Let’s Be Jesus People

As a pastor I often find myself occupied with issues that are good but that are not the primary thing – How we can grow our church?; What should I preach on next (actually I plan my preaching schedules 6-12 months in advance so next does not mean next Sunday, or even next week)?; Where can we get someone to teach a Sunday School class?; Where can I find a guest speaker for when I’m on vacation?; and the list literally goes on and on and on and on.

Your list probably looks different from my list but you have one and it goes on and on and on.

Most of the things on our lists are good and necessary and they need to be addressed. But they are not the primary thing. The problem is that they tend to dominate our time, occupy our attention and suck the life out of the primary thing.

So what is the primary thing?

As I was thinking about all of this the thought came to me that what we need most and what we need to make primary in our lives is to Be Jesus People.

It’s not an original thought (I haven’t had one of those in a long time – if ever!). In fact I think that this is the message of the Bible especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He didn’t say it in those words, but he said it often:

Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called (Eph 4:1).

Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27).

Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Col 1:10).

Walk worthy of God (1 Thess 2:12).

Adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10).

What Paul is saying is Be Jesus People!

Be People who reflect Jesus. People who teach Jesus. People who walk with Jesus. People who walk LIKE Jesus. People who honor Jesus with your life.

Make Jesus central. Make Jesus the focus. Make Jesus important in your life. Make much about Jesus.

Make Jesus the primary thing in your life.

All of those other things on your list have to get done. Just make sure that they get done in the context of making Jesus the primary thing.

Do them in the context of Being Jesus People.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power is a mantra that is becoming increasingly popular in our nation. It holds a special significance for Christians who believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word from God and is not just true but supreme in our lives.

It is the prophetic role of every Christian to speak the truth to those who hold temporal power in our nation. We have a long line of examples going back to Moses confronting Pharaoh, extending through the prophets who spoke to Kings (Nathan to David, Elijah to Ahab etc), and continuing into the New Testament (Peter to the Jewish Sanhedrin, Paul to King Agrippa and perhaps to Caesar himself).

Unfortunately, as Evangelical Christians have become increasingly engaged politically, a large part of the church has lost its prophetic voice. Many seemed more concerned that we have a strong political voice than a strong spiritual voice. That’s unfortunate because our strength is found in our faith not in our political views.

I’m not suggesting that Christians have to settle for one or the other. I am suggesting that in many situations we have chosen to elevate the temporal over the spiritual, even to the point of ignoring clear Biblical teaching.

Recent events of racial violence in our nation give us the opportunity to regain what we have lost. Ed Stetzer who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and is the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center has written eloquently on the subject here. I encourage you to read his article.

My purpose is not to repeat what Stetzer wrote. I simply want to offer some practical suggestions on how we can integrate the truth of God’s Word with the political landscape, especially as it touches on the area of racism.

1. Make sure your loyalty is in the right place. As Christians we are called to supreme loyalty to God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 22:37) not to political parties or earthly leaders. When political positions collide with spiritual truth you need to speak truth to power (see Acts 4:19).

2. View people as God views them. All people, regardless of race or color were created by God (Acts 17:25) and carry in them the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, James 3:8-9). That means that every person has intrinsic value and should be treated with godly respect. Racism elevates some people over other people and has no place in the Christian worldview.

3. Be more concerned with your spiritual family than your political family. Paul’s instruction to the church (Galatians 6:10) is instructive at this point. Christians are to treat other people in a good (godly) way, but we have a special responsibility to those who belong to our spiritual family.

Unless you are from a minority race in this country, especially African-American, you have no idea the kind of pain and fear that is caused by racial symbols. I’m not advocating that we rewrite history or that we even ignore part of our history. That would be unwise. But neither do we need to protect or flaunt symbols that inflict pain on people of color, many of whom are our Brothers and Sisters in the faith.

You may not understand their pain or fear, but the simple fact that they find the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers offensive should be enough for us to stand with those who want them removed from public places. Think about what a statue of a confederate soldier means. It puts a specific individual, in a uniform that stands for a set of ungodly values, on a pedestal. In other words it elevates the person and the worldly philosophy that they represented to a place of honor (see 1 Corinthians 1:18f) in our nation. Those things are certainly part of our collective history and should be taught to our children, but not as deserving of honor.

4. Don’t act out of fear. If I read the Evangelical landscape correctly, this is where many Christians find themselves. They are so afraid of the other political side that they are willing to keep quiet about issues that conflict with their faith instead of speaking truth to power. Fear does not come from God (1 Timothy 1:7), it comes from a lack of trust in God’s sovereign control over nations and events. If you are living in fear that is driven by the political turmoil in our nation, or by the potential ramifications of the “wrong person” coming to power, you are in the wrong place spiritually. Our actions, including political actions, should operate out of faith, not fear. We need to do the right thing and leave the results up to our sovereign God.

The events of the last several days in Virginia and North Caroline give us the opportunity to shine as spiritual lights in a very dark world. If our actions are driven primarily by a political agenda and not a faith agenda we will miss a valuable opportunity.

It is time for the Evangelical church to speak truth to power, individually as we have the opportunity and collectively as we see the need.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The American Obsession

Americans are an obsessed nation. We are preoccupied, fixated, infatuated, and addicted.

Are you starting to see a trend here? The idea of an obsession has a negative connotation. Generally speaking, an obsession is not a good thing.

I’ll grant you that an obsession can be good – it’s good to be obsessed with Jesus, and your spouse, and doing the right things. But our national obsession doesn’t fall into those categories. Our obsession is different and it’s harmful.

The American Obsession is a very narrow thing. It’s knowing all we can about other people. We have entered an era where we as a nation are obsessed with knowing about the personal lives of someone else. We can’t get enough of the intimate details of their lives. We are living vicariously.

We’re obsessed with the President’s latest tweet; with what someone posted on Facebook; with which celebrity did what; with who did what to whom; with the tawdry gossip of Hollywood; with someone’s baby bump.

The obsession with the personal lives of other people has become an epidemic. Not only are we fixated on knowing the intimate details of other people’s lives, but we think that we have a right to know.

Why do we check our cell phones as soon as we get out of bed? Why do we want to know what the President tweeted during the night? Why do we jump on our Facebook accounts as soon as we can? It’s so we don’t miss anything.

If you don’t think that you’re obsessed I’d challenge you to think back over your social media usage from the past week. How much time did you spend on social media? What were you hoping to find?

This obsession with the lives of other people is harmful to our culture. We have destroyed privacy. We have become convinced that living vicariously is better than living personally. We have made the lives of other people far more important than they really are and in the process we’ve made our lives far less important than they really are.

This also has a harmful spiritual component. As Christians we need to be concerned with our own personal lives – not with the lives of other people. We need to make sure that we are living out the gospel (Philippians 1:27); that we represent Christ well (2 Corinthians 5:20); that we are not swallowed up by the attitudes, thought patterns, goals and desires of this world (Romans 12:2); that we don’t fall in love with what the world loves (1 John 2:15-16); that our minds are set on the things of God (Colossians 3:1-3).

Christians need to begin pushing back against The American Obsession. We need to take back our lives and in the process live them well.

We are not responsible for how someone else lives their life. We will answer for how we live our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Christian Life Isn’t for Sissies!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I just get weary trying to live the Christian Life. Think how easy life would be if we could just forget all the “do’s and don’ts”. You wouldn’t have to be concerned about temptation – you could do whatever you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about your own sinful desires – again, do what you want. You wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Satan because he wouldn’t care what you did. In fact he would be delighted in your spiritual indifference.

What may come as a shock to you is that God knows that the Christian life is like that. That’s why in the New Testament He compares the spiritual life to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-4), a marathon runner (Hebrews 12:1), a boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26), and a hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). All strenuous and difficult occupations.

The difficulty of the spiritual life and the ensuing weariness that we experience doesn’t take God by surprise. In fact you could make the case that He designed it that way. It’s one way to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff, the “I’m in it for the long-haul” from the “let’s see if this works” crowd.

But to those who are in it for the long-haul, there is a word of encouragement from the pen if the Apostle Paul: Don’t grow weary in doing good (living godly), for in due season we will reap if we don’t lose heart (and give up!) (Galatians 6:9).

The problem for most of us is that we keep looking at how hard the Christian life is instead of looking at the goal.

How long do you think a marathon runner would last if all they thought about during training (and the race!) was how hard they were working? How long would a farmer work in his fields if he didn’t keep the harvest in mind?

The goal for the Christian is a harvest that comes out of a life lived in godliness and for the glory of God.

Sure we get weary. There are even days we want to give up. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4). In fact some of us haven’t even been bruised yet.

So when you feel like I do some days, keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and on the harvest. Do the battle. Run the race. Fight the good fight. Plant the seed. And keep telling yourself, in the words of the old hymn, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

If you need to be reminded again, you can listen to it hear.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians sometimes act as if they need to protect God.

You see this most often in the religious sounding clichés that are posted on social media sites like Facebook. The trouble with many religious sounding clichés is that they simply don’t ring true. At least not if you are using the Bible as your standard of truth (and we all should be).

We profess to be people of truth but we don’t always express the truth in ways that are clear and helpful.

Here are two of numerous examples of clichés that Christians like to throw around.

God never shuts one door without opening another

There are variations in this, such as God never shuts a door without opening a window.

But where is that in the Bible?

It’s not.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all the doors and leaves you standing in the hallway because you’re not spiritually ready for the opportunities He has for you.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all of the doors because He wants you to stay right where you are and not be looking for other opportunities.

There may be more reasons that God does not open a door but you get the point.

There is no Biblical guarantee that when God shuts a door of opportunity, He’ll open another one for you.

Another spiritually twisted clichés is:

God never gives you more than you can handle.

Again, that’s not in the Bible. It’s a nice thought but not a Biblical thought.

But what would people think of God if He overloaded us with burdens? That’s far from loving in our minds.

And what about 1 Corinthians 10:13? Doesn’t it promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle?

Here’s what it says:

No temptation (some would say trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tried) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Because that’s in the Bible, it’s true. But is that the same thing as saying God never gives you more than you can handle?

Paul didn’t think so.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

Far beyond our ability to endure sure sounds like God gave him more than he could handle.

So how do we reconcile these two passages – both from the pen of the same writer?

The key is what follows in verse 9 where Paul exclaims, Yes! We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

God does give us more than we can handle, but not more than He can handle. And He does it for a reason – so that we learn to trust Him in the difficult circumstances of life.

The way of escape from our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13) is to trust.

So why do we throw around these cute sounding but unbiblical religious slogans?

There are several reasons for this anomaly. One is that many Christians are unfamiliar with the Bible and if something sounds religious it must be right. While that may be true of some Christians, I don’t think it’s true of the majority of evangelical Christians (the majority of my audience).

Another reason for our religious clichés is that it makes us feel better about God. Our mental image of God is that of a grandfatherly figure who will always act in kind, loving ways toward His children.

It’s true that God always acts in kind and loving ways toward us, but only when you understand that trials and suffering (and yes, even discipline see Hebrews 12:5-6) are included in His acts of kindness and love.

Giving you more than you can handle is not an unkind act, it’s an act of love.

A third reason that we express our faith in religious sounding clichés that don’t reflect Biblical truth – and I think this is more often the case than we would like to admit – is because we’re trying to protect God. And if anyone demeans Him, we do what we can to protect Him and His reputation.

After all God needs someone to protect His image. Not.

God is more concerned about making you like Jesus than He is about what people think about Him. So He’ll load your plate if He needs to without worrying about His reputation.

Here are my two take-a-ways from all of this.

1. God doesn’t need us to protect Him. Anyone who would blame God for being unfair, unkind or unloving doesn’t know God. And no cute sounding religious saying is going to change their minds.

2. We need to be Biblical in our expressions and beliefs. Just because something sounds like something God would do doesn’t mean that it is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s the Little Things that Count

How important is God in your everyday life?

Most people who read this blog will agree that God is important in their lives or at least should be. They go to church most Sundays, they pray, they may even read their Bibles. By their actions they are saying that God is important in their life.

But attending church, praying and even reading your Bible does not necessarily mean that He’s as important to you as He should be.

It’s not enough to say He’s important. As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. It’s not even enough to do the minimum things that every Christian should do. God wants more than that.

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:34f), and He said, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He was getting to the heart of how important God should be in our lives.

What does it mean that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds?

The Expositor’s Greek New Testament explains it this way: The clauses referring to heart, soul, and mind are to be taken cumulatively, as meaning love to the uttermost degree; with “all that is within” us.

In other words our love for God is to be complete, total (to the uttermost degree). Love for Him should consume us. It should be the focal point of our lives; the essence of our lives; the center of our lives. Our lives are to be wrapped up in God.

His truth (i.e. the Bible) is to inform every thought you think, every decision you make, and every action you carry out.

Love for God is not determined simply by the things that we so often use to gauge our relationship with Him (church attendance, how much we give in the offering, how often we pray, how many chapters of the Bible we read etc.), as good and as important as these things are. It’s determined by the everyday things, by the simple things we do that reflect His character.

When the everyday things of our lives begin to reflect God then we know that He’s becoming increasingly important to us.

It’s the little things that make the difference. It’s the little things that tell us just how much we really love Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve