About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?
Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.
It can be tempting as a pastor to just preach with a vision for lost souls and leading God’s people in service to Him. What is more difficult is leading a church in activities that will bring people in to hear that preaching. I’ve been talking for a while about this idea that “The Back-of-the-Church-is-the-front-of-the-church. On the first Saturday of this month we rallied as the people of God to take the first steps in making this happen. Will it work? Only God knows, but we are going to move forward and do the best we can. We’ll adjust as we go and if this isn’t of God we will have to find some other vision to follow.
Friends, if we fail as the Lord’s churches to have a vision, not a vision of our own making, but God’s vision for us, we lose our pioneering spirit. We will become ineffective. So we need to have the courage to try different things even if some of those things are different or unusual. Even if we aren’t sure if they will work. Not trying new things means things will stay just as they are. Just as they are cannot work for us because God has called us to grow His church. We need:
The courage of vision to say “Lord if that is you, let me come to you walking on the water.”
- The courage of vision to say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
- The courage of vision to say “If God be for us, who can be against us.”
I believe the Lord has a vision for our church and for each of us. I know that unless we are moving in the right direction, we cannot be content in life. Vision for ministry is a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through us to build His kingdom. So let’s pull together by working, contributing, suggesting and having the courage not to be “comfortable”. Who’s with me?
This month we are going to look at Missions. Typically we expect to go right to the Great Commission in Matthew 28 about ‘going to all the world’. But the idea of missionary work did not just begin in the New Testament, it has been part of God’s plan all along. Missions is part of our purpose in God’s great plan. When our lives align with God’s plans, when God’s church is in line with the purposes of God, then we are prepared to receive the blessings of God. All the way back in Genesis Chapter 11 the stage is set for this idea of missions. Here we find the story of the Tower of Babel. We gain insight from this passage as to the origin of the over 3,000 languages that exist today. We read in Genesis 11:4 that man wants to make a name for himself at the expense of God. God responds in accordance with his righteous nature and punishes those who have sought their own glory. The Sin of the tower of Babel is followed by the punishment of scattering the people and scrambling their language. Here we see that instead of one unified people, God has separated the people into peoples, ethno-linguistic units. Following the Tower of Babel, God traces the genealogy of Abraham back, even before the tower of Babel, back to the flood. This is followed by the glorious message of salvation and in Genesis 12:1-3 which becomes the Biblical foundation of Missions.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The “and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” is the crucial, often neglected and central aspect in understanding the purposes of God. We have a responsibility that goes hand in hand with our blessings. When Abraham obeyed God we read how God responded. Genesis 17:18 “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.” Today as believers in Christ we are Abraham’s offspring. We are called to obedience and faith. Obedience is part of Abraham’s call. This obedience goes right along with Abraham’s blessing. We didn’t get where we are today without obedience and faith. God has tested us over the years as he tested Abraham. God now says in vs 2, “I will make you a great nation”. God promised Abraham to have so many offspring that you could not even count them. Obviously God’s blessing to Abraham meant more than the here and now. Galatians chapter 3 tells us that God was giving the Gospel in advance to Abraham. All those who believe in Jesus and are justified by faith are the children of Abraham. So why has God blessed us? Is it simply for us to count our blessings? I hope by now you can see the answer! God has not poured out His blessing on us for us to stockpile them. God has called us out, set us apart to bestow his great Love on us. But there is much more than only that. God has blessed us for the same reason He blessed Abraham, to bless all the families of the earth. Jesus reconfirmed that God has blessed us to bless others when he gave us the Great Commission. Jesus told us to “Go and Make disciples of all Nations”.
The great commission is more accurately a call to reach all people groups rather than to reach political nations. The great commission is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the families. The great commission is to go and make disciples of all these peoples. (nations). We are the instruments through whom God has chosen to bless the families of the earth. Why did God bless us? It is for us to be a blessing to the ethnic groups of the earth. Evangelism is not enough for the road ahead. It is missions, going to bless the unreached peoples that is needed. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 4:48). God has redeemed (blessed) us so that, the blessing of Abraham may come to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:14) He has blessed us to be a great blessing by bringing Christ to the unreached peoples.
