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Archive for the tag “Easter”

We Are The Church

Ephesians 2:20-22 – Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

On Resurrection Sunday I didn’t go to my home church for service. Last year my mom passed away on Easter Sunday and this year Easter just happened to fall on her birthday. I went up to my dad’s alone and we went to his church and then went through the box of memories we had of my mom.

My dad’s church is nothing like my home church.

My home church is your typical modern non-denominational, evangelical/charismatic, thousand-person church. My dad’s church is a small Methodist church that typically has less than 25 people at it.

My home church has an amazing worship team. My dad’s church has an organist who misses a lot of notes.

My home church has 6 pastors, 7 elders, about 50 trustees, and several other people who help with the service. My dad’s church has a part-time pastor that goes to preach at another church and then comes to my dad’s church to preach.

My home church has a weekly monetary need of $33,000 to meet all of the financial needs of both the church and the missions that we support. My dad’s church has raised just shy of $11,000 in the first 3 months of this year.

My home church is continually bringing in a younger and younger crowd (and not at the detriment of the older crowd either). My dad’s church had an average age of 60+.

It was a little bit of a culture shock going to church with dad today, but not completely as I grew up in that kind of church environment.

But let me tell you something, my dad’s church has a lot of positives that my home church just doesn’t.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

First, for the Sunday service, almost all of the 20-something people who attend the church are helping out in the service in some way. That is almost a 100% participation!!! My home church struggles in this area.

Next, the discipleship of people is very strong. Over a quarter of the people at my dad’s church is going through discipleship classes regularly and each of them are connected with each other and spend time with each other outside of church living life together. While they aren’t taking official classes, they are pouring into each other daily just by spending their lives intertwined.

Finally, my dad’s church had the entire congregation making a joyful noise to the Lord during the hymns. My home congregation falls short here. Yes, the first 6 rows at my home church sing out loud, but I typically sit in the back. As I look around at people the larger majority are not singing the songs. Don’t get me wrong, they like the music a lot (and so do I). But they don’t have a personal connection with the music like the old hymns did on the older generation.

After the service, the pastor of my dad’s church asked me if I would come up and give the message one weekend. In the short few moments it took me to respond, I did think about the differences between my dad’s church and my home church. But I answered with an emphatic “yes.”

I’ve thought a lot about being a pastor. I’ve been trying to apply for several pastor positions but since I don’t have the experience level or the ordination, I’ve been rejected by almost all the places I’ve applied.

And could I ever lead a United Methodist Church?

Romans 12:5 – So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Their theological differences are so far away from my home church’s views. I’ve talked to my wife about the possibility of being a UMC pastor. Or another legacy denomination. And we’ve both agreed that it would be a struggle not just for me but my wife and family to go into an environment that would be so far removed from where we are now. What would the kids be taught in youth group of Sunday School? What would the overarching theology be from the pulpit or from the denomination?

And if we look at the first century church as our example, they were completely unified and are the perfect example for us to follow.

Or were they?

All the members worked together in peace and harmony, right?

Nope.

The New Testament chronicles several dissentions and problems in the first century church. As a matter of fact, the book of James was written to help bring unity among the churches. The early church was suffering from false teachers, partiality toward those who had money, gossip, and general misunderstandings regarding faith and its application.

That’s not very different from today? What are today’s litmus tests? False teachers (especially those who preach about homosexuality and gender issues). Partiality toward those who have money (or who claim to be conservative, right-wing politically). General misunderstandings regarding the faith (which version of the Bible to use, how to translate the end-times prophecies, and general church polity being used as a condition of faith).

Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

I am not going to say that I am becoming more liberal in my beliefs. Paul was never wishy washy about where he stood. I still hold my same beliefs that I ever have in believing that the Bible calls homosexuality and abortion sin. But I also need to line that up with the Bible’s call for unity, even in a church that was as corrupt as the Corinthian church where Paul STILL called them saints!

I know many groups, both liberal and conservative, have worked together to build bridges between those who call themselves Christian. Ecumenical groups abound in this day and age. Some are worthy, others I call into question. I am a member of the Manhattan Declaration, for example. I signed it. It is an ecumenical declaration between Evangelical, orthodox, Catholic, and even some legacy denominations. It believes that every life has dignity, that marriage is between one man and one woman, and religious liberty is a right of all human beings. It is clearly made up of groups of people in which I disagree with their theological beliefs.

But we have unified to get an important message out that strikes at the core of the gospel message, that we are all created in God’s image.

So just how can groups that varied theological beliefs come together?

I don’t completely have that answer.

I know the answer is held somewhere in the gospel message. That is one thing that all foundational Christian denominations believe, that God formed us in His image, that we fell through sin, that we are in need of a Savior, that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and that Jesus died and rose again and will one day come again to save His church.

The answer is in there.

Acts 28:31 – Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

But where?

Can it be enough that Christians come together to spread the gospel message? Can that be enough?

The disciples, once Jesus was taken up in the cloud from them, ran beck to Jerusalem and spread the message about the Kingdom of God. Paul, Peter, Phillip and especially Jesus all preached and teached the Kingdom.

The problem today is not a church that believes one theology over another.

The problem today is that the church doesn’t even know what the Kingdom of God is!

If we could unify under that alone we would be a much stronger church! We wouldn’t focus on what makes us different but what makes us the same! We wouldn’t have time to fight among each other over scraps but we would be out there on the front lines taking entire cities in the name of Christ and fighting against the real enemy, Satan.

So let’s learn about the Kingdom of God. Let’s try to understand its implication on our lives and how we should live and act as a Christian people.

Then….

Let’s get out there and help the world to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

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The Altar is Empty

As we come up to Resurrection Sunday I can’t help but think about the amazing truth that the tomb was empty.

That fact alone makes me continually think about my words, actions, and behaviors to see if I am living a life that would bring honor to the simple message that the tomb is empty. But as I look around my church on any given Sunday I find that not only is the tomb empty, but the altar is empty as well.

Every Sunday we give people the opportunity to come up and pray with an elder or prayer worker. The impetus is the call to accept Christ.

Typical routine: Songs, announcements, tithe, sermon, sinner’s prayer, altar call.

The altar call is for both the saved and the unsaved. This past week my pastor preached on a topic that should have had Christians from all walks of life coming to the altar to pour themselves out before God. Unfortunately, other than the typical people who come up almost every Sunday, we had very few people come forward.

I have always debated the use of sinner’s prayer/altar call. There are times I think it is “easy believism.”

Are you going through a tough time? Come leave it at the altar, God will fix it. Just not always in the way we expect.

The part that is sorely missing in the sinner’s prayer/altar call is the follow up to walk through life with the person. And this isn’t only at my church. This is happening in churches all across America.

Our church was blessed with over 70 people giving their lives to the Lord last year and over 60 getting baptized. That is almost as much as the average Christian church has in attendance on any given Sunday!

But is it enough? And, Christians, why are you not pouring your heart out before God when given the opportunity?!?

While the altar call is not really found in the Bible, there are some examples that show that an altar call is biblical. For example, Jesus publicly asked the disciples to follow Him immediately. And they did.

Later in the book of Matthew, we are told a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men.”

We also see that when Peter gave his first sermon that thousands came to the Lord that day, which can denote some sort of altar call.

The danger comes in whether, especially with conversions, those conversions were real. Romans 10:9 explains that believing in your heart comes first, followed by a verbal confession. It is dangerous just to think that someone calls out to the Lord for saving that they are saved. Just look at Matthew 7:22.

Matthew 7:22 –On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

True salvation leads to continual sanctification as the fruit of the Spirit buds and grows inside the new believer. If there is no fruit, then there is no repentance.

But what about for the believer?

Every Sunday there are elders and prayer workers up front waiting for people to pray with. Why won’t people come forward?

We are called to leave our burdens at Jesus’ feet.

Without having a physical Jesus to do that with, we typically lay our burden at His feet through prayer.

This is very similar to what Hannah did in 1 & 2 Samuel.

1 Samuel 1:15 – But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.

Hannah poured herself out before God.

I imagine a pitcher of water.

The water are the burdens in our life, which is the pitcher. Think of how heavy that pitcher becomes when the burdens begin to fill the pitcher.

Then the altar call comes.

You sit in your seat, wondering when the service will be over so you can be first in the drive thru line at the fast food place. Meanwhile, all those burdens, and your already half-full pitcher, goes into next week where more burdens fill you up.

The next week you think that you have had enough, so you go to the altar and pray with an elder or prayer warrior.

But you don’t want to give it all out.

So you pour a little of the pitcher out at the feet of God.

You walk out of church feeling a little lighter, but still full from the previous weeks.

The next week comes and your burdens take you to the brink. You go into church on Sunday morning and just can’t even bring yourself to worship. You stand there while the music plays, staring blankly at the band. Then during prayer your mind is wandering across everything you have to accomplish. During the sermon you are making plans for the rest of the day and possibly the week.

Then the altar call comes.

You have a choice.

You can go down and unload. That would be doing what Hannah did by emptying herself before God. That will help give you clarity and direction throughout the upcoming week but realize that your pitcher will start accumulating water again.

Or, you could go down an release just enough burden to lighten your load a little, knowing that you will overflow with burdens the coming week.

But you have another choice.

You could go to the altar every Sunday and pour out your burdens before God every single Sunday. Going into a new week with an empty pitcher helps us to maintain sanity, but it keeps our perspective on the One who can remove our burdens completely.

So, this Sunday don’t let the altar be empty. Let’s always remember the tomb is empty, but the altar is filled with people who desire to pray with you and help you pour yourself out before God.

#TheGraveIsEmpty

I am writing this on Easter evening, or, as Christians like to call it, Resurrection Sunday.

Today we had a plan in place. I planned on waking up, going to a sunrise service of a new church in my area and then gathering the entire family together and heading up to PA to spend the day with my parents. If you read a previous blog post of mine, you will know that my mom has stage IV cancer and we don’t really have a lot of time with her.

Well, this morning the call came.

“Fred, get up here. Leave the kids home, come to PA. Your mom doesn’t have long left.”

My heart sank. I immediately changed all the plans and started driving north.

The plan was to move her to a hospice facility where she could finish up her final hours without pain. She was breathing very shallow and, in between each breath, was moaning in pain. When I got here, I was told by my dad that the ambulance to transport her was about an hour out.

I sat down at mum’s bedside and prayed with her. I told her to simply let God have control and stop trying to take that control away from Him. Let Him heal her, whether that be through a miraculous healing of the cancer or through ending her pain through taking her home.

I went to the place we were ordering Easter meal from to pay for it and have them donate it to a local church. After I returned I went back in to check on mum. I told her I loved her.

When I walked in the door I heard the moaning and breaths, but a few moments after walking out of the room, I didn’t hear it anymore. I asked pap and he said that she occasionally does that. This time I went back in and noticed her eyes partially opened. She wasn’t breathing.

I called to pap and he checked her. We were pretty sure she had gone home to her Creator.

We called the hospice nurse. She cancelled the ambulance and came right over and pronounced her dead at 11:45 AM.

My mom knew. She didn’t want to end her days in the hospice facility. She told us that a few weeks ago when she was in the hospital. She wanted to end her days surrounded by me and pap in her own home.

And that is how she died.

The rest of the day has been a blur. We spent time with the funeral home getting her moved and planning the viewing. We went to eat a local diner that was open today (that was such a blessing!). Then back home to go through all the old pictures and reminisce about mum and how much she meant to us.

We are having a viewing on Wednesday and then immediate cremation.

Why no funeral?

Because the grave is empty!

When mum passed through the wildwood into the place where dreams come true, she ceased to be mum and simply became a body. The essence of mum is found in the Spirit that inhabited her.

Mum loved God and people. She had a servant’s heart. As a matter of fact, she had the Servant’s heart. She had the heart of God.

So now it is Easter eve. Pap finally fell asleep. The house is quiet. The only noise I hear is the droning of the ceiling fan above and the tapping of the keys on my keyboard.

I am sitting her thanking God for taking her so quickly so she didn’t suffer too long. I am thanking Him for the opportunity to tell her I loved her before she passed from somewhere into elsewhere.

The truth about Easter is just what happened today.

The grave is empty.

Mum will not be in a grave because there is no reason for it.

Christ burst from the grave. He proclaimed to the world His return.

He gave the disciples a mission to accomplish.

Jesus’ final 40 days on earth, after exiting the grave, dealt with sharing the Kingdom of God with everyone.

There is a reason to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. Just like there is a reason to celebrate my mum’s life with my pap through the old pictures.

The reason is simple.

Power.

The power of the Holy Spirit is freely given after bursting from the grave. The power for my mum to live on through my actions and words is amplified after her death. How much more will I look at how I deal with people after seeing my mom live it.

How much more do I want to proclaim the Kingdom of God now that Christ has given us this mandate after leaving the grave.

So, what will I proclaim on the day after Easter?

I will proclaim the Servant’s heart of my mom. She embedded that in me through her gracious living. And I will take that lesson and translate it to my Christian theology and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God places Jesus on the throne. Entrance to the kingdom requires new birth (John 3:5), repentance (Matthew 3:2), and the divine call (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus calls us to seek the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33) and pray for it to come (Matthew 6:10). It is joy in the Holy Spirit, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14:7).

So again, I sit here in the quiet of the night.

Thinking about how to live out my mom’s servant heart and how to proclaim the Kingdom of God through all I do.

Tomorrow is a new day. A new day to celebrate the two people I love dearly who have burst from the grave, Jesus and my mom.

The Hate in your Heart you’re Hiding Well, but the Booze on your Breath is Easy to Smell

If you look online, like I prefer to do, and go to that wonderful search engine Google and type in “list of sins in the Bible,” you will get an amazing list of websites that tackle the sin problem. My favorite link to click was “40 sins that can send you to hell.” I laugh at that one because I hate to tell you, but without Jesus, ANY sin will send you to hell. I clicked another and it said that using terms like “Oh my gosh” or “geez” is sinful because it is simply another way of taking the Lord’s name in vain. If that is the case, then oh my gosh am I in trouble.

There are sins that are easy sins for the church to tackle. Those are the sins of alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, and many others. While for the person going through the problem feels like the world is crashing down around them, the church has a solution. We have Jesus. We set up a program around a Jesus-centered approach and tackle the problem head on.

But then there are other sins. These sins are much harder to quantify. They don’t readily show their head. They may come out only when backed into a corner (like I had happen to me recently…forgive me Mimi). These are sins like greed, misplaced anger, lust, hatred, pride, laziness, etc…. Those are sins that are not so easy to tackle.

I am going to stick with a topic that I have covered a lot lately, homosexuality. I bring it up a lot because of my late brother being gay and the fact that it has turned into the litmus test of the 21st century to tell if people are Christian or not.

Now I am not going to water this down. Homosexuality is a sin. It is a choice you make. But that does not preclude you from getting into heaven. How often do we see the televangelist screaming out or the Westboro Baptist church types screaming out in hatred that “God hates fags?” Sorry, but I have no hell to give you. That is simply between you and God.

Here is how I see it though. With this or any sin, if you want to come and stand beside me in worship, I would love to join with you in praising God. If you are gay and ask me to marry you I will tell you I cannot because of what my Bible says about the sin of homosexuality. But I am never going to dissociate from you. If anything I will spend more time with you. No, not hitting you over the head with Leviticus, but simply showing you that Christians can love.

Many people who are stuck in sin are actually hated by those who claim Christ. It is a very fine line to have your beliefs and share them with people and to be homophobic (or hate the sex offender or the wife beater or the….). If we are attacking the person and arguing just to be heard and win the argument, then we are struggling with one of those sins that are much harder to quantify. It is very easy for us to mask our hatred in Christianese.

The litmus test should not be whether a person is gay, drunk, drugged, or anything. The litmus test should be the Gospel of Christ.

Yes, living the Christian life, I truly believe, will lead to people changing their ways. And yes, I truly believe that those who are gay will make the choice to swing the pendulum the other direction (so to speak) when they realize that Jesus’ love is more than any man or woman can provide. But it should not be up to us to change any person through our actions. God has given us freedom. We can share Him and His Gospel, but if a person chooses to reject it, that is on them, not us. It is not up to us to change them. The person can only change themselves, and that is only if they truly want to change.

So whether you are battling an “easy” sin or a “tough” sin, know that Christ is right there.

We just celebrated Easter, a 3-day holiday that is all about what Christ did for our sins. It started with Good Friday, when Christ was crucified. He conquered death by dying on the cross. Sure, He could have pulled Himself off of it. But He chose to die a sinner’s death. If He would not have taken all our sins and died, then there would be no remission of sin.

Then comes Sunday where we celebrate resurrection Sunday. This is the day that Christ shows His victory over death and hell. The action was completed on Friday but the celebration happened on Sunday.

So I will ask you. Have you been hurt? Perhaps it was someone who claimed Christ as their Savior. Perhaps it wasn’t. It could be something you did to yourself like drug or alcohol addiction or maybe it was something someone did to you to cause you to harden your heart, such as rape or abuse. Regardless, Christ has died and rose again for your sins. He died for your hurt and pain. If you simply reach out to Christ, you will find that your Savior will come. He will listen. He will heal. He will call you friend and family.

I would love to hear if you have reached out to Christ. Please comment or send me an email to fred.noble777@gmail.com. I would love to get in touch with you and help you on your journey.

So What Happens on Monday?

John 16:7 – But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Jesus is dead.

The disciples are scattered.

Fear has gripped everyone.

And then Jesus bursts from the grave, destroying the chains that fear and death have had on His followers.

It is the day after the resurrection, so now what?

Acts 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

POWER!

Once the power of the Holy Spirit came, the disciples went.  They went to all the areas of the world and made disciples.  They went and planted churches.  They baptized people.  Christianity grew quickly.  People were on fire!

When we embrace what Easter is truly about (no, not bunnies and chocolate), we can’t help but realize that after Jesus claimed His rightful throne in heaven that we have been given a mandate.  This mandate is just like a military command, but a military command that involves no more blood to be shed.  The blood was shed on the cross.  Christ took the one and only death needed to claim victory in this war.

Matthew 28:18-2018 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This military mandate is to simply “GO.”

This isn’t a suggestion.  In the original documents, it says, “having gone, therefore, make disciples.”  This must be interpreted as having imperative force.  When a participle, such as the Greek word, πορευθέντες, functions as a circumstantial participle dependent upon an imperative, it gains imperative force.

Just imagine the disciples’ excitement when they heard this!

So, Christian, GO and get that POWER that CHRIST has GIVEN us!  And then GO and MAKE disciples, BAPTIZING them in the name of the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT.

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