April 17

March 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

If you are like me you still can’t quite get over last Sunday’s kick-off to our Capital Expansion Campaign.  The practicality of the new structure, the sense of unity among our people, and the commitment of our leadership are all causes for great rejoicing.  The last one in particular is such an encouraging sign.  That fourteen families among the leadership of our dear church would commit $163,000.00 dollars shows a depth of dedication, ownership of the vision, and belief that God is leading us that is simply inspiring.  I spoke by phone later in the week with a visitor who was present on Sunday.  He mentioned that he felt he and his family were visiting by divine appointment.  He said that the presentation gave him the impression that Bethel’s leadership is Spirit-led in how they are operating.  That is certainly what we desire to be.

As I ponder all of this, I have been thinking of the first building project in the Bible in Exodus when the Israelites funded the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  A number of guiding principles can encourage us as we move forward.

  • They were responding to God’s vision for them (Exodus 25:8).  We aren’t hearing a voice from Mt. Sinai giving detailed instructions about our building, but we feel just as certain that our Lord is leading us.  That’s the most important thing.  This has to be His vision.
  • The purpose of the building was worship and education (Exodus 25:8-9).  God said He would dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and that they were to make it exactly according to the pattern He gave them.  The details were so key because each of the pieces of furniture would teach vital truth about God and ultimately point to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 9:9-11).  That of course is the purpose of our building—to be a place of education and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The Lord blessed His people with all the wealth they needed to fund the project (Exodus 12:35-36).  The Lord gave poor slaves who had nothing such favor in the eyes of the Egyptians that they gave them all the material wealth the Israelites asked for when they left Egypt.  God was blessing them materially so they might be able to give when the time was right.  God will do the same for us.  If He is leading, He will give His people the wealth they need so that when the time is right they will be able to give it to His cause.
  • The offering was given willingly (Exodus 25:2).  The interesting thing is that giving to the Tabernacle was a matter of personal choice (freewill offerings, see 36:3).  Only those whose hearts moved them to give were asked to give.  God is always more interested in the heart than in the gift. And so He asks us to give willingly, cheerfully from a heart that is in love with Him.
  • The offerings were so generous that Moses told them to stop giving (Exodus 36:4-7).  What an exciting experience!  They were so inspired by God’s vision that they gave more generously than anyone could have expected.  What a sense of joy, unity and purpose they all must have felt.  Maybe that’s the most exciting thing of all—to know we are partners together in something God is doing that will help create lasting results in people’s lives for eternity.  Amen!

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

February 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

I was struck recently by the analysis of H. B. London from Focus On The Family who said pastors fall into sin for three main reasons:  unresolved conflict at home, lack of accountability, and lack of intimacy with God.  As I have examined my own life in these areas and asked for God’s help, I realized that these three areas deal with our major relationships—our relationships at home, our relationships with other believers, and our relationship with God.  Satan knows that if he can tempt us to be inauthentic, superficial, or neglectful in any of these three areas we will grow weak and vulnerable to the seduction of sin.  Let’s consider lack of accountability.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive the power of sin over him, and the more disastrous is this isolation.  My own observation is that serious compromise in a believer is often preceded or hastened by isolation from other believers.  Consider the counsel of these well-know verses.

Proverbs 27:17 counsels, As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  To be sharpened here refers to the development and molding of personal character – what we would call spiritual growth.  Just as an iron tool cannot remain sharp and useful unless it comes into effective contact with an iron file so we can’t grow and be useful in isolation.  My own observation bears this out.  I have never seen a professing Christian in isolation that was a useful Christian or remained a useful Christian for long. 

 James 5:16 say, Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  The context here is clearly talking about physical healing and indicating that sometimes, though certainly not always, sickness can result from sin.  In such cases open and honest confession of sin is necessary for prayer to bring healing.  Such honesty also forces us to face the destructive power of sin and turn from it so we are healed spiritually. A broader application of this text is that God expects us to be honest about our struggles with one another and pray for one another.  With such honesty and prayer there is great power and effectiveness to bring God’s strength into a life.

I wonder about us.  Are we less connected to the body of Christ than we used to be?  Have we justified our isolation with “good” reasons or just drifted without much thought?  Are there temptations we are struggling with all alone that we have not confided to a mature believer that we trust who will pray, encourage, and direct us?  Are we being inauthentic skimming over inconsistencies in our Christian walk that need to be confronted and corrected before they grow more serious?  What believer in the body is close to us and knows us well enough that they can speak to us about concerns without us taking offence?  We need to ask these questions don’t we?

There are many wonderful opportunities to grow deeper in accountability here at Bethel.  Our Adult Bible Fellowships, small groups, and church ministries offer great chances for relationship building.  Added to that, are many mature believers who have room for an honest seeker in their circle of friends.  Remember, to keep your iron sharp you need accountability.

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

January 2007

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

If you have ever wondered what heaven is like, Revelation 7:9-17 is for you.  Here the veil between us and heaven is lifted as we see the martyrs of the coming Tribulation period and their activities.  Let’s begin 2007 by glimpsing what heaven will be like.

  •    Heaven is a place of great celebration (vv. 9, 10a).  The saints in heaven were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: . . .  The images here are emblematic of celebrants who have experienced a great victory and are jubilant with their good fortune.  So even though these believers suffered greatly (v. 16, starvation, exposure and cruel death), they are now celebrating the victory won for them because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb (v. 14).  This reminds us that the celebration of heaven is the celebration of complete victory over sin—our own personal sin and the sins committed against us.  What will the joy be like in a place where evil is forever defeated and banished?
  •   Heaven is a place of worship (vv. 10-12).  The theme of heaven’s worship is salvation and the character of the God who provided it through the Lamb.  It is interesting that seven qualities of God are listed in v. 12 emphasizing the perfection of the God who is worthy of our worship.  Who God is and the great salvation He has accomplished are the center of all true worship.
  •   Heaven is a place of service (v. 15a).  The saints in heaven are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple.  Far from being a place of idleness we will be busy serving God.  John Walvoord wrote, Those who have served well on earth will have a ministry in heaven.  And without the limitations we experience here!
  •  Heaven is a place of safety (vv. 15b-16).  Verse 15 says that he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  This oriental image suggested protection from one’s enemies by a benefactor who would give hiding and security to one fleeing from enemies.  So in heaven all the fears that beset us now about our health, wellbeing, and safety will forever be removed as we dwell secure under the protection of the King on His throne.
  •   Heaven is a place of satisfaction (v. 17a).  The Lamb . . . will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  What could be more satisfying than well-fed sheep lying down near springs of refreshing water free from the threat of harm?  This pastoral scene suggests contentedness, soul-satisfaction, and the enjoyment of life to its fullest.  It is the promise of Jesus fully realized:  I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
  •   Heaven is a place of no more sorrow (v. 17b).  With all of the painful memories we will have, one wonders how it will be possible to enjoy heaven.  But God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Somehow God in His goodness will remove all the painful memories so we will remember them no more.  What a welcome condition!

For those who say we don’t know what heaven will be like, I can only reply, What we do know makes me glad I am going there!

Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

December 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

This week at our Tuesday Men’s Bible Study we examined Revelation 7 which describes the witness of the 144,000 on earth during the Tribulation and the worship of the martyrs of that future period in heaven.  Though these future believers will live in far different circumstances than we are in, what could be more profitable for us than witness and worship?  Let’s draw some lessons this month from the 144,000 and then next month from the Tribulation martyrs.

  • In the midst of wrath, God remembers mercy.

Revelation 16:17 says For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?  In other words, will anyone be able to survive the judgment to come without being swept away by the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments?  The answer to that question is Revelation 7.  This chapter is a pause in the action so to speak that reminds us that the same God who judges also offers grace to those who will receive it.  Though He must judge sin God still loves sinners.  Amen!

  •  God never forgets His promises though He may delay long over us for His purposes.

