I found a statistic this week that stated that nearly 1 billion Valentine’s cards are exchanged each year. Webster’s defines a valentine as “a gift or card sent to a loved one on Valentine’s day” and they are generally reserved for those who we love. So as we observe this day dedicated to those that we love, let’s examine the greatest love story of all time.
In 1 John 4:7 we read; “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.” This call to love is one that needs to be heard today. As a result of God’s love for us, we should have that same love for others. Just look around you at the attitudes and actions of others. Turn on the news and notice how many robberies, assaults, murders, and other crimes are reported on a daily basis. Why? Because of the absence of love. Many people in our day do not love because they have not grasped the love of God. What is the significance of this love? It is evidence of our salvation. In 1 John 5:1 we read:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” Notice also that when Paul lists the fruits of the spirit, the first on the list is LOVE. (Galatians 5:22)
Now we can all love our parents, our children and spouses on Valentine’s day. This isn’t hard to do. How about those not so close to you? In 1 John 4:20, we are told that if we say we have love but hate our brother, we are a liar! That’s pretty harsh.
We are to love the unlovable, we are to love the stranger and the one in need. Recall that the story of the Good Samaritan begins with a question, “Who is my Brother?” The message from Jesus is that our brother is everyone. There will be evidence of this love in your actions if you truly do have the love of God dwelling within you. True love is seen best in sacrifice. We give up much in the name of love; for our wives, husbands, children, even our church. We want the best interest of the ones we love. True love then is seen in true sacrifice and the greatest sacrifice, the greatest gift of love ever, is God’s gift of his only Son that we might have the opportunity to live with God forever.
There are different legends about the origins of “Valentine’s Day.” For our purposes, consider this popular version: Emperor Claudius I of Rome had banned marriages of his soldiers on the theory that married men made poor soldiers. Valentinus, a Roman Bishop, conducted secret marriages for which he was jailed and sentenced to die. The night before his execution, he sent a note to Julia, the daughter of his jailer. His farewell note was signed, “Your Valentine.” Thus even in this legendary story, the celebration was born out of sacrifice in the name of Love.
Who has sacrificed everything for you? Who would be your ultimate “Valentine” this year? Why not make it Jesus who gave His all in the name of love for you?
Happy Valentine’s Day,
I have been very encouraged in my time here about folks attitude toward change. I have seen little resistance but as we approach the New Year, we will need to really be prepared. With culture and church membership constantly changing across the country, that which was right one decade will likely be wrong the next decade. The worst case scenario, of course, is changing the things we should never change.
But holding fast to the things we should be willing to change can be equally harmful. In the book of Acts we see God trying to move out through the church to reach the oceans of lost people outside the church. But He was met by Christian believers who were not willing to change. In Acts 10 and 11 God practically forces Peter into preaching to Cornelius and his household. What provoked such a spirit of resistance in Peter? God was calling him to change!
Howard Hendricks wrote an article called “Good reasons for doing nothing.” Adapted from his list of reasons and his answers are the following:
- The proposal would set a precedent! – Change always sets precedents!
- There is no precedent to guide us! – How anything ever gets started must remain a mystery based on this objection.
- We haven’t proved the old method can’t be made to work. Anyway, how do we know whether the new one can? – You can’t prove that something that doesn’t yet exist won’t work. Do we wait until there is no hope of using the old method at all? If so, change would never happen.
- The time is not ripe. Members, our neighbors or the public aren’t ready for it. We don’t have all the facts. – These and others are, in fact, reasons for doing nothing—but that’s the one thing we dare not do!
The cost of not changing is worse than anything we will face as the result of carefully considered change. An error-proof system is also change-proof system. Appropriate change that advances the Kingdom is being obedient to the Great Commission and to God.
Let’s march forward together,
The story of the first Christmas is so beloved that singers and storytellers across the centuries have embellished and elaborated the story in celebration. Many people don’t know which details are biblical and which are fabricated. People usually imagine the manger scene with snow, singing angels, many worshipers, and a little drummer boy. None of that is found in the biblical account.
Christmas has become the product of odd ideas, superstition, fanciful legends, and plain ignorance. Add to that the commercialization of Christmas and you’re left with one big mess. To sort it out, let’s begin in God’s Word, the Bible. Here we find not only the source of the original account of Christmas, but also God’s commentary on it.
We begin to know and understand Jesus by understanding He is real. Mary and Joseph were real people. Their dilemma on finding no room to stay that night was as frightening for them as it would be for you or me. The manger, a feeding trough for cattle, in which Mary laid Jesus must have reeked of animal smells. So did the shepherds, in all probability. That first Christmas was anything but picturesque.
But that makes it all the more wondrous. That baby in the manger is God! Immanuel!
