Death of a Church “Comfort Zone Christianity”

dying church

When we get up on Sunday morning and drive to church in America, do we ever consider the health of our church?  We expect it to be there, week in and week out, doors open, temperature set just right, music planned out, sermon prepared within the time allowed so that we can get in and then get on our way.  Church in America is comfortable, consistent, pre-planned and delivered in a tidy package each week to the faithful.  Deviate from that organized delivery model and church leaders will hear about it in no uncertain terms.  Regular complaints include temperature, too hot or cold, music too loud or too contemporary and of course the pastor went too long with his sermon.  Overall these are not seen as problematic, sort of the usual stuff, but how is the health of our churches in America?

There are two standards to be considered, attendance and spiritual well-being, one of which is easy to gather but the other is not something that can be measured.  Of course, most would agree if spiritual well-being is thriving then attendance will be the first place to reflect it.  That should go both ways, at least in logical consideration, but that is up for debate.  In any case, let’s start with the numbers which are not as easily found as you would hope.  Gallup is a well known and respected polling institution that addresses just about every aspect of life in America as we know it, from business to entertainment, politics, and religion.  According to the numbers from a *Gallup telephone survey in 2017,  of a random sampling of about 1,000 Americans nationwide, interviewers ask respondents questions such as, “In the last seven days, did you attend a church service, excluding weddings and funerals?” to determine their church-going habits. From this survey, 40 percent responded yes, which would indicate nearly 130 million people attended church last Sunday in America.  However, according to a more in-depth research study conducted by the Evangelical Covenant Church, taking data from over 200,000 orthodox Christian churches over the past 10 years, the actual number of people in a pew each Sunday in America is closer to 52 million, nowhere near the numbers that Gallup would extrapolate from their random samples.  More troubling is the overall percentage this represents, basically 17 percent of America goes to church each week.  Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but at the surface, they do not speak well for the spiritual well-being of our congregations or for the outreach efforts from the church.

Our one true calling that speaks to all Christians is the great commission given by Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 28 – to go and make disciples of all nations.  Period.  That is our calling, yet across America, our churches are not reflecting this in their attendance numbers.  The reasons are many but let’s take a few examples from some of those best suited to address this troubling issue.

passion and testimony

As president of the Bridgeleader Network, David Anderson, senior pastor and founder of Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland., has consulted with church leaders nationwide. In his work, he has observed a noteworthy and troubling trend within the mid-sized congregations across the country.   He has found more than half the mid-sized congregations have lost or unintentionally turned away from their evangelistic focus, and instead adopted what he calls a “club mentality.”

He explains it like this, “You have just enough people not to be missional anymore.  You don’t have to grow anymore to sustain your budget.”  They hit that comfortable sweet spot where needs are no longer driven by growth.  They’ve arrived so to speak.

That is a dangerous place to be, just big enough to comfortably pay the bills but not so big that you have problems making room for more classes, additional services, and all the issues that come with growth.

Thom Ranier, CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, gives this example, “We have become so comfortable and complacent with the way we do church that we don’t want any outsiders to mess it up. In other words, we will fight for the precise worship style or carpet color we want, but we will yawn at the thought of our neighbors going to hell.”

Let that sink in for a moment…

When the church embraces its own sovereign space, celebrating within the comfortable confines of its own creation, surrounded by a like-minded social circle, they stop reaching out, instead choosing to focus inwards. It becomes the responsibility of those on the outside to find their way in – while the church turns its energy towards social justice, no longer testifying to the love of their creator, replaced instead with a spirit of protest to all that is wrong in the world.  Isolated inside this bunker of truth, they lose sight of their one true calling – to share the love of Jesus with a lost world.

The church today is not silent, in fact, speak of abortion and organizations like Planned Parenthood and you’ll have plenty of church members ready to speak out.  But is that our true calling, to beat the drum in the name of social justice? That’s not to say the church should avoid speaking out, but the priority of our mission seems to be lost in the shuffle.  If Christians embraced their duty as missionaries in daily life, demonstrating and sharing the good news of our Savior, think of the impact that would have on these other social issues.  Life Beyond Horizons conducted an unscientific review of social media posts made by various religious organizations and individuals that our team tracked over a 15 day period across several popular social media platforms, what we found speaks volumes.  From our sample of posts that referenced religion, 64 percent spoke about social justice and/or church persecution, ranging from abortion to freedom of religion to various behaviors seen as encroachment on church values, while 32 percent were uplifting messages of happiness found in religion, the Bible, or in Jesus, most specifically, how to feel better or how to become more empowered.  The remaining 4  percent were prayer requests for individuals or groups.  In all of these posts, do you see what is missing? We did not find one single message on social media that called to the lost with a message of salvation.  Not one single message of salvation, either from an individual or an organization that we tracked.  Are we afraid of offending someone? (Read our message What are you afraid of?  for more on this issue)  What if we fought for lost souls just as hard as we fight for the unborn child? What if we trusted in Jesus and believed in our hearts that He truly is the miracle worker, then set our priorities towards salvation first? Imagine saving the lost and the impact that would have on our social issues.  If you follow what I’m saying, I believe you will see that salvation trumps everything else.  Answer this question, do you think we fight for change in an effort to make this world more palatable for our own existence? We don’t like being uncomfortable, so we stand up for change, we want to protect our right to religious freedom so we can worship in the way we choose – but why? If we are not serious about reaching the lost by explaining our own salvation story, sharing how Jesus died for our sins so that we can have atonement through his sacrifice, if that isn’t our passion, then I say religious freedom does not matter.

The Dying Church 2.jpg

What many have come to realize is the church in America has become complacent, or what we would define as a “comfort zone” type of Christianity.  While speaking up for the unborn is very important, as are many other social issues that go against the moral values that we hold dear, we need to take a step back and look at our priorities, both as individuals and as congregations.  Do we care about outreach, serious outreach, not just follow up emails to visitors that took the time to fill out a card on Sunday morning?  Do we think our nice facilities or location in the community are the best outreach? As Thom Ranier said, “we became so enamored with the worship service we concluded that it was our outreach. But cool and dynamic worship services are not outreach into our communities. They are attractions to attend.”  It is similar to a church that thinks its prime location, such as being right off the town square, somehow equates to outreach.  It’s not like the premise of the movie “Field of Dreams” with its catchphrase, “if you build it, they will come.”  If that were the case, how do you explain the 83 percent of America that sleeps in every Sunday morning? Do we really yawn at the thought of our neighbors going to hell? Honestly, I wonder how many people in the church actually believe that hell exists?

I engaged in a conversation not long ago with someone that did not agree with my concerns, namely that the church as a whole is failing in preparing and sending forth its members to witness, and he used a very popular “mega-church” in the Houston area as an example.  He cited the massive crowds and even larger television audience as proof that the church is thriving.  My reply, if that’s the best example you have, you just helped make my case that the church in America is dying.  You see, it’s not all about numbers, and his example is a church of what I call “feel good evangelism” or the prosperity faith that has dominated our TV airwaves for decades.  (Read our message – “The False Doctrine of Prosperity Faith” for more about this dangerous doctrine).  Yes, I’m speaking of the Joel Osteen ministry, the “how to be your best self” and “how to be happy in life” doctrine.  His church attendance by some estimates is in the thousands each week with a television audience purportedly in the millions.  I pointed out that if you listen to his message or read his books, you will notice that Jesus is largely missing, its focus is on personal happiness while avoiding talk of sin or the consequences.  This church, and many others that model after this so-called doctrine is described to us in 2 Timothy chapter 4, verse 3, 

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, an undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently shared this regarding the ministry of Joel Osteen.  “Joel Osteen has all the marks of a sincere person. I just finished watching the profile of his ministry on 60 Minutes, and there is not one thing about him that looks phony. He is one of the most likable, loveable fellows that you’ll ever see. I really think he believes everything he is saying. That is why what he does is so awful. The prosperity gospel that Osteen preaches will damn the very people he intends to help (if they believe it), and he appears completely unaware of the darkness into which he plunges his followers. Osteen’s lack of awareness of his own blindness was prophesied in the scriptures: ‘Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived’ (2 Timothy 3:13). If anyone has ever been deluded by his own error, it’s Joel Osteen.”

To sum it up, not only is the church in America in decline, we see ministries around us filling the void with a message that distorts or outright deceives believers and unbelievers alike.  Regarding the prosperity message and being your best self, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 16, verses 24 through 26, 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?

There is nothing wrong with being happy, but in the context of Christian faith, we find true happiness through dedication and perseverance.  If we are led to believe that happiness is found in worldly possessions or by putting ourselves and our own well-being first, we are being deceived because this message runs in direct opposition to the teaching of our Lord.  Jesus warned us that we will be hated for his sake, life as a true believer in Christ comes with the promise that you will be persecuted for your faith, but we have the added assurance that Jesus will not forsake us and one day we will be together with Him in glory.

Matthew chapter 7, verses 13 and 14 states,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Do you have the assurance of salvation today, knowing in your heart that you have accepted the free gift of salvation that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ? If not, please don’t wait for the “right time” to make that decision, reach out to us right now with your questions or concerns and let us help you gain that blessed assurance that you have been redeemed.

Romans chapter 10, verses 9 and 10 give us the following guidance to salvation,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

To the faithful, are you evangelizing according to our shared calling from Jesus? If you truly believe that you have been saved through grace, that Jesus Christ died for all sinners, then step up and share that message!  The world is lost and we are the light, but if we hide that light under a bushel then what good are we? Share the gospel, as Charles Spurgeon exhorted, “anywhere and everywhere!” Make sure that you are doing your part and if needed call out your church to do the same.  Is your congregation actively involved in true outreach in your community? If not, or if you’re not sure, ask the question and push for real outreach.  It’s not a hobby, it is a direct order from our Savior.  We should feel anguish in our hearts to know that narrow is the gate and few will find it.  Get involved, don’t wait for someone else to take up the charge, follow our Lord’s instructions and lead the way.

 

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team

 

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*data for this post taken from churchleaders.com, article dated April 10, 2018, titled “7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America”

**additional statistics from Lifeway Christian Resources, Evangelical Covenant Church research project 2017 and Gallup.

Bought at a Price

passion of the Christ 2

Life is measured in seasons of time as predictable as the sunrise and sunset of each passing day.   We busy ourselves with the tasks of daily life, working, raising a family, which often leaves little time for anything else.  It can become a drudgery, these gears of life grinding away, stealing our joy, leaving us to wonder what is it all about? We surround ourselves with things, distractions from our toils, always looking and planning for the next big thing, a vacation, a new car, sometimes anything to help us look beyond our current circumstances.  But why? There it is, that ever-present question, the one we bury deep inside – what does it all mean and what is my purpose in life?

With each passing month, we work our way through this tangled existence, hoping to meet the demands that press against us.  The rent or mortgage payment is due, car payments, credit card bills, this never-ending circle of requirements often become all-consuming.  Sometimes you just want to escape from it all but it never stops, time just keeps coming at us, relentlessly, and round and round we go.  There has to be more to life than all of this…

Believers wait and watch for the hour of our Lord’s return as the world around us crumbles under the weight of transgressions and denial of the Creator.  Pressures continue to mount against those that believe in the Word, having received salvation through Jesus.  It is hard to watch as the world, blind to the truth, spins more out of control each day, while evil grows and spreads like a plague.  While seekers clamor for answers and believers seek the Lord for strength to persevere, let’s step back to the beginning and follow the path of God’s perfect plan that leads to the one true answer, the way, the truth and the life.

John Chapter 1 verse 1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Verse 14 further states, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

In the previous reference, John speaks of the beginning, which is also detailed for us here in Genesis chapter 1 verse 1, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  When we put that together with the words from John chapter 1, we know that Jesus was there at the beginning of creation.  The Word was with God, the Word became flesh.  Jesus came to this earth, walked among us, shared in the trials and tribulations we all face, then in perfect obedience to God the Father, Jesus died on a cross for our sins.  But let’s look even deeper, to gain a full understanding of why Jesus came to this earth as an atonement for sin.

The Bible tells us that God created day and night, He separated the land from the seas, He created all manner of creature, both in the seas and on land.  But something was missing, creation was not complete until God created man.  However, we also know that God created all angelic hosts, which included the most beautiful of the angels, the one called Lucifer, as referenced in Isaiah Chapter 14 verse 12,

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 

In Ezekiel Chapter 28, in verses 12 through 16, Lucifer is described in this way,

You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God.  Every kind of precious stone covered you:
carnelian, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and emerald. Your mountings and settings were crafted in gold; they were prepared on the day you were created.  You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you.  You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones.  From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you.  Through the abundance of your trade, you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I expelled you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and banished you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.

From this, we know that God’s perfect creation, including man, was set on a collision course of good against evil, as Lucifer was cast out of heaven, along with the legion of angels that followed.  Satan, as he became known, so despised God that he made it his mission to seek and devour all of mankind, like a hungry lion prowling about as described in 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 8, 

Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

Why did Satan fall? It can be summed up in one word, pride.  It is revealed in Ezekiel chapter 28 verse 17,

Your heart became proud because of your beauty; For the sake of your splendor
you corrupted your wisdom. So I threw you down to the ground.

It was through the sin of pride that Satan fell from grace and turned on mankind as we read when he encountered Eve in the garden.  In Genesis chapter 3, Satan used the serpent to tempt Eve by contradicting God.  The instructions had been made clear, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God forbid them to eat.  Satan tickled the ears of Eve by deceiving her into thinking that if she ate of this tree, she would become as God with all knowledge and wisdom.  Adam and Eve both ate the fruit of the tree and became aware that they were naked and they hid from the Lord.  When God came into the garden in the evening he called out to Adam, “where are you?” God knew where Adam was but in calling out to him, he was indicating that they had become separated by sin.  Adam was asked what he had done and he blamed Eve and in a sense blamed God as he explained the fruit was given to him by the woman that God had created.  At this point, the perfect creation of God was corrupted, sin had entered into man and this sinful nature would be passed through every generation.  Adam did not repent of his sin in disobeying God’s command regarding the tree of knowledge, instead, he made excuses, blamed others and in so doing, all mankind suffers the consequences of that day.

So why did God create us if we were doomed to failure and sin? Was God lonely, was he taken by surprise that Man sinned against him? Satan would love for us to believe that he was able to sneak into the garden of Eden and ruin creation without God having any knowledge, but that is not the case.  Man was created by God and given a free will, but it is a mistake to think that man has autonomy over God’s plans, that sin was introduced by happenstance and God needed a new plan to rectify the situation.  God knows the future events as demonstrated throughout the Bible, both in prophesy and by the very words of Christ as he foretold his own destiny.  Furthermore, we know that God not only possesses foreknowledge of events, he plans those events and puts them into action.

Isaiah chapter 46 verses 9 through 11 

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying,  “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

We see it throughout God’s word time and again as the prophets were given knowledge of things to come according to God’s plans and purposes.  It even carried forward through Jesus as He walked on earth.  Jesus foretold the disciples of the coming crucifixion and resurrection.  Jesus told the disciples at the last supper of the betrayal of Judas and of Peter’s coming denial.  Therefore it is without any doubt that we can know there is nothing that surprises God.  Not only does he know the future, he plans for it and carries out his purposes according to His will. So we wonder why did God create mankind, was He lonely? I think it is best answered by C.S. Lewis,

“God did not make us because He was bored, lonely, or had run out of things to do. He created us to be the objects of His love! Sometimes our actions make us unlovely, but we are never unloved. And because God loves us—we have value. And nobody can take that value away. God’s love revealed at Calvary fastens itself onto flawed creatures like us, and for reasons none of us can ever quite figure out, makes us precious and valued beyond calculation. This is love beyond reason. And this is the love with which God loves us.”

When we try to fathom this abundant love, we grapple in our attempts to reason it out and often times this leads to frustration as we struggle to comprehend God’s true purposes for our lives.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 8 verses 37 through 39,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In our own limited ability to reason this out, we look for balance, a way to justify the means to an end.  However, we always come up short in trying to determine a way that we are good enough to justify the love that God shows to us.  Some will simply give up and say this is ridiculous, God would not create man simply to make us the objects of His love, but consider this undeniable extension of that love in Romans chapter 5 verse 8,

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

This brings us to the amazing grace extended to all mankind from our Creator.  Satan introduced sin and all evil into this world and he continues his all-out assault without ceasing.  If Satan hates God, then why does he attack us? Genesis chapter 1 verse 27,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Because of God’s unending love for us, we have value in His sight, and this value causes Satan to seethe with rage against us.  We are created in the very image of God.  We are caught in a spiritual battle, a tug of war for our very souls, yet in all of this, God also created the perfect plan of salvation.  We are not hopelessly lost, for we have a way out, not because of anything we do, but because that very love that brought about our own creation is why Jesus died in our places as a living sacrifice to cover all of our transgressions.  God values each and every one of us, so much so, that he provided a path for our redemption so that we may move on from this brief time on earth, to an eternity with Him.

John chapter 3 verse 16 says,

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

The Bible further explains this pathway to salvation in Romans Chapter 10, verses 9 and 10;

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 

Jesus and Mary 2

Paul the Apostle of Christ reminds us in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 19 and 20,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We give ourselves over to God completely when we accept salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are no longer our own, we belong to God.  Jesus took our rightful consequences upon himself, and tho he was without sin, he paid the debt that we could not pay.  Jesus laid bare his back and took the scourging of a Roman soldiers whip.  Jesus then carried our cross through the streets along the Via Dolorosa or the way of suffering, where he was then nailed to that cross at Golgotha where he died a slow and agonizing death for our sins.  That is the price of our salvation, the cost paid by Jesus so that we may find redemption and avoid the wages of our own iniquities, which is death and eternal separation from our Creator.

Unfortunately today, a new religion has sprung to life, enjoying great success as they share a message of love of self, how to be happy, how to enjoy life in this world with catchy phrases of sunshine and good times with very little mention of God, or the price of sin and the payment that Christ made on our behalf.  This watered-down form of religion allows people to hold onto a form of godliness without the baggage of all that talk of sin, after all, they will tell you, “who are we to judge others?”  Paul spoke of this coming age and warned against it in 2 Timothy chapter 3, saying that people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful and proud, holding to a form of godliness but denying its power. We are warned to avoid such people.  It’s a religion of rainbows and unicorns and while it may seem harmless, Paul warned of this, to turn away from such teaching.  Don’t be confused, we are not given the authority to judge, God has given that over to Christ, and make no mistake, one day we will all stand before him and be held accountable for our lives.  But sharing and teaching the truth of the word of God is not judgment, it’s compassion for those that have not found salvation, we share the truth in hopes that others will come to a place of repentance and experience the gift of salvation.  The most basic of all truths that apply to everyone is found in Romans chapter 3 verse 23,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

The good news continues in the same chapter as we read in verses 24 through 26,

And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

This is why we share our faith, as we are instructed by Christ, so that the world may come to know the true grace of God.  This is not about holding sin over someone’s head or elevating our own status at the cost of others, that’s another lie perpetuated by Satan to keep the lost from hearing the truth.  We are all sinners and all of us, including the writer of this work, deserves to die and be separated from God forever.  Thankfully, we have come to know Jesus and in Him, we have placed our faith and trust, this is what we share, this wonderful gift of eternal life which includes a life more abundant on this earth.  As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “if you aim for heaven, you will get the earth as well, but if you aim for the earth, you will receive neither.”

How terrible for anyone to have to stand before Jesus on that day and hear him speak the words from Matthew chapter 7 verse 23,

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Satan is real, the spiritual battle is on-going, the crucifixion of Christ was a bloody, humiliating and violent death…Jesus paid the price for our sins…we are bought at a price.  Our hope comes through the resurrection when on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead and he now sits at the right hand of our heavenly Father.

But let’s not fall into another trap, seeking the kingdom without understanding what it is and our responsibility in leading the lost towards the light.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, he was lauded as a King and cheered as a conquering hero.  The people expected to see the long-awaited kingdom of God to be revealed right before their very eyes.  They were anticipating an overthrow of the system that they had come to despise.  It had less to do with their passion for the Messiah as much as their own selfish desires to see their occupiers turned away in defeat.  When this did not occur, they turned against their Messiah and joined together in rage as they called for his death.

Where is the kingdom? The people had no desire to share in the faith of Christ, to be changed in their hearts, to turn away from their sins, to love their fellow man, they wanted justice and revenge.  In many ways we see this misguided effort in our own churches, we want our institutions of government to conform to our ways, we want justice, we stand on the steps of the supreme court and shout for right and push away those that need to hear the message of salvation the most.  We say we want revival but our actions say we want political change and justice even more.  Revival will not come through political activism nor from the voting booth.  We can’t demand institutional change and expect that the hearts of non-believers will be changed from the outside in…change and revival will only come from the inside out.  We should be expending our most fervent energies on reaching the hearts of those that do not know the good news of Jesus Christ.  We have a calling as believers as laid out for us in Matthew chapter 28, the great commission, to share the love of Christ with everyone so that they might come to a place of repentance.  Paul the Apostle extolled the virtues of patience and gentleness when he spoke in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verses 24 and 25,

The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 

Yet we demand political change and justice, we call for institutional control, although we forget that true justice would be death for our own sins and eternal separation from God.  We don’t deserve salvation, we deserve to pay the wages of our sins.  Who are we to stand and demand justice? But that doesn’t stop us, we jeer at non-believers, shouting them down as if they truly deserve the punishment of God.  How easily we can forget, we are all sinners and not a single one of us deserves the love of God.  Romans chapter 6 verse 23 says,

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have traveled a long way, from creation through redemption, asking the questions of purpose in life and living in God’s amazing grace, so let’s take hold of this great redemptive story and share the passion of our Christ, our savior and Lord.  Our purpose is to strive to be like Jesus, to accept God’s unconditional love and to share that love with one another.  Paul the Apostle so eloquently taught that we should turn away from impurity and ignorance in Ephesians chapter 4, verses 20 through 24, 

But that is not how you came to know Christ, assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

Finally, Paul continued these teachings of patience and kindness in verses 29 through 32,

No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

We have found the kingdom of God, it resides within the hearts of believers, by the grace of our heavenly Father.  So let’s seek revival by starting in our own heart, praying on our knees that God will search our hearts and minds and show us His will as we journey through this life in preparation for the next.  We know that God’s principles and moral foundations work, but let’s not become distracted in our pursuit of change, expecting a lost world to adapt to our ways.  To bring about change, to turn the world back towards God, we should focus on the hearts of man, not the institutions of man’s creation.  We have made it abundantly clear to the world the things that are offensive to God, but in this time of greatest need for redemption, I challenge all believers to get on their knees as servants, called by Jesus Christ, and go forth with patience and kindness and share the true and unconditional love that we have come to know through our salvation.  Share the gospel anywhere and everywhere.  We are all one through Jesus Christ.

We here at Life Beyond Horizons thank you for reading and we pray that God will truly bless you and keep you.  If you have needs today and would like for us to pray for you, please share your requests with us through this link Prayer requests.  If you have questions about salvation or want to know more about Jesus Christ, please contact us through this link I want to know more about Salvation.

 

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team

 

 

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Williams Racing joins with Life Beyond Horizons to share the good news of Jesus Christ

Alex Williams Racing 2
(Williams Racing #33x ready for the 2018 season – Alex Williams, driver- team owner)

Life Beyond Horizons (LBH) ministry is going racing!!! We are so proud to see our logo, the old rugged cross, on each door panel of Alex Wiliams race car. The season kicks off at Lonestar Speedway in Kilgore, Texas later in the month of February 2018.  If you are a race fan in Texas or if you are visiting the area, be sure to support Alex Williams this season and stop by to say hello.  When this ministry had a chance to approach Alex about a possible sponsorship deal, we were met with wonderful enthusiasm and a partnership was born at that moment. We at LBH ministry are always looking for ways to expand our outreach to maximize the potential for sharing the good news of salvation and being a resource for prayer and bible study.  That desire is what led us to reach out to Alex Williams as he prepared for the 2018 racing season and was taking on new sponsors for his team.

 

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clockwise from upper left, door panel with LBH logo/Old rugged cross and the website, large LBH banner to be displayed at various events, close up of LBH logo

We recently had a chance to ask team owner and driver, Alex Williams, some questions about racing, team ownership, and his personal faith in Jesus Christ.  Here are some of the highlights of that conversation.

First of all, thank you, Alex, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions for our readers here at Life Beyond Horizons.  How were you introduced to racing and what drove you to decide to become a driver and build your own race car?

Racing is very much a family affair. My Dad, uncle, and youngest brother participate in drag racing events. My cousin and I play with Hondas and attend events from time to time. My middle brother also races dirt oval and is usually my pit crew on a race weekend.

Sounds like it’s safe to say racing is in your blood. What is it like for you as a driver, after all the prep work is complete and you get behind the wheel knowing the race will begin in a matter of minutes?

When I first get in the car I’m usually running through my checklists, did we get everything checked and adjusted properly? Once I have all my safety gear on I like to sit in the car and take deep breaths. At this point, my heart rate has usually gone up and I am just trying to remain focused. About a year ago I began praying before I went on track. I thank God for all the blessings and everything He has provided, my talents and abilities, my support, and the privilege to participate in racing. I pray for safety for myself and the other drivers and I pray for confidence and wisdom. Also, I pray that God will let me glorify Him in some way through these efforts.  I don’t feel like I always succeed but that is very important to me and I strive to always put forth my best efforts in that regard.

That is very well said Alex and a great reminder of how important it is to allow the love of Jesus to show through in all we do, even in competition, so that we can glorify God.  So let me ask you this, it must be very satisfying to use your God-given talents to build a car from the ground up and be competitive at the track, even against the bigger teams with more resources? 

I do take a great deal of pride in knowing that I can go out and run in the top ten with guys that have been racing for years in cars that have been built and set up professionally. Not to take anything away from my fellow drivers, they have to work hard and drive well too, but I enjoy the amount of success we’ve experienced given our limited resources knowing we did all of the work ourselves.  It’s that much sweeter when we have a good weekend and get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  It is a true blessing from God to be able to work with my hands and do what we do.

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Alex Williams enjoys a victory lap during the 2017 season

Once the season is underway, how hard is it to keep the car operating at peak performance from one race to the next?

How the previous race weekend ended up determines the amount of work that is needed to prepare the car for the next race. That is the nature of racing. We are asking a lot of our equipment each weekend; the engine has to run for fifty laps at full throttle, we bump and rub, slide through corners, all while racing in the dust and mud. We can come home pretty beat up, but on a good week, we can check everything over, give the car a good wash, prep our race tires and load it back up for the next race. Time is the biggest challenge that I face. My wife and I are currently foster parents to a three-month-old baby girl that we have fallen in love with, plus my mom is battling some health issues, so balancing family life and shop life can get complicated.  I am blessed enough to have a wife that enjoys dirt track racing and the support of both of our families.

Since we’ve been talking about racing it seems only appropriate to change gears at this point. I’d like to know, when you were first approached by our ministry, Life Beyond Horizons, about a possible sponsorship deal, what was your initial reaction and what convinced you to say yes?

My first thought was “what will everyone at the track think?” But once I got past that sort of typical reaction, I just knew that it was a direction that God wanted me to accept.  It’s really connected with what I had been praying for last season. This ministry sponsorship will allow me to glorify God in more ways than just how I conduct myself at the track.  By agreeing to have your logo, the old rugged cross on both sides of my car, it lets me step up and put my faith out there for everyone to see.  It will bring an outlet for His word into a place not normally reached by a Christian ministry.  It will be a challenge in some ways but a challenge I am looking forward to taking on. I have already seen God bless us and the racing season hasn’t even started yet.

At this time I do want to point out to our readers, the sponsorship deal was to have our ministry logo on both doors of your race car, but I want everyone to know, you took it a step further and asked us for a large banner that you could display at your events and you wanted our ministry cards that you could hand out.  This goes so much farther than simply putting a logo on a car, you have stepped out in faith and have become an active partner in our ministry and in our shared calling to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  I know you don’t want any accolades but we are so inspired by your efforts and just appreciate it so very much.

What final thoughts would you like to share with our readers?

I am a racecar driver, but first and foremost, I am a Christian and I’ve put my faith in Jesus Christ.  I am human, I make mistakes just like everyone else and even though I’m a believer, I still stumble and fall short at times, unfortunately that’s our human nature, but I hope for anyone that comes in contact with me at the shop or at the track, you will know something is different about me. If I’m doing my job as a believer, you will see the love of Christ in me.  I want everyone to know that I am approachable, if they need to talk about anything, need prayer, or want to know more about salvation, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I am not ashamed of my faith and would love to share it with you or at the very least, let me give you a ministry card that will direct you to the Life Beyond Horizons website where you can find answers about salvation and request prayer.   

I also want to challenge other Christians, take a step forward, get out of your comfort zone and follow my example in sharing our faith.  Don’t be ashamed of your faith, take this step with me, it is definitely out of my comfort zone, but its what we are called to do.  In addition, I ask for your prayers as I take on this challenge in the new season.  I pray that I can set an unwavering example in our community, knowing we will have many eyes on us this season at race tracks and car shows.  I hope to successfully glorify God through our racing program and in partnership with Life Beyond Horizons ministry. 

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Williams Racing

Alex, thank you again for taking this bold stand in partnership with our ministry here at Life Beyond Horizons.  You are an inspiration to so many and we are glad to be able to share your story with our readers.  You are truly representing the words shared by the Apostle Paul when he wrote in Romans chapter 1, verses 16 and 17, 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.

In conclusion, we look forward to your season and pray for your success both on and off the track.  For anyone interested in finding out more about Williams Racing, the 2018 season and the various car shows where you can see the car in person and meet the driver, just go to our contact page and request more information, we’ll be glad to send it to you. 

As always, if you or someone you know needs prayer or is seeking more information about salvation through Jesus Christ, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us through this link –   Prayer Requests

 

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team  

 

 

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What is wrong with the World?

death

No doubt countless times you’ve either heard it asked or raised the question yourself, “what is wrong with the world?”  Each day as the news cycle rolls on, we see story upon story of illicit and deviant behavior, stories of rage and hatred, political unrest to the point of tearing apart the very democracy that serves as the foundation of this nation.  Recent statistics indicate many are simply tuning out to avoid this unending dark reality of today’s world. So we ask, “what is wrong with the world?”

Believe it or not, nothing is wrong today that hasn’t been wrong since Satan introduced sin into our world. Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse 9 says, What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” Every generation that comes along has that time when they think their ways and ideas are new, innovative, challenging the status quo…yet we all come to realize that we are only passing through for a short time and truly nothing we do is original, our approach to life, relationships, our sins, have all been lived out before we arrived and will continue long after we are gone. 

The proper question to ask today is why has the world changed? Why do we see more evil, immorality, despair, and hopelessness all around? Look no further than the systematic removal of God from our society.  We do not live in a vacuum and everyone should face the hard truth, when you remove Love, the void is filled with Hate.  God is Love in the purest form, Lucifer is Hate.  Look around you, the world we see today is a world that has refused God….do you like what you see?

In our current information age, we see and hear the news in real time from all corners of the globe.  We are often bombarded with negative stories, one after another, at times without ceasing.  You cannot go one day without seeing evil, depravity, despair, it is everywhere.  This world has turned away from God, we have removed Him from the public eye, from schools, courtrooms, civic spaces, and so I ask, how is that working out?

what has been

Satan spews his vile hatred and deceit at every opportunity and a lost world takes it all in and then falls into his traps.  Satan runs a masterful endgame, provoking the weak, the lost, those that he can manipulate to a point of vengeance and even murder, and then the evil one whispers into the ears of the lost and believers alike and poses the question, “why would a loving God allow such things?”  Satan is guilty of all evil yet clever enough to hide behind his cloak of subterfuge causing the world that he hates to turn against the Creator.

We read from Romans chapter 1, verses 28 through 32,

And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.  Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.

The world today cries out for justice but then blames the just.  Satan perpetrates his evil desires upon man, then convinces man to blame God.  2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1 through 5, offers this warning concerning the difficult times we face,

But know this: Hard times will come in the last days.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.

Satan's end game2

That sounds very similar to the earlier warnings in Romans, the Apostle Paul was well aware of the traits and devices that would be used by Satan and we see it now at every turn.  Instead of succumbing to the evil one, listen to the sound instructions from Paul in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 10 through 18, 

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.  For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.  Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.  In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God.  Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

We all have choices to make but thankfully for believers, there always remains hope, even though dark days are ahead.  God will deliver us from evil at the appropriate time.  We must continue to share the good news of salvation to a lost world that is without hope.  The search for answers is not to be found unless the seeker is willing to accept the truth.  The bible states in Romans 1 verses 19 and 20,

Since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 

God has revealed himself to man since the beginning of creation and it is clear, we have no excuse. The path chosen by this world, which has delivered us into the hands of the enemy, is described in detail as we continue to read verses 21 through 25.

For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.  Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.

The world will continue to ask why these terrible things happen, but until they turn back to God and stop applauding those that espouse evil and hatred, they will find no answers.  Politicians will not solve the problems of today, government cannot restore hope to a lost world.  Paul boldly proclaims his faith and in so doing provides the one true answer that eludes the lost world of today.  Romans 1, verses 16 and 17, 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Let us all live by faith, share our faith boldly, and bring those seeking the truth to a place of salvation.  The only answer to our question is found in revival, bringing a lost world to a place of repentance, believers standing up and boldly sharing the power of God through salvation in Christ.  Just as the great Charles Spurgeon admonished the faithful in his day to get out and share the good news, “Sit not down in idleness and fold your arms in indifference to the world’s woes. Behold, your compassionate Lord sends you, therefore go gladly anywhere, everywhere.”

Finally, if you are troubled by what you see in the world today or feel all hope is lost, do not give up, we can offer you a place of peace that surpasses all human understanding.  What we offer is the peace that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Reach out to us today through this link  Prayer Requests, Questions, Comments  and let us pray for you.  Read our messages, Pathway to Salvation followed by “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, then send us any questions you may have so that we may help you come to know our Savior.  We thank you for visiting our site and we pray for God’s blessings upon your life.

 

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team

 

 

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What Price Victory?

cake protest

Each calendar year, on the first Monday in October, the United States Supreme Court begins a new session, hearing arguments and reviewing petitions from lower courts, followed by weeks and sometimes months of private deliberations, rendering final verdicts with the majority and minority opinions, until their work officially ends the following June or July.  October 2, 2017, the new session began with one particular case on the agenda drawing a great deal of attention, regarding a self-described Christian bakery and their right to deny service based upon their religious views. Yes, cake has made its way to the agenda of this nation’s supreme court.  It’s not the first time cake has garnered the attention of a nation, as a queen was said to have flippantly remarked to her subjects in regards to their lack of sustenance, “let them eat cake,” which resulted in her beheading.  Let’s be clear, nobody will be losing their head over this cake, at least not in a literal sense.

What we have in this instance is a bakery owner that refused to provide a cake for a gay wedding.  Based on his religious values and moral obligations, he did not feel it appropriate to bake the cake and refused to provide service.  The couple, in turn, hired a lawyer and took the matter to court claiming discrimination based on their sexual preference. The lower courts agreed with the couple and the case has found its way to the Supreme Court.  At this writing, arguments have been made for both sides and the court is expected to render their ruling in the spring of 2018.  **UPDATE The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bakery in stating that the State of Colorado was biased against his rights of religious freedoms.  Therefore they overturned the previous rulings against the bakery.***

The questions not being asked, at least not that I have seen, would be posed to the bakery owner, “why did you feel the need to identify your business as a Christian bakery and what is your intended outcome in doing so?”

I know many business owners that are Christians yet they do not identify their business as a Christian business.  They provide all sorts of services to any and all customers, after all, this is their livelihood and it keeps the heat on in winter and eventually pays their kid’s college tuition.  Do they become participants in the sins of others by providing services to those that do not align with their religious beliefs? I do not see in God’s Word any calling or requirement to self-identify your business as such, and whether in business or personal life, we are all called to share the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  As a Christian, you have the assignment to do so regardless of your work or private situation.  Hopefully, like the Apostle Paul, we are eager and unashamed to share the good news, the power of the resurrection to save.  It is part and parcel of what we are as believers and unlike a business, we do not punch a time card each day and carry the responsibility of evangelism for a given number of hours before turning off the lights and going home.  In fact, this is what holds back many believers from developing a more robust walk with God, the fact that many of us stand in worship on Sunday morning, then shut it down for the remainder of the week while we work and go about our normal routines, as if we do not want to cause a fuss by possibly offending others with our religious beliefs.  From that standpoint, I always applaud those that make it a point to carry their spirituality with them and shine that wonderful light of God’s love for humanity anywhere and everywhere. Again, it’s part of our assigned duties as believers, the great commission of sharing the gospel, which doesn’t require any self-identification such as a “Jesus fish” on the door of a business, we are called to evangelize in all circumstances and every opportunity.

Which brings me back to my two-part question, why choose to identify as a Christian business and to what end?  This is not a simple question with one specific right or wrong answer, it is much more complex in nature. I believe it is a fair question to raise and I consider this a daily challenge that we should pose to ourselves as believers.  Do we identify ourselves as Christians, that is, outside of church on Sunday, not just by word, but in actions and deeds, in how we conduct ourselves, or do we put off the robes of our salvation and blend in quietly in the workplace? Are we afraid of offending someone, or worse, do we hide our faith because we live a distinctly separate life during the week from what we portray in church? Do we hold back because we know our daily behaviors would expose a blatant hypocrisy in regards to what we practice as opposed to what we preach?

These are challenging questions that deserve an honest review by all believers and I encourage you to consider these in your private prayer and study time.  One of the best avenues for spiritual growth starts in quiet prayer, alone with God, where we take off the facade so often used to hide our true self, and approach the throne of grace in a spirit of honesty and humbleness.

Returning to the earlier questions, the reasons and expected outcomes behind the choice to identify as a Christian business, we should ponder the overall scenario and seek the Lord’s guidance as it applies to our roles and responsibilities as believers.  First of all, do you think this couple strolled into this bakery at random or was this a planned visit, knowing they might be turned away for their same-sex marriage request? The bakery had to know this day was coming unless they haven’t been paying attention to the changing tides of public opinion.  We always need to be vigilant and prepared as we rise to share the gospel, just as Jesus said to his own disciples in Matthew chapter 10, verses 16 and 17;

“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.  Beware of them, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues.”  

Jesus tells us to be wise and gentle, to be prepared for the traps laid out before us, yet remain in the spirit of love and evangelism.  To simply place a Christian symbol on your door and announce that you’re open for business, with no regard for what might come your way, is foolish and unwise.  Not having knowledge regarding this business or its practices, I do find it safe to assume that the baker was prepared and knew that he would never furnish a cake for any non-traditional marriage ceremony.  I did read in one report that he also made it a common practice never to serve Halloween themed items as he considered them to be pagan and therefore off limits.  But this doesn’t answer the question, to what end, what is the desired outcome of all of this? To quote the baker from a story in the New York Times, he stated in part, “I’m being forced to use my creativity, my talents and my art for an event – a significant religious event – that violates my religious faith.”  As believers, it is easy to understand where he is coming from and why he feels it violates his freedom of religion.  But does that really need to be the challenge at hand, if we refer back to the desired outcome, would he not also feel compelled to share his religion with those around him, particularly a couple that may or may not have ever heard the gospel message?

Was the intent of this business, in identifying as Christian owned, to share the gospel with those that crossed their threshold? If not, why not? Surely it was not intended as a way to weed out the undesirables, to drive away non-believers, but as a tool to say “come in and sit down, let me share the good news of Jesus Christ.” That is our calling, right?

The great pastor C H Spurgeon admonished the congregation, “You have the power of the Word upon your hearts, now go and show its power upon your lips by speaking to others, however few or many. Go out yourselves as sowers and scatter the seed your Lord has given to you for that end. Go where providence guides you—to the Sunday school class to teach, to the street corner to preach, to the remote village or hamlet to bear witness for Christ, or to the densely crowded city slums to uplift the banner of Christ—but go your way somewhere. Sit not down in idleness and fold your arms in indifference to the world’s woes. Behold, your compassionate Lord sends you, therefore go gladly anywhere, everywhere—where His wisdom appoints the way—where your business gives you opportunity or your traveling gives you occasion.  ‘I send you forth,’ says He.”

These remarkable words cast a narrow subset for those of faith, two categories to be exact, to either go gladly anywhere and everywhere, even where your business gives you the opportunity, or sit idly by with arms folded indifferent to the woes around you.  I do not see any additional categories, namely to shun those that oppose your views by refusing not only to share your faith in kindness but by denying service as well.

I have been taken to task by other believers, some with great vitriol, saying to bake the cake is to endorse their union and participate in this sinful abomination to God.  I don’t disagree with that statement in principle, but did not our own savior Jesus Christ, when bitterly questioned by the church regarding his association with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, reply in Mark chapter 2, verse 17 “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This verse does not imply that we are free to go wherever we choose and participate in all sorts of activities that would seem contrary to our faith.  We are admonished by the Word to live our faith and to imitate our Lord.  Look at what it says in Ephesians chapter 5, verses 6 through 10;

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things.  Therefore, do not become their partners.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth— testing what is pleasing to the Lord.  

Do not become partners in sin, it doesn’t get more clear than that. But how do we share the good news if we turn them away in fear of becoming partners to their sin? Jesus was accused many times, as related in Matthew chapter 11 verse 19,  “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Yet listen to the words of Christ later in this same chapter, His call to all the world, in Matthew chapter 11 verses 28 through 30;

 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

When we continue through the word, not settling for bits and pieces, but taking in the entirety of the message, we will find the truth, as we are guided by the Holy Spirit.  So we see the calling, we are conflicted by the process, we are instructed not to participate in sin, we see the savior accused of just that, but as we persevere we come to the undeniable beauty of the purest love that man has ever known….the calling to all by Jesus Christ.

I would also like to differentiate between the spiritual issues at hand, for believers, we are already on the path of righteousness, having been saved through grace, by accepting salvation in Jesus Christ.  We are now on a path of growth through daily study of the scriptures and prayer, seeking to know our heavenly Father more closely so that we mature in our faith.  In that process, we learn that our body is a holy temple, Christ resides within us through the Holy Spirit.  We are no longer our own being, Jesus paid a price for us through his death on the cross.  We read Paul’s admonishment to the early church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 9 through 11, 

“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.  And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

I do not want anyone to misinterpret my message here today, to think I am glossing over or somehow watering down the scriptures to appease our society.  The church at Corinth is an example of a group of believers that embraced the culture of their society and lost sight of the true will of God.  Paul corrected the church directly as we just read from 1 Corinthians.

As believers we also have a calling, the great commission as it is often referred, to share the good news of Jesus with a lost world.  This is where we differentiate from our walk as believers and how we share the good news with those that have not yet come to know the truth.  We can’t water down the scriptures, but we have to go with love and compassion, sharing the gift of salvation that has saved us from the judgment we so rightly deserve. I love the idea of a shopkeeper putting his faith front and center for all to see, but in doing so, why miss the opportunity to share the love of Christ with everyone that walks through the door?

The baker is well within his rights to say he will not participate in a sinful union, but I say to you here and now, the purpose of declaring a business as a Christian establishment should be for no other reason than to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ – and how do you do that if you turn away the very people that may need to hear it the most? God knows our hearts, if a baker sits down and engages a couple that is planning a same-sex union, for the purpose of sharing the good news, it would be mission accomplished.

I will end on this note, I am not a baker and certainly, from all I’ve read regarding this particular bakery, this man is very talented and artistic in his works.  I do not condemn his stance, but I question the intentions because if you deny a cake because you do not want to participate in the sins of the buyer, you should close the doors today because you have no clients on this earth that are without sin.  The wedding cake for a second or third marriage could be seen as supporting adultery.  When Jesus was asked about divorce, listen to what he said in Matthew chapter 19, verse 9, “I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”  What about a cake for a bachelor party? Again, I simply point this out, if you are vetting your customers, picking and choosing those that are sinful and therefore not to be served, how do you draw the line? We are all sinners, I struggle with sin every single day of my life, but I have been redeemed not by my own works but through the sacrifice made on my behalf by Jesus Christ at Calvary.

Simply consider this scenario, when the same-sex couple asked for a cake, what if, instead of refusing service and sending them away, the baker had sat down with them and told them right up front, “I am a Christian baker and my beliefs do not support same-sex marriage.  But since you’re here, can I share my testimony with you about how God poured out his grace upon me, a sinner, and changed me from the inside out?”  Think about that for a moment and consider the opportunity this simple step of faith in sharing the love of Christ could create in opening a dialogue.  Maybe they would have turned away and left, but maybe, just maybe they would have felt that love and opened up their hearts to the incredible good news of salvation.  As Spurgeon called out to his congregation, “your compassionate Lord sends you, therefore gladly go anywhere, everywhere…” and share the gospel.  Just consider this possible alternate outcome…..bake the cake, with love and compassion, share the good news of Jesus Christ, invite them to return often for more discussions, bring their friends, bring anyone that has questions or seeks to know more about this love that shines so brightly in our hearts.  Consider the outcome…

When the Supreme Court makes its final ruling, one side will declare victory, but at what price? If the majority opinion favors the bakery, will the ability to deny service based upon religious objections take priority over our calling to share the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ? Will the very idea of using our business as a platform to proclaim our witness, become lost in the victory celebration? If so, believers may have won the battle but lost the objective.  Will it mean more to Christians to have our moment in the sun, to stand victorious on the Supreme Court steps, taking our victory lap, while we gleefully push aside those in most need of our testimony as we celebrate? Would anyone really win and is that what this is all about? Where is our love and compassion in all of this? If we win the legal right to refuse service over religious objections to what we perceive as a forced participation in sin, then who are we left to serve?

What is the desired outcome? What price victory? Share the good news, if you are led by the Holy Spirit to share your testimony, and that can be accomplished through your business, then bake the cake, share the good news and leave it to God to work things for the good.  Pharisees may call you a sinner, a drunkard, but you are never out of step with God if you seek his guidance and commit to the path of His will.  I have shared my views before and come under attack from other believers.  That’s okay, I’m not being physically beaten, nobody is stoning me and dumping my lifeless body outside the city gates, as was done to the Apostle Paul.  I am not proclaiming to be a victim and for the record, I do not condone any sin in any form.  The bible is clear on sexual immorality and I make no concessions to same-sex marriage, but that’s not the point of this message.  We can never compromise, I simply ask you to consider praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, then go back to the message and scriptures and see where it takes you.  I am no authority on God’s word, but I know the One who is and I seek His guidance daily.  Have you witnessed to anyone today, this week, this month? If not, why not? What are you waiting for, the clock is ticking and we are running out of time.  Our hearts must be overflowing with compassion for those that need to hear the good news. Are you worried that you won’t know what to say or you’re not sure how to break the ice? Reach out to us, we will provide you with ministry cards that you can carry with you in your pocket and when the moment arrives, give that person a card, let it be your icebreaker and let the Holy Spirit guide you from there.  This ministry can be your ministry as we all work together to share the love of Christ with our lost world.

In the book of Romans, chapter 12, the Apostle Paul reminds believers that we are one in the body of Christ.  Paul offers the following exhortations, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 through 21;

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.  Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.  Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.  But “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.  If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.”  Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

God bless you for reading our messages, we encourage you to share your comments and most importantly, let us know if you have questions about salvation.  If you, or someone you know, has not accepted Jesus Christ, tell them about our ministry.  Contact us, request prayer, and remember to visit our “helpful resources” page to find more bible study resources.

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team  

 

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Trusting in God

faith

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” 
Proverbs 3:5-6

Having grown up in a southern baptist church, I have fond memories of the old hymns, the classics, that we would sing in a regular rotation each Sunday morning.  One, in particular, had this familiar chorus, “trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Now that might not seem like much, but the meaning of this brief refrain runs deep and true, holding a decisive truth upon which Christ taught throughout his ministry on earth.

Faith is the foundation of our hope, as stated in Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We pray in faithfulness, seeking God’s direction and guidance in all things.  When we are troubled or facing uncertainty in life, we turn to our heavenly Father for his help.

Do we always know how to truly reach out in faith, to petition the Lord and trust in Him to work those things out for the best, according to His will? Over the years I have learned some valuable lessons in faith, having failed many times in my approach to God in seeking help with my problems.  Specifically, praying to God with certain needs and requests, then meddling in the expected outcome because I was not willing to wait, to exercise my faith.  By rushing ahead of God, I spoiled the opportunity to grow in my faith and receive God’s best for my life.

The greatest example we can observe in regards to prayer, faith, and accepting God’s perfect will comes from Jesus.  The hour was fast approaching for His betrayal at the hands of Judas, the subsequent crucifixion, and in these verses found in Matthew chapter 26, verses 36 to 39, we see in excruciating detail the proper way to petition our heavenly Father.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  

Gethsemane

Jesus was facing the darkest hours of his time on earth, yet knowing God’s plan and trusting in the Father’s unfailing wisdom, He sought not his own will, but the perfect will of God.  Jesus was filled with sorrow and grieving to the point of death, His own words to the disciples, and he fell face down and prayed.  Picture that scene and try to imagine that point of grief.  Obviously, this is the extreme of grieving to which we hope never to face ourselves, but we all have times when we are afraid, maybe we have lost a job or face great uncertainty in other areas of our lives.  At that point, we turn to God, earnestly seeking help from the storms of life that rage all around us.  That is when our faith is tested and through these trials, we grow in our faith as God provides for us.  But it takes patience through faith, placing our needs at His feet, then trusting and waiting on God’s perfect timing to deliver us according to His will.  It may seem simplistic, but we should always remember if God all at once solved every problem we would face from this day forward, not only would we not need our faith, we would never grow in that faith which is what sustains us.  In addition, as we are delivered from our suffering through faith in God, our testimony is strengthened and useful in sustaining other believers that will face similar circumstances.

Philippians chapter 4, verses 6 and 7 says, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  

A very important part of the faith process is to be patient, wait and allow God room to work things out according to his purposes for our lives.  Our human tendency is to reason things out, but we are limited in our view of each situation, but God is all knowing and is always at work for the best results according to His plans.  Often we come to God in faith, yet we bring our own solutions and we try to place our requests before God while including the expected outcomes that seem logical in our mind’s eye.  Or we do the same when we step up, with good intentions, to help others in need by praying for a given solution that makes sense to us but may not be aligned with the plans God has for that other person.

Look at the example of Peter, the strong voice that believed in Christ with all his heart, as demonstrated when Jesus asked the disciples who did they believe him to be, Matthew Chapter 16 verse 13, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Yet we also see the well-intended Peter as he failed to understand God’s perfect plan of redemption for all humanity when he pulled Christ aside after Jesus had shared with them the coming persecution, death, and resurrection.  Peter believed that Jesus was the true Son of God, but he had given up everything to follow Christ, he was unable to reason it out in his own mind that he would have to watch Jesus die.  Peter was bound by his own small view of the world around him, thus remaining blind to the greater works of God.  We can see in hindsight why these things had to happen because we see the entirety of the perfect plan of salvation.  Peter was in the moment, as we are when we are faced with difficulties and tragedies, but we must learn from this lesson and put aside our own reasoning by trusting in God, knowing that His plan is perfect and His timing is to our benefit.  Peter suffered a terrible rebuke from Jesus for not trusting in God’s plans.

Matthew chapter 16 verses 21 through 23, 

From then on Jesus began to point out to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!”  Jesus turned and told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”

So what does this mean for believers and where do we go to grow in our faith? Remember this verse, Romans chapter 10 verse 17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  We must strive to know God better each day and the way to grow in knowledge and faith is through the study of the Word of God.  Through this, we will learn to understand and trust in God’s will for our lives and the lives of others.  When someone needs prayer for illness, we always go first to the request for healing, but what about praying for the afflicted to remain faithful, humble and steadfast in their commitment to the Lord.  We may pray for healing, but God may have other plans for that person’s life and their testimony.  I’m not saying it is wrong to pray for healing, to the contrary, but in this and all situations, we should strive to put aside our own reasoning and know that God is working all things for the good to those that are called by his name.

We thank you for reading our messages and we hope you find them helpful in your journey of faith through God our heavenly Father.  We encourage you to share our site with others, to use it as a way to witness to the lost and as a resource for learning through the many links shared on this site which you will find here –  “Helpful Resources”

 

 

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team

 

 

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Time is short

anger

Anger, bitterness, hatred, it seems to be everywhere, surrounding our culture and permeating every aspect of our lives.  It seems that our safe havens are not immune, sports and other forms of entertainment no longer offer the escape we so desperately crave.  Journalism, once a bastion of integrity and impartiality, seems to have embraced its own agenda and no longer reports the news of the day but preaches the ideology of its brand, tilted towards the right or the left without apologies to anyone. Late night comedy, long a source of parody towards the events of the time, has now drawn a line to which the viewer must stand and celebrate or become another part of the punchline.  We are being overcome by the dark evil spirit of hatred and anger…bitterness is the tone of the day.  Parody is now a  cheap mockery, debate no longer exists, you either agree or become the target of the oppressive voice that controls media, entertainment, and the news.  Justice is not balanced, up is down, right is wrong, do not question the worldly agenda or you will pay a heavy toll.

2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1 – 5 gives us this warning,

But know this: Hard times will come in the last days.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.”

Never in my lifetime has there been a time where this has been more applicable than today.  Read it again and take a moment, dwell on the words and note how many of these descriptors are evident to you.  Not just in the world but unfortunately inside the church, we see it creeping in and destroying the very truth of God’s word.  “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money…”, this describes the numerous false doctrines that are thriving today in churches all over the land.  The danger of the prosperity message is the application in our lives, the destructive turn down the path that leads to the love of money and love of self.  There is a reason these warnings are listed at the very beginning, they carry the greatest weight of destruction.  Matthew chapter 6 verse 24 states the following, “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  Jesus did not come to share a doctrine of contradictions which is why we warn often of the deceit found in the prosperity message, you simply can not pursue riches on this earth and avoid the idolatry and divisive nature that comes with it. I encourage you to read “The False Doctrine of Prosperity Faith” to find out more regarding this topic.

We live in the time described by Jesus when he replied to his disciples as they asked for signs of the end times.  Matthew chapter 24 verses 3 through 8 states,  While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.  You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these events are the beginning of labor pains.  These events are all around us, political unrest, wars and rumors of wars, North Korea and Iran both in relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons, earthquakes and tremors are reported almost daily, all at a volume we have not seen in our times.  

So what are we to do? Is all hope truly lost? To the contrary, as believers, we have hope and peace in these confirmations of our faith.  These words are beyond prophetic, they are now a living example of the world we see today.  For non-believers, or to those that proclaim a belief in a higher being but have yet to accept Jesus as the true Messiah, this is your warning.  These words are meant for you, do not turn away and deny the truth, it is here for you to read and it is playing out for you to see with your own eyes in our world today.  Do not wait or bury your head in the sand in hopes it will all somehow go away.  Jesus did not tell the disciples that once these things started there would be any turning back.  No coming election will solve these issues, this path goes above and beyond the world as we know it.  The battle of good versus evil is now playing out in real time and we must take our stand, you must choose a side, and believe me, ignoring this reality or choosing to live in denial is the same as denying the very existence of God and our savior Jesus Christ.  In Matthew chapter 10 verses 32 to 33 Jesus makes it very clear, Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven.”   Do not make that mistake for it will cost you everything.  

Time is short and there soon will come a moment when you will no longer be given the opportunity to seek the free gift of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.  Don’t wait until it’s too late, consider making that step of faith today, right now, by asking Jesus to forgive you of your sins and welcoming Him into your heart.  Go to this link,  “Pathway to Salvation”,  and follow the easy steps to salvation that are explained in simple detail, then pray the prayer of faith and salvation is yours.  Reach out to us and share your decision, let us pray for you, there are no strings attached and we are not seeking your money, we hope that everyone will have the chance to see the truth and find redemption through our savior, Jesus Christ.  He gave his life for you and for me.  May God bless you and if you’ve made a decision today or if you’re thinking about doing so, please follow up by visiting our link, “Helpful Resources”, where you will find an online bible and many helpful ministries that provide every resource you will need to answer your questions and grow in your new faith in Christ.

 

John Stephen Frey, Director and Senior Editor, Life Beyond Horizons

J Stephen Frey

 

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