Articles from September 2019

Why Aren’t We Being Hated?

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:18). If you do a survey of the book of Acts, this prophecy of Jesus certainly came true at lightning speed. From the opening chapters every Apostle and the Church experienced incredible persecution. Weeks into preaching, Stephen became the first martyr (Acts 7). James was beheaded by Herod (Acts 12). The Apostle Paul experienced incredible hatred from every city that he entered (2 Cor 16:23-29).

The prophecy of Jesus has not ceased. Even today Christians all around the world are experiencing the hatred of the world. According to Open Doors Ministry, “a staggering 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith in the top 50 countries ranked on the World Watch List.” Just about four years ago (2015) 21 Coptic Orthodox Egyptian Christians were beheaded for their faith in Libya by ISIS. It was so hard seeing the pictures of these uncompromising men on their knees in orange jump suits willing to be martyred for their faith in Christ.

Why Aren’t We Hated More?
Since Jesus clearly told us that we would experience the hatred of the world (Jn 15:18-25), the obvious question is why aren’t we experiencing it on a more regular basis. For certain the United States is a unique place on the planet. Unlike the rest of the world, Christians are protected. God has been gracious in this time of history giving our country all kinds of religious freedoms and protections preventing persecution. But even with all of these graces, we should expect some “minor” forms of persecution such as verbal attacks, discrimination, avoidance, loss of friendships, hardships at work, etc. We may not be “hated” but shouldn’t we expect, at a minimum, to be “disliked?” Consider the following four reasons a professing Christian may not be experiencing hatred from the world.

1. We are really “of this world.” Jesus was clear that the world loves their own (Jn 15:19). Darkness loves darkness and hates the light (Jn 3:19). The old adage is true, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Everyone likes to be with their own kind. The world loves fellowship with people that are just like themselves, which approve unrighteousness and unholiness. The light hurts the eyes of those in the dark and they have an aversion to those who remind them of their sin. But they heartily unite with those who join in with their philosophy of life, worldly entertainment and fleshly desires (1 John 2:15-17). It is possible that some who claim to be Christians may indeed be “of this world” or “friends of the world.” They have not changed, but look and sound just like every other person in the world because indeed they are truly unregenerate and are in fact “enemies of God” (James 4:4) and controlled by the “Prince of the power of the air….[living] in the passions of [their] flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph 2:1-3). If we have never made a lost person feel uncomfortable or given them reason to dislike us in the slightest way, it may be true of us that we are “lost” just like them. At some point our love for Christ and desire to please Christ should cause us to shun the dark and live holy lives among a lost world. Inevitably that holy lifestyle will cause some conflict, even if simply at a minimum having the world “speak against us” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

2. Our commitment to the Lordship of Christ is lacking. Jesus said that the world will hate us because Jesus is our master and we are His servants. Just as they hated the Master so they will hate the Master’s servants (Jn 15:20). As servants of Christ we simply do what He commands of us. He is not only our Savior, but also the Lord of every area of our lives. His agenda is our agenda. His will becomes our will. The lack of hatred from the world can be traced back to this issue. It is possible that there are some significant areas in our lives that have not come under the Lordship of Christ. In other words, we are believers who are in need of serious sanctification. We have been saved and are truly called out of the world, but we are lacking in our conformity to Christ. Without being legalistic, our lives should be as holy as possible. This means that our dress, our entertainment, out language, our friendships, our associations, our financial dealings, our activities, our eating habits….EVERYTHING should come under the Lordship of Christ. When the Church begins looking like the world, it is no wonder that the world doesn’t hate us!

3. Fear has overcome us. Fear is a real temptation for all of us. Jesus commanded us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Fearing man rather than God can be a real snare to the Christian and cripple his ministry and influence (Prov 29:25). It is true that the world can do some very hurtful things to Christians (Jn 16:2-4). But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). We overcome fear when we entrust our lives to our faithful God (1 Peter 4:19).

