I have decided to follow Jesus: No turning back, no turning back.
On Sunday morning, August 4th, I preached a message entitled Kingdom Entry: Your Choice. My biblical text was Matthew 6:33 and 7:13-23. Jesus is wrapping up His preaching/teaching on the mountainside encouraging His listeners to consider the choices. He says there are two choices.
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus has said that those who are Kingdom citizens are not to worry (Matthew 6:25). And he tells his disciples and potential followers to seek the Kingdom of God and His (God’s) righteousness first above all else. The promise here for kingdom citizens is that our needs will be met. Our needs, as those who’ve been transferred from darkness to light, from death to life, are not to be our priority in this life.
This righteousness that Jesus speaks of is not self-righteousness, as manifested by the Jewish religious leaders, but is a righteousness (right living) made possible by the power of Christ that dwells within every Christ-follower. Self-righteousness is self-earned and self-centered, while Christ-followers possess the capability for right living through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now, the choices. There is a narrow and difficult way that leads to life, but few find that way. The other choice is a wide and broad way that the multitudes follow, and this way leads to destruction. Those listening to Jesus were confronted with a radical truth. These are the choices that you and I face today.
First of all, following Christ is not just a belief that we adopt. It is much more than a mental assent. Consider this quote from Billy Graham, “The word ‘believe’ in the Bible means more than simply agreeing in our minds that something might be true. It means ‘trust’ – that we believe so strongly in God that we are willing to commit our lives to Him and live the way we know He wants us to live. I propose that there are possibly multitudes who have a belief about Jesus, but these same people have no awareness about surrendering one’s life to His authority.”
Secondly, the “narrow way” that few follow is not easy. In our Americanized Christianity there are so many who want their faith in Jesus to be kind of like college electives. In college many students choose electives that are easy and help with a higher GPA. Many churches are so driven by the world’s standards that they’ve watered down the gospel so that following Jesus is nothing more than repeating a sinner’s prayer, being baptized, and maybe some church attendance. When I read Jesus’s description of our choices, I see something radically different from the life of many followers of American Christianity.
Finally, I see a way that the multitudes will follow, and Jesus says it leads to destruction (in this life and the next). There are even preachers who are proclaiming a prosperity gospel. These false teachers promote a “Name it and claim it” theology. The broad and wide way is traveled by the crowds who want Jesus and His church to affirm a worldly lifestyle and make us feel good about who we are though we may not be walking with Jesus. There are a few kingdom citizens who are citizens of the Kingdom of God and their walk with Christ as Savior and Lord is difficult (because kingdom citizens are not of this world).
Jesus offers two clear-cut choices. There is one choice that leads a person to life, and I believe a life abundant (John 10:10). The alternative looks and is popular, but the destination is highly undesirable.
I leave you with two questions this week: (1) Which way are you following in this life? (2) If you’re a Christian, is your faith a mental belief, or are you daily surrendering to Jesus and His plan for your life?
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES ONCE SAID, “The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
I'm currently preaching through the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew beginning in chapter 5.
As I study and prepare to proclaim the text each weekend, I am sensing the seriousness in Jesus voice as He preached from the mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Jesus began His message by sharing the characteristics of Kingdom-minded disciples. He's painting a panoramic view of what His disciples will look and live like, and He will be the perfect fulfillment of each characteristic.
As we read, we see Jesus immediately on the heels of the “Beatitudes” making this statement, “You are the salt of the earth...you are the light if the world.” His statement in verse 13 and in verse 14 are not suggestions for disciples. His words are emphatic and speak to the identity of an authentic disciple of Jesus.
I've read in recent years that there is little difference between the lives of those who claim to be born-again believers in Jesus and those who are not. Thus it seems that the world has become dominant in the lives of many professing Christians.
Demographic research fir a 3-mile radius around the church I pastor says only 15.7% of the people say that their faith is important to them. Is it because the local churches are not serious about “being church?” Is it because the lives of Christian's are lukewarm at best? Is it because the church looks more like the culture than it looks like Jesus? The salt of the earth will make others thirsty for Jesus!
Light erases darkness. Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Again this is not a maybe, it's a promise. An authentic Disciple will be a light in this decaying world that will erase the darkness and expose sin. And light does more. It not only exposes sin, but it also reveals a glorious Savior!
