The Church As It Ought To Be: A Study Of The Book Of Acts

Each year, in some local congregation, a member walks away from the Church. It’s a problem that reaches back to the establishment of the Church: baptized believers being added to the Church by God, but sometime later exit through what we call “the back door” no longer desiring to be associated with the Church. The Word of God speaks to the problem: Beware, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13).

Truthfully speaking, what do you believe about the Church? The question needs to remain in the mind of every member of God’s Church. God’s people will always have to address the issue of discouraged and dissatisfied members walking away from the Church. But are we willing to admit, when a local congregation is seriously seeking to be the Church as it ought to be, it will experience increase and growth, rather than decline.  

In July, we begin a new sermon series on Acts, The Book of Acts provides us with an inspired and reliable portrait of Church Health and Church Growth. Our goal is clear and simple; to teach and preach the Church of Christ as God intended it to be. At Waterbury, we want our Church family to be God’s Church in all areas of our learning, life, and labor. In this way, our Church will grow spiritually, and we will also grow in numbers to fill every seat in our facility. As your Evangelist, this is the vision that I embrace and pray daily that all members will embrace! VHH          

The Spiritual Health of a Thankful and Grateful Church

How exactly do we measure the spiritual health of a Church? Every local congregation of the church of Christ needs to be healthy in its life and labor. The Church will always grow God’s way when it’s healthy. Make no mistake about it, a weak, feeble, and sickly church is destined for decline – perhaps even spiritual death. This is how the Lord Jesus Christ assessed the church at Laodicea: “Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17). Jesus is rightly describing what a sickly church looks like!

This must be the urgent and constant prayer lifted up in every church: “Lord, work in our minds and hearts to help us be a spiritually healthy church.” This is the point, establishing a culture of thanksgiving and gratitude is one of the ways that God guides a church to get healthy and stay healthy. This is Paul’s inspired instruction to the churches: “Giving thanks always for all things to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20). As we express genuine thanksgiving to God, He guides us to also express thanks for and to one another. At Waterbury, we need to measure our spiritual health by the many ways we declare and demonstrate thanksgiving and gratitude for God and for every member of our church family. Let’s be a thankful and grateful church!!!

– Van Hardin      

Encounters With Jesus In The Gospel of Mark: Kingdom Instructions And Insights

Our Wednesday Bible Class is your opportunity to receive Kingdom Instructions And Insights from the life and labor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the outline we are following in our study in the Gospel of Mark: 1:9-20 Jesus calls, 2:1-12, Jesus forgives, 3:23-35 Jesus unities, 5:21-24, 35-43 Jesus restores, 6:7-13, 30-32 Jesus sends, 7:25-37 Jesus includes, 9:14-27 Jesus commands, 10:35-45 Jesus serves, 11:15-19, 12:41-44 Jesus purifies, 13:24-37 Jesus promises, 14:3-11, 32-36 Jesus prepares, 15:27-39 Jesus saves, 15:42-47, 16:1-8 Jesus saves.

As we press forward in the life of faith, we need sound and solid teaching. Jesus was, indeed, the Master Teacher. When we open our hearts to His words, we are taught at the highest level possible.  Join us in our Wednesday Bible class and be richly blessed by the truthful and timely instruction of Jesus.

– Van Hardin

Encounters With Jesus in The Gospel Of Mark

    Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, but it presents a lively, fast-paced and fast-moving portrait of the life and labor of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is the Servant of God, faithfully engaged in God’s work. Mark highlights the deeds of Jesus much more than His teaching. In the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel, we see the quick and hasty move of Jesus into the work He had come to carry out.

    The pace is fast, as indicated by Mark’s “immediate” language. “And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him. (Mark 1:10). “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12.

What follows next? Jesus is God’s Servant doing God’s work. “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” (Mark 1:14).

    Mark invites the reader to embark on an action-packed adventure of Jesus at work! At every turn, Mark presents Jesus faithfully aligned to God’s truth in God’s time. No  delay! No procrastination! No putting off what needed to be done! In Mark, we come to honor and value Jesus for the saving and redeeming work He did on our behalf. But we also learn from Him – that we are to be His disciples faithfully and actively engaged in

His work. This is the focus point of our Wednesday Bible Class: Encounters With Jesus

In the Gospel of Mark. There’s so much to be learned and applied. Join us and be richly blessed by the Word. – Van Hardin

The Motivation To Pray

The Lord Jesus Christ supplies us with a truthful and timely word about being motivated to pray. He spoke about the need to be watchful – “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38). To be watchful is to be alert, attentive, and observant. It’s a focus word. Jesus is teaching us that the urgency, and frequency, of prayer can be traced back to taking a close look at things. It’s seeing things as they really are. The disciples were not mentally and spiritually alert to the magnitude of this moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. Great eternal issues were unfolding in this place, but they were not sharp-eyed and on full alert to what was happening around them. They slept through this intense and immense battle being fought, and won, by Jesus. It was because He was keenly aware of the wicked work of the enemy coming against Him, that Jesus prayed so fervently and passionately.

Ponder the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” It was so unlike Jesus to speak this way! As they had consistently observed, Jesus was always fearless and on top of all situations. This was clearly different, but because they were not watchful in this moment of crisis, they failed to stand up and be accountable to the Lord’s invitation for them to join in this historic battle. They did not pray – none of them. But what about us? So often in life, we are facing our own titanic trials and temptations. And like the disciples, we are not on full alert as we should be. Think about it. The devil is always busy – busy all the time. He’s always up to no good. The battle is fierce and ferocious. The outcome is very clear – victory or defeat. May God give us a head and heart that is spiritually watchful. The results! We will pray as we should and win the victory like our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – Van Hardin

Having A Strong Heart

     You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

     (James 5:8)

     On December 22, 2005, Matt Long, a member of the New York City Fire Department was riding his bike to a training session when he was hit by a twenty-ton bus. The bus didn’t just knock Long down; it ran over him. Long was impaled by his bike. Amazingly, he was not killed even though he suffered numerous injuries. Rescue workers extracted his body from the wreckage and transported him to a hospital where he received 68 units of blood and had 22 surgeries before his release five months later. The doctors working on Long were astounded that his heart was still pumping until a family member explained that Long had just qualified for the Boston Marathon. Because he was in top physical condition, Long’s heart was strong enough to keep pumping even though his body was seriously injured. His heart was strong!      For the child of God, dealing with so many trails, troubles, and temptations, a strong spiritual heart is an absolute must. We must keep our heart strong – very strong – through the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer, fasting, the diligent study of God’s word, and maintaining devotional times with God. Yes, the Devil is busy. Yes, life can be harsh and hurtful. Yes, people will misunderstand you and wrongly judge you. But there is a spiritual answer to this real-life stuff. Keep your heart strong in God. With a strong heart, you will experience the growth and victory that God has ordained for your life. Don’t settle for weakness! Be determined to have a strong spiritual heart in your journey of faith. Let’s believe it and declare it. The increase, advancement, and growth of the Waterbury congregation will require that our people have strong hearts committed to God’s will and work. – Van Hardin

This Time I’ll Get It Right

     It’s possible that we begin every new year – looking back – at the things we didn’t get right in the previous year. The new year begins with a burst of optimism and gratitude for God blessing us to see a new year. The year kicks off with a celebratory spirit! But then, we come face to face with the reality of the missteps and mistakes that we can’t seem to overcome. It’s a new year, but some of the old defeats have been brought into this new moment in time.

     Of course, some people are not troubled about the defeats of yesterday. They say, “I’m just human.” But there are others who enter the new year driven and determined to confess and address the spiritual failures that have been largely overlooked, excused, and rationalized. If we’re thinking right, and set on doing right in the new year, we will be determined to live victorious in more and more areas of our life. Think about it! Is there any reason why we should not enter the new year focused on being victorious over the habits, behavior, and bad ways of doing things that are not God’s will for our life. Perhaps most of us, if not all of us, have areas in our life that we’re not getting right. And the new year should bring us to declare, “this time I’ll get it right.” This is the attitude that lines up with God’s word: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57.      The new year is a great opportunity for us to look honestly and closely at any wrong that needs to be made right in our life. From the start of the year, we should make a bold proclamation that “this time I’ll get it right.” We are spiritually born, and Holy Spirit filled, to live victorious in Jesus Christ and His Church. Paul declared it – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. So let me make this suggestion. Write down a few things that you’re not getting right in your journey of faith. Bring this list before God in a prayer of humble contrition. Speak these words: “Lord, it’s a new year that You have brought me into, and I’m presenting some things to You that I didn’t get right last year. But this is a new year. And in Your power and good guidance, “this time I’ll get it right.” What a mighty God we serve. We can get right and stay right through Him! – Van Hardin

2024: Getting Our Praying Right to Receive What Is Needed

As God brings us into a new year, there’s so much to get right before God. Right at the top tier of our “got to get this right list” is our prayer time with God. Prayer is never – ever – wasted time. It’s an opportunity in time for us to live out the promise set forth by James: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). Right praying is not accidental or incidental – it’s intentional. We must be intentional, from the depths of our spirit, to pray right in God’s presence. This means bringing the right mind and motives into our prayer moments with God. Right thinking produces right doing. So when we think right in prayer, we will do right in prayer. Jesus put it this way: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6).

Let’s lean into these words. First, Jesus implies that we will be committed to a life of prayer. He says, “when you pray.” Right praying is an extension of our daily life. We come to believe that “to live is to pray.” Second, Jesus calls attention to the secret, private, isolated, shut off from others, requisite of right praying. Yes, public prayer, and group prayer, is essential praying. But we must spend time, much time, alone with the Lord our God in prayer. The word picture of shutting the door conveys the idea of shutting things out that we may be a hundred percent locked into the prayer moment. Unnecessary distractions will interfere with the spiritual focus essential to right praying. Last but not least, is the right attitude about God that is essential to getting our praying right. Jesus declares we must know for sure that God “will reward.” The Greek word for “reward” means: “to grant, to furnish, to supply, to give.” Get the idea. In prayer, and through prayer, we will receive from God exactly what is good, right, and necessary in 2024.   This year, as with every year, there’s every good reason for us to get our praying right. This is why we’re taking a close look at prayer in our Wednesday pm Bible class. The topic is: God Centered Prayer That Produce Timely Outcomes: Principles For a 2024 Prayer Life. Why not join us! It’s an opportunity, even at this early start of the new year, to get our thinking right and praying right. Remember, Jesus promised, God “will reward.” See you in class!!! – Van Hardin

A Date and Destiny Marked on The Calendar of Your Heart

In this time side of life, we always seem to have some date penciled in on our calendar. Something we’re looking forward to in the days ahead: a graduation, a date set for a career promotion, a vacation, and yes, a wedding day. Many others have dates set on the calendar that are troubling, hurtful, and sorrowful: the date when a sentence will be handed down in a court of law, a date for a diagnostic health test, or a date when a beloved family member is funeralized and laid to rest. Dates matter, rather it’s an occasion for joy or mourning.

For the baptized believer, is there a more significant date – or moment in time – when we transition from life to our promised eternal reward? It’s what we’re praying for, living for, working for, and waiting for – in God’s time. Ann Ross Cousins was a British poet, musician, and song writer. Before her death on December 6, 1906, she wrote several popular hymns that are treasured to this very day. Her best-known hymn, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking,” has captured the hearts of millions. The very first verse sets the stage for all that follows. “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks…” Great song and great hope!

Heaven! No matter what you’re going through, or dealing with in time, stay laser focused on heaven. Wake up thinking about heaven, think about heaven throughout the day, and sleep restfully thinking about it. This was Paul’s reminder: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20).

No doubt, we have some significant dates penciled in on our calendars. But child of God, make sure that as you travel through time, even in the year 2024, keep the hope of heaven stamped deeply in your heart. And yes, it’s worth living for and waiting for.   by Van H. Hardin

Turning Back the Hands of Time

Way back in 1970, Tyrone Davis sang into the airways a song that reached number one on Billboard’s R & B Chart. The best-selling hit, “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” spoke to the sentiments of the masses. Down through the ages, countless numbers of people have said it: “If I could turn back the hands of time!” Davis was singing about a broken relationship that he wanted to recover. And like Davis, so many others long for a do-over moment in life – crying out from the depths of their spirit for an opportunity to redo something that went terribly wrong in their past. But there’s hope, because the Living God is a God of a second chance in time.

God’s second chances – in time – are ultimately all about getting our life right with Him. But when we think about “Turning Back the Hands of Time,” our focus is most often on something we want to set right in the natural. But for God, another shot, a new opportunity, a second time is all about the heavenly things and eternal things that are so much more important than this present life. But are we willing to think like God?

 Of course, men and women need to be open and honest before God about the wasted time spent in bad thinking and bad living. Paul calls it out, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air…” Ephesians 2:2. That was back then! But now, the God of the second chance in time has set us right and made things right: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. Yes, we completely blew it in the past, but our loving God “Turned Back the Hands of Time” by washing us in the blood of Jesus and took away all the sin debts from our past. Now that’s great news!!! – Van Hardin