Identity Matters: You are chosen

When I was a kid I used to dread team sports.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to play sports imagesand am very competitive.  It wasn’t the sports I hated, it was the team selection process!  If you ever played group games as a youngster, you know there’s always that one kid who never gets picked first, or second, or in the middle of the pack, but instead is one of the last ones to go.

That kid was usually me.

I wasn’t the fastest, the strongest,and the most agile person.  And so it was never all that shocking when the team captain would look at me with a blank expression and maybe a sigh and say, “Ok I guess I’ll take him.”  As much as I didn’t like it, I understood it.  Only the very best kids are going to get picked first to play baseball, or basketball, or whatever we were doing.  Only the kids that had a proven record of excelling and winning get picked first and with enthusiasm.  It’s just the law of the playground jungle, and I learned to accept it.

Most of us realize that’s how it works in almost every area of life.  In sports, in the business world, wherever.  The best, the brightest, the elite, the beautiful… the ones who get picked get picked because of who they are and what they’ve accomplished.  Since we’re used to being treated by the world in this way, we sometimes think that’s how God treats us too.

imagesLast week on the blog we launched a brand new series that will take us on a journey through the book of Ephesians.  The series is called “Identity Matters” and my prayer is that as Christians get a firm grip on their identity in Christ, they will experience revolutionary transformation in their lives.  Wonderfully, our very first step on this journey through Ephesians yields a thrilling discovery.  God doesn’t treat us according to the rules of this world, and that’s good news for you!

You were chosen by God the Father

The apostle Paul launches Ephesians with these incredible words that tells you much about God and tells you something about you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  (Ephesians 1:3-4)

If you are a believer, you didn’t become a Christian by accident. It wasn’t just some random thing. You are a Christian because God chose you. Now you may be saying, “Well wait a minute! I explicitly remember choosing God.  I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.  I even remember when it happened!  How can you tell me I didn’t choose Christ?”

imagesIf that’s your response, you didn’t read my statement carefully.  I didn’t say you didn’t choose Christ. Of course you chose Christ.  I too, explicitly remember the night I chose Christ in the fall of 1991 as a messed up 20 year old desperate and hungry for a changed life. There is no one saved apart from them choosing Christ.  But your choice of Christ is not Paul’s focus here in Ephesians 1. There are other Scriptures that do emphasize the importance of you making a choice to trust God and follow Him, but this is not one of those Scriptures.

That’s not where Paul wants you to go as he is leading us to thanksgiving and praise.  Paul is not praising you and thanking you for choosing God. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is man praised, thanked, or congratulated for deciding to follow Jesus. Why? Because Paul tells us here that something significant happened before you were born, before you could make any kind of choice.  Paul says, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” The reason why God gets the credit for this and not you is because the only reason you chose God is because He first chose you.

You didn’t come to Christ because you were better or smarter or had more willpower or more insight or were holier than anyone else. Paul will tell you in the next chapter of Ephesians that before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead.  Paul tells us elsewhere in the Bible that your mind was hostile to God, that you were a slave to sin, and that you would not submit to God.

Simply put, you needed help. And what happened was that God chose to sovereignly work a miracle in your heart.  He changed your heart so that you came to a point where you wanted to say “yes” to Christ when you used to say no. Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.

Now I want you to let the ramifications of this sink in.  Dr. Ligon Duncan once said that,

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There has never been a time in the history of the universe when your name was not on the heart of God as one of His beloved; that God has not existed any time in which His love was not set upon you.  

Can we let our minds be blown by that for just a moment?  Our problem is that too often we read Bible verses and they become so familiar to us that we just skim right over them and the words don’t hit us between the eyes like they should.

Your identity is anchored in the fact that before you were even born God knew you.  He knew you were coming into this world. He knew how messed up and dysfunctional you would be. He knew about all of your sins.  He was aware of every bad thing you would do. He knew about all the skeletons you’d have in your closet and all the sinful things about you that if other people knew them you’d be so ashamed.

He knew you would be a sinner and hate Him and rebel against Him and He is privy to all of your deepest and darkest secrets and guess what?

Knowing all those things about you, God nevertheless said, “You’re mine. I want you. I know everything you’re going to do and I’m going to save you anyway.”

God chose you.

