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O.C. Bible study update

Friday, March 13th, 2009 Posted in OC, Pastor's corner, questions, sermons | 9 Comments »

Wow, what an opening night for our O.C. Bible study!

We had overflow crowds. There were people everywhere, filling every seat, every overflow seat, the aisles, the floor, and the back.

The venue we are using seats 1,000 people. We had around 1,900! There was such a great responsiveness too.

I spoke on the attributes of God in a message called “God Is Now Here.” Best of all, when the invitation to come to Christ was given, we saw 120 people respond! Praise the Lord for that.

We will continue every Thursday night. Come join us if you can.

P.S. Richard Abanes, who I met for the first time last night, blogged about his experience at the O.C. Bible study last night. Check it out!

New series at Harvest

As you know, we are in a brand new series at Harvest in Riverside (and in the O.C. on Thursdays) called Essentials: What Every Christian Needs to Know.

We continue with that this Sunday with the message “The God Who Cares.” We will talk about the righteousness, goodness, holiness, and love of God. I am sure it will impact you to know more about this faithful God we serve.

We will also deal with an often misunderstood attribute of God, that being His sovereignty. Is God really in control? Even when crisis hits?

We will look at that and much more this Sunday at Harvest.

Reverence or Relevance?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 Posted in Pastor's corner, sermons | 18 Comments »

It seems to me that for some we have lost the “fear of the Lord,” even in the Church.

There was a time when things were perhaps too uptight, and one spoke in whispers in the Church, and laughter was rarely heard. But today, many churches, in their attempt to be thought of as “cool” or “contemporary,” they have lost their focus.

I am not suggesting we attempt to be irrelevant and uncool, but my question is “Have we traded reverence for relevance?”

For instance, you have preachers talking in great detail about sexual issues, ranging from programs to have “sex every day for seven days” to more extreme versions in which they speak very graphically about specific sexual acts from the pulpit.

The cussing preacher

Then you have the “Cussing Preacher” syndrome. The pastor thinks it’s cool to use profanity in the pulpit so people will see him as one of them.

Is this all really necessary? I don’t think so.

Look, I have been a pastor for 35 years, and we have never had a problem reaching our culture and seeing people come to Christ. I am all for being real and authentic, but I also stand up on the platform to speak God’s Word.

1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (NIV).

We are also told in Scripture to watch what we say. Speaking of the tongue, James writes, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God’s likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10 ESV).

The early Church had it right

The early Church, the Church of the book of Acts, had it right, of course. And let’s not forget they “turned their world upside down” (see Acts 17:6). Do we ever need that today!

These first-century believers were filled with both joy and the fear of the Lord.

Acts 2:46-47 tells us, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (NKJV).

This phrase “gladness and sincerity of heart” literally means “with unaffected joy!” I love that–they were not afraid to express joy in their faith.

But there also was a sense or reverence and awe among these believers.
Acts 2:43 says, “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (NKJV).

What is the fear of the Lord?

It does not mean you should be afraid of God. To fear God means that you have a healthy respect or reverence for Him.  Another translation describes it as “a wholesome dread of displeasing God.” In other words, I love God so much that I want to do all I can to keep from displeasing Him. 

Look, I am all for relevance. We need to make sense to the people we are reaching. But let’s not lower our standard in order to extend our reach.

Let’s not trade reverence for relevance.

I think for us to seek to live godly lives is very relevant, and very different than what this world has to offer. That’s how we will turn our world upside down, instead of the world turning us upside down.

It’s time to put our thinking caps on

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 Posted in Pastor's corner, sermons | No Comments »

There is an alarming ignorance of who God is and what He is like, even among professing Christians. This was shown in recent poll conducted by Barna.

According to the poll, half of Americans who call themselves “Christian” don’t believe that Satan exists and fully one-third are confident that Jesus sinned while on Earth. Further, 25% dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.”

The pollster concluded, “Growing numbers of people now serve as their own ‘theologian-in-residence.’ One consequence is that Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs.”

So it’s time to put our “thinking caps” on.

God wants us to think, not just feel.

The Lord entreats us in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together” (NKJV), or another translation puts it, “Sit down, let’s argue this out!” (THE MESSAGE)

When you become a follower of Jesus, you do not have to “check your brains at the door.” Christianity is a reasonable, even logical, faith.

