Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Quote on Christmas

jesus_ornament

“There is no connection between the worship of idols and the use of Christmas trees. We should not be anxious about baseless arguments against Christmas decorations. Rather, we should be focused on the Christ of Christmas and giving all diligence to remembering the real reason for the season.” ~ John MacArthur

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Flesh, One Heart, One Calling


I am proud to announce that my wife, Michelle Grabowski, has been ordained by the National Association of Christian Ministers!  Although she is only now receiving the official recognition, the truth is that she's been doing the work of the ministry for a long time now. From day one of Acres of Hope Christian Fellowship (back when it was a home fellowship without a name), she has been my co-laborer in Christ, serving and ministering to the people in our congregation with authentic love and compassion.

Jesus says of married couples, "They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Matthew 19:6)." God Himself looked at me, and determined that "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him (Genesis 2:18)." For almost 17 years, I have had been blessed to share my life with the one who has been made for me, and I for her.

I don't know where I would be today without her not just standing behind me, but beside me. I do know that I could not do what I do today without her. I could not possibly be any prouder of her than I am this very minute.

"The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD (Proverbs 18:22)." 

Any time that I ever doubt that I have God's favor, I need to look no further than Shelly to cease all doubts. She is living proof of God's goodness to me, my family, and our church family.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Friday, November 15, 2013

Justified! (Matt Chandler sermon jam)

Matt Chandler on our justification -- "You have not earned right standing in front of God by your effort or your cleaning up of your life.  We have been made pure, standing blameless in front of God, not because of any religious or moral pursuit, but because Christ has died, and in His death, He absorbed all of God's wrath for you and I."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Guard Your Family Well


"What good is it to a Christian 
if he should gain (and win) the whole world,
but lose his own family?" 
(adapted from Mark 8:36)

Unfortunately, this is far too easy to do.  I am certainly guilty at times, and must keep reminding myself of these things.

Remember, Christian, you are not called to save the world, but to minister to the flock entrusted to you (1 Peter 5:2).  For most of us, that is our families first and foremost.  While family should never be an excuse to keep from answering the call of God upon your life, the latter should NEVER be a reason to neglect the former.

The very first ministry that God ordained was family, so is it any wonder that the very first recorded satanic attack was against the intimate fellowship between the family members and God Himself?  Satan knows that if he can destroy a family, the devastation will resound through generations.

"But those who won't care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers." (1 Timothy 5:8)

Guard your family well.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pole Vaulting the Grand Canyon

You know what the difference is between the ordinary person and the person who trains their whole life to win the gold medal in the Olympics pole-vaulting competition?

The latter spends a few more seconds in the air while trying to cross the Grand Canyon before plummeting to a violent and bloody death like the former jumper.


"Trying" to be perfect is like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. It's just not going to happen.

And... even if you could somehow keep every single jot and tittle of the Law of Moses as it applies to you, the truth of the matter is this:

All of YOUR righteousness is like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Do you think your 'efforts' somehow please Him?  That you can somehow 'earn' His favor?

The Law is there to show us that WE CAN'T DO IT, that we need Christ, who, as it is written:

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Trusting in your own efforts to be made right with God is a sure path to spiritual pride.

Trust in the finished work of Christ instead!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Friday, September 20, 2013

Link: Do Christians "Cherry Pick" the Bible?

"Some people argue that Christians "cherry pick" the bible. They claim that Christians choose what parts to accept and what parts to reject based on personal preference. ..."

http://bockshiner.hubpages.com/hub/Do-Christians-Cherry-Pick-the-Bible

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Message and a Reply

I recently received a private message from yet another "Torah-observant" believer, appealing to me to seek truth and enlightenment, while using some of the same assumptions and general attitudes that I have seen in almost everyone who holds to these views.
He wrote:
"Seek him in prayer, deeply, listen, read the Bible from Genesis to revelation, asking Him to remove any false images or doctrine not in line with truth. He will answer that genuine prayer. Though many people that "have the truth" are negative, bitter, etc, that dosen't mean that what they are saying is all lies. Jer. 16 comes to my mind. But anyways, when I finally threw all my doctrine I learned in the trash, or tried to and studied the Bible from more of a "the writers were Heberew, so let me think like a Hebrew perspective", my life changed, I still know I have much in my mind that dosen't line up with the word, but as I come out of Egypt (spiritual Babylon) I am seeing this:THE main point of my salvation is to glorify God by hating this world unto death, which results in life (Y'shua). This is what Y'shua did. He hated sin, the system, and all that was in it, but loved God's image, which God's people were made in. Love you. Peace."
I responded:
"Do you not understand that from the first time this appeared on my horizon three years ago, I have diligently, desperately cried out to the Lord in my distress to remove any blinders from my eyes, or any spiritual oppression. I do not take my faith, my walk, or my role as a minister lightly at all -- in fact, I am ever so conscientious that I will be held to a higher account before the Father.
"And yet, if anything, the more that I have searched, the more that I have cried out, the more that I have yielded myself to Him, the more convinced and secure I have become of my positions. In fact, I have discovered just how amazing His grace is when set against the black backdrop of our own wretchedness; I have discovered that where I had thought I had known the heights and depth of His love, I had only barely scratched the surface; I have discovered just what is so very "GOOD NEWS" about the Good News of Christ.
"My only true doctrine is Christ, and Him crucified. I have a living relationship with Him. Yes, I still struggle with sin, but I am no longer condemned by it, nor by trying to live my life conforming to a set of external do's-and-don'ts that always either left me feeling spiritually prideful (when I imagined myself to be "good" by living by the letter) or spiritually condemned (when I failed to measure up to these perceived external standards). 
"Now, though, I know that it is the Holy Spirit living in me that teaches me and reminds me of the Truth, the Way, and the Life, convicting me when I am wrong, keeping me conformed to the Law of Christ written on the tablet of flesh that is my heart. 
"This is one of the parts that I have the hardest time with, even coming from you, with whom I have a general mutual respect. Because I do not follow Torah, it is ASSUMED that I just haven't bothered praying about all of it. 
"When it comes to matters of spiritual life or death, I especially value the Word of God over my own pride, my "need to be right," my ego, etc. I would rather be universally hated by all than to preach a wrong, dangerous Gospel. 
"Many within the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) also erroneously assume that I preach "greasy grace," as though grace were a "get out of hell free" card in the quest to gratify the lusts and pleasures of the flesh. They assume that people such as myself would prefer the Old Testament be ripped out of the pages of our Bible, that the New Testament is better appreciated without the context of the Old. 
"They might as well be saying that I preach the core tenet of satanism -- "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."
I generally don't make a practice of sharing such exchanges, but I thought that this one serves as a near-perfect illustration of the attitudes and assumptions that I still encounter from time to time.  I haven't told my personal story in written form yet, and I may never.  Still, as I shared in a recent sermon, sometimes the 'thorns in our flesh' are provoked in unexpected ways when our guard is down, and we find our old wounds still sore and throbbing.

And God continually reminds us, "My grace is sufficient for you."

What are YOUR thoughts on this general "if you would only pray, then God will reveal truth to you" line?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Beware "Cheap Grace"?!


"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

".. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24)

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power." (Ephesians 3:7)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Quote on "Hyper" Grace

Using words like “extreme” and “hyper” in order to insult the message of grace, is like attempting to insult light by calling it “illuminating”, or water by calling it “wet”. Yes, Grace is both extreme and hyper… would you rather it be “moderate” and “docile”? – Jeff Turner

Sunday, June 2, 2013

“15 Things Jesus Didn’t Say” (reblogged)

(reblogged from http://jimpalmerblog.com/2012/12/14/15-things-jesus-didnt-say/)

StuffJesusDidntSay_web

15 things Jesus Didn’t Say:

“For God was so disgusted with the world and you that he gave his one and only Son.”

“I have come to bring you a new religion.”

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have correct theology.”

“If anyone would come after me, let him disparage all other religions and their followers.”

“If you love me, you will regularly attend a church of your choice… within reason.”

“Blessed are the tithers for they shall be called the children of God.”

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in Heaven after the earth goes up in flames and destroyed.”

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ which means the people with whom you attend church and relate to in your Christian sub-culture.”

“In my Father’s house there are a limited number of rooms. But no worries, there is plenty of room in Hell.”

“The kingdom of God has come!… Well, not exactly. I mean, not completely. Let’s face it, the really-real kingdom comes after we die. Hang in there. It won’t be long.”

“And you will know the truth and the truth will make you superior to all the other simpletons who never learned Greek or Hebrew.”

“You are the light of the world… well… in a sinful-filthy-scum kind of way.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a checklist of things to do and not do in order to remain in God’s favor.”

“For God so loved the world… you know like theoretically… as in, God loves the big ‘W’-world. But when it come to you specifically, that are quite a few things that would need to change for God to actually and specifically love… or even like… YOU.”

“He appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days and spoke about how to incorporate his life and teaching as a 501(c)3, and go into all the earth to build mega-churches in his name.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Opportunist

opportunist

“Live wisely among those who are not believers,
and make the most of every opportunity.
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive
so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

(Colossians 4:5-6)

Are my conversations always “gracious and attractive?"  Do I always have “the right response for everyone?”  Do I always “live wisely?”

Of course not.

I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I claimed any of these things.

Does that mean that I shouldn’t bother striving to meet these measures?  Of course not, either.

There are two extremes in Christian doctrine out there that I’ve noticed discussed in the New Testament.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t other extremes as well, but the two that I am speaking of today are, in some respects, two sides of the same coin.

On the one extreme are those who teach that we are made right with God by following the Law of Moses in addition to what Christ has done for us.  The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to specially address the false and dangerous teachings of the Judaizers – those who insisted that the non-Jewish Christians comply with the Law of Moses, including circumcision.

Of these people, Paul wrote, “Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.  But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you (Galatians 2:4-5).”

Instead, Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-18, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.”

Which brings me to the other extreme.

Over the last few years, I have been accused of preaching a “greasy grace” message. By proclaiming the good news of God’s unmerited grace toward us as exemplified through Jesus Christ, I am sometimes painted out as preaching and practicing lawlessness, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

The book of Jude addresses these types of ‘teachers,’ in writing “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God's marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3-4).”

So, on the one extreme are those who teach legalism, and on the other are those who teach licentiousness.  Yet, the common denominator is that both extremes lead people away from following Christ.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).”

Earlier, Paul had written to the Corinthians, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,  I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).”

Which brings me back to Colossians 4:5-6, “make the most of every opportunity.

Don’t be a legalist –or- an anarchist.  Enjoy the simple freedom you have in Christ, but don’t abuse that freedom to please yourself.  Instead, use your freedom to serve others, walking in love.  Make the most of every opportunity, finding common ground with everyone, doing all that you can to save some.

Be an opportunist.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Friday, May 17, 2013

Conflict and Love?

"Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.  Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil's trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants." (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

Why is it so difficult to keep Scriptures like this at the forefront of our minds?  I don't know about you, but time and again, I find myself caught up in a direct or indirect 'debate' about doctrine, about politics, about ethics, about any number of topics that involve a disagreement about what truth actually is, and what it means for us as believers.

Don't get me wrong.  Debate isn't always bad.  The above passage tells us to 'gently instruct those who oppose the truth.' The problem is that 'gently' is all too often overlooked.  Instead, it is too easy to get caught up into heightened emotions, which in turn end to lead to arguments laced with sarcasm, hostility, even rage.  As Christians, these things are far removed from who we are called to be.  Not only are our hearts not able to be heard through our contentious voices, but we risk invalidating any credibility that we may have otherwise brought to the table.

Likewise, when we fall into this type of emotional engagement, we cease to see the other person as another child of God, but as the embodiment of evil.  As we become more reactive and aggressive, it is no wonder we find ourselves feeling attacked, which only contributes to the downward spiral.  Such arguments completely betray what Christ has called us to do.

So, what do we do?  Do we avoid any semblance of conflict?

Yes and no.

Romans 12:18 says, "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone."

Yet, Scripture also calls us to stand for truth, to contend for the faith, and to show those who oppose truth where they are wrong.  The apostle Paul was not afraid to name names, and even went so far as to publicly confront Peter to his face when the latter began to stray from the truth he had received (Galatians 2:11-16).

I write these things today because I find myself still struggling in this area.  I want to live at peace with everyone, yet I also want to defend the truth when I see it distorted or attacked.  I want to show mercy, yet I also feel compelled to promote justice.  I am afraid, though, that in trying to find the happy medium, I am only contributing to 'foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights,' and that by quarrelling, even if it is only via Facebook comment threads, I am playing right into the devil's tactics to create further division among those who seek God with sincere hearts.

