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1.18.17

Dear Church Family,

According to the most recent estimates (from 2014), abortion rates are at their lowest point since Roe v. Wade was decided forty-three years ago this Sunday. This is wonderful news and we should thank the Lord for His intervention here. However, the figure recorded for the number of abortions in 2014 is around 926,200. That is staggering—close to one million abortions in a single year. Statistics on this scale are incredibly difficult to take in, but using the totals from the 2010 census, there are six states whose entire population is less than the number of abortions in one year.

To end a pregnancy is to end a life. Every human being, even in the earliest stages of development, is created in the image of God. For this reason, we treasure life and we defend it—especially for those who are unable to defend it for themselves. This is not a political issue. This is a theological issue. I do not pretend to know all of the hardships and difficulties surrounding those who seek out abortion, but I do know the Almighty God of the universe does and He is able to see every woman, child, and family through.

Choices Pregnancy Center exists to give pregnant women this hope. Their aim is to provide the education, resources, and support needed to understand the gravity of caring for a child. As opportunities arise, they are enabled to point these women to the unshakeable hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This center serves women in what is often their greatest time of need.

For these reasons, we thankfully support the ministry of Choices and we want to partner with them through giving financially, as well as praying for them. As a church this Sunday, we will pray specifically for Choices Pregnancy Center, its leadership, and those whom it serves. We will also receive special contributions to send to the center. Please join me in praying for the faithfulness and fruit of this ministry, that all would ultimately choose life and receive Christ.

Gentry

1.11.17

Dear Church Family,

Hopelessness is a terrible thing that leads people to do terrible things. In my estimation there are two kinds of hopelessness. One is a perception, but the other is a reality. Before we delve into these two categories, we need to define our terms.

In our current vernacular, being hopeful means feeling joyfully expectant about the future. Being hopeless, on the other hand, means feeling despairingly certain about the future. There are many people who consider their situation hopeless, when in fact there is hope for them. This is probably the most common way we think of hopelessness in connection with some sort of crisis where the outcome seems bleak. Even though this hopelessness is a perception and not a reality, when people live in light of this feeling, the effects are devastating.

Interestingly, the Bible defines hope and being without hope a little differently. In the minds of the New Testament authors, hope is not an expectant feeling—it is an anticipated certainty. The reason this hope is actual and not potential is because of the source of our hope. Our hope rests in Jesus Christ, who is Himself in the presence of God the Father serving on our behalf as a forerunner (Hebrews 6:19-20). For this reason, just as Jesus is alive after finishing His earthly work, including His death on the cross, so too our hope is alive with Him (1 Peter 1:3-5). This means it is impossible for the Christian to ever truly be hopeless. No matter the situations we face, no matter the calamities we endure, no matter the suffering we feel—our hope remains steadfast though we may need to be reminded.

There was once a time in all of our lives, before being born again, when we truly had no hope. Hopelessness was our reality. We had no hope because we were separated from Christ and not united with His people. If we don’t have Christ, we don’t have hope; that is, the certainty of the blessings of God. But now that we are in Christ, we will never be without hope again (Ephesians 2:12-14). So then, when we feel hopeless, we must plead with the Lord to open our eyes to see our bedrock hope. We must fight to remember by clinging to the cross, resolving to act according to our theology and not our feelings.

Furthermore, we are not alone in this. All of us will deal with seasons of despair, but God has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He has also given us the local church in part to tangibly manifest that reality. Our hope is secure, but we still struggle and strain as we wait for it to be realized. Be of good courage, Christian, that Day is closer now than it has ever been.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Gentry

1.4.17

Dear Church Family,

“You’re perfect just the way you are” and “Don’t ever change” are two expressions of the same popular sentiment in our culture. Those are comforting and encouraging words to hear, but if we take these statements at face value, we find them to be false. In and of ourselves we are not perfect because in this life we are always struggling and often succumbing to sin. If we define perfection as flawlessness, then we will only be flawless when we are sinless.

Now, to be sure, there is certainly a sense in which the Christian is in fact already perfect because the righteousness of Christ has been applied to him and the blood of Christ has completely cleansed him. We are becoming what we are as it were, but though God has committed to accomplish His purposes in us to the end, we are not yet what we will be.

Why do I bring this up at the beginning of this year? There is a false assurance hissing behind those two claims with which we began and I hope to guard you from them. But my greater desire is for your true encouragement and comfort to be rooted in the promise that the One who never changes has committed to continually be about the work to change us. Meditate on that for a moment. God, who is perfect, is actively involved in the process of gradually changing us to be like Him.

At the start of a new year it is good to remember we are called and also empowered by the Holy Spirit to change. If you have not already paused to assess your life (whether you are nine or ninety makes little difference), begin this year by prayerfully considering how you might grow in your faithfulness “as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” And when He opens your eyes to the follies and failures of your life up until this point—don’t be discouraged, but rejoice that the God who wills your sanctification will supply your need and see you through.

If we are in Christ, we are not locked in or enslaved to any sin, ungodliness, or bad habit that may have characterized us in the past. “Don’t ever change” only sounds liberating. As Christians indwelt by the Spirit, we must be an ever-changing people by the grace of God, through the power of God, and for the glory of God alone. Living in this way truly frees us from the prison of sin’s tyranny.

So then, in light of His indwelling power to change us, what are your plans and godly ambitions for this year? May the Holy Spirit fill us with a love for God that calls us into greater obedience to His Word.

Gentry

12.21.16

Dear Church Family,

Christians who are faithfully living according to God’s Word should pray with confidence the Lord will answer their requests. However, that doesn’t mean every time one of our prayers isn’t answered it is in direct correlation to a particular sin. If that is the case, what finally determines whether He hears us or not?

The Apostle John answers this in 1 John 5:13-15 explaining, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Ultimately God’s hearing of our requests is rooted in whether or not those requests are in keeping with His will.

Now, pause and think about all the things you have prayed for in the course of your Christian life and think about the ones that weren’t heard. If we’re honest, our initial feelings in coming to grips with our prayer life’s dependence on the will of God may be discouragement. Here’s what I mean: we pray for what we think is good and important, which means if those prayers aren’t answered we may feel like God’s will isn’t for what is good and important to us. But though our flesh may take us down this line of thinking, we must never linger there. Why? Because those who do are in grave danger of putting themselves in the position of God and then becoming bitter about the reality that they are not.

There is a reason we pray, “Your will be done” and not, “My will be done.” There is also a reason why we should pray for God’s will to be done with great joy. As we grow in our understanding of God’s Word, we will see ourselves and our Savior more clearly and fully. This is a cause for great humility and comfort. We are not perfect—He is. We are not omniscient—He is. We are not omnipotent—He is.

His will is for our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). He is the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). When we combine these truths, find peace in knowing that in this life as we continue to battle against our sin, our will will not be done, but His will will always be done. So then we look to Him as the One who knows best and is working all things together for our good—even when we ask for something different.

Gentry

11.30.16

Dear Church Family,

When you pray, do you believe you will or won’t receive what you ask from God? Are you surprised when God hears your requests or when He doesn’t? Should we feel one way or the other?

It’s probably fair to say many Christians pray expecting not to receive that for which they ask. Several factors play into our predispositions here, but one that is not often talked about comes from 1 John 3:21-22. It reads, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

John wrote this letter to God’s children; that is, the church. Christians are those who have entered into the New Covenant with God through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is within the context of this relationship that God’s steadfast love is poured into our hearts. With that being said, only the prayers of those who have been born again are heard by the Father. God is good, kind, patient, and loving in some ways to all without exception. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which God is good, kind, patient, and loving only to those who bear the blood of His Son.

However, as you may have noticed, John qualifies that there will even be times when Christians are not heard by God. Those whose hearts condemn them have no confidence before God that He will answer their requests. What does John mean when he talks about a condemning heart? I will leave it to you to dig into the broader context of his letter, but specifically in this same sentence he links it with not keeping God’s commandment and not doing what pleases God.

What do we make of that? If we are not living in obedience to God’s Word and not fighting to honor Him, we have no confidence our prayers will be answered by Him. Why would God refuse to hear the prayers of His children when they are disobedient? Again, please look into the whole of John’s letter to see this, but God does this to discipline us in order to lead us to repentance. Though it may not seem this way at first, it is truly a blessing from God for Him not only to warn us of the danger of not being in good standing with Him, but also to motivate us to walk in obedience from an eagerness for Him to hear us when we pray.

So, from these two verses, John teaches us that genuine Christians who are walking with the Lord in the light of His Word should pray with a confident expectancy that the Lord will hear their requests. Does that mean if God doesn’t answer your request you either aren’t a Christian or you aren’t walking in obedience to His Word? Not necessarily. Those are good places for us to begin testing ourselves, but John gives us one more factor later in his letter that may be the reason why God does not grant our requests. We will look at this remaining element next time, Lord willing.

Gentry

11.09.16

Dear Church Family,

In Numbers 22-25, the Moabites have a problem. The Israelites have made their exodus out of Egypt and now they are moving into Moabite turf. What’s more is that they haven’t just been moving in, they have been wiping out everyone opposed to them. That’s bad news for them. So, their king, Balak, decides to take matters into his own hands and make a preemptive strike. However, his plan doesn’t involve a physical attack at this point—it involves a spiritual attack. Balak sends messengers to a man named Balaam who has a reputation for possessing mystical powers for this purpose: to curse the people of God.

Well, at the end of the day, not only does God keep Balaam from cursing His people, but He actually causes Balaam to do the opposite of what Balak wanted—he blesses them. Looking back on these events some time later, Nehemiah succinctly describes what happened by saying “our God turned the curse into a blessing” (Nehemiah 13:2). For the sake of clarity, Nehemiah makes this comment basically in passing and it is not the main point of what he is addressing, but even that impresses on us the reality that this is not out of the ordinary for God and therefore should not be surprising for His people.

In other words, the consistent teaching of Scripture is that God delights to turn curses into blessings and evil into good for His people. Two classic texts to corroborate this are found in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” and Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Christian, don’t let this truth roll off you like water on a duck’s back. We are meant to find great comfort in the almighty power of our great God who will not let anything—absolutely anything—derail the plans for good He has for us.

But how can we be sure? We can bank our entire existence on this truth because through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the greatest possible curse that stood against us has been fully and finally dealt with once and for all. But how do we know that? Because our Lord did not stay dead but was raised from the grave in order to prove that His substitution for His Bride was accepted by the Father. Brothers and sisters, with all due respect for the seriousness of the trials many of us have been through, are going through, and will go through—everything else is incomparably small. We must remind ourselves that even in the greatest of our challenges, our God remains unchallenged. If Christ has been raised from the dead, there remains no curse that our loving Father will not ultimately turn into a blessing.

So then whatever we experience and no matter the curses designed by the evil one against us, we are enabled to sing with great joy, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Gentry