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July 11, 2018, 8:12 AM

Go, and sin no more.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

The Pharisees caught a wretched woman in the act of sin and with callous indifference to her suffering and the things that had led her to such a state, dragged her into the blinding light of day. They sought to exploit her as a snare with which to trap Jesus into a declaration they could use against Him. “Teacher,” they said, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery . . . Moses commanded us in the Law to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?” If Jesus told them to release her, they could accuse Him of being a heretic. If He said for them to stone her, he would be in conflict with the Romans - who did not allow the Jews to carry out death sentences.

In a strangely arresting scene, Jesus did not respond but stooped down and began writing in the dust of the ground. When the accusations had finally ended, they stood triumphantly waiting for His response. Jesus slowly stood up, however, and looking them straight in the eye said: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Once more, bending down, He began writing on the ground. What was He writing? It has been suggested that He was spelling out in the dust some of the sins which the accusers had been guilty of committing. We don’t know.

In any case, the Pharisees slipped away, “beginning with the older ones first.” Why was this last phrase inserted? Do we mellow with age? Perhaps, or maybe it reflects the fact that as we grow older we have more to remember… or, at least more that we should recall before casting a stone. Regardless, soon the accusers were all gone. Christ and the woman were now alone. Soiled imperfection confronted perfect holiness. The scene is tense with painful interest. We wonder what the Lord will say. Then He speaks: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go, and sin no more.”

In this compelling story of redemption, Jesus turned with words of judgment toward the Pharisees – the pretenders of innocence, and with mercy toward the woman who was exposed and fully aware of her sin. It clearly reveals the mercy of our Lord, but it also indicates that He expects people to live rightly. Wrong deeds mean wrong relationships with God. A weak, sentimental Christianity which blurs the distinctions between right and wrong is not sufficient. While we are forgiven through God’s grace, and not through our own merit, we are also expected to “go, and sin no more.” Forgiveness must result in a new quality of life.

Yet the question, “Who among you is without sin?” remains. When Jesus asked this question of the Pharisees, none could qualify, so there was no one to throw a stone. There is a universality about sin, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” wrote the Apostle Paul. The challenge, therefore, in this passage is two-fold: (1) Go, leave your life of sin; and (2) Pause and reflect on the intimate details of your own spiritual journey before casting a stone at another.

Let us join in prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, I thank you that I can stand before you neither above or below any person. Help me to take that privilege and give it to every other person. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

June 27, 2018, 7:36 AM

You Must Be Born Again - From Above.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“You must be born again – from above.” (John 3:7b)

John’s Gospel reports that early in the ministry of Jesus a Jewish ruler, Nicodemus, visited Him to inquire the way to the kingdom of God. Even though he had wealth, status, and a noble heritage, Nicodemus had a spiritual hunger that moved him to seek Jesus. An astute man, he began the conversation by complimenting Jesus, saying that no one could do what He was doing unless God was with him. Jesus responded to this with the abrupt affirmation: “You must be born again – from above.” Bishop Gerald Ensley describes this by saying: “Jesus told the Pharisee that entrance into the higher life involves a birth, a starting over, a renewal of being, whereby old things pass away, the accumulations of the years are stripped off, and we become as spiritually uncorrupted as a child is physically new when it enters the world.”

Few passages of scripture have been more variously interpreted than this imperative: “Be born again,” or “Be born anew,” or “Be born from above.” To many it is as bewildering a concept as it was to Nicodemus. The unchurched think of it as vaguely related to revivalist preaching and exhortation. They shrug it aside because they want no part of what they consider to be emotionalism. Because of such unfortunate association the man on the street and even many within the Church have been inclined to disregard the whole concept of conversion as unnecessary or even undesirable. The best of our theologians, however, and those with spiritual insight have not so regarded it. Edwin Lewis wrote: “Jesus confronted the astonished Nicodemus … [and] told him that the purpose of a man’s being born once was that he might be born a second time, and until he was born a second time the purpose of his being born the first time remained unfulfilled. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh.’ This is creaturehood. ‘That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ This is sonship.”

God’s purpose for an individual has not been fulfilled until he or she has been born of the Spirit! This assertion moves the new birth out of the area of life’s options to the place of focal concern. Each person stands in need of a radical and fundamental reorientation of life at the very center. There must be a confrontation with his or her need of reconciliation to God. There must be transformation.