One of the amazing implications of this is that what God has done for you had absolutely nothing to do with how good or how bad you were. His election and choosing of you is unconditional. It’s not about your performance.  It’s not about your inherit goodness and your ability to do the right thing and thank God it’s not, because if His election was conditional on your goodness then who would be saved? Nobody. Scripture says there is none who do good, not even one.

imagesOn the playground, the team captains made their choice based on the past performance of
the individual and an expectation of future performance.  That’s why I never got picked first (or even in the middle) for basketball!  My past performance stank, and there was no hope that I’d ever turn that around, therefore the team captains overlooked me.

But you know what? That’s not how God operates. God doesn’t choose people based on their ability to be a good person. He doesn’t choose based on how smart you’ll be, how good looking you’ll be, how popular you are with other people, your talents, your religiosity, your holiness, or anything like that. As far as God is concerned we’re all a mess and none of us deserve to be chosen!  If that’s true that means that God’s choice of you is not conditional, instead it’s grace. This is why Paul will write in the very next chapter of Ephesians,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The kid who got picked first for the team has something to boast about.  He could say, “I got picked because I’m great at basketball, because I’m a good three point shooter, because I’ve worked hard to be as good as I am, because I’m better than that short pudgy kid, Demer Webb.”

That’s how things work in the world of sports but in the Spiritual realm the playing field is level. The Bible says nobody is good enough and we all are like sheep that have gone astray, each of us going his own way. We’re all equally deserving of Hell. Yet God chose you anyway.

imagesAs we begin our journey through Ephesians, it is important that we start with the fact that you have been chosen by God.  Everything else that the apostle Paul writes will flow from this fundamental fact, and everything about your identity is bound up in the glorious truth that despite your sin and rebellion, despite your flaws and mistakes, God chose you anyway.  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  Praise God for His glorious grace!

I’m chosen by God. So what?

In my prior article I mentioned how Christians suffer from “identity amnesia.”  We are like spiritual Jason Bournes.  We have forgotten who we are, what resources are available to us, and what our mission as a people chosen by God actually is.  The book of Ephesians will help to clear away the cobwebs of our identity amnesia.  And therefore in my next article, we will begin to consider the practical implications of being chosen by God. God chose you not just to save you from something (Hell), but also to save you to something, (Holiness).  You are not just saved and meant to wander around aimlessly until you go to heaven.  You have a specific purpose and mission in life.  We will begin to consider that next time.

Grace and Peace

Pastor Demer

A new element to our worship in 2016

At Harbins Community Baptist Church, we’ve closed our corporate worship service in varying ways.  Sometimes we’ve asked a member of the congregation to close us in prayer. Sometimes a pastor closes in prayer.  Other times an elder has shared a brief encouraging verse from Scripture, very often related to the sermon that was just preached.  Still other times we’ve closed in prayer and said grace in preparation for a potluck!

There’s nothing wrong with any of these ways of closing a service, but in 2016, Pastor Steve and I have settled on one particular way we’d like to end our services that we hope will be an encouragement to you as you depart from public worship and go back out into the world as Christ’s representative.  We’d like to close our corporate worship with a Benediction from one of the elders.

A Bene…what?

imagesThe word “Benediction” comes from a Latin word that simply means “blessing” or “good word.”  Bryan Chapell, in his book, “Christ-Centered Worship”, gives a helpful explanation of what a Benediction is.

A Benediction (or Blessing) is the common close of a worship service.  With these words the covenant people are reminded of the promise they have heard in worship so that they go into the world to do God’s will with confidence in his promised care and enabling.  As the final aspect of gospel-oriented worship, the Benediction is not merely a “closing” but rather is integral to the “sending” now appropriate for a forgiven, instructed, and blessed people… The Benediction is not simply a conclusion but is also a reminder to God’s people that they start this new week with assurance of his Blessing.  God will provide for them to accomplish all that he calls them to do.

imagesGiving a Benediction is one of the oldest practices in biblical worship.  Indeed, the Benediction was considered a high point in Jewish worship.  After the sacrifice was made the high priest would raise his hands in blessing and pronounce the Aaronic blessing from Numbers chapter 6,

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up     his countenance upon you and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Benedictions continue into the New Testament and are found throughout the epistles.  Here is a wonderful one from the apostle Paul to the churches of Thessalonica.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

imagesIn the worship of the ancient church there appears to have been some sort of Benediction given at the end of the service.  It seems, however, that this practice gradually became lost but was recovered by the Reformers.   One of the earliest evidences of the use of the Aaronic Benediction in Reformed Worship can be traced back to the John Calvin’s Genevan Psalter of 1542.  Martin Luther is also seen as heavily influencing churches to include this Benediction into worship services. Gradually, over time, other scriptural Benedictions were introduced into the liturgy of Reformed churches, including what has become known as the Apostolic Benediction.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The Puritan John Owen, describing Benedictions, said, “As to the nature of it, blessings in general are the means of communicating good things…”

At Harbins Church, Pastor Steve and I will be closing our services this year by communicating “good things”, by communicating the glorious promises and assurances of God’s love, kindness, and empowerment of His people.  The church, on Sunday, gathers to worship, and then we scatter to do God’s work in the world.  But as we scatter, let us have confidence that God’s blessing goes with us, that His grace and peace will be with us wherever we go Monday-Saturday, until we come together on Sunday to corporately worship once again.

Most of the Benedictions will be quotes from a single passage of Scripture, some will combine several different scriptures, a few may combine scriptural promises with words from solid, Bible based hymns, a couple may, while not being direct Bible quotes, be biblically informed words of blessing and encouragement, such as the wonderful “Breastplate” prayer of St. Patrick.  All of the Benedictions will be rooted in the rock solid promises of God and everything that is available through the gospel and through our union with Jesus Christ.  

I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday.  Until then,

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

What you and Jason Bourne Have in Common

In the movie “Bourne Identity” you have a man who wakeimagess up out of unconsciousness to discover that he has no idea who he is. He doesn’t remember anything about his life, his past, his friends, or his enemies.  Everything, even his very identity is forgotten. As the story progresses, this man is discovering that he has certain skills, abilities and resources that he has totally forgotten about.  Amazingly, it turns out that this man was a Black Ops secret agent working for the government and he spends the rest of the story trying to piece together and recover his forgotten identity.

The movie is not believable in a lot of ways but there is one thing about the movie that’s true. Your identity is important and what you believe about your identity changes everything.
Who you timageshink you are will play a major factor in how you live your life. If your identity is bound up in being a mom, if you view that as the core of who you are, then that’s going to have implications on what you do, the choices you make, your priorities, and so on. And while being a mom is great, what happens when your kids don’t turn out the way you want them to? What happens when your kids leave home? What happens when your children become more important than God?

If your identity is bound up in your job, that’s going to have major implications. A quick survey of the wreckage of thousands of broken homes and divorces are proof of the consequences of having that kind of identity. What’s more, what happens if you lose your job? If you hate your job?

imagesFor a couple of years the culture wars have raged over matters of sexuality, gender, and gay marriage.  If the core of your identity is bound up in your sexual orientation and your sexual urges, that’s going to have ramifications and it will affect the choices and decisions you make.

Christians have a hard time getting identity right. Often our identity is bound up in the wrong things. We tend to anchor our identity in people or places or earthly things instead of in Jesus Christ and when the essence of our identity revolves around anything other than Christ, we have moved into idolatry.  We are worshipping something else.

Paul Tripp says that we suffer from Identity Amnesia.  We’re like spiritual Jason Bournes. Identity Amnesia is misunderstanding and replacing our identity in Christ.  Tripp goes on to say that As a believer when you have confusion of identity you…are a sitting duck for sin’s insanity.  Identity matters. Who you think you are matters. It will affect your life, your marriage, how you handle temptation, disappointments, and challenges. This is a big deal.

imagesRecently many of the ladies at Harbins Church went through the book of Ephesians, a book that is all about God, what God has done, and your true identity in Him.  I was privileged to participate by providing our women leaders with some of my notes based on my own prior research of this amazing book.  Due to time limitations and the format of the ladies’ group meetings, I was unable to offer my complete teaching on Ephesians.  Also, I received a couple of requests from people to make my notes available to everyone, and additionally, I felt burdened to help people who couldn’t attend the ladies’ groups, (like the men of Harbins and people outside of our church) to get a better grasp of this powerful book.  After some thought and prayer, I am very excited to be launching a brand new blog series called “Identity Matters” which will take us, in greater depth, through the book of Ephesians.   And just like Jason Bourne slowly rediscovered his identity and all of the resources and responsibilities that came with that, I pray that the book of Ephesians will help to wake us up to who we really are and the resources and responsibilities that come with our identity.

In 1903 John Mackay, who later went on to become President of Princeton Theological Seminary, wandered out into the hills of the Scottish Highlands at age 14 with his Bible and read through the book of Ephesians. It was a life-changing experience for him. Why? What did this young man see that was so powerfully life changing? He says, “I saw a new world. Everything was new. I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes towards other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the center of everything. I had been quickened. I was really alive.”

I am going to be praying for you that as we explore the book of Ephesians, you will likewise imagesbe powerfully changed and moved as God opens your eyes in such a way that you see everything differently, because once your vision is clear, everything in your life will change.

Not understanding our identity biblically is like having blinders on and we need them supernaturally removed so that we really get it. This is why Paul prays as he does in chapter 1 verse 18, that his readers would have…

the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…

Ephesians is all about taking the blinders off and helping us to see a whole new reality in light of Jesus Christ and that will powerfully change the way we do life.

In the next few articles we will look at the beginning of Ephesians chapter 1 as together we’ll consider three truths regarding what God has done for believers through the gospel and how that radically impacts your true identity.  Those amazing, mind-blowing truths are that:

You were chosen by God the Father

You were adopted by God the Father

You are delighted in by God the Father

Getting those three truths deep in your heart will overflow into powerful change in your life. Stay tuned and I pray you’ll see what I mean…

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

Embrace the Weirdness!

onward-PPT-standard-church

I want to introduce a new Sunday morning Bible study that I will be leading for the adults at Harbins starting this Sunday, January 10th.  The study will use Russell Moore’s new book, Onward, to guide us as we consider what Biblical Christianity looks like in a culture that is rapidly changing. With the ever-divisive “culture wars,” increasing terrorism fears, and rapidly approaching elections, this Biblical study is certainly designed for such a time as this!

As our culture changes, it is no longer possible for Christians to pretend that we are the moral majority. That may be bad news for America, but it can be very good news for the church. Nominal Christianity won’t work anymore. Nor can Christians double-down on the status quo or retreat into isolation. Instead, the church must boldly speak to the defining social and political issues of our time with a much bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Christianity seems increasingly strange–and even subversive–to our culture, it’s time to embrace the distinctiveness of the Christian faith and to be marginalized for the sake of the gospel.

Here’s a short word from Russell Moore:

I hope you can join us this semester as we push onward with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Pastor Steve

 

Community Groups to Launch Soon!

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A church thrives best when it’s members strive to connect more than once a week on Sundays.  We were created for community, and the above verse tells us of some of the blessings that happen when Christians make a habit of meeting together.  It helps produce love, good works, and encouragement.  That’s why I’m excited that in a few short weeks Harbins Church will be launching another season of Community Groups.  I’m excited to say that our Community Group ministry is expanding to five groups.  All of them are providing excellent studies to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus.  Here are your choices:

Responding To Relativism- Launches Wednesday, Feb 3rd, at Matt and Marietta Pritchett’s home, 7pm. 2290 Marshland Court, Suwannee.  Led by Todd UpChurch. 

imagesIt is a popular notion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or even absolute good and evil.  How can you winsomely and intelligently engage with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who hold to the idea of Moral Relativism?  This study provides help from apologist Greg Koukl that will equip you with a strong defense for the concept of absolute truth against the fallacy of moral relativism.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Battling Unbelief- Launches Wednesday, Feb 3rd, at Jeff and Beth Thomas’ home, 7pm.  2700 Angel Oak Circle, Dacula.  Led by Steve Doyle and Jeff Thomas

imagesWhen faith flickers, stoke the fire!  No one sins out of duty.  We sin because it offers some promise of happiness.  That promise enslaves us-until we believe that God is more desirable than life itself (Psalm 63:3).  Only the power of God’s superior promises in the gospel can emancipate our hearts from servitude to the shallow promises and fleeting pleasures of sin.

Battling Unbelief, one of the most powerful and popular studies ever done at Harbins Church, is being offered for a 3rd time for believers who seek greater growth in godliness and greater power to kill sin in their lives.  Pastor Steve, with help from John Piper, will guide you through this terrific study that can revolutionize your walk with God.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Life Is Best- Launches Tuesday, Feb 2nd at Toby and Kristin Larsen’s home, 7pm.  438 Hoke Okelly Mill Rd SE, Loganville.  Led by Peter Salas

imagesLives are at stake. Souls hang in the balance. Some Christians are engaged in the battle, but
many are not.  In this engaging study tackling the issue of abortion, the Life Is Best study will thoroughly equip and inspire you to join the fight for lives and souls.  We need to be more than anti-abortion, we need to be pro-gospel.

Check out the trailer for the study here:

 

Click here to sign up for this study!

Christian History Made Easy- Launches Thursday, Feb 4th, at Demer and Dana Webb’s home, 6:30pm.  514 Bentley Circle, Bethlehem.  Led by Demer Webb

imagesDo you know the real life stories of people such as St. Patrick, Martin Luther and Augustine?  How did Constantine and Charlemagne change history?  How did the early church recognize the canon of Scripture?  How did the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches come to be?  What can we learn from the doctrinal and cultural battles of the early church that can better equip 21st century believers to handle the challenges of our times? How has Christianity spread worldwide?  This study will address those questions and much more!

In this 12 week study you’ll take a fascinating tour through the most important events in Christian history from the time of the apostles to today.  Don’t worry, this study isn’t dry names and dates. It’s instead full of dramatic stories told with a touch of humor, combined with Bible study. We’ll tie in spiritual lessons believers can glean from the past, and we’ll be encouraged as we discover how God was (and still is) working in his church despite all the ups and downs.

Here’s a short trailer explaining why you should consider this study.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Praying with Paul- Launches Thursday, February 4th, at Todd and Carol Harrison’s home, 7pm. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.  Led by Todd Harrison

imagesIt’s doubtful that there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn. God doesn’t demand hectic church programs and frenetic schedules; he only wants his people to know him more intimately. The apostle Paul found the kind of spiritual closeness in his own fellowship with the Father that is available to all of us.

“Praying with Paul” leads group members into the Epistles to see what Paul taught in his “school of prayer.” Group members will be exposed to the priorities of prayer, a God-centered framework for prayer, and practices for a more meaningful and dynamic prayer life. Christians today can still achieve the confidence Paul enjoyed by following his life-shaping principles and searching for a deeper devotional experience.

Here’s author and teacher DA Carson sharing a bit about this outstanding study.

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

Prayerfully consider which group might be best for you, sign up for one, and then be prepared to be blessed and to be a blessing to others as you cultivate the habit of meeting together with other believers, encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Steve & Demer

 

How your 2016 can be better than 2015

As we look back on 2015, I’ll bet that all of us can easily come up with a list imagesof ways we fell short, fell on our faces, fell into the same old sins, and just plain blew it spiritually.  Surely I am not the only one who could generate such a long list!  So how do we respond to a year full of such setbacks and disappointments?

Before thinking about how to do better in 2016, remember that for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation for anything you did in 2015!  (Romans 8:1)  This doesn’t mean we callously blow off our sin.  Instead, it means that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)  Praise God that despite our faithlessness in 2015, God’s record of faithfulness towards us was 100% and that’s something worth celebrating!

Realize that though God’s grace towards His children in unending, it does not mean that we are to be content where we are.  The apostle Paul said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 )  As believers, our purpose is to walk in such a way that will bring honor and glory to God by reflecting His character in how we live.  And as a Father who loves His children, God knows that as we live in such a way, we will find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in our fellowship with Him.  The only way 2016 will be better than 2015 for you is if you are closer to God this year than last.  So how will that happen?  Three ways.

#1.  The Word of God

imagesOne of the primary ways you will draw nearer to God in 2016 is through the Word of God.  Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)  As your physical body grows through being nourished by physical food, so your soul shall be nourished by regular intake of the Bible.  Many Christians are spiritually malnourished and some will not gain much progress in 2016 because of their neglect of God’s word.  Bible reading isn’t an option.  It is the main means by which you will grow in your faith.  As the Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

What’s more, in 2016, you will have a host of important decisions to make.    Saturating your mind and heart in the wisdom of God will lead you to make choices that are honoring to Him.  As the Psalmist says,images

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Not only will regular Bible intake increase your faith in God and help you to live in a way that pleases Him.  It will also increase your joy in God.  The delights and satisfactions you will find in the Bible infinitely exceed the temporary and weak pleasures found in shallow entertainment, TV, and hobbies.  King David once said that God’s words are:

More to be desired… than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)

For some great advice and help on reading the Bible this year, I commend this great article to you.  And if you’re like me, a systematic Bible reading plan will be of great help to you.  Here’s a great list of plans to choose from.  Also, Harbins Church is starting a new Bible memory campaign to help you hide God’s Word in your heart.

#2 Prayer

Another essential ingredient to your spiritual growth in 2016 will be prayer.  If Bible reading is neglected by some Christians, prayer may even be more so by others.  We rush through our daily lives and are totally prayerless.  We seek to live in our own strength.  We are arrogant enough to think that we can be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, employees, friends, and Christians, without the power of God working in us.

imagesIn Paul’s classic teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, he lists the critical pieces of armor that we need in our battle against Satan’s schemes, such as the Shield of Faith, the Sword of the Spirit, and the Breastplate of righteousness.  And yet it is telling that after Paul describes the powerful Armor of God he still says at the end of it all that Christians need to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18)

Many Christians haven’t grasped the truth that until regular vibrant prayer becomes a part of the fabric of their lives, they will only be spinning their wheels spiritually in the muck and mud of sin.

The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, once said,

As we breathe without ceasing, so must we pray without ceasing. As there is no attainment in life, of health, or of strength, or of muscular vigor which can place a man beyond the necessity of breathing, so no condition of spiritual growth or advance in grace will allow a man to dispense with prayer.

I fear that many Christians don’t pray because deep inside, though we give lip service to prayer, don’t really believe it will do anything.  And yet James reminds us that you “have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)

And, as with Bible intake, communion with God through prayer opens the door to increased joy and satisfaction in God.  The Psalmist writes of his experience with prayer:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:5-7)

Many Christians struggle with a stale and stagnant prayer life.  All of us have room to grow here, and I am still learning myself.  One thing that has been extremely helpful in my own prayer life is to “pray the Bible.”  This has totally changed my prayer life for the better, and I think it can reinvigorate yours.

If you are intrigued, please read this great article for help in learning how to pray this way.  Of course, you won’t be able to let the Bible inform you prayers if you’re not heeding my earlier point about actually reading the Bible in the first place!

#3 Christian Fellowship

Finally, make sure you are committed to regular fellowship with other believers in a local church.  God hasn’t designed us to be in isolation from one another but in community.  The whole tenor and tone of the New Testament makes it clear that one of the main ways God grows and strengthens believers is through participation in the local church with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  The author of Hebrews says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

imagesWhile the above verse is often used as a proof text to show why you should go to church every Sunday, this verse is saying more than that.  On Sunday mornings typically the preacher is doing most of the “stirring.”  But there were obviously times where everyone in the church “stirred” one another.  We see this in the Bible as we get a snapshot of the early church meeting with one another on a regular basis, in one another’s homes, doing life together.  They fellowship together, ate together, studied the Bible together, and prayed together.  (Acts 2:44-47)

The book of Galatians says,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Again, this cannot effectively happen if the only time we get together is one hour a week on Sunday mornings.  Weekly worship is essential, but the Scriptures are calling us to more regular involvement with other believers to the point where we are being shaped, encouraged, influenced, helped, and held accountable by them.

For more thoughts, see Tim Challies’ helpful little article on 5 reasons you need to join a church.

I’ve heard all this before.  So what?

If you’re thinking, “This information isn’t very revolutionary”, you’re right.  None of this is new.  But we don’t need something new.  We need something that will put us on the path to greater godliness, drawing us closer to Him.  1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Discipline (or train) yourself for godliness.” The tried and true disciplines of Bible Reading, Prayer, and Christian Fellowship will be the essential ingredients to you growing in godliness in 2016.  The question for us is will we trust the wisdom of God in this or will we chart our own path because we think we know better?  If the latter, than come December 31st, 2016, you’ll be stuck in the exact same place spiritually as you were December 31st, 2015.  Don’t you think it’s time for a course correction?

I don’t know everything the year holds for you.  It could include many joys or much pain.  It might contain lots of pleasure or a whole lot of suffering. I cannot even guarantee if any of us will even live to the end of the year.  Our lives are but a vapor.

imagesThe only thing I can guarantee is that if you draw nearer to God in 2016, it will be a much better year than 2015.  “Better” doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of affliction and it doesn’t mean getting everything you want.  Instead, better means having and experiencing and enjoying more of the most valuable treasure in the universe.  God is so good that He can sustain and strengthen and satisfy even in suffering, even if we lose everything else.  There is no other treasure you have that can do that.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7 )

We all need help growing into the experience of the above verses, but even if we can just take a step closer to that in 2016 through the reading of the Bible, through prayer, and through Christian fellowship, it will be good year indeed.  So let’s get started…

Grace and Peace and Happy New Year,

Pastor Demer