By the time most of you read this, my family and I will be heading out for a short vacation. Going on Vacation can be a very pleasurable experience…as long as you know where you are going. For example, my family and I are traveling through three states! Actually, we drive from Downey to Laughlin, NV then cross the bridge to Bullhead City, AZ. Not actually that expansive a trip. And we will soon return to Downey because that’s where we live – for now. But Peter reminds us that we are “strangers in the world.” (I Peter 1:1) We don’t actually belong here. Downey, CA isn’t really our home. We were re-born to live somewhere else. And IF we don’t remember that, we can get truly frustrated in this life. Jesus told us – “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) Peter also tells the Christians he’s writings to the same thing: “…for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6)
We need to walk and run and dance because we’ve been given something the rest of the world doesn’t have. Let’s put a spring in our step because we’ve got grace and peace and mercy and hope. The reason we can walk like that is because we don’t belong here. We are just passing through. Our citizenship is in Heaven. You and I are CHRISTIANS – we are a free people. We are part of THE most powerful Kingdom on the face of the earth. And nothing this world can threaten us with can rob us of the blessings of that freedom. We should understand we are vacationing in a foreign land. You live right now in one of the richest nations on earth and you have advantages locals in many foreign lands you might visit don’t have.
And what advantages as Christians do we have??? For one thing, we’ve got the power to start our lives all over again… to begin anew. And because our best blessings are in heaven we have one more advantage over the world. That advantage? We don’t have to fear death. We have an inheritance that “… can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
This world is not our home. We’re just a passing through. I can’t feel at home in this world anymore, because this world is NOT my home. Life is only a short time here compared to eternity in our true home: HEAVEN! That’s one of the beauties of what God has explained to us. The grave will not hold us. One day we’ll hear the voice of the angel and the trumpet call of God and we will rise from the grave to meet Jesus in the sky. We’ll be going home! That’s the promise we’ve had ever since we became Christians. That’s promise that was declared to us in our baptism. This world is NOT our home. Our present life is like a vacation in that sense. It’s a short time for us to be here while we are away from home.
And when people get home from their vacations they share their memories. They show the pictures they’ve taken to friends and relatives. They post them on their computers. It’s almost like the most important part of our vacations are the memories we hope will last a life time. When you get home to heaven… what memories will you be able to share? What lives have you touched for Jesus? What people will be able to be in heaven with you because you took them to church? Or introduced them to Jesus?
A (CHRISTIAN) DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (FREEDOM IN CHRIST)
Pastor Rich Holt
Just 239 years ago 50 men signed a document written by Thomas Jefferson. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That document was the Declaration of Independence signed in congress on July 4th 1776. Declaring their freedom from the oppressive rule of England. In Romans chapters 7-8 Paul writes what could be called a Christians Declaration of Independence. In these verses Paul declares that in Christ we have been set free from three things.
We are free from the LAW [7:1-6]
In Paul’s day, you were righteous by keeping the Law, by DOING certain things TO BE righteous. But no one could ever be righteous by keeping the law. James “the half-brother” of Jesus in his letter writes in James 2:10 “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it”. We can never be good enough or do enough to be made righteous in the eyes of God. It is not what we do that saves us, it is what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has done all that needs to be done to make us right before God. Nothing we will ever do will add to our salvation.
We are free from the frustration of the Flesh. [7:14-25]
We are frustrated because we have the desire to do good. Paul expresses this in verse 18 where he talks about his own struggles. We are frustrated because we delight in the Gods law. As Christians we want to do good. We love God, and He has been so good to us! We know what we should do. BUT our sinful desire is so strong at times it is like it has a personality of its own. It is almost like it is not even us doing it. But it is. What advice did Jesus give? Watch and Pray!
We need to be alert and we need to recognize our own vulnerability.
And we need to pray and depend on the leadership, power and protection of God.
