The Great Impeachment

To anyone who is paying the least bit of attention to what is going on in our country there is one item that is dominating the headlines: the impeachment trial of the President. However it turns out, at least half of the country (approximately) will be self-righteously angry and the other half smugly delighted.

In the grand scheme of history it probably doesn’t amount to much – perhaps a tiny blimp on the radar screen. So why all the fuss? Given that everyone in Washington knew that with the present makeup of the Senate they were unlikely to find him guilty, the real goal seemed to be to simply embarrass the President. Do whatever damage you can.

While I’m not a fan of this president, I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him. How would you like to be in his place?

Sure, he may deserve it, but don’t we all?

I’m reminded of the time a woman who had been caught in adultery was dragged before Jesus by a mob of men (John 8:1-11). I find two things especially interesting about this story. First, the man involved didn’t receive the same treatment. After all it takes two to tango (you get the idea), but only the woman is accused. Secondly, it wasn’t really about the woman, it was about Jesus. They were trying to find something that they could use against him, something to discredit him in the eyes of the populous with whom he had become wildly popular (see verse 6). She was simply collateral damage. They used her to get to him.

There’s no question that she was guilty. She didn’t claim otherwise, nor did Jesus say You’ve got the wrong woman. No, they had an adulteress all right. Guilty as charged. Punishable by death according to the Jewish law.

In one of the greatest turn-the-tables-on-them that you’ll ever find, Jesus told them to go ahead and carry out the punishment, but with one caveat, the first rock had to be thrown by someone who was sinless.

Boy, did he know how to break up a crowd! One by one they left with visions of their own sin flashing in their minds.

What about us? What do you think life would be like if we followed that piece of advice?

Go ahead, impeach him, but let the first witness be the one who has never sinned. The one who has no skeletons in his/her closet. That would make for a short trial.

But forget the Washington bubble. You and I live in the real world.

What would our lives be like if we lived by that standard?

Go ahead and get angry at him/her. Go ahead and speak ill of your neighbor. Go ahead and blame your co-worker. Go ahead and yell at your kids. But first just make sure that there’s no sin in your life.

Impossible standard? Sure it is. But then why do any of us think that we have the right to put someone else on trial when we should be standing in front of the mob with them?

He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

 

Walking With God

The great grandfather of Noah, he of the flood episode, was a man named Enoch. Unlike virtually everyone else in his generation, it was said of Enoch that he walked with God (Genesis 5:22). The only other person of whom this was ever said in the Bible was Noah himself.

It’s worth asking, What does it mean to Walk With God? Since both Enoch and Noah are singled out in the Bible as men worth imitating, it seems that it’s important for us to know something about walking with God.

Interestingly one of the words that the New Testament uses to describe the Christian life is this same word walk.

The way that the word is used in the New Testament gives us some idea of what the concept means.

Here are a few statements that will help clarify it.

As Christians we are to:

Walk in newness of life – Romans 6:4

Walk properly – Romans 13:13

Walk by faith – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Walk in the Spirit – Ephesians 5:16, 5:25

Walk in love – Galatians 5:2

Walk as children of light – Galatians 5:8

Walk worthy of the Lord – Colossians 1:10

Walk in wisdom – Colossians 4:5

Walk according to His commandments – 2 John 1:6

Walk in the truth – 3 John 1:3

In Contrast we are not to:

Walk according to the flesh – Romans 8:1

Walk as the rest of the Gentiles (unsaved) walk – Galatians 4:17

Walk disorderly – 2 Thessalonians 3:6

The word walk actually serves as a code word for how we are to live the Christian life. When people walk together through the years, their lives become interwoven in beautiful and complex ways. You can say that they live life together.

That is how we are to live life with God.

Substitute the word Live in each of the statements above – Live in newness of life; Live by faith; Live in love etc. and you will begin to understand what it means to Walk With God.

As Christians that is how our lives are to be characterized. We are not to be like Mike (Google it!), we are to be like Enoch.

Living the Christian life is more than most people, even Christians, appreciate. It’s about how often you live by faith, how much you live the way the Holy Spirit lives, how sincerely you live in love toward other people, how truthfully you live in a way that is worthy of God Himself etc.

Contrary to what many Christians think (or at least appear to believe based on the way they live life), there are some very specific parameters that define the Christian life. And unless you are living somewhere within those parameters, it’s difficult to see how you are walking with God.

The Christian life is about life with God; live lived well with God; life walked with God.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

 

Living in Fearful Times

I had originally planned to write an optimistic blog about the New Year and how we can make the most out of the blank canvas that we call 2020.

But things have changed. Quickly. Events in the middle east have taken a turn since last Friday that few, if any of us saw coming. More U.S. troops are being deployed. People on both sides are using war language. It is certain that the assassination of Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani has changed what 2020 would have been into something else and that it will not be the final act in this drama being played out in real time.

We are Living in Fearful Times. No one knows where or how this will end – not even the decision makers.

And we don’t know how the events that will certainly play out in 2020 will affect each of our lives. While most of us live far from the Middle East and probably far from any direct impact of retaliatory actions, there is the possibility that our personal worlds will be affected. The times are far from certain.

So how are we to live in uncertain times? How are we to face fearful days?

Without question there are some specific things that each of us can do to prepare our families, and I’m sure that we will soon be inundated with advice telling us how to get ready for Armageddon. Some of the advice will undoubtedly be practical and useful and some will be over the top and simply engender more fear.

But what do we tell our children about these days? What do we tell ourselves? How do we handle an unknown future that appears threatening?

The Bible is clear that as Christians we are not to live in fear (2 Timothy 1:7). So what are we to do?

The answer is not difficult – we are to live in the reality that God is ultimately in control of our world (Isaiah 14:24, 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Luke 12:22-32, Ephesians 1:11). Even though bad things happen – and we have no guarantee that we won’t be affected by them, we are to reaffirm that God is the One in control, not those men who sit with their fingers on the red button.

Beyond that we know that this God who is in control is a God of great mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and that His grace is sufficient for our journey (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so we trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Even when we don’t understand His ways. Even when we can’t reconcile what’s happening in our world with His mercy and grace. Even when fear grips our hearts. Even then we trust Him.

None of us knows what will happen in 2020 – but He does. And that is enough.

So we live in faith not in fear. That is the choice for all of us – faith or fear.

No matter what happens in this New Year, God does not want you to live in fear. He wants you to trust Him and live in faith.

When you feel fear creeping in, get alone in a quiet place with God and tell Him again that you’re going to trust Him regardless of the chaos around you. And keep telling Him, not because He needs to hear it over and over, but because you need to confess it until your heart believes it.

You can live in peace in a fearful world.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Another Year is in the Books

Another year is quickly fading into the sunset. Another New Year’s Day – that marker of the end of one year and the beginning of another year, will be here before we know it.

There’s really nothing unique about New Year’s Day, it’s just another day like every other day. But there’s something helpful about days that mark time. We use a lot of days as markers – birthdays, wedding days, armistice days, feast days, religious days, etc. They each represent something special. Something that we want to remember – or perhaps forget.

New Year’s Day has traditionally been used as a time to remember the past and anticipate the future. A time of thankfulness for some as they look back and a time of regret for others. It has also been a time of hope for all of us as we look forward to the future.

The end/begining of years has been a time to reflect on life. What did I accomplish? How did I grow as a person? In what ways did I make myself and the people around me better? It’s also been a time to look to the future (New Year’s Resolutions remember them?). How can I improve myself, my family, my job?

For the Follower of Jesus, New Year’s Day can serve a higher purpose. It’s a good time to check your spiritual development. After all, the Christian life is supposed to be a life of progress. We are to be growing in our faith (2 Peter 3:18). We are to be in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:1). God’s plan for each of us is to be daily transformed into the image of the Savior (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the year. I used the close of the service to challenge our people to stop at the end of this year and the beginning of a new year, and ask the question, How can I serve God better in the coming year? That’s part of growing.

It’s a good question to ask ourselves, and not just as we begin a new year. We should probably ask it often throughout every year.

But the new year is a good time to stop and reflect – and plan. To be spiritually introspective and proactive.

As I look back on 2019 and anticipate 2020, what can I do better for God? How can I serve Him in ways that I’ve never served Him before? How can I take my service for Him to the next level?

The only other option is called complacency.

Not a good thing. Do you want your doctor to be complacent (think of the AT&T commercial that is running on TV!)? How about your child’s teacher? Or your mechanic? Can you think of any area where complacency is a good thing? I can’t.

Why then do we settle for complacency in our spiritual lives?

Another Year is in the Books. But that can be a good thing. If it motivates us to attempt, and by God’s grace accomplish, greater things for The Kingdom.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Should You be in The Debate?

There has been an interesting and potentially harmful debate taking place in Christian circles since Christianity Today, ostensibly the leading evangelical magazine in America, published an editorial on December 19th calling for President Trump’s removal from office. You can read the editorial here, and a follow up from CT here, as well as responses by Franklin Graham on his Facebook page here and an article here by evangelicals who opposed the editorial and another here (it appears that there were two different groups who published responses although it is unclear if they are the same). Even the President weighed in (no surprise!) calling CT a “far-left magazine”. It isn’t.

My purpose is not to get into the debate. If I have learned one thing as a result of the Trump presidency, it is that evangelical Christians are not unified in their views on this president. People, both leaders and laypeople that I respect line up on each side of the issue.

What has been interesting to me in all of this is the level of heat that has been generated by the editorial, especially in comments left on various social media sites. Having read dozens of reactions, I’d have to say there’s more heat than light at this point.

Which brings me to this. Some of the people (not Graham or the leaders who signed the letters in opposition) who are the most impassioned by the editorial in CT don’t seem to understand what it means to be an Evangelical Christian.

That’s important. Christianity Today represents evangelicalism. They speak as an evangelical magazine to an evangelical audience. So, it’s important to know what an evangelical is, especially if you want a voice in the debate.

So, what is an evangelical Christian?

A number of definitions have been given to try and explain evangelical Christianity, but there are four essential pillars which evangelical Christians strongly support. Evangelical Christians affirm the following statements (from a survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources):

1. The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.

2. It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

3. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.

4. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

The point in all of this is that many professing Christians have made their position regarding President Trump a hill on which they are willing to die based on their theological beliefs, yet they are uncertain what those beliefs are.

If you cannot articulate what you believe about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and eternal life, how can you take one side or the other in a debate that is based on a specific theological position?

It seems that too many people who claim to be evangelical Christians are impassioned by the actions of the President rather than the person of Jesus.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Religious or Christian?

Is being religious the same thing as being a Christian? Some people – perhaps many people think so. Americans are often viewed as “Christians” because American is viewed as a “Christian” nation. I think most Americans know better.

It is possible to be religious and be a Christian but it’s also possible to be religious and not be a Christian. The two words are not synonymous.

Different people define these words/concepts in different ways. To some people the word religious simply means belonging to one of a variety of religious organizations. To another person it might carry the idea of faithfulness or devotion to a particular religion. Still to other people it can mean devotion to an ultimate reality or deity (take your pick).

Based on these perceptions, being religious is a more general term. It’s about how devoted a person is – but the object of the devotion can change. It’s about belonging to a group but the group can be one of many. It’s about subscribing to a set of ideas but they can be anyone’s ideas.

Christianity is different. It’s more restrictive. You don’t get a lot of flexibility here. And you don’t get to impose your definition on something that was defined two thousand years ago.

Historically and by definition, Christianity is about a relationship with the Eternal God through the Lord Jesus Christ in a way that affects every area of life. It’s a life-changing, life- altering connection (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Still, different people have different ideas about Christianity. But they are not all equally valid. One of the easiest ways to explain what it means to be a Christian is to say what it is NOT.

You are not a Christian because you:

-were born in this country

-live in this country

-attend a certain church – or attend church at all

-have been baptized

-like the idea of Jesus

-are a Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran or any other denomination

-try to live by the Golden Rule

-are a nice person and help other people

None of these ideas can be found in the Bible, nor were they subscribed to by the earliest followers of Jesus.

Even claiming to be a Christian does not make it so.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ (Acts 4:13, 11:27). It’s to believe what He taught (John 14:15). It’s to live how He said (Romans 13:14). It’s to be completely devoted to the person of Jesus (Matthew 6:34, Luke 4:8).

You can say that to be a Christian is to be religiously, in every sense of the word, united to the person of Jesus.

To be religious is not enough. In fact, by itself it will gain you very little in life. You need to be Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

That Birth!

I love December. Not so much for the cold of the season but for the warmth of what we celebrate – the birth of Jesus. That Birth!

We love the story for its drama and inspiring message if for nothing else. The starting appearance of an angel to Mary and then to Joseph that sent their worlds into a tailspin. A young, poor couple making their way on an arduous journey to the tiny village of Bethlehem of Judea. The oft maligned inn keeper who had to tell them that his rooms were filled but they could sleep with the animals. The dark sky of the hillside suddenly filled with the brilliant light of angels as they announced the birth to some rough-hewn shepherds – and their obvious delight as they hurriedly made their way to Bethlehem. The mysterious magi from the East who came searching for the child, bearing gifts.

It’s all a bit too otherworldly even unbelievable, almost surreal.

But that one birth changed the world in ways previous unknown and never duplicated. It changed it in ways that we are still struggling to understand.

And it’s That Birth that is still impacting lives generation after generation.

It’s the birth of Jesus that gives life meaning when nothing else makes sense.

It’s the birth of Jesus that makes life bearable in the unbearable times.

It’s the birth of Jesus that gives hope when all hope has been lost.

It’s the birth of Jesus that brings calmness into our chaos.

It’s the birth of Jesus that shows us what love is really like.

It’s the birth of Jesus that leads the way to the Father.

Most of all it’s the birth of Jesus that offers salvation to anyone who will believe.

That Birth was the birth that changed the world. Not with massive armies or with superior legislation or with advanced technology. It changed the world one heart at a time.

As one person knelt before the King. As one person confessed Him as Lord. As one person surrendered control of their life to Him. The world was Changed. By That Birth.

It’s more than a nice drama or inspiring story. It’s what the angel said: Emmanuel – God with us. In That Birth God came to man so that man might find God.

This Christmas let the birth of Jesus change you. In whatever way you need to be changed, let it start with That Birth.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve