On Becoming Like Christ

Western or Wailing Wall

If the Christian life can be summarized in one thought it’s the idea of becoming like Jesus. From the moment of our salvation to our ultimate glorification the entire process of the Christian life, what we refer to as sanctification, is pointed towards the goal of becoming like Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the land of Israel. It was one of the unique experiences of my life. While I have never felt the need to “walk where Jesus walked” I have to admit that there was a sense of sacredness as I touched the stones of the Wailing Wall. The same was true as I stood on the deck of a boat in the Sea of Galilee and as I hiked in the tunnels in the area of the temple mount and stood on the Roman pavement on which Jesus probably walked. Knowing that I was where Jesus had been touched me in a way that I cannot explain. I came away from that trip wishing that I had taken it thirty years sooner.

Christians around the world want to visit the Holy Land because they want to walk where Jesus walked. But it’s not enough to walk where Jesus walked. It won’t do anything for your spiritual life – if that’s as far as you take it.

I’m teaching an Adult Bible Fellowship class in our church on Matthew 5-7, the passage we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. One of the things that I tell the class each week is that you can’t walk like Jesus walked until you think like Jesus thought. That’s the crux of the matter. It’s not the physical proximity to where Jesus spent His life that matters, it’s the spiritual proximity to how Jesus thought that will change your life. We need to begin thinking like Jesus thought.

Again the Apostle Paul spoke to this issue when he wrote do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). It is the mind, the way we think and process life that needs to be changed. We won’t become like Jesus by visiting Israel, but we will become like Jesus when we begin to think like He thought.

The New Testament stresses this need for us to think like Jesus. We’re told that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and to let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). That is, we have been given a new mind, a regenerated mind so we need to use it to think like Christ. The process of sanctification is a process of changing the way we use our minds so that we see and respond to life in a way that is different from our normal tendencies.

Someday our minds will be completely changed. The Apostle John explains it this way: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). That is we will ultimately and totally be like Christ. It’s a process that has already begun in our lives and it’s a process in which we have an important role to play.

The only way that we can begin to think differently, to think like Jesus is to be immersed in the Word of God. It is the Word that will wash our minds so that we think differently. It is the Word of God that will sanctify our minds and our lives (Ephesians 5:25-27). As we are in the Word the Spirit of God will transform our minds and in the process we will become, in small, incremental steps, more like Christ.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Stop Cursing the Darkness

The Garden

In case you haven’t noticed we are living in a rapidly changing world. Life-altering changes are occurring across a wide spectrum of society including technology, entertainment, medicine, the economy and society.

Change can be good. We are living longer and better because of change. We stay in contact with more people in more places today because of change. We have a better standard of living because of change. We get a glimpse into the lives of other nations and people and understand them better because of change. But not all change is to be accepted equally. Not all change is good. This is perhaps most noticeable in the changes we see taking place in our society.

Today we are witnessing some of the most profound changes in our culture and society that any of us can remember. This was brought out in an internet article under the title Are America’s Absurdly Homophobic Ways Just Buried in History? Don’t let the author’s calculated, prejudicial title, or the fact that she writes from a position on the extreme left put you off. Her main point, and at least this much is true, is that our western society is embracing rapid change, especially in the area of same-sex relationships. While we are not yet where she thinks we need to be, she points out evidence that suggests we are on the right track – at least her right track. What is interesting about her article is that she could have substituted several other topics for same-sex marriage and written the same article. As a culture we are changing and not always in good ways.

As Christians we recognize that our culture is changing in ways that often militate against our faith and our too typical reaction is to curse the darkness. But we also need to recognize that we have a choice: we can either curse the darkness around us or we can take steps to dispel the darkness. We were never promised a culture that would love us, respect our faith, or look at us as being desirable members of society – in fact a good case can be made from scripture for just the opposite response (Luke 6:22).

None of this should surprise us. We really shouldn’t be surprised at the downward progression of our western culture. We shouldn’t be surprised that we are characterized as being absurdly homophobic, or to use another descriptive phrase from the author, bigoted and homophobic. I can think of at least two reasons why the slide of our culture into the slough of immorality should come as no surprise to us: First, people without Christ are simply acting as people without Christ. They are following their fallen nature and except for the fact that God has changed us we would be right there with them. We should expect them to act this way.