We are free from CONDEMNATION [8:1-4]
If you are still in your sin when you stand before God. God will bang the gavel and pronounce you guilty and sentence you to eternity in the depths of Hell. Yet, we are set free from condemnation when we are “IN” Christ. How do we get in Christ? “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) We confess with our mouth that Jesus is the Son of God and believe that God raised him from the dead. Our society doesn’t even have a clue to what freedom is. They think freedom means, that they are free to do whatever they want. It means that kids are free to do whatever they want to do in school “go not go” “study not study”, and it means adults can do to whatever is necessary to get ahead…and you could probably add your own to this list, etc…
IN CHRIST WE HAVE FREEDOM–TRUE FREEDOM!
We are free from the law “Do to Be”, free from the frustration in life, free from Condemnation.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!
Well, it may not be my “official” anniversary, which comes in September. But for me May 4, 2014 remains in my mind as the day I came home to First Baptist Palos Verdes. That was the day I came to preach for Pastor Joel as he was candidating for his new church to be. I must say that knowing the announcement would be made for the first time at the end of the service made me a bit nervous! After preaching here through June and July, it was actually tough to wait through August to see if the call would come. Kelly, Almaz and I had become so comfortable here, we didn’t want to leave.
After a 15 month journey seeking my next pastorate, I was somewhat confused about what God wanted me to do. Everywhere I turned, I was encouraged. My qualifications, preparation, preaching, teaching and discipling skills were constantly being reinforced by friends and mentor pastors. No church, however, seemed interested in calling me.
Here’s what I’ve learned through that process; God’s plan is the best plan! When Jeremiah spoke to the exiles in Babylon, they were focused on when God would redeem them and return them to Israel but God tells them to wait (70 years!). Then he reminds them:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
I believe that the long wait for me was that the church family I was destined to join was in good hands and God had not yet made the opening. I needed to wait until one Godly man was rewarded for his service so that my first Senior Pastor roll would be prepared and waiting for me. But the Lord is merciful. He taught Kelly and me some valuable lessons, stretched our faith considerably, and graciously opened a new door of ministry in a church we’ve been blessed by the reception and faith of the people in this congregation.
So here are some thoughts about my experience so far. First, FBCPV is not what anyone would expect from a small, older congregation! You are not resistant to change. You have been very gracious to let me do what I want in the pulpit and outside of Sunday. When I started the Thursday night classes, my hope was to just get a few of the working people who couldn’t come for Wednesday morning Bible study to come participate. Surprise! Twenty plus people including folks who don’t attend on Sunday fill up the Fellowship Hall, get involved, ask good questions and participate fully. We even had someone come on the first Sunday in May who hadn’t attended before but had been coming to Thursday nights. Praise God!
I still have a few challenges as your pastor. In my heart, I now we need to grow our church and I carry that burden with me all the time. I know, however, that God brings the increase, not me. So while I still want this very much, I need to give that up to Him and at the same time look for ways to open our doors to new members. Pray for me and for us that all will share this burden.
This year has also shown me what many other pastors have shared that carving out time just for Christ is a real challenge. As pastors, it’s easy to think we’re spending time with God because we spend so much time studying for sermons and classes. But while our devotional reading and our sermon preparation may overlap some, there is still a distinction.
I need time with the Lord in His Word that’s focused not on what I’m going to say to others but on what the Lord is saying to me. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” The 30 prayer challenge organized by Jackie Hitt will be a great help to me and I want us all to come to Wednesday night, June 3 to share our experiences
Someone else once told me that most churches can handle about one major change a year. I’ve made four or five changes in less than a year. Luckily, these have been well received. Our prayer cards each Sunday, it seem to me have been a blessing to all. Thursday night classes seem popular and folks are bringing people. And movie nights! I never realized how good it was to wrap up and intense study with a relaxing fellowship night.
Now what? Pray for me. Pray for guidance and discernment about ideas for the ministry. Because I have a lot of new and different ideas doesn’t mean they are the right ones for us at this time. Pray that the best ideas for getting ourselves known in the community and bringing in new folks will be the first ones on my mind. Pray for yourselves to continue as you have been. Any success I’ve seen in this past year has been a result of your love and support of me and my crazy ideas. Let’s all get together and take this hill for Jesus! Love you all, Pastor Rich
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are God’s provision for the perfect and final sacrifice for man’s sins. Whether it is called Easter or Resurrection Sunday is not as important as the event and purpose of the resurrection. However, the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection is significantly meaningful. God used the timing, which occurred just after “Passover” and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to illustrate the ultimate sacrifice He made for sinners. Without this sacrifice, Christianity would be an empty religion. Every purpose of Jesus Christ, His atonement, His payment for our sin, would be unfulfilled and the foundation of Christianity would fall apart.
And God requires no other payment! With this provision, mankind is granted opportunity for new life by the forgiveness of sin and escape from its bondage. Just as Spring is connected to new life and new beginnings, the Resurrection means we have a chance to start over, do better, be better. This great opportunity is ours for the mere acceptance of this gift.
In Luke 24:46-48, the risen Jesus gave His disciples a greater understanding of the resurrection when He told them: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus foretells of His resurrection in John 16; then to one of the doubting witnesses, Thomas, He says the following in John 20:29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We have not seen yet we are called to believe.
While Jesus was admired and praised as a teacher, healer, and for performing miracles, He was put to death on the cross. But God raised Him from the dead. Had the witnesses not believed what they saw, Christianity would not have spread across the globe and remained a profound belief to this day.
He is risen! We are Saved! Now, what do we do? We are not just called to sit around and wait for Jesus to come back. Because He is risen, we have a new beginning, a new opportunity to become disciples that conform ourselves to the image of Christ and call others to Him.
As I write this article, so many things cry out for attention that it is somewhat difficult to pick one to highlight. March leads us into Spring with the themes of renewal, coming out from the cold of winter, looking ahead to soft, warm springtime weather. It’s also birthday month with the Holt family. As you read this I’ve just turned 63 years young, my daughter Megan has just crossed the 21 year old milestone and at the end of the month my son Marcus hits 37.
We’ve also the church events to consider, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Easter (Resurrection) Sunday. What to think about? What comes to me is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your path straight”.
Why this verse? The renewal of Spring time in the world should reflect a continued renewal in our hearts because, without fail, not only is the world renewed each Spring but we ourselves are constantly renewed in Christ. In 2Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If we trust in the Lord He will constantly renew us and shape us to His image. Notice, however, the admonition to ‘acknowledge Him in all your ways’. All that we are, all that we have, every time we are rescued and renewed, give praise to the one who does it for you.
As for birthdays, as I grow older the remembrance of how long it’s been since I was born back in Ohio seems less and less important. I have another birthday and so do you. My most important birthday is Father’s day. It was on Father’s Day 1997 that I gave my life to Christ with my wife at my side and my 3 year old daughter Megan at my side. Now THAT is something to celebrate because it is only through trust in the Lord that I stand where I am today. And even my son Marcus’ birthday is a critical reminder. Marcus is a strong man, wonderful husband and father and Marine veteran. Marcus, however has never accepted Christ so his birthday keeps reminding me of the urgency to ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). I trust the Lord to work out Marcus’ salvation in due time and because I do not badger him about it, he listens when I talk about it. Please keep Marcus in prayer with me.
Finally, the holidays. We look forward to Palm Sunday this year because we look forward to having Baptisms of our Beacon Light friends. I have been trusting in the Lord each month when I have one short opportunity to preach the Word to them that He will do something with my words. If you have been with us on the third Wednesday of each month, you would hear a somewhat different Pastor Rich who gets wound up and preaches it hard in the name of the Lord. Maundy Thursday is a time of preparation of our hearts for the major event of Resurrection Sunday. It reminds us that the great news, ‘HE IS RISEN’, comes on the heels of Christ’s Passion on the cross in our place. And, of course, on Resurrection Sunday we should be not only celebrating Jesus defeat of death but acknowledge Him in all our ways as the one who renews us in His sacrifice, every Spring, every day, every minute. (Colossians 1:17)
May God bless you and renew you,