Encouragement

Shedding Spiritual Pounds

 

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Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

-Hebrews 12:1

Dr. Morris not only preached healthy living to his patients, he practiced it himself. A middle-aged doctor living in the piney woods of East Texas, he constantly trained to run ultra-marathons (foot-races of 99 miles, or more) in Death Valley, Ca., and Leadville, Colo.

He never won those races, but anyone who has attempted such a feat will tell you, just finishing the race is the victory. During an interview I did with him in 2007, Dr. Morris said the feeling one gets upon crossing the finish line is pure euphoria.

Most of the time, Dr. Morris finished his race. A few times, he did not. The year I interviewed him, he failed to finish a race because he had gained weight prior to running at Leadville, a course consisting of steep climbs and descents in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Now, in gaining the weight, Dr. Morris did not get fat. Au contrare! He gained muscle as part of a nutrition and workout regiment designed to build strength. He was still in shape, better than many professional athletes. However, the gained muscle mass added strain on his cardiovascular system, rendering him unable to deal with the combined pressures of the altitude, slopes and added weight.

The weight wasn’t bad for him, but it did affect his ability to run the race. (He returned home, lost the weight and went on to finish another ultra-marathon later that year.)

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and that we are to run with patience the race set before us.

In understanding this concept, we must realize that the Bible is telling us to lay aside two completely different things. Weight, and sin. What’s the difference?

The weight is something that, in and of itself, is not a sin. However, it is something that comes between us and God, making it sinful. Possible examples of weight could include career ambition, entertainment, or social lives.

All of these are not necessarily bad. Career ambition is a good thing. It motivates us to better ourselves so we can better provide for family. Entertainment is not necessarily bad, it relaxes the mind and can promote good mental health. Social lives are not bad, they result in lifelong friendships, which scripture says that we need.

However, when these things interfere with our Spiritual walk, they become weight. Anything that hinders you from living your life the way God wants you to live would fall into this classification. If entertainment keeps you out of worship, it becomes weight. If career ambition prevents you from honoring your commitment to your family, or to your church, it becomes weight. If social activities leave you too tired to have personal time with God, or to worship God, it becomes weight.

These are just a few general examples of what can happen. Only you know what’s truly happening in your Spiritual life.

When these things happen, Hebrews 12:1 tells us that we are to lay aside that weight. That means to re-examine our priorities when it comes to career aspirations and time management, to put our entertainment desires into perspective, and to stop letting social engagements control our lives.

Basically, whatever comes between us and God, we have to lay that aside.

Sin, on the other hand, is a direct disobedience to God, or a violation of His law. Sin is open rebellion against God, and will not only hinder our walk with Him, but will draw his chastisement upon us as He corrects us.

Is there anything that is coming between you and God? Is there recurring sin in your life? If so, it’s time to lay that aside so you can run your race for the Lord.

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

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Running the Race

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nThe New Testament book of Hebrews was written to remind us that salvation comes by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ, and that no works on our part are involved in securing our salvation. Hebrews makes the case that our salvation was secured completely by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In making this point, Hebrews points to the lives of the Old Testament heroes, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Moses. Hebrews 11 chronicles how their lives were all driven by faith. By faith, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice. By faith, Noah moved with fear and prepared an ark to the saving of his house. By faith, Abraham offered up Isaac, accounting that God was able to raise him up again. By faith.

Whenever you see that phrase, “by faith,” it means that the one who performed the action did so because they trusted God completely. Their trust in God, their faith, motivated their action.

Faith is what gives you access to God’s salvation. It is what moves you from God’s wrath into His Kingdom. Faith is what saves. Actions, or “works” are merely an expression of that faith.

It is on that note that Hebrews 12 begins:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1 says we are compassed about (surrounded) by a cloud of witnesses. We are surrounded by the legacies of the Old Testament heroes listed in Hebrews 11. These were men and women who lived their entire lives by their faith in God… from Abel all the way down to Rahab, and then on to King David and the prophet Isaiah.

Because of their faith in God, they believed the impossible, stood against insurmountable odds and foes, and did great things, whereby we remember them today. Some of these heroes won earthly victories, some had to wait to enter eternity to receive their reward, but the end of Hebrews 11 is clear, one day those of us who know the Lord as our savior will be resurrected and glorified with those Old Testament heroes. We will all reap the reward of our faith.

