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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Cost of Following Jesus

“As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-61 NLT

There are many people in our Christian society that preach the Christian life is filled with complete joy, unending blessings, and overflowing prosperity. Well, as is evident from our Scripture for today, you won’t find any prosperity Gospel in the sermons of Jesus. Jesus never promised His followers a Rolex on their wrist or a Mercedes in their garage. The Lord Jesus made it very clear that those who follow Him may have to do without. Followers of Jesus will have to endure hardships. There is a great cost to following Jesus in this life, but with the cost comes great, eternal reward.

In the passage above, we see the accounts of two different men who wanted and were called to follow Jesus. This is the account of the first man: “As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” This man had probably seen Jesus perform spectacular miracles. He heard and watched the adoration everybody gave to Jesus, and he was star-struck. But the moment Jesus described the true Christian life (verse 58), the man isn’t heard from again.

The second man’s account is similar, "He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” With that, this man is not heard from again. Following Jesus means we place His importance in our life above anything else; even our spouses and children.

The cost of following Jesus means we forfeit the comforts of this world, but the reward of following Jesus is eternal life! It means we gain purpose for the life we live and comfort for when the storms of life do come. I can promise you, if you will come to Jesus, with no reserves and no excuses, you will have no regrets.

--James Merritt

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

God Is In Control

"The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all." Psalm 103:19

Our sovereign God possesses supreme power and authority over everyone and everything. He is in complete control to accomplish whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, wherever He pleases. Now what does this mean? It means everything that happens comes about because God either directly causes it or He consciously allows it. Nothing enters into history that does not come under the complete control of God. And because of this truth, believers can and should live an anxious-free life.

So what difference does a sovereign God make concerning the pain from your past, pressures and problems in the present? I believe it makes all the difference in the world. Concerning your past and your present, knowing and fully trusting in a sovereign God allows you to replace bitterness with blessings and fear with faith.

Let's break these two ideas down a bit. First, concerning your past, I want to share a verse with you: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." This is from Genesis 50:20 and it is about a man named Joseph. If you are not familiar with Joseph's life story, I challenge you to go back and read about it. In this passage, we see that God used the evil others did in Joseph's life to accomplish both Joseph's good and His glory. That is why Joseph was able to make that great statement. The life take away is that God will use your pain for His glory and your ultimate good.

Now regarding your present, knowing God is sovereign, you can face the problems of today with faith and not with fear because you know that God is at work in the middle of every circumstance.
If God is in control, then whatever happens to you today has been filtered through His fingers of wisdom and goodness. The situation you thought was going to work out a certain way that worked out another way was all a part of God's sovereign plan. Everyday, you can live in faith instead of fear regardless of what occurs.

Rest in the fact that God is in control of everything and has authority over everything. And know that He loves you with an everlasting love.

--James Merritt

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Christian's Job Description

“Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 

If we were to ask God what the most important thing to Him is, He would say without pausing: people. People are the most important thing to God because God created them. People are the most important thing to God because He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die for their sins. People are the most important thing to God because He has done everything necessary to give them an opportunity to spend eternity with Him. Today I want to share how God's priority for people and our “job” as followers of Jesus coincide.

In the verse above, Jesus essentially says, “I want My followers to go find non-followers and turn them into followers.” Everything we do as followers of Christ should be for the ultimate purpose of helping lost people find and follow Jesus. Our primary responsibility is not to come to church. Our primary responsibility is to go into our communities, into our neighborhoods, into our workplaces and invite those who don’t come to church, to come to church.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to make disciples, but what exactly does that mean? And how do we "make" disciples? I'll tell you one thing, we don't make disciples by merely inviting someone to church—but that is the beginning of the process! No, we make disciples by following how Jesus made His disciples. He taught twelve men His work and lived life with them for three years. That is how we make genuine disciples. It is our job, as followers of Jesus Christ, to invest in lost people and ultimately make disciples. 

--James Merritt

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Importance Of A Guide

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. lost control of the plane he was flying and spiraled into the ground; the crash instantly killed himself, his wife, and his sister-in-law. Investigators later declared the crash was most likely due to pilot error and that Kennedy was flying the plane via Visual Flight Rules (VFR) instead of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)—if Kennedy had been using the plane's instruments as his guide, and had not relied on his own visual estimation, he may well have landed that plane safely. As a believer, I want to stress to you how critical it is that you daily live life guided by God’s Word.

Every day that you go without reading your Bible, you are flying VFR. Now that’s okay as long as the weather is good and the sky is clear. But the problem comes when you go through clouds of conflict, storms of sorrow, haze of hurt, and the thunder of temptation. If you try to navigate your way through those tough times by your feelings rather than by faith and God’s Word, your plane will crash. Look back at the Scripture passage again. What does it say the Bible ought to be to the life of a believer? It teaches us what is true, it gives us the knowledge of right and wrong, it corrects us, it prepares and equips us.

The fact is, every single decision you make in life, will be made one of two ways: either by what you think and feel, or by what God has said in His Word. If you want to stay on the right course for your life, you must read your instruction book, the Bible, and daily look to it’s truth for answers and guidance. Start today by asking the Lord to open your eyes to His leading and guidance. He has given you His Spirit as a believer, lean into His divine direction. It never fails, never malfunctions and it is the only way to fly.

--James Merritt 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Every Part Is Essential

"Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT

The human body is a magnificent machine. Our eye muscles move approximately 100,000 times per day, and within just a square inch of our skin, we have 19 million cells, 625 sweat glands, 90 oil glands, 65 hairs, 19 feet of blood vessels, and 19,000 sensory cells. Incredible! But as amazing and incredible as one human body is, it does not begin to compare with the body of Christ. I don’t mean His literal body, but His spiritual body—the church. Together as believers, we are the body of Christ.

And just like our human bodies, every single piece and part of the body of Christ is essential to the body’s well-being. In my many years of ministry, I've heard people complain about their place within their local church. I've heard people grumble about how no one appreciates or notices their hard work for the church. Friends, the work we do in the church and the part we play in the body of Christ is not for our personal recognition; it is to bring glory to our Father in Heaven.

With that said, it is my goal to encourage you today to be the very best of your kind within the body of Christ! Because without you, the body is handicapped. For example, you may be a foot in the body of Christ, but if you don’t take part in your church you cripple the body. You may be an ear in the body, but if you don’t come to your church, you deafen the body. You may be an eye in the body, but if you don’t take part in your church, you blind the body. Just as your body needs every part working together, so does the body of Christ.

Here's the other thing—not only is every member of the body equally needed, every member is equally important. Some of us are outspoken, others are quiet; others are dynamic, some are laid back; there are leaders, then there are followers. Everybody is somebody in the body of Christ. And my challenge to you this week is to find an area where you can serve in your local church. Together as the church, we are the visible part of the invisible Christ to the world. Let's all play our part.

--James Merritt

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Take A Stand

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” Daniel 1:8-9 NLT

On April 20, 1999 two teenage gunmen entered Columbine High School and began shooting students at random. Around 11:30 a.m., one of the gunmen confronted Cassie Bernall with one simple question: “do you believe in God?” After a momentary pause, she looked him squarely in the eye and said, “yes.” The gunman replied, “why?” and shot her; killing Cassie instantly.

At that moment, with one word, Cassie Bernall illustrated a principle that every Christian needs to embrace—as followers of Christ, we must not compromise our faith in the midst of persecution. A Biblical model of taking a stand for Christ is revealed through a teenage boy named Daniel. Here's a glance into Daniel's story.

As a teen, Daniel was taken captive to Babylon and selected to be trained as a Babylonian warrior. While in Babylon, Daniel was tested to compromise his beliefs as a follower of God. Read the passage above again. What exactly was Daniel pressured to compromise? Food. Most Christians do not follow Biblical guidelines for foods they can and cannot eat. So what can we learn from Daniel's story? Small compromises lead to big compromises of our faith.

I believe in America today, Christians are faced with many kinds of "small compromises." Whether laws the government declares as just or moral issues, every single day we are tempted to compromise. So this is my challenge to you: read your Bible seriously, and begin to think deeply about the numerous small compromises Christians face in today's society. And ask yourself, "Are you falling into the trap of making small compromises of faith?" Let's always take a stand for Christ.

--James Merritt