As we prepare our hearts for Easter, people in the church are reading the Gospels. Yesterday we read Matthew 12. Questions about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit have come up. Has anyone else wondered about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? In a little over 300 words, let me help you out. First, always look for context. Note verses 18-21. Matthew is reminding the reader that the coming Messiah would be endowed from on high with the Holy Spirit. Next, notice too that this passage is dealing with evil and good. It is dealing with things of God and things of Satan. He talks about a good tree and an evil tree. He talks about an evil generation and unclean and evil spirits. This entire chapter is a picture of the work of Satan and the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider verse 24. “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Do you notice anything there? The Pharisees are speaking to Jesus with such contempt calling Jesus simply “this fellow” or “this man.” You can see and hear their hard hearts (See 12:34). They had seen the work of the Holy Spirit, but instead of embracing Jesus as the proven Messiah, they credit the miracles of God to Beelzebub. It’s not that God is unwilling to forgive, but the person is rejecting God. Therefore, anyone who has willfully and blatantly opposed the work of the Holy Spirit, and misidentifies His work as that of Satan, this person has rejected, not only the Holy Spirit, but he has rejected God’s Messiah. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Reject Him, and only eternal condemnation remains. Henry Alfred is helpful: “It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned but a definite act showing a state of sin, and that state a willful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shown by its fruit, blasphemy. The declaration, in substance, often occurs in the New Testament” (The New Testament for English Readers, from Desiring God).
On Sunday, October 6th, we began our walk through the Epistle of James. This is a very practical and in-your-face letter to the early church. When we consider possible authors there are three possible men named James in the New Testament. There is James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of the Apostle John. He was one of the earliest Christian martyrs (Acts 12). His early martyrdom removes him as an option as an author. There is James, the son of Alphaeus. He is the least well-know of the men named James. It would be highly improbable that this James could simply state his name and people would know who he was. This leaves the best and most practical answer. The author of James is none other than Jesus’ half-brother the son of Mary and Joseph.
During Jesus’ lifetime, James was not a believer. The Gospel of John reads, “Even His brothers did not believe” (7:5). However, it seems as if a visit from the resurrected Jesus completely changed James’ life (1 Corinthians 15:7). In fact, the Apostle Paul called Peters, John and James “pillars” of the church (Galatians 2:9). Throughout the Book of Acts, we see James acting as an elder of the church and a primary leader of the Jerusalem church. During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, we see James speaking as one in authority for the church. Certainly, he was a pillar of the church.
James must have been a very interesting person. In some ways, he reminds me of John the Baptist. One of our early Church Fathers, Eusebius writes this about James: “James, the brother of our Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles. He drank neither wine nor strong drink and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head; he never anointed himself with oil and never used a bath. He never wore woolen but only fine garments. He was in the habit of entering into the temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees asking for the forgiveness of the people. So that his knees became hard like a camel’s knees”  James was martyred in AD 62.
The Epistle of James is an extremely powerful and vivid portrayal of a Christian’s duty to live an active life of faith. James will teach us about suffering, character, the power of our words, overcoming sin, and wisdom to name a few. As you read James, you will begin to see practical ways to live a holy life in front of your family and friends in order to make much of Jesus and to be salt and light in a very dark and gloomy world. He will use vivid illustrations and powerful commands. The letter has 108 verses and within those verses, James writes 50 imperatives.
The letter of James also comes under scrutiny. As you read this letter, the name Jesus and Christ are rarely if ever used. There is no mention of the resurrection and nothing on our tenet of salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ. In fact, the great Reformer, Martin Luther did not believe James should be considered a part of the cannon of the New Testament. Luther called James, “an epistle of straw.” I for one, enjoy this book so much. It is both a challenging book and an absolutely beautiful treatise on faith and the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Enjoy this journey through James. I’ve called this series, “Be About It.” Stated simply, let’s stop talking about faith and let’s be about it. This week we will look at the importance of overcoming sin in your life. Join us as we observe the Lord’s Supper and learn how to be an overcomer.
 “Explore the Book Volume 6” J.Sidlow Baxter
My wife, Heidi, and I have enjoyed this season of life as much as any we have lived. The empty-nest years are not bad at all, especially when your granddaughter comes to town. Last weekend, our oldest son and his family visited our home. We love it when they come and when they bring our granddaughter, Kennady, it’s even more special. We decided to take the family fishing to a family friends’ pond. We had such a great time but also witnessed the worst case of fishing we have ever seen.
We baited Kennady’s hook with a juicy and luscious worm. She was a little disgusted as I pulled the worm up out of the dirt it came in. She closed her eyes as I carefully ran the hook through the slimy body of the worm. Once it was securely attached to the hook, Kennady opened her eyes and screamed with excitement. “Throw it in the water, Pops,” she said. I took her “Snoopy-Type” little pole and tossed her line gently out into the water. I gave her the pole, and she began to violently raise her pole up and down. The bobber would come flying up out of the water each time with only the worm in the water. “Kennady,” I tenderly said. “you can’t keep bringing your line out of the water. Let Pops put it back in the water. Now be patient. Let it sit there and watch.” I think she would have rather watch paint dry than to see if the bobber would sink. Once again, she grabbed her pole and began to raise it up and down like a seasoned fly fisher. She was officially the worst fisherman I had ever seen. There was zero chance she would catch a fish; until she did. In fact, with the worst technique I had ever seen, our dear Kennady caught three fish. I think it may have been a miracle of God, but it was three fish, nonetheless. She was so bad, her initial response when the bobber sank, was to drop her pole on the ground.
I’ve thought about Kennady’s fishing exploits and quickly realized that there are some good lessons for you and me on evangelism.
- You can’t catch fish if you never go fishing. She may be the worst fisherman in the world, but you know what, she caught three fish on Saturday. How many fish did you catch this week?
- Even bad fishermen will catch fish every now and then. If a bad fisherman will cast a line enough, or fish in a well-stocked private pond, even they will catch fish every now and then.
- Catching fish is sure fun. It’s hard to explain the joy Kennady had on Saturday. She smiled, laughed, giggled, and slept very well on her way home to Topeka. It was a very good day.
God has given the task of catching people (Luke 5:10) to you and me. Often, we feel very inadequate for this task. My challenge to you, throw your line in the water. You will never lead someone to Christ if you never try. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to see the transformation occur before your eyes. Leading someone to Christ is fun! Most of us never get to enjoy the thrill of leading someone to the Lord because we never throw our line into the lake. God has stocked our “pond” with a lot of people. Go fish!
We have encouraged our church to participate in “Who’s Your One?” campaign of the North American Mission Board. This Saturday, September 21, we are going to have specialized training to help you build bridges to reach your “one” with the gospel. Make plans today to join us Saturday at 8:30 am. Also, on Sunday, Chicken Missionary, Jim Adkins will be with us to preach a very evangelistic message. It would be the perfect time to invite your “one.” Get to fishing. You’ll never catch a fish if you never fish and you will never have the joy of leading someone to faith in you never throw your line in the water.
This morning I read the small but profoundly powerful Book of Lamentations. This short book is filled with brokenness, heartache, tears, mourning, and deep sorrow. It doesn’t take long to realize it is speaking about life. Every one of us has gone through difficult and heart-wrenching times. Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death, and I still feel the pain and loss at his passing. But great is God’s faithfulness. His faithful love is great, and His mercy will never end.
Jerusalem lay in ruin. God’s people are starving, cannibalizing one another and wondering where their God is during the pain. The enemy has laid siege upon the city and the people’s despair and brokenness are palatable in every word. However, God is not done with Jerusalem. Tucked in the middle part of this solemn book is a wonderful promise: The lovingkindness of God will never cease; His compassion will never fail because His faithfulness is great. I’ve come to realize it is only in the juxtaposition of life’s heartache and God’s mercy that we see His faithfulness. It is only as we gaze in the mirror of our sinfulness that we can realize that his mercy never fails and they are new every morning.
The winds of suffering and pain often crash upon our lives. It is difficult to see God during our heartache and grief. When you are unable to see God or understand His ways, trust in Him, anchor your heart to His faithfulness. Believe deep in your soul that the Lord is your portion and He is enough and you will find this hope in Him will be sufficient. Don’t expect God to make things “right” today; fathers die of cancer and that can’t be resolved this side of heaven. Give Him eternity to settle things. Put your hope in Him today, and He will prove Himself faithful today, tomorrow, and every day. I sure miss my dad. But the joy of the Lord is my strength. God is good, He is faithful, He is able, and I have no doubt, He will!
Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me
This Sunday, churches across North America and the world will be invaded by a special breed of person. They grace us with their presence every Christmas and Easter and are thus called, Chreasters or CEOs (Christmas Easter and Other). To be honest with you, when in my first few years of ministry, I was a little agitated with them. How dare they come only once or twice a year? I wanted to stand up in church and scream in Christ-like righteous anger, “Where in the world have you been all year?” But then I began looking for them every holiday. It wasn’t long until I appreciated them and now I even plan for them. There are many reasons I love Easter, and few more important than it brings many people who only hear the Gospel once or twice a year into your church. Are you ready for them? Are you expecting them and wanting them to come? Here are a couple of reminders to pastors and churches.
Pastors, it’s ok to consider your guests as you plan your sermon. This is probably not the Sunday to bring out that hour-long sermon you’ve been longing to preach to your seminary professor to prove to him how smart you are. Don’t worry; your wife knows your not as smart as you think you are. Be gospel-rich, theologically sound and point your audience to the hope of our risen Lord. Remember, the gospel is powerful enough on its own. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t create on Easter Sunday what you are unable or unwilling to create on Labor Day Sunday. Don’t create a show you put on but communicate so the Spirit will put Himself in. By all means, be on point this Sunday; make sure Jesus is your point. Preach Jesus.
Regular attendees, as you arrive, if you are able, park a little farther away. Wear your Fitbit that morning to assure you receive credit for your steps. Try and sit closer to the front this week. If you are a Baptist, I know that goes against all holy and godly habits, but don’t make your guest walk down the aisle. Remember, there is no assigned seating at church. If all goes well on Sunday, someone will be seated in your seat. That is gloriously good news. By all means, go out of your way to talk to people you don’t know. However, if you see someone new, don’t say, “Wow, it must be Easter. I haven’t seen you in a year.” Also, don’t say to a person, “Are you new here?.” There’s a chance they’ve been coming to the church for weeks and they are only new to you. It’s probably not in the interest of retaining your guest to say, “What in the world are you doing here? This is the last place I expected to see you.” Instead, when you see someone new this weekend or someone you haven’t seen since last Easter, simply say, “It sure is good to have you in church today.” It’s simple, direct and effective. Mingle. Be kind. Be joyful.
Finally, sing this Sunday. Let your guests see and hear the joy of your salvation. You will be singing about our risen Lord, Jesus. Don’t sing with a frown on your face. Smile. Let your guests see you are really happy to be in church and feel remarkably blessed to be a child of God. There should be a joy in your church this Sunday that will be able to be felt by everyone there. I like to remind people that Jesus will still be alive next Sunday too. It might be appropriate to have some joy next Sunday as well, just a thought.
To our guests: Churches welcome you. We are looking forward to having you with us. Come early, grab a cup of coffee and fellowship with us. We are genuinely glad you are here. Don’t worry about anything, simply be our guests. We have been expecting you and want you to know God loves you passionately, and we are excited to have you worship with us. If the service raises any questions in your mind, please contact the church. I know the pastor would love to meet with you and discuss your questions. In the future, if we can ever be of service to you, please let us know.
Have a great Easter Sunday. My prayer for all churches is the Holy Spirit will prepare you well, use you greatly and exalt Jesus deeply. Welcome your guests, preach Jesus, and all will be fine. Wake up on Monday and get ready to do it all again. Easter may come once a year, but we get an opportunity to welcome guests every Sunday. Be ready. If you aren’t careful, you may realize Easter Sunday is the way it’s supposed to be every Sunday. He is Risen!
