The Narrow Way

The Narrow Way

"I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6

Alice and I were flying back from a conference in New York recently, and the lady across the aisle was flipping through index cards, so I asked her what she was doing.

"I’m learning to speak German," she said. "My son married a German woman and we’re going over to Germany soon for her ordination as a Lutheran pastor."

She was more than willing to talk, so I asked about her own background and found out she was raised Southern Baptist but had since become a Unitarian.

"As I grew intellectually I realized that all religions were equally sincere and therefore, equally true," she explained.

So I asked her about the resurrection, and she said she wasn’t sure about it and didn’t know if anyone could be. I gave her a couple of historical arguments for Jesus’ resurrection and then asked her to rethink her premise of sincerity being the proof of truth. We know that in mathematics one plus one equals two and that it doesn’t matter how sincerely someone may think it’s three – there’s only one right answer. Truth, by definition, is narrow. If Jesus rose from the dead then He was who He said He was, and if so, He is the only way to God.

At this point the man in front of me turned around and asked me to keep my voice down because it was "projecting." I finished talking with the woman, trying to keep my voice down, by sharing C.S. Lewis’ "Liar, lunatic, or Lord" argument. We don’t have the intellectual option of believing Jesus was a good man, or even a great prophet: Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh so He was either a liar (He knew He was just a man so lied about being God); a lunatic (He really thought He was God but wasn’t); or He was and is Lord of all.

At this we finished our conversation and after a minute of silence, I felt a tug on my sleeve from the man directly behind me. When I turned around he told me he wished that our conversation had lasted for two more hours.

Some believe, some don’t believe, and some aren’t sure what they believe. But the truth stands on its own regardless of how people react to it. The sun still exists on a cloudy day whether we believe it or not.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

Living Ready for His Return

Living Ready for His Return

"Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’" Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling new sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we insure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

First, we must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were "eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building." (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship. Listen to Jesus’ warning to the church at Sardis: "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain…therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you." (Revelation 3:1-3)

Second, we must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13-14) To walk with God we must receive forgiveness for our past and entrust our successes to Him until the day He rewards us. (2Tim. 1:12)

Third, we must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor – however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you; Jesus died for you; all you need to do is ask each day. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." (Luke 11:13)

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

The Father’s Joy

The Father’s Joy

"He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me." Psalm 18:19

David experienced the positive side of God’s passion. Knowing this delight is the secret to great faith.

God’s love and delight in me means that, of course, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1Samuel 17:37) Perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18) Perfect love is not my love for God; it’s His love for me. When this truth goes from being our theology to our identity, great faith is easy.

Yet this truth can be hard to grasp in our hearts, so Jesus gave us three stories in Luke 15 to explain the Father’s joy in us. The Father is like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. When he finds it there is great joy and this is how all of heaven feels when one sinner repents. God feels like the woman who searches for a lost coin of precious value (Notice that it doesn’t lose its value because its lost!). When she finds it, she rejoices, because that which was lost to her has been found.

And then He tells of an earthly father that runs to welcome back his prodigal son. Instead of reminding him of the hurt the son has caused, the father, in his joy, throws an extravagant party for him.

The prodigal thought it was all about his bad behavior so he planned on coming back as a hired man instead of as a son. (Luke 15:19) The older brother thought it was about his good behavior so he was confused as to why he hadn’t received more, and was angry about his father’s welcome of the prodigal. (Luke 15:29-30) But it’s not about behavior; it’s about relationship. God knows that apart from grace we can’t be good, and that when we’re in Christ we can’t help but bear good fruit. (John 15:5)

The Father’s joy is in you! Have you come into the party called grace or are you standing outside because of the shame of sin, or the self-righteousness of pride?

The most powerful engine of grace is not just an experience of the Father’s joy, but having our identity in it. Listen to Isaiah 62:4-5: "No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in you) and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you."

Say it to yourself: "I am God’s delight. Not because I’m good, but because I’m His." This is not just our experience when we first receive forgiveness; this is our name, our very identity. Believe it!

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

The Great Awakening – Part III

The Great Awakening – Part III

"You must be born again." John 3:3

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the fifteenth of nineteen children of Samuel and Susannah Wesley. His Dad was an Anglican preacher and poet, but John took mostly after his mom. Susannah believed in discipline, though rigidly maintained, it was never the cruel discipline of a tyrant. She had a store of godly cheerfulness, but to her there was nothing morally questionable in training infants of a year old "to fear the rod and cry softly." The methodical way of living Susannah taught was the same intentional way John would train his disciples in the years to come.

On May 24, 1738, Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England where his life would be forever changed. Although he grew up in a godly home and had earnestly pursued God for thirteen years (he began a group known as the "Holy Club" at Oxford), he had no assurance of being right with God. That night, as Luther’s Preface to Romans was read, he felt his heart "strangely warmed" and, for the first time, knew that Jesus was his Savior (not just the Savior of the world) and that his sins were forgiven.

He was so excited about being born again that this became his central message. After reading Jonathan Edwards’ account of revival in Northampton, the same types of conversions started happening in his meetings. Then his friend from the Holy Club, George Whitefield, invited him to come to Bristol where thousands were gathering in the fields to hear him preach. Whitefield needed to move on but didn’t want to abandon all the new converts. "Would Wesley take over for him?"

Even though preaching outside went against Wesley’s sense of propriety, he agreed to take care of the young congregation. Before long he had the new Christians organized into small groups where discipleship could happen. He trained and released lay leadership, so that the work could be multiplied, and it was.

In a time when "enthusiasm" was frowned upon in church circles, Wesley found that wherever he went people were dramatically and often emotionally converted. He recorded that, while preaching on the text that it’s God’s will for all to be saved (2Peter 3:9), one after another would sink to the earth, "They dropped on every side as if thunderstruck." At other times there would be a "curious prevalence of uncontrollable laughter accompanied by a shocking violence of movement." The experiences were followed, as a rule, "by a state of religious well-being, of happiness and composure, nor was there any difficulty in resuming the business of ordinary life."

It is estimated that John Wesley road on horseback a total of 400,000 miles between 1738-1790. He preached at least twice a day; often three or four times, and gave over 40,000 sermons in his life time. In England he established 240 circuits with an attendance of over 240,000, and in America he had 114 circuits with an attendance of over 57,000. He was the apostolic organizer of the first great awakening in America and his efforts are still bearing fruit today.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

The Great Awakening – Part Two

The Great Awakening – Part Two

"You must be born again." John 3:3

George Whitefield (1714-1770) was eleven years younger than Jonathan Edwards and was born in England, but God would use him in the American colonies to bring the spark Edwards had lit to a raging spiritual fire that would wake up souls everywhere he preached.

Whitefield’s Dad died when he was two, and the inn his mom ran in Gloucester barely paid the bills, so when he went to Oxford for college in 1732 he paid his tuition by accepting a job where he served the more privileged. Although he wasn’t considered to be in John and Charles Wesley’s economic class, they invited him to be part of their "holy club;" a group they began for students who desired to be "real" Christians.

Although this club was sincere, they didn’t understand grace, so they made a legalistic schedule for themselves that occupied every minute of their lives trying to show their devotion to God. While reading a book lent to him called, "The Life of God in the Soul of Man," Whitefield became convinced that it wasn’t religious works that made one right with God; you needed to be born again. He wrote: "A ray of Divine light was instantaneously darted in my soul, and from that moment did I know that I must be a new creature." (George Whitefield’s Journals, pg. 47)

From that time on crowds were drawn to Whitefield’s preaching and the message that we must be born again. In 1738 he made the first of seven trips to America and started an orphanage near Savannah, Georgia. When he returned to England to raise money for his orphans, crowds were waiting to hear him preach. Although he was ordained as an Anglican minister no one offered him a pulpit, so he began preaching in the fields. Thousands came to hear him in the open air in Bristol and coal miners wept as they were converted to Christ.

When he returned to America in 1740, the reports of his popularity in England preceded his arrival in Philadelphia, so crowds quickly gathered to hear him. He preached every day for months to thousands gathered from New York City to Charleston, riding from city to city on horseback. When he was invited by Jonathan Edwards to visit Northampton, all heaven broke loose as people wailed, wept, fainted, and rejoiced as they experienced the manifestation of God’s Presence during Whitefield’s preaching.

Benjamin Franklin became a personal friend of Whitefield’s and published many of his sermons. Although Franklin was a Deist, he saw that the effect of revival was to make people better. He loved Whitefield’s orphanage and generously supported his work among the poor. In 1740 Franklin wrote these words about Philadelphia: "The alteration in the fact of religion here is altogether surprising. Religion is become the subject of most conversations. No books are in request but those of piety and devotion; and instead of idle songs and ballads, the people everywhere are entertaining themselves with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs." (Pennsylvania Gazette, June, 1740)

On Whitefield’s last day in Boston, a crowd of 23,000 gathered to hear him (Boston’s population at the time was 17,000!). When he went back to England, a friend published and distributed his autobiography throughout the colonies so that on his return in 1743, he was better known than when he left.

In 1770, the 55 year old Whitefield continued preaching in spite of poor health. He said, "I would rather wear out than rust out." His last sermon was preached in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which is where he died. It is estimated that he preached over 18,000 sermons in his lifetime primarily in England, America, and Scotland.

If Jonathan Edwards studied and wrote about the Great Awakening, and George Whitefield spread its fire through preaching to incredible crowds; John Wesley organized it to secure its fruits for the next generation. His story will have to wait for next time.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

The First Great Awakening – Part One

The First Great Awakening – Part One

"Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3

Between the years of 1730-1770, there was a spiritual awakening that swept over the American colonies and England. Many were used greatly by God, but none stand out so clearly as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley. We will look at each of these over the next three weeks.

Jonathan Edwards was the pastor of a congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734. He inherited the pulpit from his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who had introduced the half-way covenant to his membership to accommodate culture, while at the same time trying to stay true to puritan doctrine.

Here was the problem: The government the Puritans set up demanded that only members of the church could vote in elections and have their children properly baptized. Everyone was culturally expected to go to church, but not everyone had experienced conversion to Christ, nor sought to be. Stoddard’s solution was to allow the unconverted to make a half-way covenant – acknowledging that they weren’t converted but still giving them the privilege of voting and raising their children in the church.

More and more people were subscribing to the half-way covenant and using God, in Edwards’ opinion, for their own ends. This reduced their Christianity to an outward form that lacked the power of an experience with God and led to an atmosphere of frivolity and immorality. So when one popular young man was stricken down with an illness that led to his sudden death, Edwards seized the opportunity. Depicting an image of strikingly beautiful flowers of the field that are mowed over and ruined by the end of the day, Edwards reminded the weeping congregation of the fleeting beauty of youth. How foolish it was to center one’s life on short-lived pleasures. How much wiser it would be to trust in Christ, whose beauty far outshone the highest earthly glory, and in whom one’s joy would be for all eternity. (A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards; pg. 46)

As this spark grew to a fire, people started meeting during the week to pray, sing, and read. Lines of awakened young people gathered at Edward’s study door seeking spiritual counsel. People in Northampton talked of almost nothing but spiritual things. They dwelt on other topics only so long as it was necessary to conduct their daily work, and sometimes even neglected their work so that they could spend more time in spiritual activities. For a time, sickness almost disappeared. Astonished by the phenomena that surrounded him, Edwards wrote a booklet called: "A Faithful Narrative of this Surprising Work of God." Wherever this account went, similar spiritual hunger broke out.

This initial wave of revival receded in Northampton when a prominent person in the city committed suicide followed by many in the church reporting a similar temptation to slice their necks. That this was the devil’s attack was clear to Edwards, but why was God allowing it? Most resisted, but a few others succumbed, leading to a dampening of the initial spiritual contagion.

However, a fire had been lit that would eventually travel far and wide in the colonies and in England. These early moves of the Spirit would pale in comparison to what would happen in the next decade through an evangelist from England named George Whitefield who God would raise up to put gasoline on these early embers. But that story will have to wait for next time.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

“Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” 1 Corinthians 14:2

Part of God’s increased Presence among us is the manifestation of spiritual gifts. God wants us to love people so much that we want more for them than what is humanly possible; we want what only He can do.

In 2013, I was on a team that went to Belize and was in charge of a “Healing Service” we had announced. Before the service, a group of us were praying and earnestly desiring spiritual gifts. The only way it would actually be a healing service was if God did something beyond our preaching and praying. Only Jesus heals!

As we were worshipping, I had a dim picture in my mind’s eye of a woman holding an infant on her hip accompanied by a feeling of compassion. I asked for more, and somehow instantly knew two facts about this woman: she was a mom, but old enough to be a grandma; and that she had a horrible back problem that made every day miserable.

At the end of the service I asked whoever this was to come forward, and it turned out to be our missionary, Linda. Her and her husband, Ron, had grandchildren but also had an infant they had adopted. Linda’s back was so bad she was afraid to sit down because she didn’t know when she’d be able to get up again. When we laid hands on her, Jesus instantly healed her so she gave testimony to the group. (She was still healed the rest of the week and three months later when she came to our mission’s conference.)

Then I asked our team if God was showing them anything. One of our leaders said he saw someone’s right arm in an x-ray and there was a crack in the bone. A young man named John came up and was instantly healed by the power of God. I found out his story from his mom a few days later when we were taking a bus to a region-wide prayer event.

John was 24 and had fallen away from God and the church. His mom kept begging him to come back to church, so he made a deal with her – “You stop nagging me and I will go back one time.” John had an ongoing problem with his right arm, so this was the service she chose.

I was stunned by her story of his healing and told her I’d love to talk to John himself about it. She said that would be easy because he was on the bus heading to the prayer meeting! God hadn’t just healed his arm; He had restored John’s faith.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom