Along the Road to Sodom

sodom

Paraphrasing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Friday, June 26, 2015 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States Supreme Court determined that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. For some it was a day of celebration. For others it was another step along the road to Sodom.

Numerous articles have been written since Friday suggesting the best way for evangelical Christians to respond to this political/social/spiritual development. I would like to add a slightly different perspective from what you may have heard or read.

Few Christians will argue that as a country we are on the road to Sodom – if we haven’t already arrived. What is easy to miss, however, in all of the noise about the same-sex marriage issue are the other people on the road. The greater issue at stake is not how the United States defines marriage, but the lives, often badly broken by a culture spinning out of control that you will meet as you travel along the road.

On the road to Sodom you’ll meet the party girl who used her body for popularity but was quickly discarded by those she called her friends; the homosexual/lesbian who chose a life characterized by sexual desires eventually to realize how unfulfilling and empty it was; the drug addict who traded everything in life for moments of ecstasy, now living in an empty shell; the moral hypocrite who could tell everyone else how they should live but was blind to their own advice; the religious zealot who thought they had all the answers but forgot that godliness is in how we live not in what we say. The road to Sodom is littered with broken lives; wasted lives; empty lives. And God has put us on the road to be Christ to them.

As a nation we have traveled faster and farther down the road to Sodom in the past few years than at any time in our history because as Christians we have failed to be Jesus to our fellow travelers. We’re standing at the gates of Sodom and it’s not just their fault; it’s also ours.

It’s time that Christians stopped with the harsh, condemning rhetoric and begin to put lives back together. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be fun. But God put us on this road at this time in history to make a difference – not in which laws are passed but in which lives are saved.

The road to Sodom is our mission field. The broken lives are our responsibility. If we don’t reach them who will? If we don’t mend their lives by the love of Jesus, who will?

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Importance of Symbols

cross

I don’t know when people figured out that symbols were useful, but I suspect it was early on. Some of the earliest written forms were pictorial in nature. Before alphabets were designed people drew symbols. Fast forward several thousand years and Madison Avenue figured out that they could describe a company or product in a hundred words or they could simply show you a picture. So along came the Golden Arches, the Swoosh and the Apple.

The importance of symbols has been reignited in our collect conscience by the recent tragedy in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over one of the most notorious symbols in American history, the Confederate flag. To the proponents of the flag it is a symbol of their proud history and freedom from federal domination. To others it is a symbol of slavery, racism, and hatred.

What is sometimes forgotten in the heat of debate is that symbols are more than pictures – they are powerful images that invoke thoughts and actions in us. By design they are made to produce a response.

The other thing that is sometimes overlooked is that the same symbol can mean different things to different people – people see them in different ways. The Golden Arches can symbolize either cheap, tasty food or obesity; the Swoosh either great shoes or run-away capitalism; the Apple either advanced technology or time-wasting machines. It all depends on how you look at things.

Christianity has used symbols with varying success since the first century. Some groups have used them more extensively and effectively than others. The Eastern Orthodox Church has used symbols in their religious ceremonies for centuries and still does today. Other groups use few symbols.

Without question the greatest Christian symbol is the cross. And it, like most symbols, is viewed differently by different people. To the Romans the cross represented an instrument of death. To the Jews it was a symbol of shame. To the Greeks it was a symbol of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). But to the Christian the cross has always been a symbol of the most powerful love ever expressed to man. It is central to our theology and our lives. Without the cross there is no forgiveness, no hope and no future. This one symbol represents everything about our faith.

And in a manner of speaking it represents everything about God. Thousands of books have been written attempting to explain God to us but we still see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We’re still left with unanswered questions. But there is a way to know God (I’m not neglecting the Bible here). Without being too simplistic, if you want to understand God just look at the symbol – it will tell you what you need to know.

It is the Cross that teaches us about God’s love, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His nature, His eternal plan, His sacrifice, His kingdom, His mercy, His compassion, His justice, His grace, His humility and so much more.

And it is the Cross that calls people to a response of faith.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s About Living

Christ

A rather odd occurrence has happened in our county (Berks County, PA). In the span of less than four weeks two evangelical pastors have been involved in fatal motorcycle accidents, one killing the pastor the other killing the pastor’s wife and leaving the pastor in critical condition. Many people are asking hard questions – questions that don’t have easy answers. It was the topic of conversation among the tellers when I stopped at the bank this morning.

As Christians we often turn to the words of the Apostle Paul in times of tragedy; if I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don’t know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better (Philippians 1:21-23). We find comfort that our loved one is in a far better place. And that is a profound truth.

But it’s easy to miss the emphasis of the Apostle in this passage – if I live, it will be for Christ. His point is living, not dying. For me to live is Christ! Yes, dying brings us into a better place, a better relationship, a better future. But before death is life and God wants us to know how to live.

At the moment it seemed like coincident. Early this morning I received word of one of the accidents that had taken place last night. On my way into the church I turned on my radio hoping to get more information. As I searched the dial landed on a Christian radio station so I listened because the pastor was preaching from this exact text. At the end of his sermon he challenged his listeners to complete this sentence: For me to live is ________________.

It would be a good exercise for all of us to fill in the blank.

For me to live is retirement
For me to live is my children
For me to live is the weekend
For me to live is golf
For me to live is my portfolio

What is life for you?

The question that every one of us has to answer is; What are you living for? What is the point of your life? Most things that people live for are not wrong but they should not be the essence of your life as a Christian.

For the Christian there is only one answer that completes the sentence: For me to live is Christ! He has to be first. He has to be the focus. He has to be that which supersedes everything else. It has to be Christ.

To live life for anything less is to waste the most valuable part of life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Lesson from Reality TV (Who Knew!?)

weight-of-sin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the Duggars – the evangelical Christian family that stars in the reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. You’re probably also aware of the recent confession of one of the Duggar’s sons, Josh, that as a 14-15 year old he molested five underage girls (he’s now 27), including some of his own sisters.

I’m not a fan of reality television and I quickly admit that I have never watched a complete episode of any reality program (if memory serves me I’ve seen about 10 minutes of 19 Kids and Counting). I just think that we can do better than to live vicariously through the joys and heartaches of other people, especially a family that is anything but your typical family (that’s why they are on TV and your family isn’t).

According to the news reports that I have read, Josh Duggar confessed his actions when still a teen and asked the girls for forgiveness. However that is not all that should have happened. It appears that the entire situation including reporting to the authorities, professional counseling and appropriate punishment should have been handled far differently than it was. I’m sure these issues will be debated ad nauseam.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this sad story but if the Duggar’s situation does anything, it should make all of us stop and do a self-evaluation. None of us are without sin. Perhaps your sin does not rise to the level of Josh Duggar’s but that’s missing the point. Sin is sin and we all stand on the guilty side (Romans 3:23). Many who are criticizing the Duggars – and there seems to be plenty for which to criticize them – seem to be forgetting that they stand side-by-side with Josh Duggar.

When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Christ (John 8), He didn’t say Whoever has never committed adultery throw the first stone at her, He said Whoever is without sin. Adultery is certainly a grievous sin but Christ’s point was that only those who are sinless have the right to judge the sin of another. He was pointing out the reality that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

Yes, there are those who need to deal with the sin of others – parents, various agencies of the government and church leaders – but that’s not most of us. Most of us have no part in the Duggar scandal, except to learn from the misfortune of another. If reality television has any redeeming value it is simply this.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Big Mac or Filet Mignon?

Big-Mac

Have you ever noticed that we’re always in a rush? I’m talking about those of us who live in the U.S. This isn’t always the case with people from different cultures, but it is often true of Americans. Patience is not one of our virtues. We rush from event to event. We want everything now not later. Fast food is no longer good enough we want instant food. The last time I pulled into the drive through at a fast food establishment it took them more than 60 seconds to take my order. I wasn’t happy. We have become a society of the instantaneous and anything less is unacceptable.

But life doesn’t always happen instantly. Some things only occur gradually. I’m reminded that many things in life happen over a period of time – step by step. Plants grow slowly, diets take time (!), education is a process, and relationships are built one day at a time. In fact many things in life are not only step by step but two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step . . . .

And that’s the way of the Christian life. You won’t (can’t) become a spiritual person overnight. It’s a step by step process. Or a better description is it’s a two-step forward, one step backward process. The theological description that we use is progressive sanctification. That means that becoming like Christ (being sanctified) is a process not a sudden event.

And that’s where the frustration comes in. We want to be godly NOW. And that’s a good thing, but the reality is that because we battle the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), sin (Romans 7:14—20) and the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18), godliness is always going to be a process. It’s always going to be two steps forward and one step backward. The key to becoming like Christ from a human perspective is that you never give up. No matter how slow your progress, no matter how frustrating it becomes – you don’t give up.

The Biblical term is perseverance. It’s a word that means to endure, not give up, don’t quit. The Apostle Peter links perseverance directly to godliness when he writes, Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness (2 Peter 1:6). It is through that step by step, agonizingly slow, tedious process that godliness will grow in your life.

We all like instantaneous. As a society we’ve become addicted to it. But some things are so much better when you devote time to them. Think of it this way – you can have a Big Mac for supper or you can have filet mignon. You can have one in 90 seconds at the drive through window or you can sit down in a fine restaurant with linen tablecloths and fine china and wait for the chef to cook your steak to perfection. One is fast the other is best.

God is in the business of changing your life for the best. He’s in no hurry. He’ll take as long as necessary for you to grow into someone who reflects His Son. He’s doing His part (2 Corinthians 3:18), your part is to cooperate with God’s work in your life and never give up simply because you don’t think it’s happening fast enough. There is no fast food in the spiritual life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Have Value!

tuxpi.com.1430766838

One of the things that people often struggle with is their personal worth. I’m not talking about your monetary worth but your value as a person. Each of us has a certain value. Unfortunately many people have allowed their value to be determined by other people who use their own personal standards to determine how much you’re worth. Many times people value us, not for who we are, but for what we can do for them. They might value you on how well you do your job, or on what they can get from you or on how you benefit them in some way, instead of valuing you for your worth as an individual created in the image of God.

How other people value us also determines how we value ourselves. Just because we are human, we see our own significance in light of other people’s opinions of us. If we sense that other people approve of us our self-esteem is high, but if people don’t value us our self-esteem suffers. We tend to judge ourselves by how other people judge us.

We also judge ourselves by how well we perform. If we do something well (our job, raising kids, singing, etc) we have a good sense of self-worth, but if we don’t perform well, we begin to doubt our personal value. Judging ourselves by how well we perform is also tied into how we perceive other people are looking at us. We want to perform in order to gain other people’s approval and recognition.

As Christians we need to make sure that we see our value, not in the approval of people or in how well we perform, but in how God looks at our life. God does not value you for what He can get from you nor in how well you perform (even for Him). God values you simply because He delights to do so. Matthew 6:26 says Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And the answer is yes, you are worth more to God than anything else in His creation and it is God’s delight simply to value you for who you are: a unique individual created in His image.

God also values you because you are one of His children (1 John 3:1). In the same way (and to an even greater degree) that a human father values his children, God values His children. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). God places great value on you (shown by His compassion) simply because you belong to Him.

Don’t let someone else’s opinions determine your value. The only opinion that really counts is God’s. That’s the essence of Romans chapter fourteen. Life is to be lived for God alone (Romans 14:7-8), and it is to God alone that you will give an answer for your life (Romans 14:10-11). Make sure that what He thinks about you is more important than what people think about you.

And remember, you have great value to God, not because you perform well, but simply because He loves you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Sometimes You Might Need Some Duct Tape!

Duct Tape

Some of the most valuable lessons in life are learned in the school of hard knocks. There are life-lessons that will never be picked up through formal education or in books. Many things are only learned through experience. I’ve (sometimes unfortunately) had to learn many lessons that way. I’ve also learned many great lessons through experience, such as, you can fix almost anything with WD-40 and duct tape!

Popular Mechanics online lists 15 useful things you can do with duct tape, including,

• waterproofing your shoes
• removing pet hair from your furniture
• as a make-shift pest strip
• covering power cords in a high traffic area
• repairing holes in a sleeping bag, beach ball or snow pants

My all time favorite use of duct tape was the pilot in Alaska whose small plane was ripped apart by a bear who smelled fresh bait left in the plane. After surveying the damage the pilot radioed for a plane to drop him three cases of duct tape which he used to wrap his plane and then he flew home!

Another creative use of duct tape happened this past weekend in the NBA playoffs. The coach of the Dallas Mavericks had previously been fined $25,000 for criticizing the refs. In the post game interview, rather than risking another hefty fine, he tapped his mouth shut. Not a bad idea! Words can get you in trouble.

The Bible talks a lot about the power of words. For example,

Proverbs 12:18
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Matthew 12:35
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things

James 1:26
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless

One of the hardest things for any of us to do is to control our words. David, the Psalmist, recognized just how difficult it is and prayed; Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth (Psalm 141:3). If this is an area that you struggle with, maybe that’s how you should pray.

Asking God to guard your mouth, however, does not relieve you of responsibility. We are still accountable for our words. That means we have to stop make excuses for the way we talk to other people.

So here are six truthful statements to ponder:

• No, you don’t have the right to say anything you want to say

• Yes, you are responsible for every word you speak

• No, there’s no excuse that is acceptable for ungodly, unkind words

• Yes, your words have great power

• No, you are NOT a good person if your words are not good words

• Yes, your words tell everyone what is in your heart

One final thought – Sometimes you might need to use some duct tape.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve