Sunday – May 30, 2021
Thom Rachford and Timothy Johnson talk about the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
Sunday – May 30, 2021
Thom Rachford and Timothy Johnson talk about the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
Sunday – March 21, 2021
“…the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The Scriptures are said to be the defining work of civilization. But the Scriptures are not just a collection of men’s ideas about God, nor is it a guidebook for living that people developed over the centuries. The Bible was written by dozens of authors over many hundreds of years. Some are very brief–less than a page, while others are much longer. Yet, despite their diversity, when you examine them, you discover they all have a common theme: God’s relationship with the human race. Ultimately, the Bible deals with timeless questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How can we redeem our mistakes? How should we live?
Of all the books found in the Bible, no book answers these questions better than the Book of Romans. God has used this powerful letter in some remarkable ways to change the lives of some of the greatest thinkers, missionaries and theologians throughout human history. It is the book that was instrumental in leading men like Augustine, Charles Wesley and John Bunyan to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. It changed the course of church history after being read by Martin Luther. It was so important to church father Chrysostom that he had it read to him twice each week.
The Swiss commentator, Frederic Godet, wrote that “every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.” His summation of Romans was: “For what is the Epistle to the Romans? The offer of the righteousness of God to the man who finds himself stripped by the law of his own righteousness (1:17). In a nutshell, the Book of Romans is the gospel: the good news that God declares sinners to be righteous when they trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf. It involves both the imputed righteousness of justification (Romans 3-5) and the imparted righteousness of sanctification, worked out progressively through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 6-8).”
As I said last week, the Church of Jesus Christ faces challenges never seen before in the history of the church. There is a pervasive darkness in our country and a lack of clear biblical thinking in this generation. And our calling is to be a people who are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) If we are to reclaim this mandate from God, we must fully understand how that calling was granted to us and how we are to live it out. There is no better time than now to understand the wisdom of God found in the Book of Romans.
Sunday – March 14, 2021
Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
What is the main business of the church? Some would say that it is to care for its members, to visit the sick and pray with them, to take care of people at important transitions in life, such as marriage, childbirth, and death. That the Church is here to provide guidance and comfort for people at important times. No doubt, these are all functions of the church. But I would argue that these functions are not the main business of the church, and if we start acting as if they were, we will miss our main business.
With the COVID virus, many businesses have had to pivot not just to maintain customers, but to thrive in the radically changed environment we find ourselves today. But they must pivot in a way that maintains their main business. The Church of Jesus Christ is no different. We are always in danger of slipping into a maintenance mentality to keep the doors open, to preserve our faith and to maintain tradition. With the emphasis on maintaining “social distance” we must always remember our main business is the same business of Jesus who “came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Think of how the COVID virus is being spread today. People do not deliberately go out, seeking to spread the virus to many others. They simply go about their lives as usual, and when they come into contact with others, the virus is unknowingly spread abroad. The virus has a life of its own, and is spread by social contact as people go about their lives as normal. Ideally, and as we see it in Acts 19, the gospel was quickly spread abroad by people who went about, living their lives in contact with other people. These saints did not begrudgingly spread the gospel, nor was their evangelism the execution of a particular plan or script. Their joy simply overflowed, and because their new-found salvation was so life-transforming they just couldn’t help but tell others about it. For them, evangelism was the result of the overflow of joy and praise to God that others observed, and “caught.”
Antioch is as an example to us. It was a church founded by simple believers who knew that God has called every Christian to serve Him. They proclaimed the gospel as the power of God for salvation to every person who believes and the hand of the Lord was with them, and considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. Let’s keep our main business in focus: To obey the Holy Spirit in promoting God’s glory by sending out workers called by God to preach the gospel. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt. 9:37-38).
Sunday – November 29, 2020
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
How did the obscure, marginal, Jesus movement become the dominant religious force in the Western world in a few centuries? To understand how this took place we need to explore a number of key factors—one of which is plagues. Indeed, to understand the rise of Christianity from a few followers of the Way to a faith that has changed the world, we need to understand the biblical and remarkable response by the Church to plagues of the past. Over the next few weeks as we come to the end of 2020, I want examine briefly four pandemics in history and how the church has responded in the way of Christ. As we note their examples, let’s be inspired by their faith—even if we might make some adjustments for our own time and circumstances.