So, with that in mind, Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to live up to our Christian heritage by living by faith. This involves laying aside every weight (things that come between us and God) and the sin that so easily besets us, and running with patience (endurance) the faith that is set before us.

Throughout the course of this week, we will explore what it means to run the race before us, and to live by faith. May God bless you this week.

Smiling through the pain

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nLet’s be real. Sometimes life just stinks. Pain is real. Problems continue to pile up, and you get to the point where you are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

When life stinks, it can be hard to find comfort. No one understands your pain, and the trite little phrases like “too blessed to be stressed” only compound the agony. How are you supposed to just “speak victory” into your child’s cancer diagnosis, your wife’s passing, or the foreclosure of your home.

Yet, society expects us to just put on a smile and fake it through the day. “Fake it till you make it.” However, when the day ends, you’re right back at home, face to face with your problems.

Pain and suffering, grief and bereavement are not foreign to the Christian experience. In fact they are a real part of the Christian’s life. Christians face problems, feel pain, and experience periods of hopelessness. You’re human.

When the Apostle Peter authored his first epistle, he was looking at thousands of Christians who had been displaced by severe persecution. Roman Emperor Nero had allegedly set Rome on fire, then blamed Christians for the devastation before burning many of them alive.

He made sport of Christians by drafting them to be gladiators. He fed them to the lions. He executed them in ways he found entertaining. Imagine having your wife kidnapped from your home, and brutally murdered by being tied to the horns of a bull for the entertainment of Roman nobility. This is what 1st Century Christians faced.

Can you imagine the pain and grief that one would naturally experience under those circumstances.

Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could not sit idly by and just watch this persecution happen. And he wasn’t in a position to mount a successful civil rights movement. The best Peter could offer would be a word from the Lord to the persecuted saints. Thus, we have 1 Peter.

In reading 1 Peter, you will notice that he directs your attention away from the things happening in the world, and toward the coming Kingdom of God. His words of hope center around the fact that Christians have been redeemed by God, and He is coming to put an end to the suffering and usher in an eternity of peace and prosperity. If you know Jesus as your savior, you will see that day, regardless of what happens here. If you die, Christ will resurrect you from the dead so that you will see that day.

In chapter 1, Peter reminds us of how God chose us for this redemption, and how He purchased this salvation through Christ dying on the cross. He then encourages us to stay faithful and to trust the Lord even through those hard times. In Chapter 2, he points out how Christ suffered for us, pointing out that God isn’t allowing us to go through anything He Himself hasn’t endured.

There are no magic words to make the pain go away. What scripture does accomplish is reminding us of what God has done for us, giving us a purpose for our experience, and encouraging us to make a difference in the world around us.

If you would like to know more, join us for Bible study Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at our office at the Early Chamber of Commerce, 104 E Industrial Dr., Early, TX 76802. If you’re unable to make it, consider reading 1 Peter on your own. It would make a good devotional for those experiencing hard times.

Who? Me? Dealing with doubt on “The Point.”

 

When we pray to God to work out situations in life, often we wish that He would just wave a magic wand and fix things for us. Sometimes He does. Other times, He calls us to be part of the solution. That’s when things get daunting, just as they were for Moses when God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

As You Have Opportunity

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Life Point youth deliver bottled water and a handmade banner to firefighters during the Texas wildfires of 2011.

It’s hard to think about the suffering that is happening on the Gulf Coast right now. Whether you see images of the devastation in the Corpus Christi area, or the flooding of the Houston-Galveston area, your heart goes out to those who have been impacted by Harvey, a category 4 hurricane turned tropical storm which is currently unleashing torrential rainfall and flooding on Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.

Looking at the devastation, hopelessness, resiliency and community recovery efforts, we can be moved to want to help. Helping those in need is a natural desire, and is actually commanded in scripture. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some scriptural tips to offering aid to the Texas coast.

Galatians 6:10 tells us, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

This verse tells us three things about helping.

As you have opportunity, do good unto all men.

We all want to help. Many of us would be on the Texas coast right now helping clear debris, handing out supplies, and comforting those who mourn. The problem is that not all of us have the opportunity to do that.  If you have opportunity to go down to the coast, please do. However, before you go, check ahead with relief organizations to see where you would best be able to serve. To find out where, contact your local Red Cross, Salvation Army, non-profit organizations, and churches. If you need additional information, check out the Texas Tribune’s story on how to help.

If you don’t have the opportunity to go to the coast, you can donate money to a number of qualified non-profit organizations listed with the Texas Tribune.

Other opportunities include donating food, water and cleaning supplies. This can be done through a local supply drive. Many communities are hosting those supply drives, chances are there’s one near you.

The scripture goes on to say, do good unto all men.

This is the Biblical mandate to engage in benevolent efforts. So, by all means, find a way to help, and do so. You’ll not only please the Lord in doing so, but you’ll stand out as a great representative for the Lord in doing so.

And lastly, the scripture says “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

There is nothing wrong with sending support through, and to, your denomination’s offices affected by the storm, and sister churches in the area which have either been hit by the storm, or are doing their best to help those who have. Feel free to direct support to your brothers and sisters in Christ who are along the coast. This doesn’t mean to help them exclusively, but show support for your brothers and sisters who have been impacted by this storm.

May God bless you as you endeavor to help others and serve Him in the process.

SERMON NOTES: That Day is Coming

WP_20141002_003What’s the point of rebuilding when you’ve already lost everything?

That’s a question the prophet Zechariah likely faced on a daily basis as he continually encouraged the people of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and, more importantly, the Temple. As one of the first Israelites to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity, Zechariah saw first hand the devastation that was left after the Babylonian conquest.

The rubble, the wreckage, and the devastation must have been an extremely disheartening sight for those returning home for the first time in 70 years. Zechariah’s prophecy taught the Israelites that reconstruction was more than a matter of national pride. The Israelites needed to rebuild to set the stage for the coming of the LORD.

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah told the Israelites about the coming of the LORD.

  1. In the day of the Lord, the false prophets would be shamed.
  2. In the day of the Lord, we will see Jesus.
  3. The day of the Lord is coming because of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

False prophets, false teachers and unGodly activists will one day be ashamed of their words and works. Zechariah 13:2 says:

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.

Imagine a life without crime, social unrest, drug abuse, illness and temptation. That’s what the world will look like after Christ returns and cleanses the land of idols, false prophets and unclean spirits.

When Christ returns, He will cleans the world of evil. When that happens, we will no longer be troubled.

Those who taught false doctrine, who spoke against Christ, and who promoted unGodliness will be ashamed of their words and their works, for they shall be their condemnation. Zechariah 13:4 says:

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive:

Knowing the false prophets will be judged, do not allow yourself to be deceived.

The day is coming when we shall see the Lord. Zechariah 13:6 says:

And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.

The One with the wounded hands in this verse is Christ. He appears in Zechariah 12:10, where the people “look upon Me whom they pierced,” and mourn. That mourning sets of a series of events in the latter part of Zechariah 12 and in early Zechariah 13 where the people regret their sin, mourn the lost fellowship with God, and then prosecute the false prophets who taught them to betray God.

Zechariah 13:6 turns the attention from what’s happening with the false prophets to the Lord. The scars in the hands of the Lord remind us of the betrayal of Christ, and how He turned that betrayal into our redemption.

In verse 6, He says he received those wounds in the house of his friends. Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem just as Zechariah had predicted in chapter 9, verse 9. That was Jerusalem’s moment, but they betrayed the Lord and turned Him over to the Romans to be crucified. However, it was on that cross that Jesus endured God’s wrath on our behalf, and purchased our salvation.

Those wounds remind us of the cost of our salvation, and the love of the Lord for us in that He paid that price on our behalf.

We will see those scars again, because Christ will return. When He returns, it will be a physical, visible return. We will see Jesus again, and when we do, our faith will be validated.

The day of the Lord is coming. Are you prepared?

The life of Joseph teaches that God has a plan and is present with us in all things

Born the son of his old age, Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his brethren. He gave Joseph leadership roles within the family, made him a fine, multi-colored coat, and had the young man check in on his brothers who worked in the field.

Joseph dreamed dreams that indicated that God would one day set him in a prominent role, not only in the family, but also the world.

His brothers tired of his dreams, and his reporting their bad behavior, so one day, the threw him in a hole before selling him to slave traders. They covered their crime by tearing his coat and dipping it in animal blood to make it look like Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

As a slave, Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to a high-ranking nobleman by the name of Potiphar.

At this point, the Bible tells us one key detail about Joseph, that the Lord was with him. In fact, the Lord was with him to the point that he prospered every thing that he did, and Potiphar saw that. Therefore, Potiphar made him the manager of his entire estate.

Things went well until Potiphar’s wife, angry that Joseph had rejected her advances, falsely accused him of trying to assault her. Joseph was then thrown into prison.

Yet, despite his circumstances, God was still with Joseph, to the point that even the Egyptian jailer could see it. Therefore, Joseph was placed in charge of all the other inmates.

While serving as jail trustee, Joseph interpreted dreams by two inmates, one the former butler of Pharaoh, the other, Pharaoh’s former baker. The dreams foretold that the butler would be restored to Pharaoh’s house, but the baker would be executed.

That prophecy came true, which led to Joseph being invited to Pharaoh’s palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which foretold of a coming famine. Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph was placed in charge of the entire Egyptian nation, and led the Egyptians through the worst famine in their history, and was able to save his own brothers (who had sold him into slavery) as well as his father from starvation.

Joseph’s story, chronicled in Genesis 37-50, tells us how God uses even the worst of situations to our benefit, and how He plans our lives in the process.

Looking at Joseph’s story early on, his dreams involving his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowing to his sheaf not only indicates that he would become the family’s leader, but also that he would provide his family with sustenance. The sheaves of grain very likely pointed to the fact that it would be a lack of grain that would not only propel Joseph to his position of leadership, but also create the situation where he saves his brothers by providing grain for them.

The dream about the sun, moon and stars bowing to him showed that his prominence would even rise above that of his parents, possibly to the point of global prominence. That eventually happened when he became ruler of Egypt.

In order for all that to happen, Joseph would have to go to Egypt. When his brothers sold him into slavery, God used that to place Joseph where he would need to be in order to save his family and become their patriarch.

One final note from the life of Joseph, when his brothers came to Egypt, after a quick test to check their character, Joseph forgave and reconciled with them. There’s a lesson we can all learn from that example. Check out the above-posted “Point” podcast, and feel free to come visit with us Sunday.

God’s Laundry Mat

The only thing harder than building is rebuilding. To go back, restore something that was ruined, rebuild a structure that collapsed, or to cleanse something that was stained. These projects are often harder than starting from scratch.

Such was the case in Jerusalem ca 520 BC. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian army at the start of the 70-year captivity where God allowed His people to be carried away so that He could teach them not to commit idolatry. In 520 BC, the captivity was ending, and King Darius decreed that the Jews should go home. So, home they went.

Upon arriving in the Holy Land, they found Jerusalem in total ruin. The Temple was destroyed, the walls were a pile of rubble, bandits raided the area, and discouragement set in.

The Prophet Zechariah was called by God to encourage the people to rebuild Jerusalem.

In Zechariah 3, the prophet sees a vision of Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord while wearing filthy garments. His filthy attire was not from incidental contact with dust, but rather was the complete soiling consistent with rolling around in mud.

Old Testament Law required the high priest to wear clean clothing, so the fact the high priest was standing before God wearing filthy clothing was a major violation. Being the representative of the people before God, Joshua was essentially representing the sinfulness and the guilt of the nation before God.

To make things worse, Satan stood beside Joshua “to resist him” before God. Basically, Satan stood beside Joshua, criticizing his filthy clothes, and the sinfulness of the nation.

This had to be a mixed bag for Zechariah. One on hand, there’s the high priest. The priesthood and worship were being restored. On the other hand, he wore filthy clothes before God, and there was still no temple where worship could truly take place.

It was at that moment that God rebuked Satan, called Joshua (and by extension, the nation of Israel) a brand plucked from the fire, and restored Joshua to the glory of the priesthood by changing his clothes from filthy clothes, to new, clean, priestly clothes.

In this one moment, God showed the Prophet Zechariah that He not only accepted the return of the Jews to Israel, and the reconstruction of the Temple, but that He was behind it, and He would restore it, and He would cleanse the nation and reconcile them to Himself as His chosen people.

