Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying

Words

I could stop this blog right there. If all of us (including me) would simply adopt this as our motto we’d all be better off. Fewer people would be hurt; fewer conversations would escalate into arguments; fewer outrageous things would be said – and repeated; there would be fewer headlines in the media (maybe they would actually have to find something newsworthy to report!); fewer unsubstantiated things would be repeated over social media – you get the idea.

Think how quiet it would be!

Words matter. That’s why God has so much to say about the way we talk in both the Old and New Testaments. Check out the term word in a concordance – you’ll find that it appears over 1100 times in the Bible, often in the context of how words are to be used and the importance of words.

A few examples:

Proverbs 15:1
A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

James 3:2
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

It’s significant that Jesus is known as The Word (John 1:1, 14). It’s equally significant that God chose to communicate with us through the written word, the Bible. There are other forms of communication – we use them all of the time to communicate to other people: pictures, facial expressions, gestures, body language.

Even if these forms weren’t adequate to communicate the gospel message, God, being God could have come up with another form other than words (don’t ask me what, I’m not God).

But He chose words. Makes them really significant.

Every day you get to use a method of communication that God sanctified and used for the holiest of purposes.

The problem is that we have taken words/speech so for granted that we have devalued it to the lowest common denominator. We don’t value words the way God values words.

So we use words – the medium that He chose to describe His Son and to communicate the most important message you will ever receive – to lie, deceive, spread hate, devalue other people, cheat, exaggerate, misrepresent, argue and perhaps dozens of other things that are less than worthy.

As a young boy my parents taught us to pray Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. It’s God’s way of saying Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

Leading-the-Way

Not since the 1960s have we seen chaos in our country on the level that we’re seeing it today. It seems like each morning brings more news of violence.

The burning question people are asking is: Who’s to Blame? We want to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s responsible for the turmoil and chaos?

The truth is – there’s enough blame to go around.

Some have even suggested that Christians are responsible. Before you throw that one out, prayerfully and carefully read this article by Pastor Tony Evans. It should make you, if you profess to be a Christian, a little uncomfortable.

America’s current violence can be traced to Christians’ failures

The horrific shootings over the past few days, in Louisiana, Minnesota and now my hometown of Dallas, have shaken all of us. Tragically, this is even more true for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and now Dallas police officers.

The events are shocking and revolting. Our prayers go out to the families and friends affected most closely by these events, and to those fighting for their lives at this very moment in Dallas. But we must do more than pray.

In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, it says that society was falling apart, and God troubled them with every kind of distress because they continued to reject the knowledge of God. These recent spates of violence – like all our worldly problems — have happened because Christians have failed to advance God’s kingdom, to spread the faith and to do so in a loving, unified way.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians.

One of the real tragedies today is that the Church as a whole has not furthered God’s light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, “Church” has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.

The Church and only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom, so we have unique access to God that nobody else has. It’s about time more churches start using those keys to unlock doors, so that we get greater heavenly intervention in our earthly catastrophe. This is not to negate or downplay the great work countless churches have done throughout time in our land. I applaud and am grateful for all of it. What we have been ineffective at, though, is a unity that increases our impact on a larger collective level. When we unite as so many churches did during the civil rights movement, we can bring hope and healing where we as a nation need it most.

Thus, I believe that the call of the Church is to come together as one on three levels.
One is to pray and call what the Bible calls a “solemn assembly,” which means a sacred gathering with prayer and fasting to invite God’s manifest presence to reemerge in the culture.

Secondly, the Church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.

And third, churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.

Unless the Church steps forward collectively to fulfill its God-given role of influencing the conscience of our culture, our country will keep spiraling downward into the depths of fear and hate.

We must do better. We must unite. We must stand together and commit to one another that we will usher in a wave of change, justice, life, safety, rightness, equity and dignity for all. And above all, we must not let fear or hatred divide us. Peace, unity, love and nonviolence should be our rallying cry and the catalyst for change in our nation. Through this, we can seek to transform the remnants of tragedy into the foundation of a stronger, more equitable future.

It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to stand up and show our nation a better way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Where’s the GOOD News?

Good-News-II1

Watching the news on TV can be depressing – I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Most news broadcasts concentrate on everything that is wrong in the world. If an alien landed on our planet and the first thing they did was to listen to the news they would quickly conclude that this isn’t such a good place to be.

But is everything really as bad as the news broadcasters want us to believe or there more to this story? Is it about what sells the most minutes? What brings in the most revenue? I suspect the news is driven, at least in part, not by the news itself but by the bottom line.

I find myself listening less and less to news broadcasts. Not only because of the bias of the announcers, but because I’d rather be happy than sad! It’s a choice and I choose the positive over the negative.

The question is: Where’s the GOOD News?

The answer is that there’s a lot of good news in the world – sometimes you have to search for it but it’s there.

