The Pursuit of God

Pursuit of God

It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m a goal oriented person. I love to plan and execute the plan. For me the results are the prize. And therein is the danger. Too often I find myself pursuing the thing rather than pursing God.

As Christians we are not called to pursue numbers or programs or results, we are called to pursue God. This is to be the Christian’s noblest goal, our highest aim, our ambition, our deepest desire. With the Apostle Paul our longing should be to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

The problem is that life often gets in the way of our pursuit of God. We find ourselves too busy, too preoccupied, too burdened with life and God is left on the periphery of our existence. Too much of our day is spent in the pursuit of the things of life rather than in the pursuit of the Giver of life.

The Puritans recognized the possibility of relegating God to a place of unimportance in life. One of the Puritan prayers that has been handed down to us illustrates the tension they felt in their pursuit of God.

I hasten towards an hour when earthly pursuits and possessions will appear vain, when it will be indifferent whether I have been rich or poor, successful or disappointed, admired or despised. But it will be of eternal moment that I have mourned for sin, hungered and thirsted after righteousness, loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity, gloried in His cross.

We’re no different. If anything the tension for us today is even greater than it was for them. We have infinitely more earthy pursuits and possessions to distract us from pursuing God. In comparison to our lives, theirs were rather plain and unencumbered. That simply means that we have to work harder and strive longer. It is still possible to pursue God if that is our deepest desire. It’s a matter of the heart.

The Apostle Paul again points the way when he writes, what things were gain (IE important) to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Pursuing things is the easy path. Pursuing God takes infinitely more time, more effort and more energy. But the benefits are substantially more rewarding.

Take time this week to pursue God. Get to know Him, spend time with Him, sit at His feet. It will be worth the pursuit.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Searching for Mercy

Mercy

I think that’s a safe title. Strange but safe. Searching for Mercy.

You search for things that you’ve lost. If we’ve lost anything in our society it’s Mercy.

Justice – we have plenty of it. Generosity – we don’t do too badly. Compassion – there’s even some of that around. But Mercy. What’s happened to Mercy?

It’s safe to say that it’s been lost. Viewed as a sign of weakness. Not given to those we think don’t deserve it (get the irony here?).

It’s significant that the place God chose to dwell in Israel – in the Holy of Holies, on the Ark of the Covenant was called the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God lives in a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where God would meet and speak to Moses (Exodus 25:22). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God communicates from a place of Mercy.

The Mercy Seat was the place where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement as payment for the sin of Israel (Leviticus 16). Not the Judgment Seat but the Mercy Seat.

God deals with us from a place of Mercy.

Throughout the Bible and especially in the Old Testament – the testament of judgment, of punishment (isn’t that what people say?), we’re reminded that God is a God of Mercy.

  • He’s abundant in Mercy (Numbers 14:18)
  • He shows Mercy to multitudes (Deuteronomy 5:10)
  • His Mercy can never be exhausted (2 Chronicles 7:3)
  • His judgment is tempered by His Mercy (Nehemiah 9:31)
  • His Mercy is great (Nehemiah 13:22)
  • You can Trust in His Mercy (Psalm 13:5)
  • You can Rejoice in His Mercy (Psalm 31:7)
  • His anger is tempered by His Mercy (Psalm 103:8)

It’s easy to forget just how important Mercy is, not just in our theology but in our everyday lives.

We need Mercy. Can you imagine your life without it? Without the Mercy that others have extended to you?

Wow! Where would I be today without the Mercy that so many people have granted me over the years of my life?! I hate to think of it.

Our Worship Teams are learning a new song that they will soon introduce to our church. It’s got a great focus on God’s Mercy.

Mercies Anew
Every morning that breaks There are mercies anew
Every breath that I take Is your faithfulness proved
And at the end of each day When my labors are through
I will sing of Your mercies anew

When I’ve fallen and strayed There were mercies anew
For you sought me in love And my heart you pursued
In the face of my sin Lord, You never withdrew
So I sing of Your mercies anew

Chorus
And Your mercies, they will never end
For ten thousand years they’ll remain
And when this world’s beauty has passed away
Your mercies will be unchanged

And when the storms swirl and rage
There are mercies anew
In affliction and pain
You will carry me through
And at the end of my days
When Your throne fills my view
I will sing of Your mercies anew
I will sing of Your mercies anew.

You can listen to it here.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Power Behind Our Sin

selfishness

Sin has been in the news recently. Surprisingly it’s been one of the major topics of conversation. I’m not talking about murders, infidelity, robberies and political scandals. That kind of sin has been with us so long that we’ve become impervious to it. I’m talking about sin from a religious perspective.

