God the Heart Surgeon

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Acts 16:14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

I wish to call your attention to the clear presentation in Acts 16.14 that it is the Lord that opens the heart of the unbeliever. This in no way removes the choice that man makes in order to be saved, but it does make it perfectly clear that before I can respond, I need God to open my heart.

It is in this way that God gets all the glory for man’s salvation. If He were not the one who opens man’s heart to hear and receive the truth, it would be difficult to understand how Phil 1.6 is in fact true.

Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

I submit to you that Acts 16:14 describes the beginning of that good work. What is the first step in man’s salvation? According to Lydia’s conversion it is God opening the heart.

We must recognize that salvation is a heart issue. In Mark 16.14, hard hearts do not believe. In Acts 8.37, Philip believes with his heart. In Romans 10.9, man believes in his heart that God raised Christ from the dead.

In Romans 10.9, confession is presented prior to belief in the order of the verse, but this does not speak to the chronological order of what happens when man is saved. It is the heart that believes before the mouth speaks, and it is this belief that changes man from a condition of being spiritually dead to eternally alive. Jesus was very clear in Matthew 15.18 when He stated that what proceeds out of the mouth is a reflection or a product of what the heart believes.

Matthew 15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

The oral articulation of words to God is a reflection of a heart that God changed. God opens the heart, God changes the heart, and He makes it new.

Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

It is this heart that now desires to call out to God for salvation, which in essence is the articulation of what has already occurred in that portion of man that makes him a spiritual being.

A stony heart rejects the gospel, but when God opens my heart, I can hear the truth and I believe. I choose, and I now love what was once foolishness to me.

Instead of saying, “Wouldn’t you like to pray with me,” the soul-winner should be saying, “Wouldn’t you like to turn from a life of serving yourself and believe that God has raised Jesus Christ, the sinless Savior, from the dead so that your sins could be forgiven because of the payment Christ made for all on the cross.”

When God opens the heart to hear the truth, the new creature in Christ will desire to pray to the God he or she now loves. You see, with this new heart repentance is now possible because God’s grace is sufficient to not only forgive my sins, but it is now enabling to conquer besetting sins of the past and my life will give evidence of being different. Often the first difference that will be seen is a desire and willingness to pray to a God I previously rejected with a closed heart.

Finally, let me draw your attention to a parallel between the Lord opening the Lydia’s heart and John 6:44:

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

I love him because He first loved me (1 John 4.19). I believe because He opened my heart. This type of an understanding of my conversion is very compatible to what Paul states in Galatians 2.20 “I live, yet not I but Christ.” God’s sovereignty and Paul’s human responsibility are knit together perfectly in this verse.

Was Jeremiah the only human being God knew before He formed him in the womb of his mother? Was Jeremiah the only prophet God sanctified and ordained before he came forth into the world? I praise God the answer is certainly not. Furthermore, I thank God He knew me before I knew Him.

How about yourself? Do you have a correct understanding of how God saved your soul? Does God get all the credit, glory and honor when you testify of how you came to know the Lord Jesus as your Savior?

Is He your Savior? Examine yourself and see if you are in the faith. Perhaps today is the day God is opening your heart to repent and believe the truth.

America's Best: SSG Michael D. Thomas' Memorial Service 10 May 2007

At 10 am on May 10, 2007 the US Army Special Forces (SF) Community of Fort Bragg assembled in the JFK Special Warfare Chapel for a memorial service to a fallen comrade, warrior and patriot—Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael D. Thomas, of Seffner, Florida. Pam and I attended with others from Berean to express our deepest condolence to Teresa and Craig Thomas, members of Berean’s Spanish Church led by Rick Montes. For those of you unable to attend the memorial service, go with me now to JFK Chapel.

The chapel is small with a single row of pews on the left side and a single row on the right side. The carpet is green like the color of a Special Forces Soldier’s beret. The windows are stained glass with scenes of soldiers and battles of yesterday and before. Each window has a caption from God’s Holy Word. “The Lord is my Shepherd” was on the window to my left side as Pam and I sat among three pews of wives whose husbands are presently in Afghanistan—the theater of operations where SSG Thomas heroically gave his life in protection of his teammates. The walls are lined with plaques identifying fallen rangers and SF soldiers from the present conflict and previous battles. A wooden cutout of a Soldier with a weapon kneeling in pray is hung on the left side of the front wall. There is standing room only and most are dressed in the Army Combat Uniform; the ushers and speakers are dressed in the dress green uniform with black paratrooper boots. The front pews are empty waiting for those who are grieving together is small fellowship room adjacent to the chapel.

Down the center isle on the stage is a single pair of black jump boots, an M4 Carbine turned upside down, a set of silver identification tags hangs from the pistol grip and a green beret rested on the buttstock of the weapon with the Special Forces crest facing all those in attendance. A wife is moving about handing out small packages of Kleenex in anticipation of the tears that will be shed by all. I search for my handkerchief.

Kim Usher, from Northview Baptist, is playing the piano softly in the background. At 2 minutes out, a sergeant major asked everyone to ensure their mobile phones were turned off. Minutes later the right side door opened and the family proceeded in. Teresa is being escorted by Sergeant First Class Garza and then I saw little Craig, I lost it—overcome with emotion, I struggled at thinking about a little boy growing up without his dad. War is such a miserable thing—just plain wretched.

Lisa Burton opened with the National Anthem and we all were reminded of what makes America such a great Nation. Proudly we stood and remained standing as Chaplain Mount read Psalms 23, which must be some of the most comforting words in the Bible. (God, I thank you for giving us such words of consolation.)

Then a tribute from the theater commander was read. In it he expressed the heroic manner in which SSG Thomas used both an MK-19 40mm grenade launcher mounted to his modified hummer and a sniper rifle to defend his Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) when they were suddenly ambushed by Taliban fighters in a valley in Hirat Province, Afghanistan. The report described in detail the number of enemy wounded or killed by Thomas; it explained how his steadfastness and courage under battle saved many other lives. According to the report, the team was taking fire from multiple sides and it was SSG Thomas’ actions which prevented the team from being completely surrounded. Thomas reacted as he had been trained, and his commitment to the warrior ethos and the men on his team prevented the SF community from having to bury more than one young man. Offers lived to fight another day. May God use those men to avenge the life of SSG Thomas according to His divine will.

SSG Thomas was awarded a Bronze Star with V-device for his valor in battle. The citation, read by Major Cadigan, described in detail the heroism of this warrior, who has made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of the oppressed people in Afghanistan who, according to the theater commander, want so very much to be free.

Next the chaplain spoke about Michael Thomas’ service to our Nation and reminded each of us that men like him and others that 7th group had lost in the past were the true heroes. He personalized his message by making reference to his own household where his 10 and 11 year old children do not look up to the typical pop culture heroes who sing, act and play for millions of dollars. Instead, Chaplain Mount reminds his children that it is men like SSG Thomas who should be admired. He extolled each of us to realize that SSG Thomas was living out God’s call on his life as a Soldier. He strived to comfort Teresa, Craig and all of the family. He stated that we all are tempted to ask why, yet we should focus on the example that SSG Thomas provided.

Two teammates were flown back to the states to speak on behalf of an entire Special Forces team who is now missing a key member. Each spent a few minutes sharing a bit of what they knew of this man who it appears was the newest member of the team. Michael Thomas was a Grandfather and father and as such earned the nickname “gramps.” Both men confessed how inadequate they felt in attempting to communicate words of comfort to the parents and wife of Michael. Each spoke of things that were rather empty with little assurance that Michael was a new creature in Christ. We hope that during Michael’s last minutes on this earth he reached out for mercy from the God of mercy. Afterwards, I spoke to Pastor Tony Wilson of West Fayetteville Baptist and he stated that Michael had heard on numerous occasions the gospel when he attended WFBC—so there is hope—he knew what God’s Word said. But we don’t know, and we are left with so very little comfort.

Then a retired SF NCO, Robert White, provided some soul-stirring music with a set of bagpipes.