That is not to say we don’t need to have great faith to follow Christ, but it is to say the teachings of the Bible quite simply make sense!

We need to think and act biblically, not emotionally

Far too many people, when stating their opinion, will say, “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” or “My God would never do thus and so.”

We need more “The Bible says,” because then we will learn to think, feel, and believe the right things. This is called theology, and we neglect it at our own peril.

Experience is never to be the basis for theology. Sound theology, however, is the basis for experience.

C.S. Lewis gave this warning years ago: “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones!”

We need, as Chuck Swindoll once said, “Sound theology without apology.” Because what we believe about God will affect the way that we live. As 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (NIV).

New Bible study starts in O.C. this week!

With this in mind, I am starting a new Bible study in Orange County, California, this Thursday night (March 12). We will be led in worship by the incredible Harvest Praise Band, led by Hanz Ives, Steve Wiggins, Billy Batsone, and Raymond Gregory.

We are also launching this new series called Essentials: What Every Christian Needs to Know. This series is a look at the major teachings of the Bible, and we will start with God Himself. BTW, this is the same teaching I am doing on Sunday mornings at Harvest in Riverside.

So if you, or someone you know, is in the Orange County area, let them know about this new Thursday Bible study. For more info on this study, click here.

Surviving the Shipwrecks of Life, Part 2

Friday, March 6th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, Pastor's corner, sermons | 7 Comments »

So what do you do when unexpected trouble comes your way, when you have  a “shipwreck” in life?

Paul was able to survive literal shipwrecks and more. How? For starters, check out my earlier posts on the first three principles Paul used to survive life’s challenges (My Grace Is Sufficient For YouYou Belong to God, Surviving the Shipwrecks of Life).

Now, one final principle:  he believed God. Paul turned to the others onboard the sinking ship and said, “So take courage! For I believe God!” (Acts 27:25 NLT)

I believe God!

I love those words . . . “I believe God!” Those are not the words of a person in denial or out of touch with reality.

Paul said this while they were still in the worst of the storm with no hope. The sun was not shining, the clouds were still dark, and the sea were still rough.

It wasn’t a case of “mind over matter,” but “faith over circumstances!”

Paul was fully convinced of the faithfulness of God and was sustained by that conviction. He had seen God faithfully take care of him up to this point and he was confident of his future.

Jesus was “Captain of his boat”

Paul knew that God was master of all his circumstances and Captain of his boat.

Luke 5 tells the story of Jesus making one of his first contacts with Simon Peter. The Lord asked to borrow the fisherman’s boat for a sermon that He gave just a few feet from the pressing multitude.

After Jesus told him to “launch out into the deep for a catch,” Peter replied, “Master, we have toiled all night; nevertheless at your word we will do it . . . ”

Peter used an interesting word for “Master.” It means “captain of this boat.”

And what was the result? Luke 5:6 tells us, “And this time their nets were so full they began to tear!” Peter fell down before Jesus, and the Lord said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Will you let Him be the Captain and Master of your boat?

What about when my investments fail?

Is Jesus still “Captain of my boat” when I lose my job? Yes, when you lose your job.

Is He Lord when my house burns down or my investments fail? Yes, He is Lord then too.

What about when I get cancer? Yes, He is Lord when you have cancer.

What if a loved one has died, is He still Lord? Yes, even if a loved one has died. For it is then that we need our Captain who will “get us to the other side”

Jesus is there

This world says, “You will never survive this crisis, the end has come! Even God has abandoned and forgotten about you!”

I reject that. You and I who have put our faith in Christ belong to Him.

Jesus says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Jesus says, “Let’s cross over to the other side!”

This world says, “Death is the end. This life is all there is.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25 NKJV).

You may be going through a storm right now, or you too may have just been “shipwrecked.” You are not alone. Let God help you now. I urge you to “believe God,” like Paul.

New sermon series this Sunday

Speaking of “belieivng God,” that is my topic this Sunday morning.

We are launching a new sermon series at Harvest Christian Fellowship called Essentials: What Every Christian Needs to Know, and my first message is entitled “Who is God?”

I hope you can be there or watch online.

Thursdays in the O.C.

Don’t forget that we launch  our new Thursday night Bible study in Orange County, California, this next week! For more information on that, click here.

Surviving the Shipwrecks of Life

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, Pastor's corner, sermons | 3 Comments »

We all have hardships, tragedies, trials, and shipwrecks in life. The question is, how do you survive them? How do you get through them?

I know, for some people, this is not a popular thing to say. They are seeking to live “their best life now” and reject the idea of suffering. But no less than the apostle Paul had quite a bit of suffering as he followed hard after Christ.

You think you have had a hard day?

Listen to this autobiographical statement from the great apostle:

I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT).

So how did he get through his shipwreck? I’ve already pointed out two things:

  1. God was with him.
  2. He belonged to God.

He was doing the will of God

The third reason why Paul could be comforted in the midst of the storm was the fact that he was doing the Lord’s will. Essentially, he was “on business for God.”

Remember when the tempest was raging and Angel of the Lord appeared to Paul to reassure him. Then Paul said to all those on board that storm-tossed vessel, “The God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me” (Acts 27:23 NLT).

God told Paul that he was to testify of him in Rome, so Paul could go forth with the assurance that God was with him.

The same is true in our service to the Lord as well. We will accomplish what God wants us to accomplish. We are not necessarily assured of smooth sailing, but always assured of a safe arrival.

We can know this–as long as God has a work for us to do, we will be here to do it. God will preserve us to do it.

And when that work is done, it is done, and we will go to heaven. Not too soon and not too late.

You belong to God

Friday, February 27th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, family, Pastor's corner, sermons, stella | 7 Comments »

So there was Paul in the midst of a tempest. Yet somehow, he had an amazing calm in the midst of this storm.

We too have our storms in life, and we wonder how to get through them.

Here are some of Paul’s secrets to surviving life’s challenges.

In Acts 27, Paul said, “For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you” (Acts 27:23-24 NLT)

I pointed out in my last post that Paul realized God was with him. That gave him great confidence.

Now, here’s the second reason Paul could be strong in his storm.

He belonged to God

Again, Paul said, “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me.”

Do you belong to Jesus? It can make all the difference.

Only the follower of Jesus Christ has this confidence. In the Song of Solomon, we read, “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Solomon 2:16).

Over and over in Scripture, we are given the analogy of being in a relationship with God like that of a bride to a husband to whom she is deeply in love with. This reminds us of His affection and love  toward us.

But we are also given the analogy of a sheep belonging to a shepherd. In John 10, Jesus told us that He is “the good Shepherd and we are his sheep.” This reminds us of His constant care and awareness of our whereabouts.

It’s hard to be proud about being compared to a sheep. They are basically defenseless, vulnerable, dim-witted creatures. But when under the care of a loving shepherd, they are safe and content.

We are also given the analogy of a child to his father. Romans 8:15 reminds us, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba Father'” (NKJV). This reminds us of His tenderness and protection over each one of us.

My children have always had special access to me, as well as my total, unconditional love. That, of course, extends to my grandchildren as well.

When my granddaughter Stella sees me, she does not ask for permission to approach.  She just says “Papa!” and I stop what I’m doing and pick her up and hug her.

We are also told in Scripture that we are his very property. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “You are not your own” (NKJV). In the Greek, it is “You are not your own property. You are bought with a price.”

If something belonged to a king, it carried his seal. In the same way, 2 Corinthians 1:22 says, “He has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment of everything he will give us” (NLT).

I read a story about an old gentlemen who known for his godly life. One day, someone asked him, “What do you do when you are tempted, old man?”

He replied, “I just look up to heaven and say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’ ”

Yes, we are His bride, children, sheep, and property. And when the Devil sees that “I.D. tag,” he respects it.

And just like Paul, we too can say, “I belong to God!”

This Sunday at Harvest

I will finally complete my messages from the Book of Acts this Sunday morning.

Sunday’s message is titled “The Beginning,” because the Book of Acts is a record of all that “Jesus began to do” (Acts 1:1).

You might say, in a sense, that new chapters are being written to this great book as the Church marches on.

Thursdays in Orange County

Don’t forget, our new Thursday night Bible study is launching soon in the O.C. For more info, click here.

My grace is sufficient for you

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, family, Pastor's corner, sermons, stella | 8 Comments »

You know the drill. Things are going well, no crisis, no conflicts to speak of, pretty much smooth sailing.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, a storm hits. Maybe it’s a crisis, or a hardship. Maybe it’s a personal tragedy.

So what do you do when a hurricane-force storm hits and water is filling your boat?

Answer: You take heart. Because you are not alone.

When Paul was at sea on his way to Rome and the mighty tempest hit him and the others on board, he was able to courageously encourage others. He told them, “But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me” (Acts 27:22-23).

God was with him

How was Paul able to be so confident?

He was conscious of the presence of God in the face of danger. He knew that God was there with him.

And God is with us in our storms as well. God will always give us what we need when we need it.

You remember that Paul had what he called his “thorn in the flesh,” which was presumably some kind of physical disability or illness. He asked the Lord three times to remove it (see 2 Corinthians 12).

God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9), which is another way of saying, “I will be with you, Paul. Instead of a healing, I will personally be there in a special and sufficient way.”

Now it is the Lord

A. B. Simpson wrote these words:

“Once it was the Blessing, now it is the Lord.

Once it was the Feeling, now it is His Word.

Once His Gifts I wanted, now the Giver alone.

Once I sought Healing, now Himself alone.”

God is with you right now, regardless of the storm or even the shipwreck. We may not hear an audible voice, but you may hear that “still small voice” of God’s Holy Spirit. Or He will speak to you through His Word.

Then you, like Paul, can reassure others that “the Lord is in control.”

Time and time again, God reminded Paul of His presence.

  1. He was there when Paul was in jail in Jerusalem, as Jesus told him to “be courageous!” (Acts 23:11)
  2. It happened in 2 Timothy 4:16-17 when Paul said, “All deserted me . . . but the Lord stood by me.”
  3. And it happened here in Acts 27, in the midst of the storm.

When the boss calls you in his office . . .

You can take heart in the face of danger or uncertainty because you are aware of God’s presence with you.

When your boss says, “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to let you go!” Or when the doctor says, “The test results are back and I need you to come in.” Or when the telephone rings and someone says, “There’s been an accident.”

You are not alone. The Lord is standing next to you. He cares. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

I have been teaching my granddaughter Stella a new Bible verse that I will leave you with today: “Jesus said, I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)

Get up and keep going

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, Pastor's corner, sermons | 6 Comments »

In an earlier entry, I told the story of Jesus and His disciples and the storm they encountered.

Listen, storms will come in life. It’s not a matter of if but when. Quite frankly, you are either pulling out of one or eventually headed toward another.

Now I hope that does not cause you to be disillusioned, because as I said in my earlier entry, “Better to be in a storm with Jesus then anywhere else without Him.”

One of the readers of this blog commented on that post and wrote:

Dear Pastor Greg,

A series of misfortunes have chased me down over the last week or so. I got so down. The one thing that keeps me going is knowing that I’m called for a purpose in Christ. When I decided to log in after not reading your blog in a while, I read your words: “It’s better to be in a storm with Jesus than anywhere else without Him . . . ” I nearly fell off my chair.

Thank you.

Shalom.

Lori

 Yes, Lori, you do have a purpose in Christ. And God is working in your life.

That is one of the reasons the storms and trials come.
To make us stronger spiritually.
Because in a storm, a trial, or a hardship, you will learn things you could really learn nowhere else.

It has been said, “Fruit does not grow on mountaintops, but in valleys.”

Paul and his storm

Toward the end of the Book of Acts, Paul was making his final journey to Rome because he had appealed to Caesar.
As they journeyed, a horrific storm overtook them and everyone despaired for their lives.

Dr. Luke describes it this way: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20 NIV).

The Lord came  to Paul

But the Lord sent His angel to speak to Paul, giving the apostle the ability to encourage the others on board:

But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” (Acts 27:22-25 NLT)

There will be smooth sailing

That is not to say we will not have beautiful moments, and even seasons of relative calmness. Not all the winds that blow in life are devastating. In one instance, the log of the journey before the big storm hit says, “The south wind blew softly” (v.13 NKJV).

Thank God for those times when the “south wind blows softly.” Those times when you can feel the warmth of the sun on your shoulders and all is well.

But it is important to remember that there is always a storm ‘a comin!

People think that when you are in the will of God, you will always have “smooth sailing.” That is certainly not true of Paul. He seemed to face every kind of adversity imaginable. He had enemies who tried to undermine and even destroy him out of jealousy.

God never abandons us

He had numerable setbacks in life that included beatings and physical harm. He also had a personal physical disability he prayed to be healed of that never left.

Still, he was able to say, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

In my next blog entry, I will point out a few takeaway truths for each of us as we face our storms in life so we can “get up again and keep going!”

Pray for the family of Ralph Arthur 

I mentioned in my last blog entry that Ralph Arthur, one of our pastors at Harvest Christian Fellowship, went to be with the Lord this last Saturday.

Please be praying for his family, especially his dear wife Cheri.
His memorial service will be at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside this coming Thursday. For more information on that, click here.

Let’s cross over to the other side

Saturday, February 21st, 2009 Posted in encouragement, lost boy, Lost Boy Blog, questions, sermons, travel | 4 Comments »

One day at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35 NKJV).

As they were making their way across, a huge storm came out of nowhere, which was  a common occurrence on this large freshwater lake. The seasoned sailors were terrified as hurricane force winds hit and the boat filled with water.

Despite the bad weather, Jesus managed to sleep through it. But the disciples could no longer contain themselves.

Don’t you care?

So they woke up Jesus, saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (v. 38) That is really a bit accusational, but it’s the way they felt.

They were saying, essentially, “Lord, are You even aware of what we are facing right now?”

“Why are You allowing this?”

As I have said, it’s fine to ask why as long as you don’t expect an answer. Better to cry out in anguish to God than to turn from Him in anger.

Jesus rebuked them and the storm

Jesus woke up and rebuked the storm, but then He dealt with them too, asking them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (v. 40) Or literally, “Why are you such timid, fearful ones?”

Jesus was saying, “Boys, haven’t you learned anything here?”

You see, Jesus said, “Let’s cross over to the other side!” He did not say, “Let’s go drown in the middle of the Sea of Galilee!”

He did not promise smooth sailing, but He did promise a safe passage.

Listen, it’s better to be in a storm with Jesus than anywhere else without Him.

Or in a fiery furnace–just ask Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

Or in a lion’s den–just ask Daniel.

Or in a prison–just ask Peter.

Or in a storm again or even shipwrecked–just ask Paul.

This weekend in Chicago

This weekend, James McDonald and I are swapping pulpits!

James is speaking at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, and I am speaking at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago.

I will be showing my autobiographical film, Lost Boy: The Next Chapter, and speaking after.

So, if you or anyone you know is in the Chicago area, please come and join us. For more info on that, click here.

Thursday nights in Orange County

The new Bible study that I will be doing in the O.C. in Southern California is coming soon. It all starts on March 12.

We are building a Web site for it, but for now, click here for more info. 

This and that

This weekend, I did an article at WorldNetDaily called, “Are You Almost Christian?” To read that, click here.

Also, to read my long-form weekend devotion, click here.

Weekend musings: Jonathan, Orange County, and scrambled eggs

Friday, February 13th, 2009 Posted in family, lost boy, Lost Boy Blog, questions, sermons, stella, video | 90 Comments »

Hey everyone,

Wow, the video I posted of Jonathan at Prestonwood has created quite a stir. It is really effective to show, especially to young people who were raised in the Church.

Jonathan is not a “public speaker,” per se, at this point. But I asked him to tell his story and he did so honestly and, I think you will agree, poignantly.

I will be going back to Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago later this month. James MacDonald, the pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel, spoke with Jack Graham from Prestonwood, and Jack told James that Jonathan ought to do this for our screening of Lost Boy: The Next Chapter there too.

So Jonathan will do this again next Saturday and Sunday in the Windy City. Be praying!

New weekly study in OC

We have also gotten a lot of very positive response to our new OC study that will be launching in the second week of March.

People are very interested in the study itself, as well as the web connection that we are going to roll out soon. So stay tuned on that.

For more info on that, click here.

“Surviving the Shipwrecks of Life”

I am almost done with my series in the Book of Acts that I have called Upside-Down Living.

This Sunday, I will speak on “Surviving the Shipwrecks of Life.” I hope the message will be an encouragement for many, as I seek to “comfort with the comfort I have been comforted with.”

How to Cook Eggs

OK, now from the sublime to the ridiculous.

As I have shared before, I only know how to scramble eggs and make quesadillas for Stella. People have asked me what my “recipe” for eggs is.

So, in a moment of wackiness and just for fun, we decided to video the whole process. Jonathan also makes a guest appearance.

So if you want to see it, here it is.