Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Going All In

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-20

When a poker player believes he has the winning hand, he goes all-in; he bets all his cash and lays everything on the line. Today, I want to challenge us as believers in Christ, to go all-in for Jesus. Because when you go all-in for Jesus, you do so not only for Christ, but for the sake of those who do not yet know Him.

In the person of Jesus Christ, Paul believed that he had the winning hand in life. He was determined to go all-in for both the Gospel and his Master. In essence, Paul was saying, for the sake of the Gospel, "I will do anything, go anywhere, pay any price, and endure any cost.” But being all-in comes with a cost. There are some specific things we have to give up if we are going to be all-in for Christ and for others. One of the things we must be willing to give up is our personal preferences.

Look back at the passage again. When Paul says "though not being myself under the law," he means that he was no longer under the ritual law. He understood that being right with God was about a relationship with Jesus and not merely abiding by ritual commands. Yet, Paul said, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews." Whatever their ceremonial law dictated he was willing to do it. If they didn’t eat pork he didn’t eat pork.

Why did Paul do this? He didn’t do it to appease them or even to affirm what they believed. He did it in order to open a door of opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ. Paul never gave up his convictions, but he was willing to give up his preferences. What would the American church look like today if we all embraced this humbling mindset? Ask the Lord to open your eyes to preferences you need to let go of and give up. A life all-in for Jesus is by far the best life you could ever live.

--James Merritt

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How We Seek Healing

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15

Before we really get into the meat of the message today, I want to make sure I explain where I am coming from. I want you to be clear up front on what I do and don’t believe about the matter of healing. I believe in faith healing; I do not believe in faith healers. I believe that God still, supernaturally and miraculously heals.

In the above passage, James addresses those who are sick. I’m sure some who are reading this post today are dealing with sickness. Whether it is physical or mental, everyone can relate to sickness because we all get sick. Sickness affects believers and unbelievers. Sickness comes to atheists and agnostics. It affects everyone.

According to James, what is the first thing we are instructed to do, as believers, when we face sickness? We are called to pray. And at times, we are called to ask the leaders of the church, the pastors and staff and others, to come together and pray over us. Now don't misunderstand what I am saying; God uses doctors, medicine, and technology to heal, but all of these are tools in the hands of God.

Let me say it again. There is nothing wrong with going to see doctors and using medicine. Anyone who says you shouldn’t because that shows a lack of faith is ignorant of what the Bible teaches about both healing and faith. The thing I want us to embrace today is to know the difference between putting our faith in doctors to heal, and placing our faith in God to heal. All healing is of God whether your healing comes through fresh air and sunshine, vitamins and proteins or medicine and technology. It all comes from God. It may be the hand of the surgeon that holds the scalpel, but it is the hand of God that holds the surgeon.

--James Merritt

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Real Church

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." Acts 2:42-45

We have all kinds of Christian churches in America today. We have traditional and contemporary churches. We have churches made up of all kinds of ethnic and people groups. We have churches that meet on Sundays and some that meet on Saturdays. Yet, regardless of anything listed above, the heartbeat of a church should encompass the following things: preaching the Word of God, promoting fellowship, and praising the Lord.

It breaks my heart to realize that many Americans attending church today do not hear biblical, expository, and authoritative messages from the Word of God. I really believe that right here, in the Bible belt of America, there is a famine for God’s Word. In the above passage, Paul tells us that the Christians of the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” And that is what churches are called to today. Pastors are not called to preach about their opinions or what they think is true, but rather about what God has already said to be true in His Word.

Secondly, churches are called to fellowship. I discussed the art of Christian fellowship in my post last week, so I will not go into a lot of detail here. But I do want to emphasize again how vital it is for the church of Christ to engage in genuine fellowship with other believers. One of the reasons why Christianity spread like wildfire in the early days of the church is because of the love that Christians manifested for one another. They cared for one another; and they shared their possessions with each other joyfully.

Now I don’t know whether you picked up on it yet, but every church should also be a place of excitement and praise. The early church in Acts had a contagious atmosphere of enthusiasm! I don’t believe in "dead" worship services. Worship services should be full of joy and praise because as believers, we have been brought from death to life! And that's worth celebrating. Real church, the way God designed it, should be anything but boring or lonely. But above all, it should boldly and proudly proclaim the truth of the Gospel.

—James Merritt

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Blessing of Fellowship

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” 1 John 1:3-4 NASB

Most every Sunday, before the preacher speaks and in-between one of the worship songs, the worshipers are instructed to, “shake hands and say ‘good morning’ to those around you.” Through this simple gesture, we are initiating how the Apostle John taught Christians to live: in fellowship with one another.

These days Christians tend to automatically link the word fellowship with food and fun. And while these things can absolutely be a part of fellowship with one another, they are not what true fellowship is built on. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia, which means, "to share in common." What do we share in common that allows us to enjoy fellowship with one another? It is Jesus.

When you accept Jesus as Lord, you are born again into the family of God and now have the right of true fellowship with all other children of God! One of the wonderful things of being a Christian is that a Christian life never has to be a lonely life. There should be no "lone rangers" in God's family. We are called to share each other's joys, sorrows, highs and lows.