We prepare ourselves for so many things. Every important day or event we spend invaluable time making sure everything is perfect and everything is ready. My daughter will be celebrating her first anniversary on June 2nd. I will never forget the time and effort it took to make sure her Wedding Day was perfect and an event that would leave an indelible mark in all of our lives. We prepare and plan for what is important to us. Many parents are sending their High School children to prom during this time of year. Do you plan and prepare for prom? Of course, you do. Why? Because it’s an important day and you want to make sure your children are ready to get the very most out of the special evening. You prepare and plan for what’s important to you.
How about Easter? Is Easter important enough for you to prepare and plan for? Now, I’m not asking about Easter lunch. I know you are planning and preparing for Easter Lunch. In our home, we’ve already created a menu and invited family and friends to join us. I’m talking about Easter. How will you prepare your heart and soul for Easter Sunday? We want to sound increasingly holy and say it’s just another Sunday. However, it’s not. It is a special day and a very holy day. So, if Easter is important will you plan and prepare for it? Let me offer you a couple of suggestions:
- Read – If you have time to only read one book during Easter week, read the Bible. Spend time daily in the Gospels. Pour the Gospels over your heart and soul this week. Linger in the last few days of Jesus’ earthly life. I would recommend the following: Matthew 21:1-27:65; Mark 11:12-15:47; Luke 19:28-23:56; John 12:1-19:42 – Reflect upon the remarkable story of our Lord’s last week on this earth. Be amazed, be broken, be humbled, be shocked, be grateful as you read. Realize He could have traveled anywhere to stay away from the humiliation and shame of the cross. Instead, He willingly and lovingly walks the road to the cross. Read the story this Easter season with fresh eyes. Read them again for the first time.
- If you have time, add other books too. There are many great titles. James M. Boice and Philip Ryken have a great little book on the trial of Jesus that always blesses my heart. It’s called, “Jesus on Trial.” There are so many great titles. I still remember reading Max Lucado’s “Six House One Friday.” It was such a blessing. Last year, Heidi and I read, “The Final Days of Jesus” by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor. It blessed my heart so much I’ve included it as my April book in my Pastor’s Book Club. I’m excited to read it again.
- Love Others – You should always love people, but Easter week is a wonderful time to go above and beyond. Have you ever wondered why Christians enjoy the Christmas season so much? It’s because we are so focused on others. For 25 days, we are going out of our way to bless others. We give others our time, our money, many gifts, and we are generally kinder and more loving. We can do that for Easter too. Go out of your way this week to bless others. Buy someone’s lunch this week. Pay for someone’s coffee as you drive-thru Starbucks. Invite them to Easter Worship. People are much more likely to attend church on Easter than any other day. Invite them. Go out of your way to show others Christ’s love as He showed His love for us Easter week nearly 2000 years ago. If you are attending FSBC, come volunteer at our Easter Outreach on Saturday.
- Good Friday – Press deeply into Jesus on Good Friday. Wake up earlier than usual. As you begin the day, imagine what this day must have been like for our Lord. He has already cried out to the Father to have the cup removed and He heard the Father say, “No.” As you wake early, He is standing before Pilate receiving his death sentence that you and I deserve, not the spotless lamb of God. Don’t walk through Good Friday hurriedly and unreflectively. Attend a Good Friday service. Our service begins at 6:00 pm. It is a very somber and reflective service. I’ll be examining on 2 Corinthians 2:21 “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He took my sin to the cross and withstood God’s wrath – He became what I am, a sinner so I can become what He is, righteous. Praise be to God.
- Sermon Preparation – What in the world do I mean? I know most of you will not be preparing a sermon. However, I want to encourage you to prepare your heart to receive the sermon and your ears to hear the Word of the Lord. If you don’t know what the next sermon will be, ask your pastor. Most pastors have planned weeks in advance. This is especially important on Easter. At First Southern Baptist Church, we will be looking at John 11. Our hope is to uncover how we must react when God disappoints us. As you read John 11, imagine how Mary and Martha felt when Jesus failed to react as they knew He could have saved their brother Lazarus. When God disappoints, how do we respond? Read the passage. Come ready to listen and learn.
- Easter Morning – before coming to church, spend time in the Gospels. Reflect what it must have been like that first Easter morning. The tomb was empty; Jesus is alive. How would you have felt walking in disappointment to the tomb? You knew he was dead. God’s reality does not always align with your knowledge. And by all means, attend church. Corporately celebrate our risen Lord.
Don’t rush Easter week. Slow down. Immerse yourself in Scripture and the remarkable story of Easter. Invest in the lives of others. Impact someone else with the hope of the Gospel. Don’t let this be just another week in your year. Make it special. Make it holy. Make it meaningful. If you work on these things during Passion Week, you will probably find yourself carrying this out next week too. In no time at all, they will become holy habits of spiritual transformation. You plan and prepare for what is important to you. If Easter is important to you, take time this week to plan and prepare for a very special weekend. Happy Easter. He is Risen.
Today marks the first day of our 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting. I am so excited to focus our hearts and minds upon the radiance and beauty of Jesus. One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, has written a beautiful prayer:
“God, I have tasted Thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed at my lack of desire; I want to want Thee, I long to be filled with longing. I thirst to be made more thirsty. Show me thy glory. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. In Jesus name, Amen.”
As you begin this magnificent journey of knowing Christ more, Tozer’s prayer is my prayer for you and me. I have no greater desire than to see the people of FSBC thirstier for Jesus. I pray God will have favor upon us and show us His glory. Take time to walk this 40-day journey with me. If you did not pick up a 40 Day Guide on Sunday, remember, you can find it on our website at fsbcsalina.com.
One of my favorite prayer passages is found in Luke 11. As you begin this 40-Day journey with me, take a moment to look at Luke 11:5-13. In April of 2017, I asked the church to pray an audacious prayer. We began to pray, asking God to help us pay off the remaining debt on our building by the end of 2018. At the time, it was well over $200,000. In 2018, we paid off over $170,000 which brought our debt load to zero. As we approach Easter, ask God what our next audacious prayer will be. A church should always be doing something that stretches them, something that scares them, something they genuinely believe could not be done unless God intervened. That is an audacious prayer. I like verse 8 of Luke 11 in the 2011 NIV: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” Here’s the lesson: If a tired and stubborn neighbor is willing to meet his friend’s need, how much more is our loving heavenly Father willing to meet the needs of his children? Therefore, pray and don’t give up!
What are the traits of praying with shameless audacity?
- Be Bold – Ask of God great things. Remember, He is able “to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Eph 3:20). How dare we not ask God to do great and mighty things for His glory. What are we doing that only God could accomplish? What should we attempt that will bring great glory to God?
- Be Expectant – When you pray, do you pray with doubt or in great faith? When you pray, expect God to answer. Pray as if you believe He can answer you. Pray as if you believe He cares enough about you to answer and pray as if He is wise enough to give you what you need. Throughout the Luke 11 text, it says things like, “the door will be opened,” and “everyone who asks receives…” God does answer prayer. Expect Him to answer. Do we pray so little because we expect so little?
- Be Persistent – Why do you give up so easily in prayer? The text says to ask, seek and knock. It has the idea of keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. Don’t give up.
- Be Filled – Notice, Jesus talks about His Father giving the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled praying is the key in audacious prayer. Why are our prayers so feeble? Could it be that we do all the talking in our prayers? Romans 8 reminds us when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us (See Romans 8:26-27). Could it be we never pray with Spirit-filled power because we always know what to pray for and never stop talking in prayer? One of the great aspects of an audacious prayer is listening. Stop talking. Admit you don’t know the heart of God as you desire. Beg the Spirit to pray for you.
For many Christians, our prayers are too small, too few, and too selfish. During these forty days, begin again to pray audacious prayers. Seek the face of God. Ask Him during this time what our next audacious prayer should be. The audacious prayer will stretch FSBC. It will make us uncomfortable, make us feel overwhelmed and weak. But the audacious prayer will also bring much glory to God. Pray as if we believe the God of the universe is ready to answer our prayer for His glory and the good of others.