US News and World Report once did a survey asking a wide variety of people if they believed in the existence of hell. 65% said yes, 26% said no, and 9% were undecided. We need to look no further for truth beyond the Word of God. The Bible uses numerous phrases to describe life in hell. The first is “outer darkness”, a term Jesus employed in several parables to depict casting out the disobedient from the light of His presence. Every now and then, I will hear people flippantly say, “I don’t want to go to heaven with all the Christians. I’d rather par-tay and raise hell with all my friends in hell”—ludicrous! Even if self-proclaimed hell-bounders have friends in hell, they will never know.
Romans 12:2 discusses the importance of the mind. It says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The Phillips translation reads, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold”. This reminds me of playing with “Creepy Crawlers” as a kid. I think they are even still around today! I poured goop into little molds, placed them in the oven, and they morphed into creepy, weird looking creatures. Unlike “Creepy Crawlers”, do not let the world squeeze you into its mold. Be alert, not allowing today’s culture to dictate your thoughts, actions, and deeds. As Christ followers, we do not seek the world’s approval, but God’s. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Your worth is determined by who and Whose you are in Christ!
A couple of days ago, I attended a leadership meeting with other senior pastors from all across the country. The topic of our discussion was the lack of commitment we are seeing across the board. We have done studies at Fellowship Church and discovered thirty percent of our members are the most involved. And, of that thirty percent, the majority only attend church once every three weeks. The other pastors reported the same. It makes sense. The church has become increasingly marginalized, hasn’t it? The Bible says, when we commit to God and to the local church, true blessings and benefits start to accrue in our lives. We gain trust, intimacy, joy, and happiness spiritually, personally, and relationally. Only then will we discover what life is all about. We will see that with commitment our options become limitless, because our God is limitless. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “Let us now consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. In other words, we put weekly church attendance before all extracurricular activities.
Our Sin Nature
You can trace the roots of rebellion all the way back to the soils of the Garden of Eden. God said, “Adam and Eve, all you have got to think about is worshiping Me and doing a bunch of yard work. That’s it. Adam and Eve, I am going to plant a tree right here and don’t touch this tree. Don’t touch the fruit of this tree.” A faith that has not been tested cannot be trusted.
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So, when you are facing these difficulties, when you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, we will show you how to lift and how to handle that weight. That’s part of the Body of Christ. Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
One of the great things about being a part of a gym is the whole motivational principle. When I go to my gym, I see a lot of people, men and women, lifting weights and working out, and it motivates me. The local church is the same. Christianity is not a solo sport. It’s not a Gilligan’s Island thing. It’s a team thing. This 1 Thessalonians 5:11 text talks about one another, each other, one another, each other.
How many people, men and women, in here, pump the iron? How many of you lift weights? If you are going to get a great workout, you have got to have someone to assist you. This person is called your what? Your spotter.
Go find one that you connect with and join that church. Join that gym. Place membership there and pay your dues. They are not really your dues; they are God’s anyway. But that is a whole other subject and whole other story.
Now, if you think about a gym, a gym has got some aerobic equipment. It’s got the treadmills, the stairmasters, all this stuff. Our gym, the local church, is the same way. We want to teach you endurance. We want to teach you how to have real discipline as you face the trials and tribulations of life. You need some real cardio work to do the stuff, and that’s the training here.
Also, a good gym has some iron. You have got to pump the iron. It has machines and resistance training. We want to teach you how to strengthen your life only through the grace and the power of God.
Well, you had better join a club. Check this out. The church, the body of Christ, is your gym. That’s your gym. I am a member of a health club in the area. When I joined this health club, I had to pay money to join. I paid dues to be a part of this club. If I decide to stop paying dues, the workers in this club will say, “Ed, I’m sorry, you can’t work out anymore because you have not paid your dues.”
What if we did that at Fellowship Church? The Bible says we should pay our dues, pay our tithes. What if we said, “You know what? You haven’t paid your tithes in the last couple of months, so you can’t show up anymore?”
I’m just kidding. We wouldn’t do that. It’s just a joke. It’s so funny to make a joke about money. People have that nervous laugh. “Was he serious? What did he say?”
To be part of a club, you have to join the club. You have got to place your membership there. That’s why we are into membership here at Fellowship Church. I’ll say it to you as plain as I can. You cannot be a growing, well fed, Christ-follower, unless you are a part of a local church, unless you are hooked in and involved there. It’s a pipe dream to think you can. You have to be a part of the church to be the kind of Christian that God wants you to be.
We are partial about Fellowship Church. Now, if you are looking for the perfect church, don’t join it, because you will mess it up. Always remember that. You are going to mess it up. You ain’t going to find the perfect church, all right? But if this church is not for you, that’s cool. It’s not for everybody.
So, for us, it has been a change. We are eating a lot at home. I am washing more dishes than I have ever washed before. I am cooking more. And it has been great.
Another thing that I have noticed is that prior to the fast, and Ed and I had insider information because we knew that it was coming, but I had already gotten a list of things to pray for our family. One of the things I realized is that the back biting and fighting amongst the kids was just not good. I know a lot of it was normal teenager stuff, but it was not godly. That has been our prayer—that the relationship with the kids, as brothers and sisters, would be more in line with each other; that during this fast God would clean up words, and that words would be uplifting and encouragement rather than biting words. That was one of the things that I had prayed for.
For me, I have prayed that God would show me how to redirect my life. I grew up in the South, too, and I love food. And I enjoy the pleasure of it. For me, this has been a cleansing time and challenging to feed on the word of God.
We have also been journaling. I gave the girls journals when we began and Ed has his and he gave EJ one. And we have been journaling. And to share with you of the struggles, I would like to read an excerpt form yesterday’s entry.
January 13th – I can’t believe the first emotion this first morning was disappointment. I woke up thinking of sitting by the fire with coffee, what pleasure I gain from food and beverage. Today I am weary of my week of fasting. I am still counting the days until it is over.
And Psalm 50:12 says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is mine, and all its fullness.”
What if our worship fed God? What if? What if it satisfied him? My wife is a phenomenal cook, but what if she cooked with Brussels sprouts every night? That would get old, wouldn’t it? She is creative and she changes what she cooks all of the time. I am looking forward to the next meal, because I wonder, “What is going to happen next?”
How about your life with God? Are you giving him Brussels sprouts? God does not want my leftovers or your leftovers. He wants the best. He does not want our wants. He says, “Fall in line with me and I will show you want I want for you.” And then we will have a switch. Our wants and God’s wants will collide and sync up. Then, we will discover God’s provision, plan and birthright. Do what you ought to do so that you can do what you want to do. Fast and pray, because Jesus said, then we will live larger than life.
At this time, I want to bring out my wife and I want her to share about fasting and what God is doing in our family, because it has been an adventure.
Lisa: Yes, when someone tells me that I am going to get to experience an adventure, that is exciting. But there is also uncertainty and fear. But knowing that there is going to be something new and refreshing I what this fast has truly been for us. Ed mentioned that we do eat pretty healthy, but I have noticed that over the past year we have been eating out more. I have been working at the church more and our schedule and routine have slipped into this convenience of food.