True fellowship, both vertically with the Father and horizontally with the family of God, fill us with complete and full joy. Too many Christians are walking through this life with partial, momentary joy. John says, "these things we write, so that your joy may be made complete." Our joy is made complete by first, having fellowship with God (Psalm 16:11) and secondly, by having fellowship with other believers. So I encourage you, if either of these two areas of fellowship has become occasional in your life, begin today by getting back into fellowship. We were created for relationships. Both vertical and horizontal.

--James Merritt

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Meaningful Meditation

"Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:13

Our mind is a powerful and wonderful gift from God. Unfortunately, we are living in an age when fewer and fewer people are putting their mind to constructive work. The discipline of sitting quietly to just think has gone; people are constantly on social media, cell phones, and computers. Society now follows this logic when it comes to thinking: youth are too frivolous to think, adults are too busy to think, the elderly are too sick to think, yet when we die, it is too late to think.

Peter understood the power of the mind and the importance of giving our minds the proper food for thought. That’s why he uses the terminology in verse 13, “with your minds ready for action.” The word for mind is the Greek word dianoia which is actually two words: the word dia meaning “through” and the word noia meaning “to think.” So it literally means “to think through.” As Christians, we should set aside time to sit and meditate  on the Lord, His attributes, and His Kingdom.

In the passage above, Peter is advocating transcendental meditation. That is, he is saying we need to mentally levitate above this world, get our mind off of this world, and gravitate toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It's so easy to become consumed with the every day activities, schedules, and struggles of our lives. We can very quickly forget to acknowledge God and truly worship Him daily when we are constantly flooding our minds with the thoughts of this world and our own life.

So this is my challenge to you today. Starting this week, set aside just five minutes out of every day to contemplate the things of the Lord and His Kingdom. Maybe you read something during your Bible study time that you didn't quite understand—take five minutes to think deeply about it. Or you can select an attribute of the Lord, like sovereignty or omniscience, and take five minutes to think through  that attribute. The goal is to begin the practice of sitting still to meditate on the Lord. I guarantee God will strengthen your journey with Him if you follow through. 

--James Merritt

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Ministry of The Holy Spirit

“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” John 16:7-11 

Everything we are in the Lord Jesus Christ is totally dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit; the Counselor whom He sent us when Jesus ascended to Heaven. If you are a soul-winner, and every Christian ought to be, understand that it is not your job to get people to accept the Gospel. It is your job to preach the Gospel. Today I want to remind us of the three specific things only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in us.

The Holy Spirit is the only Person who can open our eyes to the reality of our sin. The Holy Spirit has been sent to convict us of sin, show us that we are guilty of sin and in need of forgiveness. But what exactly is sin? The term 'sin' is rarely understood and has been removed from most people's vocabulary. When Jesus said, "about sin because they do not believe in Me," He described sin in one word: unbelief. People cannot even begin to come to Jesus, until they realize they are grave sinners of unbelief, and it is the Holy Spirit who convicts them of this. 

Now the second accomplishment of the Holy Spirit is to convey the remedy for sin. In the passage above, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit has come to show us the concept “about righteousness.” A man is not righteous because of what he does; a man is righteous because of what he is. Isaiah 64:6 says, “Our righteous deeds are like a filthy garments.” Sin is not doing bad, and righteousness is not doing good. Sin is the rejection of Jesus and righteousness is the reception of Jesus. And only the Holy Spirit can convey that truth.

Finally, the Holy Spirit convinces us “about judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Why does Jesus bring up satan in this verse? To make known the judgement coming to him and those who reject Jesus as Savior. Only the Holy Spirit can convince us of the eternal results of our sin. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that brings repentance and redemption to the lives of lost people. Praise His holy Name!

--James Merritt

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oh The Wonderful Cross

“As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” Galatians 6:14 NLT

Paul had so much that he could have boasted about when he was alive. In his day he was the church’s greatest preacher, greatest missionary, greatest apologist, greatest theologian, and greatest author. He wrote more books than anyone else in the Bible; almost one-half of the New Testament. But whenever Paul boasted it was not in himself, but in the cross of Christ. This Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ! And for those who have heard the Easter story dozens of times, I want to encourage you to never lose the wonder and glory of the cross by reminding you what the cross revealed and accomplished for us.

The cross amplifies the love of God for His people. Many times people look at the newspaper, listen to their television, see earthquakes, murders and rapes happening all around and say: “Where is the love of God?” The cross is where the love of God is displayed to the world. The cross means that no matter what else happens in this world, God loves you. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins."

The cross satisfied the law of God and the judgment we all deserved. Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Now if the soul that sins has to die, and if every soul has sinned, that means every soul must die. Therefore there are only two options: Either everyone has to die in their sins, or someone has to die for the sins of everyone. And that is where the cross of Christ triumphantly declares us free from sin!

All of this simply means we could never know salvation from the penalty of sin, release from the power of sin, or freedom from the presence of sin, without the cross of Christ. There is no way out of hell, and no way into heaven, except through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to glory eternally in the cross of Christ because the only hope for a hurting, hateful, horrible world is that old rugged cross. May we never lose the wonder. 

--James Merritt