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The Lure of the Familiar
Preaching that Offends
Focusing on the Cross
Are You Guilty?

Don't Be Afraid

The Lure of the Familiar

But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. "The old is better," they say. Luke 5:39 (NLT)

Perhaps the best example of this type of mindset are the sons of Israel. They kept crying about how hard it was for them living in Egypt. God heard their cry and brought them out of bondage which they had lived for some 400 years (Exod. 12:40). But just because they were free from the Egyptians did not mean they were ready for the Promised Land. They had a lot of character building to develop. So God wanted them to learn some things along the way in order to prepare them. When trials and testing came knocking, they would say, “Oh, how we remember what it was like in Egypt. We had this and that. . .” (Num. 11:5).

But when you think about it, we all have a tendency to do this, right? We look back on the past, what we once had or did, with nostalgia and imagine it better than it was. The Israelites were slaves, but wanted to go back to Egypt because they imagined it as better than what they were facing in the wilderness. We often do the same thing in our walk of faith. The old life and its temptations lure us and invite us back. So often we succumb to the fantasy of the past.

I find this to be true with me. I have spent a great deal of time in established churches. We did things a certain way. I got comfortable. Very comfortable. Now that I am in the process of starting a church plant, I am forced to think and function outside of my comfort zone. My mind reverts back to my past experiences in churches that I had become comfortable in. But I can’t do this. Planting a new church comes with it a new set of ideas and vision. I am forced to think and live outside the box. It is wonderful, but it does go against my desire for the familiar.

The lure of the familiar is powerful. It is also a deadly thief, robbing our new life in Christ of its grace, joy, and victory. Don't go back and mix some other form of religion you know with the radical call of Jesus! Churches and Christians often find themselves in a rut. You have heard these words before: “We have never done it this way before.” If I ever say something like that from the pulpit or in a board or committee meeting, I hope someone will love me enough to throw a pineapple at me.

We always attract into our lives whatever we think about most, believe in most strongly, expect on the deepest level, and imagine most vividly. Reaching for the past to afford yourself a measure of comfort will impede progress. Always reach forward. There are so much opportunities waiting to be tapped into for the child of God who has the faith in Christ to trust Him for the unfamiliar.

Better to die living out your dreams than live dying having not tried. A good education is priceless. God always has us in His classroom of learning. Learn while you're young and not while you're old (old is a relative term that means anyone who is not teachable), that a good education is better than gold, for silver and gold will all melt away, but a good education will never decay.

Remember from the Israelites that the bondages of Egypt are not more attractive as time passes. That’s an illusion. God has for each of us new wine to drink. Don’t settle for the familiar. If you do, you’ll not be ready for the greater thing God has waiting for you.
 

Preaching that Offends

Go to shopping malls and ask people what they believe about life after death and you will find that eternal destiny is not a subject most people even want to talk about. And when they do, their thoughts on the matter are quite diverse.

Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptism Theological Seminary, blames the church: "You can traverse the entire United States on any given Sunday morning, and you very probably will not hear a sermon on the judgment of God or eternal punishment." Patterson added, "Evangelicals have voted by the silence of their voices that they either do not believe in the doctrine of Hell or else no longer have the courage and conviction to stand and say anything about it."

One of my favorite teachers and theologians, R.C. Sproul, was a little more direct when he said, "I think what we face in the church today is a virtual eclipse of the character of God. The irony is that evangelicals consider one sermon about God’s judgment to be among the greatest evangelistic messages ever preached. It was delivered by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 during the height of the Great Awakening. The title: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Edwards proclaimed, "O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: 'tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in Hell."

“Why don't preachers preach like this today?” Sproul said, "I can't think of anything more politically incorrect to preach in 21st century America than the wrath of God, or the justice of God, or the doctrine of Hell."

Bill Hybels, who is considered to be the leader of the “seeker friendly” church movement, had this to say: "I don't think fear, as a tactic, really moves people toward faith these days. So, tactically, I think there are better ways to interest the uninterested in the claims of Jesus Christ.”

Part of the reason why people tend to stay away from church is because the preacher tends to make them feel guilty by his sermons. But is this wrong? We’re living in an era where most people want to come to church to know how to improve their lives and marriages. One pastor was said to preach a sermon called, “Sex and the City." Preaching a sermon titled, “Sinners in the Angry Hands of God,” is now being replaced with, “I Went on Vacation and Felt Empty Inside.”

Jesus varied the approach He used from person to person. When He talked to the woman at the well, He talked about water. When He talked to the rich young ruler, He talked about money and possessions. When He talked to Nicodemus, He discussed the Law. He always knew how to establish rapport first, and guide them into a discussion that would lead to the unfolding of the truth. It appears that we must do the same.

However, R.C. Sproul has a valid point when he adds, "The power of the Gospel is the Word of God. It's not these methods and techniques whereby we hide the Gospel. But nobody needs a Gospel if there's no judgment, if there's no law, if God is not a God of judgment. If there's no such thing as Hell, what good is the Gospel? The Gospel tells us that we're saved from the wrath that is to come."

It seems that the task of the pastor is not to be purposefully offensive. The gospel itself, if it is to be effective, must deal with the sin issue. What nailed Jesus to the cross wasn’t the goodness of people but their sins. If the mentioning of sin is offensive to some, this is something that cannot be avoided -- especially if we’re trying to help people establish a genuine and dynamic relationship with Christ.

I think this one thing is certain: A pastor must be first the peoples’ pastor, and not just their preacher. Members will be more willing to listen to a message on hell or something that would be politically incorrect, if they know that the man behind the pulpit truly has their best interest in mind. If we try to take out the offense that is already there in the gospel due to the sin problem, then we're offending God, and we're offending Christ, and we're not proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

When you sum this all up, then we’re actually left with this: Do your best to preach the Word and leave the results to God.
 

Focusing on the Cross

The two most powerful symbols in the world today are the dollar sign and the cross. No wonder Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters. . .You cannot serve God (who made a relationship with man possible via the cross) and money (dollar sign) – Matt. 6:24.

As Christians, we must choose the cross over the sign of the dollar. If not, we’ll end up being a double-minded person unstable in all our ways (James 1:8).

In order to help me stay focused on the cross and the message it represents, I use the following acrostic which I learned from Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. I like it and it keeps me close to the central message of the gospel.

C - Conversion

Jesus said, “If any man come after Me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me. If you insist on saving your life you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for My sake and for the sake of the good news will ever know what it means to really live” (Matt. 16:24-25).

Today, as never before, the church must keep the cross of Christ as its primary focus otherwise it will lose its sense of direction.

R - Repentance, reconciliation, and restitution

Not only do we need to set things right with God, we must set things right with those with whom we have difficulty. "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty {enough to go} into the fiery hell. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24).

O - Obedience

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15).

S - Sacrifice

“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1)

S - Service

“You must worship the Lord your God, and you must serve Him only” (Matt. 4:10)

Remember to always keep the
C - R - O - S - S before your eyes, and not the sign of the dollar. There is a place for money, but never on the throne of your heart. Live to please God and He will breathe on you His peace. Seek His glory, and He will make your heart His home. Do His will, and thereby good shall come to you. Remember, your destiny does not write itself. God has given you the cross to use to write your own destiny.
 

Are You Guilty?

“We shall not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel, unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God” (Dan. 6:5).

As Christians, we’re called to live in an ungodly world and it is of little use for us to cry and whine about it. You may have some of the most irritating experiences at work; your neighborhood may not be the safest; but remember that Jesus did not pray for us to be taken OUT of the world (John 17:15), but rather to be salt and light while IN this world (Matt. 5:13-14).

It is better by far to meet challenges in the strength of the Lord and glorify Him in the process, than to turn the other way and project an “I-don’t-care” attitude.

The worse the people are, in the places where you live and work, the more need they have for your holy actions. If they be crooked, the more they need you to set them straight. If they be perverse, the more they need you to turn their proud hearts to the truth. Doctors are only as effective when they are around those who are sick.

The enemy is watching for inconsistency in your conduct so he can accuse you before the Father (Rev. 12:10). Remember to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). The eyes of all are upon you, so that more is expected from you than what you realize. Don’t give any occasion for blame.

Let your commitment to God be your only *fault* that others can accuse you about.

Blessings,

Rich
 

Don't Be Afraid

“He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Ps. 112:7)

Because we’re Christians who have a living and dynamic relationship with the Lord, we’re not to fear evil or worry about the unexpected. If we do, then what do we have more than others who do not know Christ? Others do not have God to go to; they have not proven His faithfulness as you have done. They have the spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7), but we are of a different spirit – power, love and discipline.

Our heart is not to be easily distracted by evil men using worldly means to trip us. If so, then what is the value of the grace you claim to receive? Where is the dignity and genuineness of the new nature you claim to possess?

If we are filled so easily with alarm as others are without God, you would also be led easily into the sins that others commit. The unsaved are taken by their sin and plunge themselves into rebellion. Will you do likewise? Will you provoke the Lord as they do?

Moreover, the ungodly run to the wrong means in order to escape from their difficulties. Some find consolation in alcohol, drugs, illicit relationships and crime. Will you do the same if you fear evil tidings? Trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.

Your best spiritual posture is to do as Moses did at the Red Sea: “Stand still and witness God bring before you your deliverance.” If you give way to fear -- if you spend so much time worrying about bad things -- then you will be unable to deal wisely with the trouble if indeed trouble does come. You will lose all spiritual composure which is so needed under life’s adversity.

No believer can possibly glorify God if he or she plays the coward. God has called His saints to walk close to the fires and in so doing they do get burned. But take courage. Wasn’t Jesus also in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan. 3:25)? Jesus never promised to keep us from the fires, but He will go through the fires with us.

Therefore, remember these three keys: Don’t be afraid; keep your heart steadfast; trust completely in God.

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