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“Do Not Be Afraid”

There are more angels sent by God concerning one event than anywhere else in the Bible—the Advent of Jesus. Clearly, this is a big deal: The coming to earth of God Himself! 

You would think this would be an occasion for great joy. But all four of the angelic appearances around the birth of Jesus have the same message: Do not be afraid

Why are people so afraid? It’s because fear invites us to make a decision to trust God completely. People remain crippled by fear when they try to deal with fear by themselves. But when they learn to fear God instead, there is an almost inexpressible joy and freedom that explodes in our hearts! 

Join us for this Advent series where we will explore why this “Do not fear” message is still relevant for us today. Please join us either in-person or on Facebook.

Learning Perseverance

Pastor Craig wrapped up our series Thankful In The Night with this important principle for all our nighttime lessons. Be sure to check out the video below! 

I have shared three lessons I learned going through dark times in my life (you can check them out here, here, and here), but we aren’t even close to exhausting all of the lessons that can be learned in the night. I want to teach you one principle that will allow for lifelong learning and application of these nighttime lessons. 

The apostle Paul shared how he had matured during his times of struggle. He told the Corinthians he realized that God had delivered him in the past, was delivering him now, and would continue to deliver him in the future (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). The key is to hang in long enough to actually see how God brings about the deliverance and teaches the lessons. 

Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can ENDURE it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the writer of Hebrews said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). 

The Greek word translated “persevere” means keeping focused on the goal despite the struggles that it takes to get there. Jesus used this same Greek word at the conclusion of His parable of the sower: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by PERSEVERING produce a crop”; a crop that Jesus said was a hundred times more than what was sown (see Luke 8:5-15). 

I love riding my bike on the White Pine Trail by my house. My long rides have a really fun stretch where I am flying downhill! But as fun as that part is, I’m not really building anything of lasting value. However, when I am coming back uphill and I want to quit because my legs are burning and I can hardly breathe, that becomes a valuable struggle. I cannot build endurance by any other way than to push myself just a little bit farther each time. When I want to quit, I pedal just a few more feet. Gradually, the uphill becomes less daunting. 

A friend gave me a t-shirt I like to wear on my rides. When I put it on the blue-lettered message on the shirt says, “Do It!” but as I struggle uphill and the sweat begins to pour off my body, a new message emerges: “Don’t Quit!” 

I have learned that easy roads teach very few valuable lessons. 

So here are three thoughts to help you persevere in your struggling times: 

  1. Keep your eyes on Jesus and on His eternal rewards (Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:2-4, 12) 
  2. Keep persevering friends close by—notice the “let us” phrases the writer of Hebrews uses 
  3. On your worst day, don’t quit but commit to go one day longer (Romans 5:3-4) 

[check out all of these verses by clicking here]

Remember that as you struggle and persevere, you are not only building your own endurance, but you are strengthening yourself to be able to help others. So we can be thankful IN the night because God is building our endurance for the next night, and our endurance for our friend’s next night. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here.

Learning Empathy

Pastor Craig shared another outstanding lesson that we can learn from the dark nights we all must pass through. Be sure to check out the full video below. 

I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.  

In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!” 

The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.” 

In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself. 

Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end! 

Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).

When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26). 

Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.” 

Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy. 

Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.” 

You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here

Learning Contentment

Pastor Craig continued our series Thankful In The Night with this encouraging message. Be sure to check out the video below. 

A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I need to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am.” 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in who God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here

Discovering True Friends

Pastor Craig continued our series Thankful In The Night. Be sure to check out the video below. 

Last week I shared that a mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation. 

Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses: 

  • remembered (2x) 
  • mused (2x) 
  • thought 
  • inquired 

Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:

  • Will the Lord reject me forever? NO! 
  • Will He never show His favor again? NO!
  • Has His unfailing love vanished forever? NO!
  • Has His promise failed for all time? NO! 
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful? NO! 
  • Has He in anger withheld His compassion? NO! 

Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.

Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us. 

One lesson I learned in a very dark nighttime of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away. 

The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.  

Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing. 

I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here

Praising God In The Troughs

Pastor Craig launched our new series called Thankful In The Night with this eye-opening message. Be sure to check out the full video below. 

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our souls provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like to need to praise God for FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this whole series: Thankful In The Night. 

Thankful In The Night

Pastor Craig tells us about a new sermon series that starts this Sunday. 

The psalmist wrote, “Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8). 

Notice that the psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterwards because of the lessons learned in that dark time. 

Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights. 

Join us this Sunday as we discover a lesson that will help us be thankful in the night. You can join us in person or on Facebook.

You can download notes for the November 22 message by clicking here, or downloading a PDF here →

Knowing God’s Will

From Pastor Craig’s blog… 

My dear friends Josh and Judy are moving. They feel like God has been calling them to Nebraska, and I affirm that God is directing them into this new chapter for their lives. I will miss them dearly, but I know God has indeed called them. 

During times like this many people will often ask, “How do I know that God is directing me?” 

In the Bible we see God speaking to people in several ways: 

  • An audible voice 
  • Through His prophets 
  • Sending an angel 
  • In a dream or vision 
  • One time God’s finger wrote a message on a wall
  • One time God spoke through a donkey 

But most often God speaks through the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is described as having a mind, a will, and emotions. Although He doesn’t have a physical body, He is still a Person. Just like any person you could get to know, you can get to know the Holy Spirit more and more personally, becoming increasingly more acquainted with His voice. 

All of us are unique individuals. God has never, ever duplicated a person. Your combination of genes, talents, personality, and personal experiences make you a one-of-a-kind in all of human history. That means that God speaks uniquely to each of us. 

Even though the exact manner God will speak to us will be unique, there are some clear principles that we can know from the Bible. 

1. Humbly listen for God’s voice.

Solomon wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Let me unpack three key phrases:

  • lean not on your own understanding really means humbly exchanging an “I know best” posture for a “God, You know best” posture. 
  • acknowledge Him is the Hebrew word yada. This word means a knowledge that comes from personal experience. This is where you act on something you think the Holy Spirit was saying to you and then evaluate it. It’s how you get to know the Person of the Holy Spirit better and better. 
  • He will make straight your paths might be better stated, “He will make your paths agreeable to His will.” In other words, you begin to feel in-sync with the Holy Spirit. The opposite of this would be grieving the Holy Spirit, where you feel out-of-step with God. 

2. Consult with godly friends. 

In Acts 16, the apostle Paul and his companions are attempting to go into new territories to share the good news about Jesus but Luke records twice that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow them. Perhaps they felt out-of-sync with the Spirit when they attempted to make their plans. Ultimately, God did open a door for them to move forward and Luke writes, “Concluding that God had called us.” Notice that word “us.” Paul shared his heart with his godly friends and they affirmed God’s voice, much as I affirmed the call on Josh and Judy’s lives in their move. 

3. Don’t be overly concerned about making a mistake. 

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that God is working all things together for your good and for His glory. “All things” means even your mistakes—like not noticing that the Spirit was prompting you to move, or perhaps temporarily heading down a wrong path. The Holy Spirit can help you look back and see how these experiences have prepared you for your present moment. Even those missteps can be used for God’s glory. But most importantly, those missteps have never diminished God’s love for you! 

Your journey will be unique from everyone else’s journey, but these three principles are applicable to everyone who wants to walk in the paths God has set for them. 

A Mother’s Thunderous Prayer

As we continued in our series We Are: Pentecostal, Pastor Craig shared a special message for moms on Mother’s Day. 

Hannah only appears in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, but her legacy thunders through her son, and its rumblings continue to reverberate today. At first glance, it seems somewhat ironic that Hannah’s name means grace (undeserved favor) because we tend to think of a grace-filled person as quiet and unassuming. We don’t typically think of grace as thundering, but indeed it does! 

Notice 3 P’s from Hannah’s life—

  1. Hannah is grace personified. She didn’t crumble because of Peninnah’s taunts, nor did she compromise on her heart’s prayer because of Elkanah’s compliments. She never responded verbally to either Peninnah or Elkanah, but she took all her anguish to God in prayer. 
  2. Hannah is persistent in prayer. Hannah lives out the definition of importunity—unswerving, unabated, persistent prayer. The Bible tells us, “year after year…in bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord … she kept on praying to the Lord.” Notice an important contrast: Peninnah means jewels (from earth), while Hannah means grace (from God). God wants to give us answers that are eternal.  
  3. Hannah is piously reverent. Three times Hannah called herself a servant. She is respectful to the high priest Eli even when he falsely accuses her of being drunk. After Eli assures Hannah that God is going to grant her prayer request, notice her reverent actions—she broke her fast, her face was no longer downcast, she worshipped before the Lord, and she and Elkanah tried again to get pregnant.  

Hannah’s anguish drove her to God. Year after year her bitterness of soul kept her in God’s presence. And after God answered her prayer, her rejoicing continued to keep her in God’s presence. She was importunate in prayer.

But also notice that God was silent while Hannah prayed year after year. Oswald Chambers says, “God’s silences are His answers. … Some prayers are followed by silence because they are wrong [this wasn’t Hannah’s case], others because they are bigger than we can understand.” 

God was going to give Hannah a son, but the time wasn’t right yet. God needed a strong man in a dark time, and it wasn’t dark enough yet. 

Israel had to sink into even deeper darkness. While Samuel was still a young man, the Israelite army was defeated, Eli and his two sons all died, and the ark of the covenant of the Lord was captured. This prompted Eli’s daughter-in-law to name her son Ichabod—God’s glory has departed. 

This darkness allows Samuel to lead the people into a revival and then on to victory (1 Samuel 7:3-10). But notice how God responded to Samuel’s revival prayer—the Lord thundered with a loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites

God’s response was a fulfillment of Hannah’s prayer. After God answered her and gave her a son, Hannah’s song of rejoicing foretold God’s response that was coming years later in Samuel’s revival—“It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High WILL thunder from heaven….” 

Hannah’s song of rejoicing after years and years of bitter, importunate, persistent prayer was prophetic—and God’s thunderous answer to Hannah’s prayer is still rumbling today! 

Moms, don’t stop praying! God wants to answer your prayer. The Holy Spirit will help you pray (Romans 8:26). God’s timing IS coming. He will thunder His thunder in answer to your persistent prayer! 

If you missed any of the messages in our We Are: Pentecostal series, please click here to access them

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!”

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