The Plague of Cyprian (249–262 AD) was a lethal pandemic that, at its height, caused upwards of 5,000 deaths a day in Rome. While the plague severely weakened the Roman empire, the Christian response to it won admiration and a greater following. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, reported: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.
This evident Christlikeness—taking death in order to give life—stood in stark contrast to those outside the church. Dionysius continues: “But with the heathen everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends. They shunned any participation or fellowship with death; which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 7.22.7–10)
Plagues and pandemics intensify the natural course of life. They intensify our own sense of mortality and frailty. They also intensify opportunities to display counter-cultural, counter-conditional love. The church rose to the challenge in the second century, winning both admirers and also converts. While the outworking of love may look different in different ages, love must still be the aim—a love directed by the Holy Spirit, not our self-centered flesh. May we—with our own pandemic—live out the wisdom and way of Jesus before a watching world.
Sunday – September 6, 2020
When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months.
The apostle Paul changed the world as few other men have ever done. He lived in a day before jet airplanes or cars and paved highways. He had to go everywhere by foot, on donkeys, or by sailing vessel, none of which were very speedy. He did not have a telephone to call and talk with the leaders of churches that he had founded around the Roman Empire. He didn’t have computers, email, copy machines, or other modern tools that make communication easier. He spent many years of his ministry in prison, unable to move about freely. He contended with fierce opposition both from outside and inside the church. And yet, after 25-30 years of ministry, he left a lasting impact on the world, not only in his time, but also for all times.
Jesus promised to build His church on Peter’s confession of Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. Paul traveled about preaching the gospel and helping the new converts begin to meet as local churches. Those churches in turn could evangelize their own areas, as well as train and send out new missionaries to evangelize and plant new churches in other areas, so that the process is multiplied many times over. He did this in Ephesus, so that after two years, all of Asia (western Turkey) heard the word of the Lord. Paul was unrelenting in his commitment to the church.. He called the Philippian church his joy and his crown. He told the Colossians of his great struggle on their behalf and for those in Laodicea, that they would be knit together in love and attain to all that wealth that comes from a full knowledge of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, he goes through a long list of all of the labors and trials that he had gone through on behalf of Christ. The last thing he mentions is, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”
At first glance, our text shows us a slice of Paul’s life describing his travels. Some things are skimmed over, and we can fill in many details from 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans, which he wrote during this time period. Other things, such as his meeting with the church in Troas, are described in more detail. We might at first read these verses and think, “That’s interesting, but it doesn’t relate to my life.” But I think that just below the surface of Luke’s description of Paul’s travels lies Paul’s unswerving commitment to Christ’s church. It was that commitment that was at the heart of how God used Paul to change the world for Jesus Christ. No matter what our individual gifts or calling, we need to be committed to the church of Jesus Christ if we want to see God use us to change our world for Him.
Sunday – Sunday – August 2, 2020
And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded…
The general malaise and moral confusion of the culture reminds me of Saint Francis’s claim that he would go to the city center in Assisi and stand on his head to see the world aright. The early Church was given credit for turning the world upside down. The Christian worldview required everyone outside of the Christian faith to stand on their heads to make sense of things. But now, the world is back where Christians found it. Now we find ourselves standing on our heads to see it aright. Light has been declared darkness and darkness declared light. Right is wrong, wrong is right, up is down and down is up. The old greeting, “What’s Up?” requires the answer, “Who knows?”
For 50 years, the Church has held a false idea that there are two optional tracks in the Christian life. One track is the committed discipleship track, for gung-ho types. They give up the comforts of life, giving large portions of their income to the cause of Christ and they devote themselves and their time totally to Jesus. But if that track is a bit much for you, then you can choose the comfortable Christian track. Comfortable Christians usually go to church on Sundays, unless one of their hobbies has a big event that day. They give a bit to help out the church and volunteer some time to the cause, when time permits. For them, Christ and the church are a nice slice of life that help to make life more pleasant. But I never find Jesus offering this second track to any of His followers.
In our Christian apathy, we have failed to see the war around us. It is a cultural war, but, more profoundly, it is a war of ideas. Behind those ideas are persons and, finally, only two persons, God and Satan. Why would we, the church, dirty our hands and join the fight? Because our disciples have failed and we have lost the culture. We’ve been making our kind of disciples for the past fifty years and look at what we have accomplished. The disciples we have produced have allowed the culture to be taken over by leftist ideology that is clearly anti-Christian, anti-gospel, and has cut off at least two generations from the biblical, literary, social, and cultural foundation of a working society. Those young people tearing down statues are our disciples. We must make different disciples in order to get a different result and the church must take some responsibility.
Perhaps you do not share this urgency concerning this war for the minds and souls of others because you have not come to grips with the urgency of your receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior. Apart from Him, you will die in your sins and spend eternity apart from God in eternal suffering. The gospel of Jesus Christ informs you that God has provided for the forgiveness of your sins through the death of Jesus Christ in your place, bearing your condemnation, and offering you His righteousness. Time is limited. He may return at any moment, or you may die before He comes. Accept Him today.
Sunday – July 19, 2020
The week began and progressed as normal for the majority of Christendom. Oh, it was quite a different week, but only a few Christians would notice—far too few. One pastor reviewed the sermon that he had prepared. He would begin his message with a funny story, include a few Bible verses, the quote from Time magazine, and a story about a dramatic conversion. And, of course, he would conclude with an emotional appeal. “Yes,” he thought, “this one has been planned perfectly.” As he reread the sermon for the last time, it was obvious that he didn’t notice the difference.
The week continued on flawlessly. The church raised enough pledges for the down payment on the new sanctuary. The Wednesday evening prayer meeting also went on as usual, the few who came prayed that God would bless all of the missionaries. But no one noticed the difference. A few church members even got to witness at work that week. They pulled out their pocket Bibles and read to co-workers. Although no one seem very interested, they plowed through the entire presentation and encouraged them to pray the prayer at the end to invite Christ into their heart. But they didn’t notice. In fact, few Christians would have noticed, even in an entire year.
But there were a few Christians that had a most frustrating week. One pastor sat and stared at his Bible, but couldn’t get anything out of it. He knew the Bible and he knew how to prepare biblical sermons. But the Bible had become a dead book to him. He was frustrated and perplexed. But he noticed the difference! Some other believers also noticed. One man kept succumbing to lusting and couldn’t get the victory, no matter how hard he tried. A small group that normally was overflowing with joy in the Lord and love for one another found themselves depressed and bickering. Several other Christians found themselves doubting their salvation, and even wondering if God existed. These believers were defeated, frustrated, and confused. But, they definitely noticed the difference!
What was there to notice as different about this week? God decided to see which Christians were living in dependence on His Holy Spirit, and which ones were just depending on their own intellect and human plans to live the Christian life. So, He withdrew His Holy Spirit from the earth for the week! Think about it—would you notice the difference?
It is easy to fall into routine Christianity, where we function in the flesh instead of walk in vital dependence upon God’s Spirit. One of the main lessons of the Book of Acts is the expansion of the early church was due to the working of the Holy Spirit. He was directing, moving, and empowering the apostles as they responded to His leading. If we want to see God working today in a similar fashion, we need to fight routine Christianity and rather, seek daily to submit to and follow the sovereign Spirit.
Sunday – May 31, 2020
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Some years ago, an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Market Myopia” talked about how some people didn’t understand what business they were in. For example, the railroad people didn’t understand that they were in the transportation business. Had they realized it, they would have invested in the airplane. The telegraph people thought that they were in the telegraph business. They failed to realize that they were in the communications business. In 1886 or so, they could have bought all of the telephone patents for about $40,000. But they didn’t know what business they were in.
What is the main business of the church? Some would say that it is to care of its members. The church is here to visit the sick and pray with them, to take care of people at important transitions in life, such as marriage, childbirth, and death. It’s here to provide guidance and comfort for people at important times. But I would argue that these functions are not the main business of the church, and if we start acting as if they were, we will miss our main business. We are always in danger of slipping into a maintenance mentality, where we focus on maintaining our religious club and preserving its sacred traditions, and we forget about the lost. Erwin McManus said, “We somehow think that the Church is here for us; we forget that we are the Church, and we’re here for the world.”
The book of Acts is a constant indictment of maintenance Christianity. It’s a constant goad and encouragement and stimulation to fan the flame of Advent—‘The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost”. The main goal of evangelism and missions is not just to reach the lost, but to glorify God. The glory of God is the supreme goal of history. He saves sinners “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6, 12). In Revelation 5:9-10, John hears the heavenly chorus singing, “Worthy are You to take the book, and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
When the church preaches the gospel to all the nations, God will use it to save His elect to the glory of His name. Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. The glory of God is the ultimate goal of the church—because it’s the ultimate goal of God. Let’s keep our main business in focus: To obey the Holy Spirit in promoting God’s glory among the nations by sending out workers called by God to preach the gospel. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).
Sunday – May 17, 2020
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Most people in the world would say, “The way to get into heaven is to be a good person.” Again, the definition of “good” in the minds of those who say this is so vague and broad that almost everyone qualifies. If you’ve ever done a good deed for someone, even if it was to earn your Boy Scout badge, you’re in! But the Bible teaches that no amount of human goodness can qualify a person for heaven, because God is absolutely good and He cannot and will not allow even a single sin into His perfect heaven. Thus the apostle Paul builds his argument that “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12), because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
In light of this, when the Bible calls a man “a good man,” we should sit up and take notice. Although it is speaking relatively, not perfectly, here is a man whose life we should study and learn from. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke says that Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). The description starts on the surface and works inward. He was a good man—how so? He was full of the Holy Spirit. How so? By being a man of faith. By studying Barnabas’ life, we will look at what a good person is, namely, a person who loves God and others (the two great commandments).
When we first meet Barnabas, he is selling his property to lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet to meet the needs of the early church in Jerusalem (4:36-37). Years later, the apostle Paul referred to Barnabas as one, like him, who labored with his own hands to support himself in the ministry of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6). Barnabas’ generosity toward those in need took precedence over his thinking about his own future. Later, when the famine threatened not only Judea, but also Antioch, the church in Antioch gave to help the needy saints in Judea. Although the text does not say, I’m sure that Barnabas contributed to that gift, and he gave his time to deliver it to Jerusalem. The church could trust him with the money, because he was a generous man, free from greed and obedient to God.
Having considered Barnabas, can it be said of you, as it is said of Barnabas, that you are a good man or woman, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith? Is your love for God vital and growing? Is your love for people becoming more tender and compassionate? Do you seek to help others grow in their faith? Do you ask God to use you to reach the lost for Christ? Are you aware daily of your need to depend on the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit of goodness in your life? When you do stumble, do you turn from it and go on with the Lord? That is how you can become a truly good person before God.
Sunday – May 10, 2020
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
Pastors today flock to seminars that tell them how to market the church in today’s world. They learn how to make the church user-friendly for outsiders. They are taught how to shorten the sermon and make it non-threatening to the unchurched, while using drama and multi-media to get the message across. And, the methods “work”! Some of the largest evangelical churches in America use these methods and teach them to thousands of pastors who see dramatic results. Here in Acts we see an example of impressive church growth. From a small group of persecuted refugees, the church in Antioch saw large numbers of people come to Christ.
The founding and prospering of the church at Antioch was arguably one of the most significant events in the history of Western civilization. It led to the distinctiveness of the Christian church apart from the Jewish synagogue, in that it blended together in one body both Jews and Gentiles. It was here that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. From Antioch, the church launched the first mission to Europe. This was because this church knew the principle of the body, that God has gifted every member and each one is expected to exercise his or her gift in ministry.
Even when Barnabas and Saul later rose to positions of leadership through their teaching ministry, this church did not depend on them in order to function and grow. They could send both of them off on a relief mission to Jerusalem and keep operating. Later, when the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul for the first missionary journey, the church could send them out and keep right on rolling. If the spreading of the gospel or the functioning of the church depends on the labors of full-time missionaries or pastors, ministry will be severely limited. But if every person who has trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord feels the obligation of serving Him and of telling others the good news about Him, the gospel will spread and the church will be built up. Every Christian should sense their responsibility to serve Christ and bear witness of Him.
Antioch is set before us as an example of how a church should minister. It was a church founded by simple believers who knew that God has called every Christian to serve Him. Employing the principles that this church followed will not necessarily result in numerical growth, since God does not always grant numerical growth along with His blessing. And, we would be mistaken to conclude that God is blessing every growing church. But we would certainly hinder God’s blessing if we knowingly violated the principles embodied in this church. If we want the hand of the Lord to be with us, then we would do well to study and follow the example of this church at Antioch.