The second reason that none of this should take us by surprise is because God told us this would happen. The Apostle Paul famously begins chapter three of 2 Timothy with the words but know this, in the last days perilous times will come. He goes on to describe these perilous times: people will be lovers of themselves . . . unholy . . . without self-control . . . despisers of good (always understand the biblical word good in the context of what God says is good, not what people think is good) . . . lovers of pleasure. Does that sound like our culture or what!?

So let’s stop cursing the darkness. It’s here. It’s to be expected. Cursing what we don’t like is the easy way out. But the spiritual darkness is here and it’s not going away, at least not until Jesus comes.

Instead of cursing the darkness try being a light to dispel some of the darkness around you (Matthew 5:14-16). If you provide some light in the darkness of your world some people will respond to the light and be drawn to the One who is the Light of the world. And that’s how you defeat the darkness.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Will People Say at Your Wake?

Grave at Nazareth

Have you ever wondered what people will say about you when you’re gone? It would be interesting to be able to listen to the conversations taking place around the room at your wake. What will people say?

I don’t think that they will talk about how much money you made, or how many hours you spent working, or the house you lived in, or the car you drove. But people will remember you for how honest you were, how caring you were, how faithful you were, how godly you were. They will remember you for your generosity, your compassion, and your faithfulness to God. They will remember you for the important things.

That leads to the question: What’s really important? What are the really important things in life? It’s a good question to ponder. After all, life is too short to spend it doing unimportant things. If we want our lives to really amount to anything we had better spend it doing things that matter – things that are important.

So what are the important things in your life? What are the things that you’ll look back on with pride and satisfaction when you’re in the winter of life? What are the things that you’ll be glad you accomplished?

If I was going to make a list of the important things for my life, a sort of spiritual bucket list, it would look something like this:

• being a faithful husband
• being a Godly influence on my children and grandchildren
• spending more time serving God
• becoming a better teacher of the Word
• doing more to help and encourage the Believers in Haiti

What’s even more critical than what people will say about you is what God thinks about you. In reality it doesn’t matter what people think or remember. What God thinks, however, IS important. So what does God think about what you think is important in life? Does He agree with your list or is He wondering why you have so many unimportant things on your list?

My prayer for all of us today is that we will spend today – and everyday, doing what is really important in life. In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul wrote, Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Being Committed to Peace

Mt of Beatitudes

In the Adult Bible Fellowship class that I teach on Sundays at our church we’re in a series of lessons titled Walking Like Jesus Walked. The idea is that as Christians, if we’re really going to claim the name we need to walk the walk.

As I was preparing my lessons it dawned on me that before we can walk like Jesus walked we have to think like Jesus thought. Our actions come out of our thought processes. What we do is birthed in a thought – no matter how fleeting or inadvertent the thought is.

The section of scripture that I am teaching is Matthew chapters 5-7 or what we normally refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. While this section is undoubtedly Jewish in nature and an argument can be made that it relates specifically to the Millennial Kingdom time period, it seems reasonable to argue that if Jesus expected these characteristics (poor in spirit, meek etc) of His followers at any time period in history then He expects them for all of His followers at every time period in history. And if we are going to walk like Jesus walked this is how to do it.

But what about thinking like Jesus thought? The more I reflected on it, the more it became apparent that this same passage gives us some great insights into the thought patterns of the Son of God. We can discover how Jesus thought by studying His teachings and the Sermon on the Mount is one of the great sources for His teaching.

Let me give you one example. When Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9), He is showing us just how important the concept of peace is in the mind of God. Too often this statement is used in the context of war; equivalent to pacifist. But its primary application is not to nations but to people and how we are to live our lives every day. We are to be people who make peace.

The word for peacemakers is only used here in the New Testament. It has the idea of action, doing something (making peace), even of committing our lives to something (peace). God wants His people to commit their lives to living in peace. Peace in their life. Peace in their home. Peace in their relationships. Peace in how they think. Peace in how they speak. Even peace in how they drive! Peace is to be a dominate attribute in our lives because it is dominate in the heart of God. Five times in the New Testament God is referred to as the God of peace. That’s just who He is and it’s who He wants us to be. The words Christian and peacemaker are to be synonymous.

One last thought. Living in peace sometimes depends on other people. That is, it is possible for someone to rob you of your peace. God saw that coming so He told us how to handle it. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). God is not going to hold you accountable when someone else destroys your peace. You just have to do everything you can to make peace. You have to be committed to peace.

When our thoughts and actions are dominated by peace so that people know us as people of peace then we will be known as sons and daughters of God.

Now the God of peace be with you all. (Romans 15:33).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians and the Ice Bucket Challenge

En Gedi

A phenomenon is sweeping social media sites like Facebook. Known as the Ice Bucket Challenge it is an ingenuous attempt to raise both awareness and funds for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) research.

According to the ALS website here’s how it works. The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.

Among my limited number of Facebook friends there have literally been dozens of videos posted showing people dumping ice water over their heads. I do wonder how many people who have participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge have also sent in a donation or do most people interpret this as an either/or situation? Either I douse myself with ice water or I send in a donation. I would love to hear from those who completed the challenge if they also made a donation. Just curious. Some apparently have – keep reading.

Has it worked? According to one website as of Tuesday (Aug. 19), the ALS Association has received $22.9 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.9 million during the same time period last year. The association has seen 453,210 new donors.

I would have to say it has been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I only wish that I had thought of it!

I do have one concern, however, that centers around the policy of the ALS Association as it relates to the use of embryonic stem cells. In reading their website it appears to me that they have no moral objection to using embryonic stem cells in their research. While they admit that using stem cells derived from fertilized embryos less than a week old raises ethical issues, they nowhere reject the use of these stem cells. If this is true then Christians who believe that life begins at conception should have a major issue with the ALS Association and by extension the Ice Bucket Challenge.

While this marketing strategy has been so successful, success does not equal right. If the taking of an innocent life is biblically wrong then it is always wrong regardless of the good it might do.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s question in Romans 6, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? That is, should we sin in order that good might be accomplished? In Paul’s case the good was God’s grace. In the Ice Bucket Challenge the good is the potential medical breakthrough that will save lives. But the answer to both situations must be the same for the Christian – Absolutely not! In the Christian life it is never right to sin in order to achieve right.

There is some indication that a donor to the ALS Association can ask that their donations not be used for research involving embryonic stem cells – and for some people that may be a way to handle this ethical/moral dilemma. However that’s simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. When you choose that option you allow the organization to use your funds to free up other funds for the same research. It doesn’t work, it just makes you feel better.

I suggest that until the ALS Association has a clear policy and rejects the use of research using embryonic stem cells that Christians send their donations elsewhere. There are many worthy causes that do not force you into an ethical/moral dilemma.

The scriptural instruction to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16) is still good advice.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Family Reunions

DSCF0261

It’s that time of year. The end of summer is quickly approaching and the beginning of another school year is almost here (mothers you can listen to the Hallelujah Chorus here). It’s also the time of year when many families get together for their annual family reunion. Many of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of their extended families enjoying picnics, games, and sitting in the shade catching up with Aunt Matilda.

I always loved family reunions. Unfortunately growing up our family often lived too far away to join in the festivities. I do remember, however, in my early primary school days that my father’s family would get together, sometimes in a park across the street from our church. The “religious” members of the family would join our church service while the rest would wait for us in the park then we would all join together for a great afternoon of food, games, food, fun, food. I always loved that as a little guy and I’ve missed it as an adult.

That made me think about the greatest of all family reunions, when God’s family finally gets together. The Apostle Paul refers to us as children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8: 16). The Apostle John described this family as coming from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). It will be a family, not connected by physical blood, but by something much stronger, the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you who have had the opportunity of going on a missions trip to another country have already had a taste of what it will be like.

Think about it – for thousands of years this family has been growing and it will continue to grow until Jesus comes. It’s just getting bigger and bigger. If you are a Christian you have brothers and sisters that you have never met and they are part of this great family.

While much of the family of God around the world is doing well part of your family is meeting in secret house churches in China to avoid being arrested. Part of your family is on a mountaintop in Iraq fleeing for their lives (even though the news media uses the term Christian rather loosely here to include everyone who is not Muslim, still there is a good chance that some of those people know Christ). Some of your family is being persecuted in places like Pakistan, Sudan, and Nigeria. Many in your family will go to bed tonight with empty stomachs. Things are not good for everyone in your family.

That’s why God has encouraged us to take care of each other – therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10). It is the responsibility of those who can to take care of those who lack.

What have you done recently to show that you care for your family? To show that they are important to you? To show that you care as much about them as God does? The Apostle Paul reminds us that if one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26). Suffering in the family is everyone’s business. It affects all of us.

This family thing can’t just be theoretical. It has to be practical. It has to mean something to us or it means nothing at all. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to stand in front of my family someday knowing that I could have done something but having done nothing and have them ask me where I was when they needed my help.

So if you minister to the family who is suffering – thank you! If not, they’re waiting for you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve