fifty days following Passover.

But on the first Pentecost after Christ ascended to Heaven, something amazing happened which was a game-changer for the new Christians. An event which became the birth of the Christian nation.

On that Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit was poured out of Christ’s followers in a way never before seen in history. Although this had never been seen before, it was the fulfillment of something God had promised thousands of years before.

  1. Promised

This blessing of the Holy Spirit had been hinted at when God first called Abraham, as He promised that from Abraham would come a blessing for all peoples on earth (Genesis 12:3). Jesus said that this blessing would be realized with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then Peter tied the Day of Pentecost experience to the fulfillment of those promises (Acts 2:38-39).

  1. Commanded

Jesus had this empowerment of the Holy Spirit and He wanted all of His followers to have it too, so His directive to His follower is not a suggestion. Twice when Jesus tells His followers to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the verbs He uses are commands (see Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4).

  1. Normal Experience

For the first Christians, the baptism in the Holy Spirit was a normal experience for them following salvation. This baptism gave them power to…

  1. Initial Evidence

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is accompanied by an initial physical evidence of speaking in a language you’ve never studied. This is to be an unmistakable proof—primarily to you—of the Spirit’s outpouring. But the ongoing development of Christlike character is the continual evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

So what’s the controversy? Why do people spend so much time arguing this baptism isn’t for us, or for now? If we start down that path, what else are we going to say is outdated or exclusive for some?

Doesn’t seem much more logical to simply accept what God promised all His people?!

So here’s the question I would ask you—Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit? If not, why not?

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