In trying to 'rescue' others from the devil's trap, I want to make sure that I don't fall into it myself.

I will be the first to admit it -- I have fallen victim to my baser nature in some of the Internet 'discussions' I've had in the past, letting my anger get the better of me, and in doing so, losing whatever ground I might have gained.  What also haunts me is that I may have also hurt others by my emotional extremes in my efforts to counter falsehood and error.

What we need to remember is that the battle is not ours but the Lord's, and that "we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)."

Ultimately, it is as the Scripture says, "Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth."  Like Jesus illustrated in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), and Paul reiterated in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, we are responsible only to sow the truth, but it is God who changes the hearts of men.

Hostility, sarcasm, bitterness, and anger are not the ways to stand for truth, nor are they fruits of the spirit.

Love is.

And love is also a commandment.

And love expressed in word and deed, even when opposing others, is the one of the greatest ways we can glorify God.

This is a major part of what it means to live our lives as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

I am still learning how to walk this out.  How about you?  Are you victorious is this area?  If so, what does that look like for you?  I would love to hear from you.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Colossians 1:12-23

Colossians 1:12-23

He (God) has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Spot a Legalist (link)

"21st Century Pharisees have replaced circumcision and keeping of the law with a more accepted evangelicalized list of dos and don’ts.

"These pious sounding party poopers are getting Christians to doubt their salvation, get discouraged in their salvation, and trying to prove, keep and/or earn their salvation. They are robbing believers of the joy that was once theirs in Christ and replacing it with the heavy yoke of legalism (Acts 15:5-11)."

Check out this refreshing post over at ChurchLeaders.com:

http://www.churchleaders.com/youth/youth-leaders-blogs/166149-greg-stier-to-spot-a-legalist.html

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who Are You?

"What you are when you are alone with God, that you are – and nothing more. You may make a great show of love and faith in church, singing like Pavarotti or attracting the masses to your profound Sunday school lectures. But if there is no private communion between you and Jesus – frequent and deep communion – then your religion is worthless." ~ Kris Lundgaard

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Are...

We are Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
We are New York City, New York.
We are Aurora, Colorado.
We are Newtown, Connecticut.
We are Boston, Massachusetts.

We are the largest of cities.
We are the smallest of towns.

We are Republicans.
We are Democrats.
We are Independents.
We are Conservatives.
We are Liberals.
We are Undecided.

We are red states.
We are blue states.

We are the United States of America,
One Nation,
Under God,
Indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.

United we stand. Divided we fall.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Forgiveness

One of the greatest stumbling blocks of Christianity is this --

Jesus says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."

We think that we have to perform, to "be good," to somehow earn God's love and favor... which, of course, is impossible. Our forgiveness is a gift, freely given, received only by faith -- by taking Him at His word that no matter how big our sin, the blood of Jesus is more than enough to cleanse us.

Likewise, though, we also find it offensive to be expected to "pay it forward," to forgive every bit as freely as we have been forgiven. It's hard, it's offensive, and it's contrary to our natures that want to somehow make the guilty party pay.

But it is not only impossible ... it is the right thing to do.

Don't get me wrong. Forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting, or with placing oneself back in harms way. Some of us have been victims of the most heinous acts. Forgiveness doesn't mean lightening the severity of what happened; or even pretending that it didn't happen at all. There are consequences for sin in this life; but when we refuse to forgive, we are standing in the place of God, and we are blocking the flow of Heavenly forgiveness, grace, and mercy to us.

But when we can find it in our hearts to forgive, something miraculous happens. Rather than releasing the offender into freedom, we are the ones who are freed. We no longer have to be chained to a memory, to a person, to an offense. When we make the to choice to genuinely forgive others, we can have the peace and joy of having a clean conscience before God, knowing that we are no longer defined by our past, by our hurts, but by who He declares us to be in Him.

In the light of His great forgiveness, all else falls away.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, and the ultimate expression of God's kindness and forgiveness for sin, let us ask ourselves -- who are we harboring unforgiveness toward? You don't necessarily have to go to them to extend forgiveness.

Take it to the Lord, and let Him soften even the hardest part of your heart.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Two Voices Calling

Good Shepherd“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” (John 10:1-5)

Who are you following -- the thief or the Shepherd? You may think we walk alone, but ultimately, we all heed one voice or another.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe