Scary Scars (ATP) 

In the women’s Bible study on Psalm 23 in a certain passage, it talks about scars, and where Thomas would not believe that Jesus was back resurrected until he put his fingers in the scars on His hands, and then His side. In the lesson we were taught that our scars have purpose. My question is how can our scars that we hide? How can that help me to help someone?

Here’s the truth, our lives are testimonies. We are also called to be witnesses. On Sunday my husband mentioned the sound mind the Lord gave to the mad man of Gadara. This is a huge testimony considering how far off he was before that. After he was delivered he was so grateful to the Lord that he wanted to go with him but the Lord told him to go back and testify (Luke 8:26-39). This man was living naked in the tombs possessed by demons. Consider how hard that would be to share with others after you’d been delivered. Most of us might actually struggle with a sense of embarrassment if we were in his shoes. 

Look at Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Although God doesn’t ever do things to scar us, as we purpose to follow Him, He’ll even work those scars out for the good. 

Scars are interesting. When I was a small child just about preschool age (maybe 3) my mom had taken me on a long walk in Jamestown where I grew up and she let me out of my stroller for a bit so I could walk myself. At some point I tripped over an uneven sidewalk and cut the whole palm of my little hand on a piece of broken glass. My mom put me in the stroller and rushed me home (about 2 miles) and she was crying all the way because the cut was so bad. When we got to my neighbor’s house they wondered what had happened to me and my mom tried to show them, but my hand was completely healed. To this day I can see the scar, though it takes up a lot less space on my hand. God could have healed even that scar (and sometimes cuts and traumas don’t even cause scars) but He didn’t remove the scar. Now, if I hadn’t had that scar I couldn’t prove what I had experienced. And that, even coming from an atheist family no one ever really could explain how it happened. (I know now.)

Some things we go through will change us for the better, or for the worse if we let them, and some things are meant to change others along the way. Some scars don’t need talked about but should be put on the shelf in case the Lord has you share them. Some scars are too awesome not to share. Some things we’ll testify of in detail and others will be less specific and that’s ok. Look at Acts 1:8, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” I think it’s more important to let the Lord know you’re willing to be a witness to His glory as He sees fit. When it’s God and we go humbly to Him, He’ll let us know what and when to speak. He has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us. 

My husband has a huge scar, I mean basically his whole arm is a scar now. This came from an event that would change the course of his life and one that spiraled him into the darkest years of his life, but those dark years are now part of the testimony of what the Lord has helped him to overcome. Sometimes when our sin is so noticeable or when our brokenness was so evident, it proves the power and glory of God all the more. This is why my husband and I have decided to Pastor as more open books, not being ashamed of the things we’ve gone through and the areas we’ve failed, or still fail at. If people thought we were made from spare angel parts they wouldn’t take our words as seriously or really they might not be able to see what was possible with God. It helps to know that others have gone through things and failed and gotten up and that you’re not alone. Sharing our scars from a place of overcoming victory is what the lost or hurting need to see. Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Even Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (and scars) and that should give us and others reassurance. 

Be Blessed,

Pastor Renée  

Why Is No One Listening? (ATP)

When sharing scripture or things related to God’s Word on social media, do you think seeds can be planted that way?

I probably have some slightly different thoughts on this than many people do. That being said, my answer will be a point of view. Perhaps it would be best to consider what I say along with what others may say, and then of course check your own conscience and motives. 

Firstly let me say, I fully believe we should not hide our faith. I’m going to share a scripture in a moment which I believe warns us about that. That said, how we share our faith is crucial! I have met so many zealous believers that never consider how they share their faith and I’ve witnessed it be destructive. They justify their poor actions by claiming that it’s just boldness. I learned this early on in my walk, boldness can easily become brashness when not controlled. We are to first be in control. 

Luke 9:26 (NASB) says, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” In context, this is talking about taking up our cross daily and following Him. This isn’t as much about how we say something, but that we do what He wants us to do when He wants us to do it. Remember those email forwards? If you love the Lord, share this with at least ten people? Often times the ones that felt they had to share those were the ones that weren’t actually living for God daily. I purposely chose not to forward those!

Let me tell you a story from my walk when I first came back to the Lord as an adult. Immature Christian Jeff was a very zealous young man. I carried a Bible with me everywhere, and looked to strike up Jesus conversations with everybody and anybody. I never cared what they thought and further more, was not moved when they outright rejected me, of course just believing that’s the way things are. The truth is, they are that way, but what I didn’t consider was the damaged I caused in my wake. I just assumed that everyone needed to hear what I had to say about the Lord, regardless of if they were ready to hear all I had to say or not. I never considered my tone, my intensity, or my (often brief) listeners. I was a surgeon who brought a chainsaw to the operating room. Do you get what I’m saying?

