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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.

Who wrote the book of Hebrews?

1554446_10202778076678833_64181163_nThe book of Hebrews offers a thorough explanation of faith, redemption and salvation by demonstrating how Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and the Old Testament religion, and how salvation has always been by grace through faith from the beginning of time.

It was written to encourage 1st Century Jewish Christians to avoid slipping into the legalism of the Pharisees religion, and to hold on to their faith. The book accomplished this goal by showing how Christ fills the role of High Priest, and how the Old Testament Patriarchs acted on faith, not out of religious duty.

For all of the great Theological truth in Hebrews, one thing remains a mystery. Who wrote it? No one put their name on it, and the author didn’t introduce himself at the beginning.

For centuries, Theologians and scholars believed that the Apostle Paul wrote Hebrews. That theory makes sense as Paul skillfully used logic in his writings to combat Judaism and to teach salvation by grace through faith. However, Hebrews doesn’t exactly match the style Paul had used in his other writings. In fact, the writing style doesn’t match any other book of the New Testament.

Some believe Apollos wrote the book. Indeed, Apollos was a skilled orator, had a way with words, was well educated and was capable of such. However, questions remain as to whether Apollos would have been the one to write a letter to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Sure, he spent a lot of time in Asia minor debating Judaizers, but that fact in and of itself does not prove authorship.

Timothy is also seen as a possible author, but the letter references Timothy in verse 13:23. It’s uncertain whether Timothy would have referred to himself in the third person like this.

Other names have been postulated… Clement, Priscilla, Luke the Evangelist. We could study the writings of each of these early church leaders and formulate theories, or, we could make life much simpler.

If you have ventured to read any of the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that the authors tend to identify themselves at the beginning. So, following that pattern, let’s look at the beginning of the book of Hebrews:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

-Hebrews 1:1-2

Boom! Mystery solved.

The Author of Hebrews was identified in verse 1. “God.”

Now the likelihood of God coming down and handwriting this letter on a scroll of paper is minute, but it is important to remember that, even though we may not know whom God called to write Hebrews, the words are inspired by God none the less. So never mind who put the ink to the paper. Hebrews is God’s word, and thus we should learn it and obey it as we would any other book.

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?

Meet God

 

When Moses approached the burning bush, God called out to him from the midst of the bush, telling him to take off his shoes for he was standing on holy ground.

At that point, Moses met the God he had trusted since childhood. All throughout Exodus 3, Moses sees the attributes of God on full display.

First, Moses saw the awesomeness of God, as He appeared in a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire.

Secondly, he saw the life of God, as God described Himself as the eternal “I AM” who was still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as they had entered eternity with him after passing on this Earth.

Thirdly, he saw God’s deliverance, as God told Moses that He had come down to deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt.

Lastly, he received God’s call, as God directed Moses to be the one to lead the people out of Egypt.

From this, we learn that God is to be revered, that He is the source of our life (both eternal, and Earthly), that God delivers His people and responds to their prayers, and that God works through His people to accomplish His mission.

Want more? Check out the above-posted podcast.

Faith Accomplishes…

Faith is not something you possess, neither is it something you express. Faith is a deep-rooted trust or belief that drives you to action. Period.

Hebrews 11 explains faith by demonstrating how it propelled the Old Testament heroes, like Moses, to do great things.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:23-26

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

The life of Moses was driven by faith. It was driven by the faith of his mother, his own faith, and God rewarded that faith.

Exodus 2 shows us this faith in that it recorded how Moses’ mother was moved by faith to save his life, thus directly disobeying an evil law given by an unGodly king. Moses was moved by faith to identify with His people instead of enjoying the life of luxury in the King’s palace. And God rewarded that faith by using Moses to bring the Israelites out of slavery.

Hebrews 11:23 says, By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.”

Now obviously, Moses’ birth was not a demonstration of his faith. No, the faith that was demonstrated in Moses’ birth was on the part of his parents. They, by faith, rejected the king’s commandment to kill all the male babies born, and hid him as long as they could. Then, they expressed faith in placing him in a box in the reeds by the Nile, where he would be discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. Pharaoh’s daughter then hired Moses’ biological mother to nurse him, which gave her an additional five years with her son.

As Moses’ mother nursed him and raised him, it is very likely she taught him about the Lord and the promise that the Hebrews would be delivered by God out of Egypt. This must have happened, because when he was grown, he went down to check on the Hebrews. The only reason he would have done this would have been that his heart was with them. The only reason his heart would have been with them is that his mother and father would have taught them about the Lord.

As Moses went down to see the plight of the Hebrews, he observed an Egyptian assaulting a Hebrew man. Moses defended the Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. Hebrews 11:24-26 tell us when this happened, Moses made a big decision:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses faith drove him to identify with the Hebrews, take up their cause, to turn his back on Pharaoh’s house, and ultimately to flee Egypt. He did this because he valued the things of God more than the things of man.

The rest of the story is captured in the Old Testament book of Exodus.

What we learn from Exodus 2 is simple. Our faith will be reflected in our actions. If we have faith, we will follow God’s word above man’s, we will value the things of God above the things of this world, and when push comes to shove, we will side with God.

Choosing God vs. the world is a daily choice. Every day, we choose whether we will follow God and represent Him, or whether we will pursue the pleasures of the flesh. Highlight that choice in your mind, then decide accordingly.