For example there have been articles (again) about why Joel Osteen won’t address the topic of sin in his sermons. You can read about it here. Then there is the 261 page document released recently by the Pope titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) that has a lot to say about sin especially in the context of marriage. If you don’t want to read the entire document you can read articles here and here. For such an unpopular subject people are suddenly talking about sin.

Admittedly, sin isn’t a popular subject. In fact it’s become so unpopular that it’s mentioned less and less in churches where you would expect to hear something about it. We would much rather talk about grace – and that’s not all bad. The problem is that you can’t have grace without sin and there’s no salvation without something to be saved from.

Even when we do talk about sin we often try to absolve ourselves and blame it on someone or something else.

We even try to blame Satan for our sin – as if he held a gun to our head and made us do something we didn’t want to do.

But the Apostle James had a different take on it. He said each one [of us] is tempted [and gives in to the temptation] when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed (James 1:14).

The key words here are by his own desire. Here’s what James is saying in a nutshell: Sin is the result of our own Selfishness.

The power behind sin is the fact that we are selfish people.

It may be most evident in sins that we classify as the BIG ones: abortion, adultery, etc. etc. But it’s also evident in the sins that we wink at: lying, gossip, anger etc. etc.

We sin because there is an advantage that accrues to us in our sinning. It feels good. It benefits me. It simplifies my life. It removes a potential problem. Most sin (perhaps all sin) is the result of selfishness. Our focus becomes us.

But the Christian life is the exact opposite of selfishness. It is not about me, it’s about others. Even Christ did not come to be served (it’s about me) but to serve (it’s about others (Mark 10:45).

We’re taught to be others focused.

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

1 Corinthians 10:24: Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

To put it into perspective, selfishness is one of the predominant sins that the Apostle Paul lists (in fact it’s first on his list) as characteristic of a sinful world in the last days: men will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2). A clear condemnation.

When we realize how serious selfishness is and the grip it has on our lives – when we begin to recognize that it is the power behind our sin we have taken the first step in leaving the me culture and gaining some degree of control over sin in our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Will They Come Back?

Visitors B

As a pastor of a small church one question that is always on my mind (probably more than it should be) is Will they come back? I’m referring to people who visit our church. We like guests at our church and we do our best to make them feel comfortable. We want them to come back; to enter into worship with us; to become part of our family; to mature in God’s Word; to have their lives changed by the power of God.

But the reality is that many and perhaps most visitors don’t come back. For whatever reason (I’ve never found an unobtrusive way to get this information) they come one or two Sundays and we never see them again.

So I’m always looking, researching, trying to learn. One person who has a great deal of experience and knowledge on church issues is Thom Rainer who blogs at www.thomrainer.com. He has written several articles in the past year on the issue of churches and visitors.

In a blog titled Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service he lists things we should say to someone who is visiting our church:

1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”

2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.

3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.

4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.

5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.

6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.

7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.

Wow! When was the last time you said one (or several) of these things to a visitor in your church?

In another blog titled Ten Commandments from Happy Church Guests he listed comments from people he interviewed after they visited a new church. Here’s what made them feel positive about their experience:

1. People introduced themselves to the guests. “Several people introduced themselves to me. I did not get the impression it was either contrived or routine.”

2. Someone asked the guest to sit with her. “You know, as a single person, I can feel pretty lonely sitting by myself. I am so glad Joanie asked me to sit with her. We plan to get together for coffee.”

3. There was clear signage. “From the parking lot to the children’s area to the worship center, everything was clearly marked. It was sure easy to get around.”

4. There was a clearly-marked welcome center. “It made it real easy for me to ask questions and to get some information on the church.”

5. The kids loved the children’s area. “My kids were so happy with their experiences. We will be back for sure.”

6. The children’s area was secure and sanitary. “That is one of the first things I check when I go to a church. This church gets an A+!”

7. Guest parking was clearly visible. “From the moment we drove on the parking lot, I could find the guest parking. It was marked very well.”

8. The church did not have a stand and greet time. “My wife and I just moved to the area and are visiting churches. If we visit one with that fake stand and greet time, we don’t return.”

9. The members were not pushy. “They seemed to really care about us rather than just making us another number on the membership roll.”

10. The guest card was simple to complete. “Some of the cards in other churches ask for too much information. This one was perfect and simple.”

Again, he has some thought-provoking ideas.

Whether or not visitors return to our church is not just about how we treat them or how they feel after the service. There are many dynamics that play into such a personal decision. However, we need to do all we can to make sure that we, individually or collectively, are not the barrier that causes them to look elsewhere.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Day After the Resurrection

Resurrection Empty Tomb

It’s the Day After. Yesterday was a day of Hope, Praise, and Expectation for Christians. We celebrated one of the greatest days/events of our faith. It’s the day that gives our faith meaning and significance. Without it we have nothing. We had every right to be excited and to celebrate – Jesus rose from the dead!

But what about today? It’s the day after and we’re back to our normal routines, our lives as we know them. For most of us nothing has changed. Today is the same as the day before yesterday.

But . . .

Shouldn’t yesterday have some impact on today?

Shouldn’t yesterday change the way we view today?

Shouldn’t the euphoria of yesterday carry over into today – and the next day and the next?

Resurrection isn’t just about a future event. It’s about a present reality (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It’s about transformed lives. It’s about a present hope. It’s about how we live out our faith in this world.

Our lives should be fundamentally different today than they were before yesterday. Yesterday should have a bigger impact on us than just the hour or so we spent in church with other Christians.

Look at how the early followers of Jesus were impacted in the days following the Resurrection:

-they worshipped Him (Matthew 28:9, 17, Luke 24:52)
-they marveled (Luke 24:12, 41)
-their hearts burned in them (Luke 24:32)
-they were highly motivated (Luke 24:33)
-they were excited (Luke 24:34)
-they were filled with joy (Luke 24:41, 52)
-they continually praised and blessed God (Luke 24:52)
-they professed their love for Jesus (John 21:15f)
-they followed His instructions (Acts 1:4)
-they boldly shared the gospel (Mark 16:20, Acts 2:5f)

The lives of the early believers were literally transformed by one thing – the Resurrection!

So the question for us is – Have our lives been transformed today by our celebration yesterday?

If not then we have missed something – something terribly important.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Need to be Addicted

addiction

I’ve been off the grid for a few weeks while I prepared for teaching in Haiti. Then there was the actual missions trip (18 days) and putting my life back together – not to speak of my office when I returned!

In the past I’ve sometimes written from Haiti but this trip we only had sporadic use of wifi. At times we went two to three days between connections. Talk about withdrawal systems! I didn’t realize what going without wifi for a couple of days would do to a group of Americans. Technology is great but we seemed to have reached a point of addiction – at least if my experience was typical of the average Americans.

That brings up an interesting thought. Is addiction always wrong or is there a time when it’s actually a good thing?

Waiting on my desk when I returned was a letter about a seminar on addiction. It dealt mostly with alcohol and drug addiction. But there are many other forms of addictions. Those who study addictions report the following statistics in the United States:

Alcohol Addiction 14,000,000
Cocaine Addiction 2,000,000
Meth Addiction 1,400,000
Heroin Addiction 800,000
Gambling Addiction 15,000,000
Porn Addiction 4,000,000
Tobacco Addiction 83,400,000
Food Addiction 8,000,000
Sexual Addiction 12,000,000 (and no ladies it’s not just a man problem!)

The list of addictions is long and includes workaholics, compulsive spenders, TV and video game addicts, and other less well-known addictions.

It seems like everyone is addicted to something.

Therapists list six signs of addiction:

1. Importance. How important is this to your life? What priority does it have in your life?

2. Reward response. Does doing it make you feel better and not doing it worse?

3. Prevalence. Do you want to do it more often?

4. Cessation. Do you feel uncomfortable if you do not do it for a period of time?

5. Disruption. Does it mean that you have to reorder your life in some way?

6. Reverting. Do you try to stop but find yourself doing it anyway?

As Christians we tend to think that all addictions are wrong and damaging. And for the most part that’s true. But think again about addiction.

Aren’t there some things that Christians should be addicted to? What about . . .

Loving God
Living like Jesus
Reading your Bible
Praying
Going to Church
Sharing your Faith
Loving other people

Shouldn’t these things be Important, make us feel better (IE loved by God)? Shouldn’t we want to do them more often and shouldn’t not doing them make us feel uncomfortable? And shouldn’t we reorder our lives to make them priorities and find it next to impossible not to do them?

I recognize that using the word addiction may be over the top, however, I think you get my point. Too often as Christians we take the things that are important to our spiritual lives too lightly. We’re not addicted to them the way we should be.

The Apostle Paul’s encouragement to us is to let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). If we’re going to live in a way that is worthy of God it’s going to take some effort, some work, maybe even some addiction.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You can read more about addiction here

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/is-everyone-addicted-to-e_b_490824.html

https://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/consumer_updates/sexual_addiction.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201411/6-signs-youre-addicted-something

A Perspective on the Future of SCOTUS – and Our Country

SCOTUS

Reactions to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have been all over the map. Those with liberal political leanings are mostly hopeful and excited about the prospect of another liberal judge on the high court while conservative reactions have varied from hand-wringing to militant.

Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered his perspective in a recent article. I have always found Dr. Mohler to be serious minded and Biblical. You can find his article, which I would encourage you to read, at:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/02/14/a-giant-has-fallen-the-death-of-justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-future-of-constitutional-government/