This change will have both subjective and objective implications. This is more than an intellectual assent to a system of principles. The will must come into play. There must be a faith-response of repentance (new direction) and a receiving by faith of grace (acceptance of God’s unmerited love and forgiveness). With this act of saving faith, life assumes a new direction. To acknowledge Jesus as our Lord is to affirm that we belong to Him. He is to rule our life. New birth cannot take place when we consciously withhold areas of life from the control of Christ. An individual cannot serve two masters, but he or she must choose one. Who is the Lord of your life today?

Let us join in prayer: Father, grant me absolution and remission for all my sins, true repentance, amendment of life and the grace and consolation of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

May 23, 2018, 8:42 AM

Is any one of you sick?

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Is any one of you sick?” (James 5:14)

James wrote to believers who had fled Jerusalem under great persecution, and his letter is amazingly relevant to modern Christianity on several points. He, for instance, called on the church to be in touch with the hurting world that is all around us. We live in the midst of a world of hurts. Hearts are hurting. Families are hurting. Have we looked around us lately? People are not simply sick physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sick. Thus, we find ourselves asking an extremely pertinent question: “Is any one of you sick?” Hawkins writes, “Perhaps no other ministry in the New Testament church has seen as much perversion as the church’s healing ministry. While many involved may have wonderful intentions and pure hearts, some healing ministries have too often been a vehicle for a few to build their own personal financial kingdoms offering false hopes of healing to any and all.”

Here in James 5, we find the only directive in Scripture concerning praying for those who are sick. He asks, “Is any one of you sick?” The key to understanding this question is the word sick (ἀσθενέω). James chose a word here in Greek that means “without strength” or “to be weak.” Erroneously, we often assume that only physical sickness is involved. However, the word can include those who are weak in body, in soul, or in spirit. Note the next verse where James said, “The prayer of faith will save the sick” (5:15). Here the word sick (κάμνω) means “to grow weary.” James was writing to those who had “grown weary” in the struggles of life, those “scattered abroad” (1:1) in the great dispersion. They had been forced to flee their homes and their jobs. Tempted to give out and give up, they were weary and weak. What do you do when you are “weary” and “without strength”?

James’s proposal is for those who are weak and weary to “call for the elders of the church” (5:14). Did you notice that the initiative is to be taken by those who are sick themselves? Anyone who has ever served as a pastor has more than once heard, “No one ever came to visit me when I was (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) sick.” But, according to James, the onus is on the one who is sick to take the initiative to call for the elders. In response, the elders are then instructed to pray over them and anoint them (5:14). The prayer that is to be offered is “the prayer of faith” (5:15). Prayer for any kind of healing must always be offered according to God’s Word and His will. This verse is not a carte blanche for getting whatever we want. Healing is a mystery wrapped up in the counsel of God’s own will. Some say all can be healed if they just have enough faith, yet God did not remove Paul’s “thorn” when he asked (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Rather, the promise is, “The prayer of faith will save (σῴζω) the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (5:15). When it comes to healing, we don’t always get exactly what we want, when we want, but we can trust the One who always has our very best interest at heart. Indeed, ultimately, the healing we all need is not merely a physical healing, but to be saved and raised up on the last day. Therefore, if instead of hearing God say, “Yes,” if He says, “My grace is sufficient,” then indeed His grace shall be sufficient for whatever we face. Either way, when we are weak and weary, we gather the church, we pray the prayer of faith, and then we trust God’s will and His way.

Let us join in prayer: Jehovah Rapha, heal us, save us, raise us up on the last day in Christ. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

May 16, 2018, 9:10 AM

The Fruit of Faith

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (James 2:14)

Throughout Christian history, people have tried to pit Paul, with his emphasis on grace, against James, with his emphasis on works/fruit. O. S. Hawkins observes that the apparent conflict has been presented like the main event of a heavyweight prizefight: “In this corner, wearing the grace trunks, is the apostle Paul. And in the other corner, wearing the works trunks is James, the half-brother of Jesus. In some Christian circles, the prizefight continues two thousand years later. Let’s get inside the ring and see if we can determine the winner.

ROUND ONE: PAUL ON THE OFFENSE. Paul begins with a left jab: he says, “For by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:8). He plunges right into the fight insisting that salvation is God’s work, that salvation is “by grace.” God’s gift of salvation is not in response to any of our human efforts. It originates with Him, not with man. Our salvation is by grace; “the gift of God” (v. 8), a blessing freely given by the Father, a blessing that can never be earned. Paul insists that salvation comes “through faith, and that not of yourselves” (v. 8). Salvation is God’s work, and it must be accomplished in God’s way, which is through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). James seems to be on the ropes.

ROUND TWO: JAMES COUNTERS. James stands his ground. He is now toe-to-toe with Paul. He counters, “A faith without fruit is a false faith.” More specifically, James asks, “What good is it if you say you have faith and have not works? Can this kind of faith save you?” (James 2:14). With lightning speed, he keeps coming: “Faith without fruit is not only a false faith; it’s futile.” Then James issues this challenge: “You say you have faith. Show me! Even the demons believe and tremble” (vv. 18-19, paraphrased). James stands his ground. He continues, “Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is DOA, dead on arrival” (vv. 20–26, paraphrased).

THE FINAL BELL: When the bell rings, both Paul and James are still standing. In fact, they are actually hugging each other. Then, at the same moment, they grab the other’s arm and lift it high in victory. They both win! How? Because in the final analysis, these two men of God are saying the same thing. Paul is saying what James is saying: “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works!” (Eph. 2:10). And James is saying what Paul is saying: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” (James 1:17a). The teachings of these men of God complement each other; they are not contradictory. Paul was primarily writing to the Judaizers. In response, Paul emphasized the primacy of faith. James, on the other hand, was writing primarily to people who went to the far extreme of grace and insisted that they could live any way they wanted as long as they “believed.” Thus, James’s emphasis was on what our Lord called the fruit of our faith. So, faith and works walk out of the ring arm in arm. That is as it should be. Works are never a requirement for our salvation; works are the result of our salvation. Yes, it is faith alone that saves, but faith that saves is never alone! The question is not whether faith can save us or not, but whether a faith that never produces what our Lord called the “fruit of the Spirit” (Eph. 5:9) can save us.

Let us join in prayer: Loving Father, enable me to gladly do the work to which you beckon me. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

May 9, 2018, 7:38 AM

So Great A Salvation

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“How shall we escape [eternal punishment] if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3)

The writer of Hebrews asks a penetrating question. It is closely akin to the question asked of us by our Lord in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” At issue here is salvation and whether we will spend eternity with God or apart from Him. God has provided forgiveness and salvation to whosoever will come to Him in repentance and faith. It is the free gift of eternal life. The Scripture speaks of it as “so great” a salvation. This is God’s gracious provision for us!

While salvation is a great provision, it also comes with a great and potential peril. We will either escape or encounter that peril depending on our response to God’s gift. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” There are three words that describe the response of every person toward the gospel: reject, accept, or neglect. Some individuals have flat-out rejected the gospel message. They have consciously and deliberately refused the gift of eternal life. Other people have accepted the free gift of eternal life offered them through Jesus Christ our Lord. They have heard the gospel message, believed it, received it by faith, repented of their sins, and trusted in His finished work to save them. Finally, some individuals see themselves in a sort of spiritual no-man’s land. They have neither rejected the gospel, nor have they accepted it. They are among the vast throng who have neglected the divine offer of salvation; they have simply put off the decision for the present. They are deceived into thinking they can merely consider the issue at another time.

The writer of Hebrews warned that our hearts can become hardened (Heb. 3:8) by such neglect of the gospel. The apostle Paul added that those who repeatedly neglect Jesus’ invitation to eternal life can “lose all sensitivity” (Eph. 4:19) to the gospel. The Greek word found here is the same from which we derive our English word callus. Every time God calls us to decide and we postpone our decision, the callus on our heart gets a bit thicker. In time, our hearts can become so hardened that there comes a time when we no longer can sense Him. That hardened heart is the great peril of neglect.

Perhaps there is someone reading these words at this very moment who would never neglect paying their bills or running their business or studying for class. Somehow, tragically, some think it is different with the spiritual matters of the soul. Hell is full of people who had good intentions of one day seriously considering and even accepting Jesus’ invitation, but they never seemed to get around to making spiritual matters a priority. God offers you and me salvation. And not just salvation, but so great a salvation! How shall we escape eternal separation if we neglect it? Only three roads lie before us. You can take the road less traveled and accept the gospel. You can take the road some travel and flat-out reject it. Or, tragically, you can continue on down the road and neglect the gospel to your own eternal peril. If so, what will it profit you, even if you gained the whole world, to lose your own soul in the end. Remember, not to decide is to decide! Call on God . . . right now! Say with Simon Peter, “Lord, save me.” For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Let us join in prayer: Almighty God, grant me absolution and remission for all my sins, true repentance, amendment of life and the grace and consolation of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

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