“Almighty God, Who art the Author of liberty and the Champion of the opposed, hear our prayer. We the men of the Special Forces acknowledge our dependence upon thee in the preservation of human freedom” were the words we heard next as the Special Forces Prayer was read.

Moments later all rose in respect for the Ballad of the Green Beret. “Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die, men who mean just what they say, the brave men of the green beret…” (The silver wings are on his chest and he is one of America’s best; he was tested and proved to the best under fire in a valley thousands of miles away.)

After a brief pause, Sergeant Major Grissom began the roll call of the members of ODA 713. Then, the SGM began with the detachment commander and moved through the members with someone in the back responding with “deployed” for those still fighting the Taliban. The two SSGs present answered when their names were called, and then we heard “SSG Michael Thomas” and a pause and again “SSG Michael Thomas” and another long pause. The place was silent, and our minds were filled with how precious life is and how often we take it for granted. My mind was rolling with thoughts of Teresa and Craig and how empty all this is because Michael Thomas rejected Christ for all we know. I found myself exasperated with the fact that we were talking about professional football and classic rock during the remarks from friends instead of Thomas’ love for our Lord. I thought about how many more men are like Thomas, lost…and without hope. My mind was racing and I realized that without Christ there is nothing I can say of comfort to the family. Women are weeping and men are choking back emotion as the finality of life is suddenly in our face again. I want so much to be able to tell Teresa something of hope and encouragement, yet the Bible is so clear—God still commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [the name Jesus] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).

Suddenly the silence was shattered by gunfire from outside as a detail of Soldiers honored the ultimate sacrifice made by an entire family. A wife looses her husband, a son must grow up without his dad, an adult daughter, mother and father have only their memories and a granddaughter is left with only pictures of her granddad.

We know taps is next, and the bugle call reminds us that the light of life is no longer present in SSG Michael Thomas because we have no testimony that the light of the glorious gospel shone in the heart of this young man.

Would to God Michael Thomas trusted Christ, like the thief on the cross, during his final moments in Afghanistan, but only eternity will reveal the truth…

May I encourage you to live a life that gives evidence that you are born-again? Those who love us want to have the confidence that we are new creatures in Christ.

Rebel with a Cause: My Personal Testimony

During the early 1970s, God used the Mother Earth News magazine to direct my father to move our family from a city in Massachusetts to a 40 acre farm with no running water in southeast West Virginia. We moved, rented a farm for $25 a month, and dad began working for a Christian who was committed to sharing his faith. After about a year living in West Virginia., my dad received Christ as His Lord and Savior and our family’s life was radically changed. Christ was everything to dad. While attending a revival meeting in a small country church the preacher used the Bible to make it perfectly clear that all those who did not know Christ as their Savior would be sent to hell as the just punishment for their sins. I did not have to be convinced I was a rebel. Although, I was only 8 or 9 years old, I knew I was a rebel and my heart wasn’t right.

I was a spoiled city kid trying to adjust to life in the country and my attitude and actions stunk. The preacher used the wood burning pot-belly stove to help illustrate the fires of hell. He made it clear from the Bible that God was perfect and holy and I had to be the same to get into heaven. I knew in my present state if I died I would go to that hell and I didn’t want to go there. I was overjoyed when He described how Christ paid my price. Using the Bible, the evangelist showed us why Christ died on the cross.

He preached the gospel. He shared the good news of why Jesus Christ came to this earth and died on a bloody cross outside of Jerusalem. From the Bible, the truth of how God punished Christ in my place was explained. The presentation of God’s free gift of salvation to all who would believe or begin trusting in Christ instead of themselves was proclaimed. It was on this day that God, through Christ, made me a new creature.

My life changed. The Spirit of Christ took up residence in the very fiber of my being and I have known since then that I was different. I did not stop breaking God’s rules that day, but I always knew that when I did something wrong I was forgiven. I could pray to God and ask for my sins to be forgiven. I knew that because of what Christ did on the cross I would no longer be found guilty because Christ paid my debt. God’s holy wrath against mankind’s rebellion would not have to burn against me, because I was trusting in Christ’s payment in my place. I owed a debt and Jesus Christ paid my debt.