The question before all Christians is this, Are we functioning as salt and light? What are people noticing about us from day to day? Are we seen as nothing more than religious, or do the unsaved see us and know that we've been with Jesus?
Carlyle Hall Jr. is pastor at Castalia Baptist Church. Comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why the lack of urgency? Waking up this morning and sitting in a favorite coffee shop trying to understand some questions that I have. Before I reveal my question, I want to share a story that I heard about 30 years ago.
A group of adults from our local church participated in a short-term missions trip to Poland to assist with the construction of a seminary. I was a fairly new believer and probably for that reason, I was very eager to learn about all that was going on. Wallace Tingen was now 70+ years of age and was a really respected man in our church. Wallace had served as sheriff years before and now in the time I had known him, he was very involved in the ministries of the church; Sunday School teacher, Baptist Men’s leader, prayer warrior, etc). Now Wallace was invited by the Poland missions team to become a team member. I recall Wallace asking, “what will I do since I’m an old man?” Reluctantly, he went with the team to Poland.
Upon the teams return, they took the opportunity to share with the congregation about their adventure. It’s been many years, but a couple things still stand out for me.
Wallace Tingen shared that his job on the missions trip was to be a “truck driver” but not just any truck driver. He drove a wheelbarrow filled with mixed concrete. Back and forth from the mixer to the job site, he drove a wheelbarrow each day. And I remember the excitement in his voice as he shared how he was able to serve. But more vivid than that part of the story was his walk each day to and from the worksite. Wallace told us about the local pastor, who while walking along the dirt path to and from the worksite each morning and evening, stopped to share Jesus with many passersby. I remember hearing Wallace share with us, “He (pastor) wanted everyone to know Jesus.”
This morning as I drove to the coffee shop, the Holy Spirit impressed a question upon mind and heart: “Are we eager to see people receive salvation in Jesus Christ” and if we are, “Are we eager/passionate to tell people about Jesus and His gospel?”
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:16-20 English Standard Version
The evidence clearly points to God, but the Gospel (Good News) of Christ is a message that is to be shared. People don’t just know Jesus. I suggest that the gospel of Christ will not be shared faithfully by the religious nor will it be shared faithfully by those whose own lives have not been transformed by the Gospel of Christ.
So as I conclude and until next time I ask, Are we genuinely interested in seeing people saved from eternal separation from Christ, transformed by the power of HIs gospel, and set free from all guilt and shame? Let’s tell others about Jesus!!! Carlyle Hall, Jr., serves as lead Pastor at Castalia Baptist Church. Your comments/questions are welcomed at email@example.com.
I have some great expectations. I have great expectations for myself, my family, the church I pastor, and the community in which I live. I assume that you have expectations too. Maybe one of your expectations is to be able to open your refrigerator and find everything nice and cool. Likewise, you probably expect to open your freezer and find ice in the ice-maker and your meats and vegetables unfrozen. But maybe we can have greater expectations than these.
One of my great expectations is for the church I pastor to possess a “radical love” for Jesus. Some time back I remember reading a book entitled, “Not a Fan.” The author, Kyle Idleman, wrote about the difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus. A great way to explain the difference is by considering a Friday night High School football game. Some people are not active in the game; they are “fans” in the stands. Most often, they arrive at the game with an expectation that their team is going to win. Their favorite team has a good start, a sack of the opposing quarterback and an early touchdown. Their defense is looking well also. The fans who arrived with expectations for a win are happy, they are loud in their cheers, and they are happy to be at the game. However, the second half begins and the opposition scores two quick touchdowns and takes the lead. Suddenly, the “fans” are no longer fans. They are unhappy with the turn of events and they are now visibly and verbally dissatisfied with the turn of events.
Now there are also some people who arrived at the Friday night game with expectations for their team to win. They too like the looks of their team in the first half, for everybody likes a winner. But as the second half comes, we discover that these people are not just fans, they are followers. They cheer for their team and make verbal statements of encouragement even though their team is now losing. In fact, at the end of the game when their team has lost and things did not go so well, they still support their team. They don’t talk trash about the coach or the quarterback and they do not consider changing their allegiance and support to another team. They are steadfast in the support because they are not fans, they are followers.
In local churches, we see the same scenario playing out every week. Everyone has expectations, but some are fans and some are followers. This plays out not just in one’s relationship with their church, but also in their relationship with Jesus.
As I stated earlier, one of my great expectations is to see the church I pastor become radically devoted our relationship with Jesus. In fact, I want to see and hear about local churches that possess this kind of devotion. I expect that we will be like those in the stands on Friday night who remain supporters of the team, even when the team suffers loss. I expect that local churches will be as fervent in prayer as we are when we face sickness or tribulations. I have an expectation that our love for Jesus would not waver (but would grow hotter) even when Jesus seems inactive or non-responsive. I am expecting that as Christians we would give our all to encourage one another in our love and devotion for Jesus.
What are your great expectations for yourself and for the church you attend? What are your expectations of others and in what ways can you become more of a follower and less like a fan?
“Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us — to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 CSV)
Carlyle Hall, Jr. is pastor at Castalia Baptist Church in Castalia, NC. Comments/questions are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Relationships can be messy. So for the month of December I want to write on the idea of Relationship Restart.
Relationships can be messy. Especially around the holidays, relationships between two people or within families can become stressed. For married couples, there is the stress of visiting families. For families who exchange gifts, there is the need to find additional monies to purchase gifts for others, and for those with children, there are Santa Claus expectations.
But generally speaking, relationships require work because healthy relationships don't just happen. From my experiences, we typically are much better at assuming things than we are taking time to research the facts. We all know what can happen when we assume.
For example someone can say something to us and we can allow our feelings or past experiences to interpret their words. Or we might see two people talking and we can suddenly assume they are talking about us.
Last Sunday morning in Sunday School, our class discussed the story of Joseph, specifically his encounter with his brothers after he shared the details of his dream (Genesis 37). We know Joseph was shown favoritism by his dad, but we don't know if Joseph intentionally sought to antagonize his siblings with his “coat of many colors.” Likewise, we don't know if Joseph shared the details of his dream because he wanted to upset his siblings. But we do know how Joseph's brothers responded.
Joseph's brothers were jealous. They made a decision to take the coat of many colors from him and throw him into a dry pit. They wanted to get rid of their brother, but instead of killing him, they sold him into slavery.
Seems unfair that Joseph would be betrayed by his own flesh and blood because of their jealousy and anger. But it happened and as Joseph said to his brothers sometime later, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20 NKJV
In our relationships with others: spouses, parents, extended families, churches, co-workers, etc., we must accept personal responsibility for our jealously and anger. When we are offended, we choose to be offended. And when we carry our grudges, jealously, and anger for days, months, and for some people - years, we are hurting no one but ourselves.
So if your dealing with a messy relationship, take personal responsibility for your thoughts and/or actions. Let God deal with you about your attitude and allow Him to show you the inappropriate attitude that you possess. THEN, go to the other party and seek to make things right. Seek healthy, God-honoring relationships.
I am currently involved in preaching a series of sermons entitled “Awakening.” These messages deal with the idea of personal renewal or revival or as the subtitle of Awakening reads, “Life as it should be.” Before I dive in to deeply, let me offer some preliminary thoughts. I believe revival as it has traditionally been called, it not about a series of revival meetings. Secondly, I suggest that revival, from a biblical perspective, is predominantly focused on the lives of believers and their personal walk with the Lord Jesus. And finally, I believe revival/renewal must first be desired in the lives of individual members of a congregation. Church revival begins in you and me!
This week I want us to focus upon a familiar text from Revelation chapter 2.
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. "'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.' (ESV)
Allow me to begin by asking, how do we know a person is in love? Our answers will vary, but I believe we can agree that love between two people is more than just a statement such as I love you. Love is truly an action word!
As we approach the biblical text, we will see that Jesus rebukes the church at Ephesus because they “have abandoned the love they had at first.” You might read in your copy of God’s word that they had lost their first love.
So before Jesus addresses the issue of love, He commends this congregation for a few things. In verses 2-3, this church is commended for their works. Now please don’t assume that these are plans which they have devised. Works refers here to tasks. These works are tasks that the congregation has committed themselves to accomplish and they keep their word. They are affirmed for their labors. Literally they toil until they can’t do it anymore. The church at Ephesus doesn’t stop serving when they reach a certain age. They are wholeheartedly committed to being the church that God desires. Maybe.
They are commended for their patient endurance. They are a people who don’t give up even in the middle of tribulation. They don’t give up when things don't go as they want. In addition, they don’t bear with those who are evil and those false apostles (lying preachers). And while the commendations are wonderful, Jesus says, “I have this against you.”
In His rebuke, Jesus not only says they have abandoned (fallen from) their first love, He tells them to remember. He says, “Remember from where you have fallen.”
This past week my family and I took one last summer excursion to the western NC mountains and during our time away we visited Grandfather Mountain. If you know me, I’m afraid of heights. So my suggestion that we visit this mountain is a little strange. The last time we visited, I had a full blown panic attack upon our arrival in the parking lot atop this mountain. It was bad. But I decided this time would be different. Yes, I actually walked across the mile-high swinging bridge. I even got my picture made as I stood upon the mile-high marker on the bridge.
Now if I had fallen from this bridge and somehow survived, I really do believe I would remember the fall. If I fall off a ladder, I believe I would remember. But Jesus tells the Ephesian church to remember from where they had fallen. Why in the world would they not remember, I ask?
i submit that any loving relationship must be nurtured if it is going to last. A “love in action” must be practiced. i’ve known instances where two people who are in love, stay together for a time and because they did not nurture their love for each other, the relationship didn’t last. The same can be true as it relates to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
For example, you have a salvation experience. You recognize the Holy Spirit of God at work and you recognize your need for a Savior. You make a decision to receive His forgiveness and you are elated. You’re overflowing with excitement because you are forgiven and set free. You now can live for Jesus. But over time, the excitement wanes. And if not dealt with, you discover that there is little if any Bible reading. You discover your quality time with the Lord in prayer is no longer a necessity. You have walked away from the church and pretty much living your life according to your desires and plans.
Please note with me… Ephesus was commended for some good things. But they were no longer in love with Jesus! You may recall the story of Martha and Mary as noted in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus has visited their home and Martha has decided that a delicious meal is in order so she finds herself in the kitchen. Martha becomes frustrated because her sister, Mary is in the living room worshipping at Jesus feet. Why Mary ought to be helping me, Martha perhaps thought. But Jesus addressed the situation and said to Martha that Mary had chosen the best thing. Listen, Martha wasn’t doing anything bad, but Mary was focused on the best thing.
It is very possible for any Christian to forsake their first love. It happens slowly over a period of time thus it is difficult to recognize. Perhaps the Lord would write in His letter to you and me… “My child, you’re involved in some good work, but you now love the work or activity more than you love me.” Has anything overwhelmed your love for Jesus? What things are competing for your love at this time in your life? What adjustments is the Holy Spirit directing you to make? Jesus’ answer to the dilemma facing the Ephesian church and you and me today is this: Remember, Repent, and Return.
Borrowed from Facebook friend, Dennis Newkirk.
So the church isn’t that important, huh? That is a prevailing sentiment held by many today—maybe not in their words but by their actions. Otherwise, how do we explain why half of the members of churches never show up? Because the church isn’t necessary. Why do attending members find it so easy to allow football games, the weather, and business take them away from the fellowship of their church? Because the church isn’t important. Why do so many think it’s acceptable to financially contribute very little, if anything at all, to the ministry of the church? Well, I’ll say it again. Because the church isn’t necessary. Sometimes we all must be away, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when you find it easy to be unfaithful and unsupportive. In other words, your actions prove the unimportance of the church in your own life.
Believing that the church is unimportant—or at least irrelevant to you—is easy. Doing so requires no commitment and no sacrifice. Our commonly held me-centered individualism fits in perfectly with an inconsequential church. End of story.
But wait. Consider, for just a moment, that the widespread belief in the unimportance of the church is entirely wrong. What then? What if the church is vitally important and we cut ourselves off from a central part of God’s plan of progressive sanctification (growth in our fellowship with Christ and in our likeness of Him) if we disregard the importance of the church?
Biblical View of Church...
The biblical view of the church is that the church is vitally important. The Bible describes the church not as a building but as the believers who have covenanted to gather to:
• Support the truth, spread the gospel, and organize themselves according to biblical standards to worship, serve, and grow (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:25).