4. Our influence is limited. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-14). But what good is salt that has lost its saltiness or a light that is hidden under a bowl? By our very nature we are called to have a strong influence in this world. We are not “of” this world but we are still to live “in” this world. This means that we are to rub up next to people on a regular basis who do not know Jesus Christ. We are not to be friends of the world, but we are to make friends in the world for the sole purpose of continuing the ministry God has given us. We are not to be hermits and retreat back to our homes and our churches. Indeed, we need places of retreat and places where we find comfort and strength with fellow believers. But we must also go into the world. We must talk boldly, live visibly and influence profoundly. We must speak the Gospel to those around us who are lost. We must live holy among the godless and entrust that God will do His work in their lives. We must be careful that we are purposeful in finding ways to infiltrate the world. The Lord would be pleased with us if we would be a little more creative in finding ways to make non-Christian friends for the sole purpose of evangelization. Maybe we are not being hated more often in the world because we aren’t “salting” or “lighting” the world around us.

Don’t Go Searching
For certain none of us should go searching for hatred. As we live in this world we are to be as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). There is nothing worse than an abrasive and annoying Christian. We should strive not to be hated because we are arrogant, annoying or abrasive. The only reason we should be hated is because of the truth of the Gospel we stand for and the holiness that we promote. We shouldn’t have to go looking for hatred, it rather will come to us naturally if we are truly living the Christian life in this world. In this time of peace that the Lord in His sovereignty has given us, may we “lift our dropping hands and strengthen our weakened knees” (Heb 12:12) so that our faith will be strong when it is truly tested. We will all be hated at some level as Christians in this world. May we be found faithful when it does happen and may we rejoice that we have been considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake knowing that we have great rewards in heaven (Matt 5:11-12).

 

2019 Community Weekend

2019 Community Weekend
What a wonderful weekend we had at Ebenezer! This was our 4th annual “Community Weekend.” It began on Friday night as we watched “Mary Poppins Returns” under the huge tent. While this was simply a fun activity for our kids (and adults), we were able to connect with a few new people that night. The Coffee House was a tremendous blessing! It was a joy to hear the incredible musical talent from the saints here at Ebenezer. All of the music and songs were so focused on bringing glory to God and encouraging us all. We also had a few new faces Saturday night. And then Sunday morning was incredible as 630 people gathered under the tent to worship our Lord Jesus Christ. There were so many new people that we were able to meet. The worship time through music was so wonderful. The food was incredible for the picnic. We are so thankful to Mark Florentine & George Hardy and all their volunteers who helped make the picnic such a wonderful event. So many volunteers helped set up chairs, the stage, the sound, tables, the movie screen, and so much more. Overall, the weekend was a tremendous blessing. Most of all I believe we glorified our Lord and were able to meet many new guests who were introduced to our church.

Ebenezer: God’s Plan for the Lehigh Valley
As we read in Ephesians on Sunday morning, the Church is the mystery of God revealed in this age. A mystery is a once hidden secret that now has been revealed. The Church was not an afterthought but the plan of God from the beginning to be revealed to us in this age, the age from Christ’s resurrection until now. We call this time we are living in “the Church age.” God’s plan was to “make known to us the mystery of His will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9). This uniting of all things was not revealed to previous generations, but now has been made known and revealed to the Apostles, namely that the “Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6). Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church is simply God’s unfolding and revealed mystery to the Lehigh Valley. As I looked over the congregation on Sunday, I saw people from many different walks of life. I saw many different colors. I saw a beautiful picture of what Christ’s church is supposed to look like. Christ is building His church here in the Lehigh Valley and He is using us to accomplish His work.

Entrance by Faith Alone
The reality however is that not everyone will be added to the Church. The terrible reality is that those outside the Church are 1) separated from Christ, 2) alienated from the blessings of God’s promises & covenants to Israel, 3) without hope, and 4) without God in the world (Eph 2:11-13). But the hope is that these great obstacles can be overcome. They are not overcome by joining a local body, or being baptized, or becoming religious. The only entrance into the Church is by faith in Christ alone (Eph 1:13, 15, 2:8, 3:17). When someone puts their faith in Christ, everything changes. Blessings come and the Lord Jesus Himself “adds [them] to the Church” (Acts 2:47).

The Analogy of the Church
The blessings of being added to the Church are specifically seen in three analogies that the Apostle Paul uses to describe the Church in Ephesians 2:19-22. Those who have put their faith in Christ become 1) citizens of the Kingdom of God, 2) family members in the household of God, and 3) living stones in the Temple of the Living God.

Citizens of the Kingdom of God (v. 19a). Before faith in Christ we were strangers and aliens, but now we have become citizens of God’s Kingdom (Phil 3:20). Our new birth in Christ has made us a natural citizen of God’s Kingdom where we now live under His rule and have new responsibilities and new privileges. The Church is not the Kingdom of God, but is the product of the Kingdom. And the Church is the instrument & custodian of the Kingdom (Matt 16:19) proclaiming the good news for sinners that they can be added to the Church. No one can become a member of God’s Kingdom without first entering into the Church by faith in Christ Jesus alone.

Family in the Household of God (v. 19b). The second analogy is an advancement of the blessing. It is one thing to be a citizen of a Kingdom along with millions of other citizens, but it is another thing to enter into an intimate family household. When we enter into the Church we become members of the household of God, whereby He is our Father and we are His children (1 Peter 2:9-10). The Church then are family members with one another whereby we call each other “brother” or “sister.” Family is important. The Church is simply an imperfect gathering of the family of God on earth, a foreshadowing of the perfect family who will be in heaven (God’s heavenly household) forever with Christ.

Stones in the Temple of the Living God (v. 20-22). The third metaphor is even a further advancement of the blessing. Being a part of the Church means that we are indwelt by God as a holy temple. In the Old Covenant, God literally indwelled a physical temple with His Shekinah glory (2 Chronicles 6-7). But now the Spirit of God indwells the Church. Every member is a stone, cut out and hand placed into the Church. And the Spirit of God lives within the people of God, not a building. Of course, the foundation of this building was laid by the revelation of Truth given by the Apostles and Prophets. And the first stone laid was the cornerstone who was Christ Himself. All other stones are laid upon Christ. He was the first fruits of many (1 Cor 15:20-23).

Let’s Continue to be a Blessing!
My prayer is that Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church will continue to be a blessing to the community around us. We don’t have anything to offer the community except what God has made us. We must continue to hold fast to the teaching of the Apostles never changing what they have laid. And we must guard against trying to be something for the community that God did not intend. We are not to lure the community into our gathering by entertainment, or temporal blessings. Ebenezer will continue to be a blessing as long as we remain focused on being who God made us. Let’s continue to pray that God will use us in the community. When the newcomers return next Sunday, let’s reach out to them and encourage them. Let’s also rejoice that God is building His Church, His Family, and His Temple one stone at a time!


More photos of Community Weekend are available on Facebook.

 

Slaves or Friends?

The relationship between Jesus and His followers is described in many different ways. Sometimes these descriptions seem a little contradictory. Jesus called His followers friends (Jn 15:15), but the Apostles call themselves slaves or bondservants (Rom 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Pet 1:1). So, which is it? Are we friends or slaves? The answer is a simple one! We are certainly both!

We are Slaves of Christ
The idea of being a slave has such negative connotations because of the atrocities that come with it. It is interesting that the Lord Jesus neither advocated nor denounced the institution of slavery as it existed in His day, but actually found it as an apt analogy to illustrate certain truths about the gospel and the relationship that exists between Christ and His followers. There are particularly five parallel images from the first-century slave that can be used to describe Christians (Slave, John MacArthur, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010, pages 43-53).

As slaves we belong to Christ. He is our Lord and Master and we are to lovingly submit to Him. Slaves are those who are under the total control of their owner. When we were born physically, we were born as slaves to sin having inherited an enslaved state from Adam (Rom 5). But as believers we have been purchased by Christ through His death on the cross (Rom 5:18-19, 1 Peter 1:18-19). We were bought with a price so that we are no longer under the authority of sin, but are under the exclusive ownership of God, Christ being our new Master (Rom 6:17-19). As believers we are part of a people who were purchased “for His own possession” (Tit 2:14) and “belong to Christ” (Gal 5:24).

As slaves we are called to complete submission to Christ. Being a slave means that we are always summoned by our Master to obey Him in every way. It is the slave’s sole duty to do what his Master tells him to do. Slaves no longer have rights of their own and must give unquestioning obedience to their new Lord. Submission to the Lord must come from the heart and is a certain mark of those who are genuinely converted (1 Jn 2:3). As believers we are expected to obey Christ and to “present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God which is our spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). It is the new believer’s heart to do the things that are “pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn 3:22). Since we have been bought with a price we are commanded to “glorify God in [our] body” (1 Cor 6:20). Those who claim to be Christians and yet continue to disobey God’s Word have deceived themselves (1 Jn 1:6).

As slaves we are also called to a life of singular devotion to Christ. The life of a slave is really simple. The slave’s purpose in life is to please his master and to carry out his wishes by steadfast obedience to him. Since slaves are singly devoted to their masters, it is impossible for them to serve another master. The same is true for those who are slaves of Christ. Such exclusion to Christ makes it impossible to serve both God and money or worship God and serve idols, or live according to the Spirit and the flesh (Matt 6:24, Rom 7:5-6).

As slaves we are completely dependent on Christ. Every slave is completely dependent on their master for everything including the basic necessities of life. As believers the same should be true of our dependence on Christ. He has promised that He will provide all that we need in life (Matt 6:31-33). As slaves of Christ we must not be anxious for anything but by prayer make our requests known to him (Phil 4:6) knowing that God alone will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). Christ will not only keep us from falling spiritually (Jn 6:39, Rom 8:35-39), He will also provide grace to sustain us in all of life (2 Cor 9:8, 12:9).

Lastly, as slaves we will be held accountable to Christ. Every slave gives an answer to his master. Faithful slaves were rewarded, while evil slaves that were disobedient were punished, sometimes with extreme methods. Because our sins have been completely paid for by Christ, He will not punish us (Rom 8:1). But believers must realize that we are all going to stand before our Master to give an account for our lives and be rewarded for our works accomplished (Rom 14:12, 2 Cor 5:10). We should all desire to hear the precious words, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt 25:21, 23). Our motivation should be to please our master in all things. There is a day coming when every slave of Christ will be recompensed in full.

We are Also His Friends
Yes, we are slaves, but we are also called the “friends of Jesus.” In the last hours of his life, Jesus told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). This imagery is beautiful. Friends have an intimate communication with one another. Friends share ideas, and communicate on a deep level. Friends get to be part of the inner circle. Being friends with Jesus means that Jesus discloses to us the intimate deals of His purposes, plans and heart.

But, being the friend of Jesus doesn’t mean that we become trite with Jesus and forget that He is God. The New Testament calls Jesus Lord more than 700 times. So, while we are His friends, He is still our Lord. Being the friend of Jesus does not put us on the same level like human friendships. Rather being the friend of Jesus means that He is sharing with us intimate information, particularly the words that His Father has given to Him (John 8:32, 17:6-8).

More specifically, Jesus has granted for us to know the mysteries of God. Mysteries that were once hidden in heaven, but that Jesus has revealed to us since we are His friends. The Apostle Paul tells us that one of the revealed mysteries is our great salvation (Eph 1:3-14). The mystery of God’s will has been revealed that God chose and predestined us in eternity past before the world was created. What is revealed is that God had a plan to save some through the blood of His Son according to His purposes which he “set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 9-10).

Take Advantage of Friendship
Since we are friends, Jesus continues to reveal His perfect will to us through His Word. As friends we must take advantage of the opportunity that we have. The Word is not revealed to the world, but hidden from their eyes. The mysteries of God’s word are only revealed to His friends (Matt 13:10). The Holy Spirit who permanently indwells us also illumines Scripture for us, helping us learn what the Word and the mysteries of God are. In order to have this deep friendship with Christ and understand what He wants us to know, we must be reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis listening to the intimate plans, purposes and will of God for our lives!

Always Slaves, Always Friends
So true believers in Christ are both slaves but also friends of Jesus. We must keep these identities in balance never allowing either one to overshadow the other. While we are still slaves of Christ we strive to obey Him. But on the other hand, as friends we experience the intimate communication from Jesus through His Word. We are a blessed people because our Master is good and our friend is loving!

 

Fullness of Joy: Now or Later?

As a kid I remember eating “Now & Later” candy which was fruit-flavored and taffy-like. These square-shaped candies were quite hard at first with only a little flavor to be enjoyed at the beginning. But as the taffy was chewed, it became softer, and the real flavors came out “later.” I don’t eat them anymore, as I’ve determined the “Now” hardness and flavorlessness at the beginning to be somewhat unenjoyable.  Instead I have given preference to the soft taffy that gives immediate gratification!  But “Now & Laters” are a great metaphor for our joy in this life. It is true that we will have some joy now. But the real joy comes later!

Jesus promised His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This promise of Jesus should not be misunderstood! Jesus was not promising full joy now, but He was promising full joy later! Certainly, we have joy in this life at some level. Even the common grace of God allows unbelievers to experience minuscule joy in this life. God provides joy in many ways: love (Song of Solomon 1:4), marriage (Proverbs 5:18), birth of children (Psalm113:9), gathering of the harvest, military victory (Isaiah 9:3), and drinking wine (Psalm 104:15). But the ultimate joy, which God intends for His children, is only received in the future. The joys of this life are but a shadow of the true joy to come. And we MUST keep this perspective in mind at all times. Having this right perspective will help us all avoid the “Prosperity Gospel” preachers who promise full joy now that is tied to material possessions. In the end that is a bankrupt gospel message. If we expect “fullness of joy” now, we will be sadly mistaken, and in the end may become embittered at God. Nothing in this life compares to the promises we have for future glory! Our best life is NOT now, but in the future!

The root of our joy is grounded in the promises for future glory! The Psalmist said, “In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). Nowhere in Scripture are we promised fullness of joy in this life. In fact, the opposite is true. Those who follow Jesus are promised suffering, trials, difficulties, persecutions and hardships (John 15:20, 2 Tim 3:12, Phil 1:29). For the Christian, his or her joy is delayed and promised to come later!

Our Great Example
There is no greater example of delayed joy than in Jesus’ example of going to the cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). For sure there were joys that Jesus experienced while on the earth (i.e. seeing people saved, healed, etc.). But the greatest motivation for Jesus to leave heaven and come to the earth to endure what He did was not immediate joy and gratification, but the future promises that His Father made to Him. In short, Jesus was willing to suffer for the joy of future exaltation. In His high priestly prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Jesus gained His reward by glorifying His Father while on earth. And when it was all done, God “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). Joy for Jesus was delayed! The same is true for all who follow Him.

This is why true believers are able to rejoice through suffering. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” which is in the future (Rom 5:2). We are able to rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). We don’t mind the plundering of our property, since we know that we have a “better possession and an abiding one” waiting for us (Heb 10:34). We realize that our suffering for Christ in this world is going to ultimately lead us to “rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Christians are not crazy people who enjoy pain. But our joy is not rooted in this life. We are able to look past all of the difficulties and look to the promise of our future, just like Jesus did.

The Danger of a Distracted Eye
But let’s be honest, our joy is often robbed because we fail to be future minded. We begin thinking like unbelievers. We look around and see all the blessings that others are experiencing. It is not beyond us as believers to feel sorry for ourselves! We can become envious and even bitter at God because we feel like we are mistreated! Don’t be mistaken, this is a dangerous place to be! Even the Psalmist realized this when he said, “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind” (Psalm 73:2-5). What saved him from stumbling (i.e. getting bitter at God) was the change of mind that occurred when he finally “came into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17). It was the Word of God that reminded him of the ultimate destruction of the wicked and the terrors that await them. The truth was that the Psalmist was on the verge of being “embittered,” “pierced within,” “senseless.” He was allowing his flesh and his heart to fail, and this was robbing him of real joy. Everything changed however when he began to think about the future! As believers we must guard our eyes from looking around us and comparing our lives to others, particularly those in the world. For us our joy is NOT grounded in the circumstances and possessions of this fleeting and temporary life. Our joy is grounded in the future promises!

Witness to the World
As we journey this life we are going to have small joys along the way. But we may also have many sorrows, difficulties, trials and even persecutions. But we must keep our joy rooted in our future hope and the promises of future glory. If we fight to have the right perspective it will not necessarily make this life easier, but we will be a bright light to the world and they will see the faith that we have which is rooted in future joy!