Therefore, the nation should move forward with reconstruction in faith and return to the Lord.

Often times, we wind up feeling like Joshua the high priest, standing before the Lord in filthy clothes with Satan (and the rest of the world) criticizing our weaknesses and failures. It often feels as if we stand alone, damaged goods rejected by the world.

Just as God cleansed Joshua and restored him to the glory of his position, God will restore us as well, if we (a) know Christ as our savior, and (b) turn to Him.

You don’t have to go through life defined by the scars of your past. You don’t have to go through life as a second-class citizen, or a second-hand friend. You are not some old CD single languishing in the bargain bin of a soon-to-close music store.

You have the opportunity for a new life, one where you’ve been made free in Christ, where you can grab that new lease on life, love God, and do as you please.

And we want to be a part of that with you. Come see us. Sunday School at 10 am, Morning Worship at 11 am. We meet at the Early Chamber of Commerce, 104 E. Industrial Drive, Early, TX, 76802.

What ever happened to Heavenly Highway Hymns?

Remember the Heavenly Highway Hymnals? Prominent hymns included in that hymnal included, “I Have A Mansion (Over the Hilltop),” “Meet You in the Morning,” “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” “Beulahland,” and the ultimate heavenly standard, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Just about every hymn in the Heavenly Highway Hymnal was a song about Heaven, and for decades, those hymnals adorned the church pews of rural Baptist congregations across the nation.

Time goes by, hymnals wear out, new hymnals are purchased, and the worship repertoire changes. Modern worship hymns and choruses like “Indescribable,” “Here I Am to Worship,” and “Lord I Lift Your Name On High” proclaim God’s grace, greatness, salvation, and love.

Such is always appropriate, and always lifts my soul from the angst over the darkness of this world. I love the modern hymns. I love the traditional hymns. I’m the kind of guy that can sing “Old Rugged Cross” and then turn around and sing along with Michael W. Smith’s “You Are Holy.” However, modern hymns seem to be missing that “Heaven” element. Sadly, modern preaching seems to be missing that element as well.

Think about it. When was the last time your pastor preached on Heaven?

Today’s seminaries are teaching young preachers to find application, relate scripture to what the listener is enduring at this particular moment, and to not get caught up into higher theology.

As a result, church-goers are being treated to sermons on salvation (which is good), sermons on Godly living (also good,) and sermons on how God works through the pain in our lives (also good). However, through this search for relevant sermons, pastors often miss the one thing the Bible offers to keep our focus on the Lord. Heaven.

Scripture tells us the Gospel. It teaches us of God’s grace, forgiveness and salvation. It offers practical teaching on living, and encouragement to endure the hard times. But, scripture also tells us about Heaven.

In Zechariah 2, the prophet Zechariah encouraged the nation of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem, promising that the Lord would bless the effort, that the Temple would be rebuilt, and God would restore the nation.

As part of that prophecy, he showed that Jerusalem would one day be a city without walls, with a multitude of men and cattle therein. This was an Old Testament way of promising perfect peace and prosperity, something that is impossible in this world, but will be a way of life in God’s Kingdom which will follow the destruction of this world.

In a sense, Zechariah was encouraging the nation of Israel to return from the Babylonian captivity and to rebuild Jerusalem by reminding them of Heaven. God will one day lead us into His eternal Kingdom of peace and prosperity, but to follow Him there, we must first follow Him here. For the Israelites, that meant rebuilding Jerusalem. For us, it means to have faith in Him and to follow His word.

I don’t know what you are going through. I can tell you that whatever it is, God is working through that situation to refine you and to strengthen you, and you will come out on the other end better off.

Still, at the end of our struggles and strife through this life, we have the assurance of knowing that one day, we will enter God’s Kingdom, into a life without pain nor suffering, the glories of which are incomparable to the challenges of this life.

One day, the Lord will deliver us once and for all. Our problems are temporary distractions until then.

Trust the Lord. Trust Him to save you, and trust Him to deliver you.

May God bless you.

contributed by Pastor Leland Acker. You can follow Pastor Acker on his blog at LelandAcker.com, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/LelandAckerMinistries.