Since that time I have sensed and experienced God’s presence during the ups and downs of life. When I was a wayward college student I was under such conviction because of my disobedient conduct. And as much as I tried to ignore God I just couldn’t get away from Him. I was completely uncomfortable doing what many had no problem doing and I was always aware of the reason for my perpetual discomfort—I was now a follower of Christ.

I have also experienced an inner peace and comfort knowing that I have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe—the one true God. I have spent over twenty years serving in the US Army as an Airborne Ranger and have faced death over and over again. From hazardous training exercises to combat deployments, death was a reality. Yet over and over again I knew that if I died I would forever be with God. My relationship with Christ gives my life a sense of purpose and direction that I would not have without Him.

From the Bible, I know that Christ died so that I would not have to experience the wrath of God on a fateful day of judgment. Were it not for my relationship with Christ my disobedience to God’s law would not be forgiven. Jesus is my Lord and Savior and I cannot imagine living without him. I saw God radically change my dad’s life first hand. The same revolutionary power that God applied to my father, He is now applying to me. He has changed this rebel who was rooted in sin, and He will continue to do so until my day of redemption!

Did Jesus set the whole thing up?

In the same letter that I was accused of following after the money changers, I was also reprimanded for adding to the Word of God or giving my people “bad information” on Sunday night, April 29, 2007.

On Sunday night, I was preaching about Jesus and Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm as reported in Matthew 14, Mark 6 and John 6. (I have been preaching through the book of John verse by verse—what a great way to preach. I hope you are enjoying the study as much as I am.)

Anyway, I said that Jesus knew the storm was coming and set the whole thing up to strengthen the Disciples faith that He was and is the Christ. This, of course, is ultimately the pursuit His Glory.

My brother in Christ, who visited that night, has taken great issue with my suggestion that Christ set the whole thing up. He stated that he read and re-read the passage in several translations and did not see where I got that from. Therefore his conclusion is that I was adding to the Bible, which as we all know is strictly forbidden in Revelation, or I am “giving your people bad information.” Again, this is a very serious accusation. To state that an elder is adding to the Word of God or preaching that which is false is something that requires me to answer.

So let me state publicly where I got that from. My premise is simple: I believe that Jesus was God when He was on this earth as a human being. I do not believe the Bible teaches that He set His deity aside. I believe every miracle was a sign to prove that He was and is God. According to Phil. 2 He set certain things aside, but there isn’t any indication that He set His deity aside. If He were not God on this earth then why did the angels worship Him at His birth? If Jesus of Nazareth was not God, then what are all the “I am” sayings about in John? If Jesus was not God when He was on this earth then what does John 1.14 teach? Certainly my brother in Christ is not denying the Deity of Christ. In Mark 2.5 Jesus forgave a man’s sins and only God can forgive sins. In John 8 and 10 the Jews were going to stone Him to death because He presented Himself as God. In John 10.30, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Certainly no one would argue with me that God the Father doesn’t know the weather forecast and future. God is omniscient and Jesus is God. This is not circular reasoning. This a fact for which I built the premise of my message.

So, upon my belief that Christ was and is God, I then can assume that He was and is just as all knowing as God. In Matthew 12.25 and Luke 6.8, the Bible says Jesus knew their thoughts. The reason He knew their thoughts was because He was and is God. In John 2.24, Jesus knows all men. Certainly it is reasonable to assume that if Christ still had that ability to know the thoughts and intent of mankind, He knew what the weather forecast was going to be. Later, Jesus would tell the disciples that Judas was going to betray Him. Certainly it is reasonable to believe that because Jesus knew the future actions of a human being, He could and did know what would happen when the high pressure and low pressure systems met each other over the Sea of Galilee.

Now, if this is not the issue, then the issue could be my statement that Jesus set the whole thing up. Where did I get that from? I got that from Matthew 14.22 where Jesus “constrained” the disciples to get into the boat and get on the water on a night that He knew it was going to storm. I did a word study on “constrained” and I certainly got the impression by everything I read that Jesus made the disciples get in that boat. But to an even greater degree, I believe God is setting up all kinds of things everywhere, all the time, as the Sovereign God of the Universe.

As I read through the entire Bible, I see His Sovereignty over and over again. I see Him setting up the storms that Joseph went through in Genesis to save the House of Jacob from starvation. Joseph seems to indicate this exact concept in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

We may have thought that storm to be evil against those disciples, but not Jesus. Jesus meant it for good because those Disciples got to see that Jesus was not just a man, He was the Son of Man, and as the only begotten Son of God He had that power to walk on water, calm the storm and relocate the boat to the shore instantly.

Didn’t God set up the crucifixion of His Son so that in the salvation of millions upon millions He might be glorified? Doesn’t God reveal His incredible, unbelievable love for man through the cross and in doing so isn’t He glorified? What did Jesus mean when He told Pilate in John 19:11 “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” I submit to you that the storm could have no power over those disciples except it was granted by God. If you say it is God the Father, I say the Father and Son are one.

What is Ester 4.14 all about if it isn’t about God setting up events in the kingdom of man? In Daniel 5 God set it all up so that the world could know that the Most High God rules in the Kingdom of man.

My brother states that it is possible that Christ knew that storm was coming and it is possible that he could have set it up but the Bible doesn’t say that; therefore, I should not have preaching that. My contention is that Christ is God and as God He knows and knew everything. In Matthew 24.26, Jesus states that no one knows the day and hour of the Second Coming except the Father, yet in John 10.30 He states that He and the Father are one. Therefore, I am left to conclude that Christ knew everything that the Father knew and knows.

Here’s my bottom line: I believe Christ was and is God even while He was on this earth. I believe He retained the attribute of being omniscient. Furthermore, I believe the Bible when it says God is the same, yesterday, today and forever—I change not (Hebrews 13.8 and Malachi 3.6). Therefore, I apply all the attributes of God to all Scripture at all times.

Me a Money Changer--That's the Accusation

On Tuesday, May 01, 2007 I received a letter from a visitor who stated that I “seem to be following the “money changers” with your open Market of selling CDs and Tee Shirts, etc.”

Considering the fact that Jesus put a whip to the back of the money changers, to call someone a money changer is certainly a very strong thing to say. Therefore, it seems appropriate that I respond to such an accusation. In the event that anyone else is thinking the same thing I chose to address the issue on my blog.

In the gospels, the money changers profited personally from the sale of sacrifices and the exchange of currency. Neither I nor the church profit from anything we sell. The DVD/CD ministry either breaks even or runs a slight deficient each week. I can’t imagine our Lord and Savior confronting me about the recording of our services so that those who can’t be present get an opportunity to be present via the DVDs. The soldiers who are deployed, the shuts-ins who can’t be present, the bus workers who miss each week, the nursery workers who care for those precious to our Lord, and the out of town truck drivers would also simply have to miss out. My Lord Jesus knows that the church is not profiting from the sale of the DVDs. Each camera costs 1000s of dollars. The DVD/CDs must be purchased. The recording machines are not donated. It all takes money and the sale of the DVD/CDs simply helps recoup some of the cost so that the tithe and offerings of God’s people can be used for other areas of ministry.

With regard to tee shirts: Again the cost is simply enough to pay for the clothing and shipping. People have to wear clothing in order to be modest. I am providing them with clothing that helps proclaim the message of Christ. Our society knows that Baptist churches believe in the Bible and the God of the Bible has a Son whose name is Jesus Christ. When a person wears a Berean Baptist Church shirt, ball cap or drinks from a mug that has our name and logo, the cross and the One who died on that cross is proclaimed. Essentially the clothing helps with one’s life witness.

Eventually, we hope to be able to provide even more choices for godly music, edifying books, Bible study tools and clothing that is modest and promotes His Church. At all times, we will keep the cost such that only the expenses are covered. And we will ensure that the sale of these items never interferes with the worship of our God. Prior to Christ’s death, a Jew needed to buy a mammal from someone to sacrifice and keep the law. After His death and resurrection, Christians no longer need to buy something at the temple to worship. No one is compelled to purchase anything and there is no one pocketing the profits so we certainly have not turned His House into a den of thieves. Nor will we ever!