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A Proper Perspective In An Evil Culture

Pastor Craig challenged our congregation with this message on Sunday. 

Do these phrases sound familiar? 

  • The foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? 
  • The faithful have vanished from among men 
  • Everyone lies to his neighbor 
  • The boastful say, “We will triumph with our tongues” 
  • The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men 

This could be said today in my neighborhood. And 20 years ago in Washington DC. And 500 years ago in Europe. But it was said over 3000 years ago!

In times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these! 

In the United States, elections bring regular changes in leadership. Around the world and throughout history violent dictators are toppled, benevolent monarchies fall, dominate personalities shine brightly and fade from the scene, even people who called themselves “Great” or “the king of kings” have disappeared. What should our perspective be in changing cultures—whether they are good or evil?

In Psalms 9-12, David shares some timeless reminders.  

In Psalm 9, he contrasts the temporary track record of mortals with the transcendency of Yahweh. His Selah pauses in this psalm invite us to consider the question: Who benefits me ultimately and affects me eternally: mortals or God?

In the Septuagint, Psalms 9 and 10 make up one psalm. In our English Bible, Psalm 9 closes with the phrase “they are but men” and Psalm 10 closes by calling mankind “mere earthly mortals.” Contrast that with Yahweh who is described as “the LORD reigns forever” and “the LORD is King for ever and ever.” 

In between these eternal affirmations of God, mere earthly mortals are described as: 

  • arrogant 
  • boastful—literally saying “hallelujah” to themselves 
  • blessing all who are like them in their wicked thoughts
  • having no room in their thoughts for God 
  • even praying to themselves—which is the literal meaning of “he says to himself” that David repeats three times 

Literally this mere earthly mortal thinks of himself as god! But even as he says “nothing will ever hurt me while I’m alive” he acknowledges his mortality, admitting that he is indeed finite. 

In Psalms 11 and 12, David gives the righteous the proper perspective to handle all of this. In a word, David wants the godly to remember:

  • Remember God sees everything 
  • Remember God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous 
  • Remember God gets the final word 

Christians can only live exemplary, anxiety-free, and God-honoring lives when we stay focused on the Infinite, on the Eternal God. With this perspective we can live out our roles as “aliens and strangers”—as the apostle Peter calls us—while we live in this evil culture.

God Delights In Me

Pastor Craig kicked off our series on prayer with this insightful lesson from the life of David. 

It’s been said that the bookends of success are starting well and finishing well. I believe that! 

David started well when he lifted up a prayer of thankfulness to God when he became king over the united nation of Israel. Prayer at the the beginning puts us on a path toward success. 

Have you ever begun to assemble a child’s toy or a piece of furniture, gotten completely stumped, and only then read the instruction manual? We’ve all been there! There are many things in life that we start on our own and then hit our knees in prayer only after we’ve exhausted all of our human resources. Fortunately, after we pray and God answers, we often end up finishing well with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The question is: what do we do when we again get ready to start something else? Do we pause to start well with prayer, or do we dive in on our own again? 

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t go to prayer quickly is because we feel unworthy to go into the presence of a holy, righteous God. 

One commentator said about Psalm 18 that David probably prayed this “before he committed his terrible sin” with Bathsheba and Uriah. That may be, but with very few minor changes, David prayed this exact same prayer (2 Samuel 22) at the very end of his reign. His reign as king was bookended with the same prayer. 

Between the bookend prayers of Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, David prayed another prayer—this one was after he had sinned against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah. David truly believed that God forgave that sin and wiped the slate clean, so much so that he noted this great blessing on his life: “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” 

He rescued me because He delighted in me?! Yes! 

David knew that God had told us that He delights in those who obey Him. The example of God’s delight was seen in Jesus. Because of Jesus paid the price for the forgiveness of my sins, I can be completely cleansed. Then Jesus comes in me, and take me into Him, and takes both of us into the Father. So now when our Heavenly Father looks at a forgiven sinner, He sees only the righteousness of Jesus—something He utterly delights to see! (Check out all of the biblical passages I’m referencing by clicking here.)  

David said his sin had been washed “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7), So now look at what he could claim—

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All His laws are before me; I have not turned away from His decrees. I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His sight” (2 Samuel 22:21-25). 

…according to my cleanness in His sight. 

In GOD’S sight! The devil wants to accuse me. He wants my sight to dominate. The devil doesn’t want me to see myself as God sees me. But I declare it out loud: I am clean IN HIS SIGHT! 

This cleanness allows me full, bold, confident access to Almighty God! I can take everything to God in prayer because I am clean in His sight!

If you would like to read more of the posts in our prayer series called Be A First Responder, please click here.

Be A First Responder

Pastor Craig shares about our new series on prayer.

There is a line in an old hymn that convicts me every time I sing it: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” 

Why are we so slow to drop to our knees in prayer when trouble strikes? It seems we fool ourselves into thinking the problem is small enough to handle on our own, or we think God isn’t concerned with something that may seem trivial, or we’ve been-here-done-this before and know the way to go. But this isn’t what our Heavenly Father desires; instead, He wants us to come to Him before we try anything else. 

Instead of making prayer our last resort, why don’t we strive to make it our first response! 

Join us as we begin our series on prayer called Be A First Responder. We will be learning the value of praying fast and praying often, and we will see how being a prayer first-responder will benefit those around us too. 

The Inspiration Of Scripture

Pastor Craig began our year-long series exploring our foundational beliefs.

In 2021, I am discussing our 16 foundational beliefs, attempting to illuminate why we believe what we believe. 

Foundation belief #1: “The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.” 

The phrase “verbally inspired” comes directly from the apostle Paul who said, “all Scripture is God-breathed.” The Greek word theopneustos that he uses literally means “breathed out by God” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21).  

In our culture today, it seems as if science is opposed to Scripture, but let me attempt to clarify this point. Science can answer the what/how questions (like how did the universe come into existence) but it cannot answer the why questions (like why did the universe come into existence). 

On the other hand, the Scripture can tell us not only what exists but also why it exists. That means Scripture can also tell us how to live our daily lives. 

Consider a scientific philosophy of life versus a Scriptural philosophy of life. 

Philosophy ponders beginnings and endings, and from those, it then proposes how to live today. Science says we are here by lucky coincidence, and that our life after death is unknowable. A scientific philosophy must therefore conclude that we should live today looking out for #1: survival of the fittest, do what’s best for me, pragmatically, unconcerned about the consequences. 

Scripture says God created our universe—and each individual human—on purpose, and that our life after death is not only knowable but can be determined based on the choices we make. A Scriptural-based philosophy must therefore conclude that we can know how to live our lives today to receive entrance to Heaven afterward. 

There is also other apologetic evidence that I believe makes it reasonable to believe the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God. Things like the accuracy of biblical texts over thousands of years, extra-biblical corroboration, fulfilled prophecy, the discoveries of archeologists, and so forth. You can check out some of these pieces of evidence by clicking here and here

But I think the best proof of the life-changing power of the Word of God is a life changed by the God of the Word.The one with an experience is never at the mercy of the one with an argument. I love being able to tell people how my personal relationship with the God of the Bible has made all the difference! 

Check out the video of this full message, and be sure to check out all of the messages in this Foundation Stones series by clicking here.

Foundation Stones

Pastor Craig announced an ongoing series for all of 2021…

Any architect will tell you: You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.

This is just as true in the spiritual realm, which is why John Calvin warned, “Those who are strong only in fervor and sharpness, but are not fortified with solid doctrine, weary themselves in their vigorous efforts, make a great noise…[and] make no headway because they build without foundation.

We have had on the Calvary website since Day 1 a link to “What we believe,” but more than just having them listed there, it is important to discuss them.

So the first Sunday of each month through the rest of 2021, we will be exploring our strong doctrinal foundation. I promise you that this won’t be “dry” theology or doctrine, but it will be an exciting journey of discovery at the foundation upon which we stand.

Please join us this Sunday as we look at our next Foundation Stone.

Year-End Review (2020 Edition)

Pastor Craig shared his year-end recap.

I have the privilege of pastoring Calvary Assembly of God. One of the things I am honored to do is share a message from God’s Word with our church each week. Sharing the messages is one thing, but reminding folks of what has been shared is another. This is something that resonated with both the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. 

Peter wrote, “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). And Paul not only told the Romans that “I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again” (Romans 15:15), but he also taught his protege Timothy to “keep reminding God’s people of these things” (2 Timothy 2:14). 

With that backdrop, here is a listing of the sermon series that I presented this year. Clicking on each series title will take you to a list of all of the sermons in that series. 

Prayer Plan—A Christian’s strategy is worked out in the prayer closet. John Piper noted, “Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” These messages taught us to have a plan to pray. 

Where’s God—We’ve all asked that question. Something happens that rocks our world, and we wonder where in the world God is. We call out to God and He seems silent. We search our hearts to see if we can discern something we’ve done wrong, and seeing nothing amiss we cry out again, “God, where are You?” So where is God in our heartache? In our abandonment? In our sorrows? In our distress? In death? Believe it or not, God may be closer in His silence than you’ve ever perceived before. 

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1500 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! Followers of Jesus—now empowered by an infilling of the Holy Spirit—began to take the good news of Jesus all over the world. These Spirit-filled Christians preached the Gospel and won converts to Christ even among hostile crowds, performed miracles and wonders, stood up to pagan priests and persecuting governmental leaders, and established a whole new way of living as Christ-followers. We, too, can be Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ today. 

Selah—The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. It means a pause. Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power! 

Thankful In The Night—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 afterward 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. 

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! 

We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2021, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us! 

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. 

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!

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