I remember a service I preached early on in my church. We labeled it an outreach service and we urged people to get as many of their non-believing family members and friends there as they could and I did as well. To this day, I believe it was one of the largest attended regular Sunday services we had. I was nervous, and I came out “bold”! Oh and I preached! Fire and brimstone, pouncing on every bad thought of the world that I could think of. I can still see some members of my family cringe as I preached at them. I didn’t preach the love of Christ but bashed idiotic ideas of society. To this day, some of those family members refuse to come back. The sad truth is my boldness was really out of place brashness (regardless of its truth) and what I gave was my condemnation not Holy Ghost conviction. It is His job to convict hearts, not ours!

You may even sit there and think, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Listen, I had to repent from my wrong actions and I learned the lesson of anyone who is in ministry for a while that truly loves the Lord. If we aren’t careful, our zeal will push people away from God, not to Him. I am not advocating supporting the world’s sin. I am not agreeing with bad theology or compromise. What I am saying is if we don’t consider the people we minister to, we will cause more damage than doing anything good. Jesus said in Matthew 10:16 (NASB), “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent (harmless) as doves.”

The world doesn’t know what you know. At one point, you didn’t either. This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NASB), “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” He did not compromise but rather considered where the people were and how best to serve them. If you were sitting at a table tasked to feed a bunch of people, you would consider each person there. If a baby was present you might spoon feed them. An adult, you may just present the food. Someone without teeth, maybe just give them soup. You would consider their position and feed them accordingly.

I say all that to say this, social media can be good for outreach. However, I would really seek the Lord about if and what you should share. I used to preach on my Facebook account. After some time I realized it was more about my pride than it was me “witnessing”. I thought I had something to say and really did nothing more than stir up arguments. In this way, when social media becomes an outlet for vice rather than a tool for life, I think it has the reverse effect. It actually drives people away.

Jesus didn’t hold back when it was time to speak, but Jesus didn’t always speak. He was palatable to the lost and bold in the face of the true opposition. He knew the difference and we should too! I’m going to close with one of the most important scriptures on this point, but before I do, let me say something. I have met mouthy Christians, that as a Christian make me cringe. Not because what they say is not truth, but because they are so puffed up that they can’t see the people shutting down around them. It’s true that not everyone will receive what we say. That is not a license to just throw all our pearls in the face of everyone we come across. Be a witness of the Lord, but be gentle and lowly in heart, just like your Savior!

Colossians 4:6 (NASB), “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

What If We Were Perfect? (ATP) 

I wonder what would happen if Adam didn’t eat of the fruit?

That’s probably a question most of us have wondered at some point. I mean, let’s say they stayed pure, that doesn’t mean their children or grandchildren would have. Let me ask you a question. Was it conceivable that Adam, Eve, or any other human would not eat it? In other words, was man destined to sin?

Now before you throw me out for being a heretic, I’m not saying that God made us to sin. Not even remotely. What I am asking is this, is it possible to create free will beings, that are not God, that are what we are, that also will not sin? It seems to me that God likes how He made us. In Genesis 1:31 it says everything He made He saw as good. Yet there we were, humans who ultimately choose to sin. 

Let me pose one more question, with an answer I believe can show in scripture. Was the process that has existed since our creation, including Jesus dying for our redemption, the only way we could be created and then also perfected? In other words, did God create us knowing what we would do but Jesus planning all along to bring us to His salvation? The basic answer is yes. He created us knowing what we would do, but also planned the way to redeem us before we were created. 

Ephesians 1:4-5 (NIV) says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” My reasoning would be this, God desired us the way we are, so much so, that He created us knowing what our weakness could produce. The capacity of free will people to sin is inherent because to have the ability to choose right means that you have to also have the ability to choose wrong. The reality that we would choose wrong, and that Jesus was the plan to ensure that we were not lost.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NIV) tells us something similar. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” Here again, the plan of redemption even preceded our creation, it wasn’t an after thought! So to revisit the original question, Adam (or one of his descendants) would sin because their very nature lends itself to it, so to ask what would happen if he hadn’t seems to be an impossibility. To further take that through to the end, the fact that God planned for our redemption tells us that it was inevitable that sin was coming. Not because God made sin, but because He made something with the capacity to.

The thing that we may never really be able to answer is this, what does God see in us that He loved so much, that He had to create us the way that He did? It speaks something very special to us that we should spend some time meditating on. God loves us in such a special way, unlike anything else He ever made or could have made! Wow!

Certainly our imaginations can take us to questions we just can’t know. Perhaps there are many things that I even overlooked in this. I will say this, this question has opened for me some thought “rabbit holes” that I have not been down before. That keeps our faith interesting, doesn’t it?

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

Out Of Control (ATP) 

Question: Is God in control or does He have dominion over evil spirits? 

This can be a hotly debated topic. I have heard both sides of the coin. On one hand, there are people who blanket say to everything that happens, “God’s in control!” Then I have also heard it said, “If God’s in control, He’s doing a terrible job!” I think both statements are misleading and wrong.

Let’s start with the first one. Often people who say this justify everything that happens in life by believing and declaring that God did it. A baby dies, God took it. A horrible tragedy happens, God called for it. These are often the people who always say, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” The funny thing about this statement is, it doesn’t really say anything at all does it! Of course, if something happens, something else (aka a reason) caused it. It’s a good way to sound spiritual to people who don’t know any better.

You may think I’m harsh but I want you to think of something. This may not change the salvation of someone who already believes but have we considered how the rest of the world hears it? All they see is a God that they don’t understand, doing horrible things they would never approve of, to people they can’t justify deserve it. These kinds of thoughts misrepresent God and make the world, understandably (if this was truly who God is), hate Him. 

The other ditch are those who think that God couldn’t possible have his hand in anything that, appears to us presently, as being bad. This is another ditch which also makes God foolish. How? Because those Christians speak of a God of love who sits idly by, watching ignorant people that He made, spiral out of control and not get it right until they figure it out. This god is super passive (although he’s always passing judgement) allowing the world to self-destruct. In this view point, man sort of becomes his own savior. If he doesn’t do right, then God won’t do anything about it.

As I said, I believe both sides of this are in error. I believe the Bible teaches us, that we are ONLY able to do anything as a result of His grace. I can’t even love God without Him empowering me to. What God does desire though is that we choose to give Him our lives. We choose to live for Him out of a desire to be obedient. However the truth remains, we have to even ask Him to help our desire. I believe this is what we see in Mark 9:24 (NASB), “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’”

I see this as beautifully said also in Colossians 1:17 (NASB), “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” I love some versions that say, “In Him all things consist.” So is God in control? Yes, though He gives some autonomy to some things. I do not mean to say that all things are caused by God. That also doesn’t mean that those things are caused by the devil. As an example, God created this earth to operate under certain principles. God created the oceans, the atmospheres, and their cycles. Hurricanes are a natural phenomenon designed by God, to regulate the ocean temperatures of the earth as well as bringing rain to places so they can have growth. Without hurricanes, life on earth could not exist. That does not mean that every hurricane happens because God said, “wind blow” either! But there can be storms that are evil, and I believe the one Jesus rebuked was an example. Too often we can discount things that produce good as being bad because they seem bad. This is simply just ignorance.

When it comes to the idea of God controlling spirits, well, this is another point of contention. Let me point though, to a few scriptures. Luke 10:17 (NASB) says, “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” Now the point here is that it’s by the authority of the name of God, not the disciples. Let’s look though at the word, subject. It means to submit self unto or to be in subjection. When we consider Jesus commanding the legion of demons into the pigs, He told them they could go. God controlled the demons. 

This does not mean that God makes someone possessed, for example, or puts a demon on someone. But we should consider maybe a few more scriptures. Exodus 9:12 tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, though what He was doing was giving him over to his own desire. However, God did use this for His purposes. Then there were times when God allowed one spirit to be a lying spirit in the mouth of a prophet. Or how about in Job when God put boundaries on satan but allowed him place to test Job?

God has ultimate control and authority, over everything, and can make it do what He desires. Although He does not always in every situation make something happen, He has the ability to rein it in when He needs to, in order to get done what He wants to get done. We don’t always understand why things happen, but we know for those who love Him, He is working His plan out. What seems bad today, will produce something wonderful later on, and in this we can have hope.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

Approval Rating (ATP) 

Question: At the end of Romans 14 it is talking about eating. The very last verse, 23 ends with, “for whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin.” Can this apply to other activities as well?  Does the word faith in this verse mean being confident that God approves of the action? 

This is a great question, one whose answer will help us better understand the scripture. We must remember, first and foremost, though scripture is written for us, it was not written to us. Romans for example was written to the Roman Christians. Not only that, it was written to them addressing certain issues of their time. Misunderstanding this can at times lead to misunderstanding certain things like tithing, women preachers, and various customs and ordinances. As we learn, we need to be able to sort out which things are specific direction for us and which things are principle. 

This is one of those cases. Paul is in fact talking about food. But here he adds something to the verse helpful to us, and the word is translated “whatever”. Yes the truth here is that eating without faith is wrong, which we can clearly see is the point. But by adding “whatever” to it he is expanding it to apply to more. Whatever we cannot do in faith, is indeed sin. 

There is another scripture that similarly can confuse people. Mark 16:16 (NASB) says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” Some have used this to try and prove a point that one needs to be baptized in order to be saved. However, if you look at it carefully, it says the one condemned is the one who has not believed. Condemnation does not come from not being baptized, it comes from not believing. In fact, without believing, baptism means nothing. I would say here also that baptism can be a proof of belief, not the proof of salvation. I’m sure there are people who have been baptized and yet remain unsaved.

The word faith used here is the same one we commonly use and is best translated trust in God. Romans 14 brings out an interesting concept I think we can often over look. That is, how something that is not necessarily spelled out as sinful can become sin if it cannot be done while trusting God. The reason for this is because God desires us to be sensitive to our consciences. This is the first place as we grow that we learn the guiding of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t stay sensitive to our conscience when we are young, it will be harder for God to get through to us when we are older.

An example of this is the times and societies we live in. If you travel to a violent war torn area of the world, you will discover people, even children, who are much more calloused to danger. They grow so accustomed to it that it is just normal to them. That is because they are desensitized to it. It doesn’t mean they enjoy it, it just doesn’t have the same effect on them as it does someone who has never experienced it. The first time I saw an animal butchered was when I was an adult. As a result, it has never been easy for me to just think about doing that. 

This faith sensitivity is what helps us to stay right in our Heavenly Father’s eyes. We do not ever want to grow desensitized in our spirits or our consciences. When we know God approves of an action then we can do it freely as long as we maintain that peace. This is how the Truth sets us free. It takes away the bondages of what we do by revealing to us what God approves. Christians who don’t spend time in the Word or with God often get in trouble at this point. 

It’s in this place of learning what God approves that we learn the voice of our God! Keep your conscience clear and look for His direction when you are deciding to do something. God will lead you into His truth and blessing, when you know what it is He approves.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

Is It Real? Part 2 (ATP)   

This week a question came in that really goes along with last week’s Faith Fix, so if you haven’t read it I encourage you to do so. Here is a snippet of it for our connection to this week: “I will tell you as a fact, it is dangerous as a “believer” to justify our sin, when we sin and we constantly try to point to scripture as to why it’s ok. The scripture never teaches us that it’s ok to embrace sin. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.“ 

This week a question of whether or not Judas was saved came up because there are some arguments on both sides of the coin. However, there is plenty in scripture to point to the idea that he was not saved. We know that Judas walked with Jesus in the flesh. He was one of the original Apostles and witnessed first hand the many miracles in His lifetime. There is a point I believe at which we are responsible for what we know. It’s so important that we never underestimate the effects of sin. We know God is a loving God, but He never gives us liberty to live in darkness and still walk with Him. 

Let’s look at John 6:64 (NIV), “Yet there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.” This scripture points to the idea that Judas actually did not believe. Though he appeared to walk with the Lord, his heart was never with Him. Think about that in light of your own walk. We can look the part but never make Jesus the Lord of our lives. That should be a sobering thought. 

Now, some might say we don’t know what was in Judas’ heart but we can know a lot according to scripture. Did Judas reach the point of no return?  Did he never believe in the first place? Let’s look at what Jesus had to say in John 17:12 (NIV), “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” 

Usually this phrase is translated “son of perdition” which is referenced also in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 referring specifically of the Antichrist, lumping Judas in the same category. Besides this, there is a direct connection here to John 6:39–40 (NASB), which says,  “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus was aware that He was able to save all the apostles into eternal life, except for one, Judas, the son of perdition. 

Now look at how the ESV translates Matthew 27:3 (ESV), “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.” In my study a certain note says the word used for “remorse” or “changed his mind” is not the same as the one for repentance. Changing his mind because he screwed up is not the same as repenting. I’ve personally witnessed many people who were sorry they sinned but they weren’t repentant. There is a huge difference. It seems to me that the Bible makes a pretty clear case for Judas not being repentant, using rather strong language like “the son of perdition”.  

Hebrews 10:26-27 gives us a really important truth to remember, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment…”What we must take away from the account of Judas is the importance of a true change of heart. Without repentance (change) we will not fulfill His call. Judas never went on to serve the Lord. We know that Judas was impacted by the consequences of his actions but we also know that the Lord knows the inner intents and motives of our hearts. This is to say something we have always tried to preach, that it’s important to always check our motivation behind what we do or do not do. Serving the Lord isn’t about works. It’s not about being perfect. But it is about a heart that strives to be right before the Lord because we love Him. 

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff and Pastor Renée