That’s the heart and soul of the Christmas message. There weren’t many worshipers around the original manger–only a handful of shepherds. But one day every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). Those who doubt Him, those who merely ignore Him–all will one day bow, too, even if it be in judgment.
How much better to honor Him now with the worship He deserves! That’s what Christmas ought to inspire.
When Christ entered the world, He came to a place that had some of the smelliest, filthiest, and most uncomfortable conditions. But that is part of the wonder of divine grace, isn’t it? When the Son of God came down from heaven, He came all the way down. He did not hang on to His equality with God; rather, He set it aside for a time and completely humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-8).
Luke 2:8-20 describes the experience of the shepherds when Jesus was born. Think about that for a moment. Out of the whole of Jerusalem society, God picked a band of shepherds to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. That’s intriguing because shepherds were among the lowest and most despised social groups.
The very nature of shepherds’ work kept them from entering into the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t maintain the ceremonial washings and observe all the religious festivals and feasts, yet these shepherds, were undoubtedly caring for sheep that someday would be used as sacrifices in the temple. How fitting that they were the first to know of the Lamb of God!
More significant, they came to see Him the night he was born. No one else did. Though the shepherds went back and told everyone what they had seen and heard, and though “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds”, not one other person came to see firsthand.
The shepherds likely knocked on several doors and saw other newborn babies before they found the special Child lying in the feeding trough. At that moment, those humble men knew for certain that the angels’ announcement was a word from God. After their encounter with Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the shepherds couldn’t help but tell others about what the angels had told them. They became, in effect, the first New Testament evangelists.
The shepherd’s story is a good illustration of the Christian life. You first hear the revelation of the gospel and believe it (Romans 10:9-10). Then you pursue and embrace Christ. And having become a witness to your glorious conversion, you begin to tell others about it (Luke 2:17).
May God grant you the life-changing spiritual experiences and the ongoing attitude of enthusiasm and responsiveness that causes you to tell others that you, too, have seen Christ the Lord.
Church growth is on my mind this month. Not growth for growth’s sake but building our base to be able to make a difference in our community. The reality is that a church will not rise above the level of its pastor’s preaching. The pastor is the key ingredient in turning around a church. If there was nothing else to offer here, you should feel comfortable telling others, “come hear” what our pastor teaches.
Consider God’s vision of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel saw the valley filled with dead men’s bones and asked, “can these bones ever live again.” God’s answer was, “Start preaching!” (Ezek 37:9) As he continued preaching, the bones took on flesh and began to breathe again. Ezekiel asked God what to do next. God replied, “Keep on preaching.” (Ezek 37:12) So he continued preaching and the valley of people became a marching army.
Let me be clear that I don’t see a church turnaround solely as the responsibility of the pastor. What I do see is that when there is sound biblical preaching from the pulpit, that is, the word of God delivered as God wants, then restoration is possible. I have heard two different comments since I’ve been here, “I hope he’s not discouraged because there aren’t many people” and “he preaches like there’s a full church”. Ezekiel preached to a valley of dry bones. I preach on behalf of God and the attendance does not impact this. Here are some things I believe about preaching:
Preaching that turns churches around is Biblical
When people come to church they want to find it necessary to open their Bibles and dig in! A sermon that breathes life into a congregation is one that is filled with constant references to the text and its principles. Though most preachers are preaching the Bible, not all churches are coming alive. There are more ingredients in Biblical preaching that must be there as well.
Preaching that turns churches around must be relevant
My task is to give out more than Biblical information. I believe God wants me to make sure that the Biblical principles I share are the ones the people need in their everyday lives, not answering questions that nobody else but preachers are asking.
Preaching that turns churches around is understandable
A preacher who preaches over the heads of his people isn’t smart. He just has bad aim. My job is to communicate the truth so that the people will be able to obey God’s word.
Preaching that turns churches around is passionate
I’ve heard too many preachers who preach with all the enthusiasm of reading a two-week old newspaper. Our message is the best news the world has ever heard. It is a high privilege to preach the most exciting Book in the world. I ask two questions each time I preach: “Do I really believe what I am about to say.” Second, “Is what I am about to say really important?” It must be a message from one person’s heart directed to another’s heart.
We are all part of the solution in growing our church. I will do my best to deliver the kind of preaching I’ve described. Then we’ve all got to get the word out that we have something to say here that is worth coming for.
As we move into the final three months of the year, we begin to think of the holidays. Holidays usually mean folks coming over to visit, share a meal or celebrate with us. What do we do when we know company is coming over? If yours is anything like the Holt household, this means straightening up the living room, planning meals and arranging furniture so that people will feel comfortable and welcome when they arrive. We need to look at reaching out into our community the same way. Outreach is meeting the needs of our community while expressing God’s love in ways that build relationships and provide opportunities to share God’s plan of salvation. It’s important to our church because it is important to God and that makes it important to every Christian for the following reasons:
- Outreach was commanded by Christ. Before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples that their impact on the world should start in their city and expand its influence into the entire world (Matthew 28.19; Acts 1:8; 2 Peter 3:9).
- Outreach is necessary for growth. Worship, discipleship, and serving are important, but if you never progress to the next stage of maturity by reaching out to others, you will be spiritually lacking and incomplete. A living church is reproducing, while a dying church has no heart or burden for the lost in their community. (Matthew 9:9-12).
- Outreach both glorifies and pleases God. The Bible tells us that doing God’s work is like a tree bearing a lot of fruit. Jesus told us that God is glorified when we bear fruit by reaching out to others (John 15:8; 1 Timothy 2:3–4).
- Outreach results in God’s blessing and favor on your life. The Bible is very clear that God intends to bless those whose hearts are focused on reaching out to lost and hurting people. God clearly affirms those who share His passion and heart for reaching out to those who do not know Him (Genesis 12:1–3; Luke 6:38).
- Outreach requires synergy. Loving our community and world will require individual and organizational cooperation. It calls each of us to set aside our individual preferences and combine our time, talents, and treasures (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
As we move into the fall season, won’t you join me in looking around our home (church) and asking ourselves if I invite folks over, will this be the kind of place they will want to come back to? Is this the kind of sermon that is attractional? Is this the kind of music that will encourage new people to join us? We know we want to reach out to our community but we should be thoughtful on how to make whatever efforts we do produce fruit for the Kingdom. Let me know your ideas this month. Drop me an email (Richard.email@example.com) or even a note in the collection plate. What would you suggest to make us more attractive to the world? Company is coming. We are going to start inviting folks left and right and we want our house to be the spiritual home that people need. Where can we start?
Whom shall we follow? I am mindful in these times about how difficult it is for us to follow our leaders. In Titus 3:1 we are told, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good”. Yet Paul speaks of the factions that arose in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 he appeals to that congregation to agree with one another yet notes in vs. 1:12 that people have chosen to follow either Paul or Apollos, Cephas or Christ. As I come to you now as your new Senior Pastor here at FBCPV I believe that it is God who places a man in authority over a congregation. (Rom 13:1).
What then is our role? I believe that once the decision has been made, whether it is a new Pastor or a new Elder, we are to do more than just submit, we are to actively support them. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12 Paul says, “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.” So we are to acknowledge them and more. Hebrews 13:17 tells us to, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
The important thing is that we are all to be co-workers in the field of ministry with our leaders and do all that can be done to encourage them, enable them and support them so that God may work through them for the good of the Kingdom. In Exodus 17:10 Joshua goes out to fight the Amalekites at the direction of Moses. As the battle raged, as long as Moses held up his staff, the Israelites would be winning. But Moses’ hands grew tired and when they were lowered, the battle would go against Israel. Aaron and Hur were with Moses and while they couldn’t wield his staff, they could stand to either side of him and hold up his hands all day long until the battle was won. Let us commit to holding up the arms of all our leaders in ministry.
In Ephesians 6:12 we are told that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” When any church calls new leaders, it will be God who equips us and send us into the battle under these leaders. But we must be willing. May we be ready and willing to fight the fight and hold up the arms of all our leaders from morning til evening so that the people of God can triumph in His name.
A WORD FROM PASTOR RICH
There comes a time when what we say is judged by what we do. The New Testament speaks about the fruit in our lives over a dozen times. Paul admonishes us to live as a direct result of our values, that is, to walk in love. (Ephesians 5:2). We are to live lives worthy of the calling of Christ. In the OT, Jesus is described as a “servant” (Isaiah 42:1). The NT describes Him similarly (Acts 3:26, Philippians 2:5-8). As a servant, Jesus taught that the way to God’s kingdom was by traveling the path of a servant (Matthew 23:11). So, to walk in integrity, we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps or better said, Jesus’ character. We are to become more and more like the Him (2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:15). We are to demonstrate love to others (Matthew 7:12). In Zechariah 8:16-17 we are told to, “ Speak the truth to each other, render true and sound judgment, do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the LORD.
Personal integrity sets an example to others. A criticism of Christians is that they are hypocrites. Paul tells Titus the way to avoid this, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good”. (Titus 2:7-8) A great way to be an example to your family, friends and to your church is to be a reliable person with your word. When you say you will do something, those who know you should consider it “done”. James says that we should “Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No’, no, or you will be condemned.” (James 5:12) Our faith is demonstrated by our commitment to what say we believe.
Does our daily life accurately represent what we profess to believe?
Pastor Rich Holt W