Revelation 7:4-8 describes 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel including a list of 12 tribes.  Are these literal Jews or some symbolic description of future believers?  In Scripture the 12 tribes of Israel are listed often (29 times by some accounts).  Every other time they are listed they refer to literal Jews.  No hint suggests otherwise here.  Why Jews?  The Bible describes a great turning to the Lord on the part of the Jewish people just before the return of Jesus and the Battle of Armageddon.  Paul says that when the Deliverer comes all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27).  These 144,000 are a firstfruits of a greater number of Jews who will turn to their Messiah in the Tribulation.  God will be fulfilling His promises to His ancient people.  God’s delays in time have a purpose and His plans for us for eternity will never fail.  PTL!

  • God seals and protects His servants to empower their mission.

Revelation 7:3-4 says of the 144,000 that a seal is put on the foreheads of the servants of our God. Revelation 9:4 says that this seal means protection from death during the Tribulation.  So these special servants are sovereignly protected by the power of God so they can accomplish their mission of evangelizing the world.  They are so effective that a great multitude from all over the world is saved in the Tribulation (see vv. 9, 14).  What this reminds me of is that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.  Chaos may be unfolding all around you, yet if you are firmly committed to His will you are safe under His sovereign care.  In fact, you cannot die until His mission through you is completed.  What an empowerment this gives us!

  •       God uses people to reach people.

In Revelation 7:1-2 the angels are ready to begin the worldwide catastrophic trumpet judgments.  God stays their hand until He seals the 144,000 for their mission.  Isn’t that grand?  The angels administer the wrath of God, but people—God’s people—proclaim the grace of God.  God may use angels to judge but He uses you and me to save.  We have no greater calling.

Your friend in the mission, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

November 2006

Dear Beloved Friend(s),

Derek Prime, mentor to radio preacher Alistair Begg of Truth for Life, wrote that before stepping into the pulpit to preach God’s Word he prays, Help me, Lord, to speak as in Your sight, and to be prepared to fall into the ground and die so that I may bear much fruit (p. 79).  That grabbed me in light of last month’s article that Dying is the key to serving.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (Jesus in John 12:24-25)

But just what does dying to self really involve?  Jesus is talking about a sacrificial life.  In the Old Testament the requirement of animal sacrifices was to teach this very thing.  We learn:

  •   Israel sacrificed the first.  We must die to selfishness.

 God required Israel to sacrifice the firstfruits of their grain, wine, and animals (Proverbs 3:9).  Firstfruits means that we must give God first place in our lives – first place with our time, our money, and our gifts in service.  Some believers on payday write their first check for their tithes and offerings before they pay any bills or go shopping.  It is their simple way to remind them that God must come first in everything.  In order for that to happen we must die to selfishness.

  •   Israel sacrificed the best.  We must die to half-hearted mediocrity.

God required that the animals sacrificed to Him be unblemished and spotless without defect (Malachi 1:8, 14).  Cain just discharged a duty but Abel sacrificed his very best.  So dying to self means whatever we do for the Lord we do to our very best.  Doing that means dying to half-hearted mediocrity.  Dr. Paul Dixon once said, Anything connected with Jesus ought to have excellence written all over it. Excellence means we die to laziness, shoddiness, and minimal effort.  We do our best for Jesus.

  •  Israel sacrificed from authentic lives.  We must die to hypocrisy.

 In Micah 6:6-8 God convicted His people of their deep sins.  So they asked what they should do.  Offer sacrifices?  God said no.  The purpose of sacrifices was to teach believers to live a sacrificial life.  God said that this was what He required:  to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  It is easy to run over people and mistreat them even in Christian service.  So do justly.  It is easy to be harsh with people when they fail.  So love mercy.  It is easy to be hard, unbroken and indifferent when we sin.  So walk humbly.  Dying to self is dying to hypocrisy and being authentic in loving God and loving people.

Here, then, is a sacrificial life:  it gives the first by dying to selfishness, it gives the best by dying to mediocrity, and it does it from an authentic life by dying to hypocrisy. 

Remember, dying is the key to serving.  Your friend, Pastor Brian (:-}).