• Love one another (1 John 4:12).
• Encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).
• Spur one another on to godly living (Hebrews 10:24).
• Serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
• Instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
• Honor one another (Romans 12:10).
• Act with compassion to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
All of the “one anothers” of the New Testament happen within fellowship—not within the safe confines of anonymity and individualism.
The Body of Christ...
When we receive Christ, we become a part of the body of Christ, the universal church (1 Corinthians 12:27). But in addition, we’re created in Christ to be part of the local church, which is made up of members who have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to function as parts of a body that does the work of Christ in this world (1 Corinthians 12:14–20).
The truth is, every believer needs the functions of the other parts of the body (church) to grow in maturity and grace (1 Corinthians 12:21¬–26). That means you need other members of a local church, and they need you. Have you considered that the fruit of the Spirit, the characteristics of the Holy Spirit’s work of changing your character, all relate to other people? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV).
This morning, Marcia and I were setting in a church in north Phoenix. I had been asked to preach the sermon, and I turned to Marcia and commented about the last month. I’ve taught at First Baptist Sierra Vista, Cross Church in Surprise for two weeks, and Happy Valley Baptist in Glendale. These churches are in different cities, have different styles, and are various sizes but we could sense the love that they have for one another and the Lord. There is nothing like the church.
Imperfect but Crucial...
So the church isn’t necessary, huh? Just the opposite! The church, as imperfect and frustrating as we may sometimes be, is still crucial in the plan for your spiritual development and for much of the impact that Christ would have you make in this world. Let me say it plainly: you need the church. But there’s more to it than that. You need to be a functioning, committed, and vital part of the local church for you to become the Christian God has called you to be.
I could write a dozen more articles on this subject and still only scratch the surface. For now, however, let me simply encourage you to stay in the church, get back in church, or find and join a church where Scripture is taught, and Christ is glorified.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect. You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God. Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that. –Ephesians 5:1-7, Message
Often in my studies and preparations for sermons and Bible studies, I like to use various versions and even paraphrases of the biblical text. I have to be honest and say that my favorite paraphrase is Eugene Peterson’s, The Message. As I began my quiet time with the Lord this morning, I opened my Bible App on my phone (YouVersion) and I was utterly amazed by the Scripture that immediately popped up. I don’t recall having looked at this passage in recent days, but apparently God wanted me to read His message for me.
This particular section from Ephesians begins with, “Watch what God does!” I really love that question because our focus (at least for my church folks) is not always on Jesus. Now I recognize that we have a multiplicity of things that hound us for our attention, and like me, you are aware of the idols in your life that do absolutely nothing but lead you down a path to spiritual ruin and sometimes physical death. But I think a statement that I heard recently went something like, “Christians must move beyond belief in a historical Jesus and begin to place their full faith and trust in a contemporary Jesus.” You ask, what does this mean? I’m so glad you asked.
In my faith tradition (Baptist), I have long believed that we focus too heavily on teaching to deliver information. We know lots of Scripture and we believe the Bible. As one recently said, “We believe the Bible from Genesis to the maps in the back.” But we must consider how the knowledge we possess is transforming our lives. Is it possible that we believe in a biblical Jesus without acknowledging Him as Jesus today? Could it be that we are distracted from watching to see what Jesus is doing because we’re not sure that “Jesus DOESN’T change – yesterday, today, tomorrow, He’s always totally Himself.” (Hebrews 13:7, Msg)
So, I said the message was for me. Yes, this Pastor/Preacher needs to make a decision. And you may need to consider the message for yourself too. It’s not a one-time choice, but rather a daily decision. Is the Jesus of the Bible still alive today? Was His ministry on earth pretty much for those in biblical days? Do His teachings in Scripture relate to our contemporary lives? Or, has God created us and simply said, “make it in this life the best way you can and I’ll greet you at the Heavenly gates when you die.”
Pray for me if you will, pray for yourself, pray for our churches, that we might become increasingly aware of what Jesus is doing all around us. Pray that we as His people will become more focused on the goodness of God and His transforming power at work in each of us – and increasingly less distracted by the rapidly changing culture around us.
Carlyle Hall, Jr.