The rest of the answer for the Christian is that the best news is in God’s Word. Here are a few samples:

-God is still in control. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

-You are on God’s heart. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. Psalm 34:15

-We have peace. Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

-We have hope. Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

-You don’t have to pay for your sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

-The problems of today are nothing compared to what is coming. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

-A better day is coming. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

-You are loved. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:14

Think about all of the good news that we have as children of God. The actual list is much longer. The point is, don’t be jaded by the news that you get from the television, newspaper or internet – the news from the world isn’t so good, but the news from God’s Word is great!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What if You Don’t Get Through This?

Lucado

In our Adult Bible Fellowship classes at our church we’re going through Max Lucado’s DVD series You’ll Get Through This. Using Joseph as his model, Lucado emphasizes that when a Christian goes through hard times You fear you won’t make it through. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. In the pits, surrounded by steep walls and aching reminders, we wonder: Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten?

Lucado’s answer is:

You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

This is not a new idea. The old hymn most of us sang as children (depending on how old you are!) said:

Be not dismayed what-e’er betide; God will take care of you.
Beneath His wings of love abide; God will take care of you.

God will take care of you, thro’ every day, o’er all the way.
He will take care of you; God will take care of you.

In other words, You’ll get through this.

As much as this appeals to me, I wonder about the person whose depression never does lift. About the family where the yelling never does stop. About the wife whose pain never leaves her.

What happens when the gray sky is never bright again or the load is never lightened?

It happens.

So what do we say? Have we been sold a lie? Is God not who we think He is? Has He failed us in some way?

I think there’s more to this than simply saying You’ll get through this. While I agree with a lot that Max Lucado says – trials won’t be painless, they won’t always be quick; God will use this mess for good, because that’s what God does; you don’t need to despair because you can get through it with God’s help; there’s more that needs to be said.

Here are a few thoughts.

1) It’s possible that Lucado means different things by the words he uses than I understand. When he says You’ll get through this he may include eternity in his statement (although his statement doesn’t make sense in eternity). If he’s including, not just this life but eternity then it’s true You’ll get through this.

2) It may be that we have the wrong idea of what it means to get through this. Did the people mentioned in Hebrew 11 get through this or did God fail them (Hebrews 11:32-38)? Getting through might look more like pain and suffering than healing and resolution.

3) It may not be God’s will/plan to remove all of your pain and suffering. Many Christians (Hebrews 11 again) throughout history have suffered and died without healing, without seeing a resolution, without knowing why God didn’t change things. Certainly we would not want to claim that God’s plan never includes unresolved suffering.

4) What we need to teach people is that the issue is not getting through our problems but how we deal with our problems.

The average person deals with his/her problems on their own, in their own strength, by getting even, by masking their pain, by venting their anger, by throwing their hands up in despair.

The Christian, on the other hand, should deal with their problems with God’s help, in His strength, by forgiving, by having a Biblical perspective on suffering and dealing with their pain accordingly (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Hebrews 12:1-11) , by rejecting anger, by trusting God. And most of all by accepting whatever comes into their life as coming from the hand of a loving God who knows what is best for them – even when none of it makes sense.

So even if you don’t get through this in this life, trust that God has something for you in the pain and the sufferings of life.

Without being presumptuous, I’d like to suggest another perspective for those facing pain and suffering – or as Lucado says, for those down in Egypt (Joseph).

This has a purpose.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll be better for it.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Responding to the Face of Evil

good-evil2

Blacksburg, Virginia (2007) – 32 & 17
Fort Hood, Texas (2009) – 13 & 32
Aurora, Colorado – (2012) – 12 & 58
New Town, Connecticut (2012) – 27 & 1
San Bernardino, California (2015) – 14 & 21

These are not all of the mass killings in the past ten years but they are enough.

And now we can add Orlando, Florida to the list – 50 & 53. Fifty killed, 53 injured.

There are so many unanswered questions. Why? Why now? Why here? How do we move on? How can we stop the killings?

One question that we need to ask from a Christian perspective is How should we respond to the face of evil?

Is it enough to build a higher fence? To limit immigration? To pass stricter laws?

Probably not.

But those questions miss the most essential point. God has already told us how we are to respond.

Before I get to that, there is another important thing that God has told us that plays into all of this.

He told us to expect it. Perhaps not mass shootings exactly, but evil. We should expect evil to happen in all of its ugliness and in many twisted forms.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1). The Apostle describes the perilous times as men without self-control, those who are brutal and despise the good and those who have a form of religion but don’t know Christ.

So how should we respond to this kind of evil? Again the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. . . do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

I bet you didn’t see that coming! You may not even like it. But it’s there, right in the Bible.

Some take-a-ways from this passage:

1) We are to do everything we can to live in peace with all men. Even those who attack us.

2) Responses to evil are to be left up to God. Any attempt on our part to get even comes out of a place of wrath and anger – which comes from the pit of hell.

3) We are to treat the enemy in ways that are counterintuitive and run totally against our natural inclinations.

4) The winning formula is to overcome evil with good.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we should stop making good laws. Or that we don’t need police security. Or that we should never protect ourselves and our families.

But what God wants is for us to 1) Do all of this in the right way, 2) Not be motivated by revenge, 3) Strive to live in peace even with the peace-breakers, 4) Treat those who attack you with love, and 5) Leave the rest up to Him.

There is a way for Christians to respond to evil – and most of us have missed it.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that people of other faiths have such misconstrued and misinformed ideas about Christians.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Blessing God

blessing

Blessing is part of the Christian culture. We pray for God’s blessing; we bless each other; we sing about blessings; we testify about being blessed; and of course we read about blessings in both the Old and New Testaments. You can’t take the concept of blessing out of the Christian experience and still have Christianity.

One of the early places where you encounter the subject of blessing in the Bible is in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram to radical obedience – Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house (Genesis 12:1). Attached to that demand was God’s dual statements about blessing – I will bless you/you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).

From these early statements we get the idea that blessing involves some benefit. When God told Abram that He would bless him, He stated how He would do that; I will bless you and make your name great (Genesis 12:2). The personal history of Abram/Abraham shows how God fulfilled that promise.

When you bless someone it involves doing (or saying) something that brings a certain help to their lives – providing dinner to a shut-in, shoveling your neighbor’s snow-covered walk, driving an older person to their doctor’s appointment, praying with a fellow believer etc.

I often remind our church that our primary reason for gathering on Sunday is to bless God. Yes, there are other issues – fellowship, encouragement, receiving a blessing, and teaching/learning to name a few. And I always hope and pray that people are blessed in these ways. But our real reason for Sunday – the reason that must be even if nothing else happens on a particular week – is to bless God.

Blessing God occurs in a variety of ways. It happens when you come with a submitted heart. It happens when you pray, especially in thanksgiving. It happens when God sees you loving each other. It happens when you sing about God’s greatness, mercy and grace. It happens when you serve. It happens when you listen to the Word. It happens when you make a personal application of the truths of the Word.

In all of these ways, and I suspect more, God is blessed by you – He receives a benefit (if we can speak of God in those terms). The benefit of watching His children walking in the truth (cf 3 John 1:4). The benefit of hearing their prayers of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). The benefit of seeing His love spread to others (John 13:34-35). The benefit of hearing voices raised in praise of His marvelous grace (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The benefit of blessing other people through you as you serve Him/them (1 Corinthians 12:7, 25). The benefit of watching your faith grow as you listen to Him (Romans 10:17).

If your primary purpose for attending church is to bless God then several things will be true:

-You will make church about Him – not about you.
-You will go to church for what you can give – not just for what you can get (and get something while you’re there!).
-You will search for ways to bless God (and others) – not just be blessed.

It’s all in your perspective.

Next Sunday, whatever else you do in church, plan now to be a blessing to God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Worship?

Worship

Worship has received a renewed emphasis in Christian circles in the past decade. That’s a good thing. Anything that causes us to think about worship is good.

With that said, I wonder if the reason we talk about it more today than our parents or grandparents generations is that they had it but somehow we missed it. They didn’t talk about worship – they just worshipped. We talk about it but don’t. At least not like they did. Perhaps.

Several years ago Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled The Heart of Worship. It was made popular by a number of Christian artists including Sandi Patti. You can listen to Matt Redman’s version here.

The lyrics of the first verse and chorus are:

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

The song is true, as far as it goes. Worship is all about Jesus. It is all about what’s in our hearts. It’s true that it’s about blessing Jesus, not just being blessed. It’s true that we’ve turned it into something less than it is.

The shortcoming of the song (and this may never have been Smith’s goal) is that it tells us what worship ISN’T but it doesn’t tell us what worship IS. And that’s rather important. We won’t be able to worship until we know what the worship of Jesus is supposed to look like.

So let me offer some general thoughts on worship that I believe are grounded in a study of worship in the Word

  • Worship is more about how we live each day in the holiness of Jesus than it is about what we do on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about giving to Jesus than it is receiving something from Jesus.
  • Worship is more about who we are as sanctified people than it is about what we do (and it is about what we do).
  • Worship is more a life-style of obedience to Jesus than it is an hour spent with Jesus on the first day of the week.
  • Worship is more about the time we spend with Jesus every day than it is about the hour we spend with Jesus on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about serving Jesus than it is singing about Jesus.
  • Worship is more about Jesus than it is about me.

I don’t claim these statements define worship in its totality. Maybe you can add to them. But they are a place to begin the discussion.

So the question is: Are we really worshiping or are we doing something else?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve