We Can Be So Unlike Christ

It was the followers of Christ in the city of Antioch who were first labeled Christians (Acts 11:26). It wasn’t a name that they took for themselves – it was given to them, and we’re not even sure if it was in respect or in derision. I suspect the latter.

However it happened, people who follow Jesus have been called by that name since those early days of our faith. Today we wear it with justifiable pride. We belong to Christ. We follow Christ. We live for Christ. At least that is the goal.

Whatever Christians do – we are to reflect Christ.

That’s what’s so distressing in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. By a 7-2 decision, the court found that Christian businessman and bakery owner, Jack Phillips could not be forced to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. It was an act that went against his religious convictions.

While I’m happy for Mr. Phillips and personally agree with the court’s decision, the reaction of some Christians has been less than Christ-like. And for that I am ashamed.

According to news reports A Tennessee hardware store owner is celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding by placing a “No Gays Allowed” sign in front of his store. 

The article goes on to quote owner Jeff Amyx, as saying “Christianity is under attack,” “This is a great win, don’t get me wrong, but this is not the end, this is just the beginning. Right now, we’re seeing a ray of sunshine. This is ‘happy days’ for Christians all over America, but dark days will come.”

You can read the entire article here.

Jeff Amyx doesn’t have to wait – dark days are already here and it’s not just because of sin. It’s because Christians are not bringing the light into the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16).

In what universe does a sign, rejecting the very people who need the light of the gospel the most (Mark 2:17), reflect Christ?

I can’t imagine Jesus posting the same sign in the window of his carpenter shop in Nazareth.

Where did Christians ever get the idea that it’s better to alienate people than to love them?

We certainly didn’t get if from Jesus (Mark 2:13-16, Luke 7:36-39). In fact, Jesus gave us a compelling example of how we are to relate to sinful people. While not endorsing their sin, neither did he avoid (or insult) them.

His purpose was not to keep them out of his store. His purpose was to get them into his heavenly home.

It seems to me that you can’t do both at the same time.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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Justice is a Hard Word

Justice. It’s a word that conjures up images of a gaunt faced, steely eyed, black-robed, no nonsense judge handing down the sentence. The criminal got what he deserved. No love lost here. Now we can move on with our lives. Justice was served.

We love it – especially if you are a diehard conservative. After all we are a nation of laws! We love Justice. We want judges who will hand it out according to the letter of the law.

There’s little to no place for mercy in our system.

Until we are the one standing before the Judge.

I have yet to read of anyone, conservative or liberal, asking the judge to give them what they deserved. Most, perhaps all, are hoping for the lightest possible sentence. Hoping for mercy.

To be honest, we only want justice for those we have predetermined are unworthy.

But that includes all of us.

According to the highest court in the universe, we are all unworthy – we are all guilty. There is not one innocent person, not even one (Romans 3:10). All are guilty and have come woefully short of keeping the law of God (Romans 3:23). While I’ve paraphrased those two passages, I don’t think that I’ve violated the meaning. In fact, I think this is exactly what they mean.

Somehow when we’re faced with our own guilt before God the righteous judge, our demand for justice changes into something else. We’re not so conservative now. Truthfully, we hope for a giant helping of liberal mercy.

If we were to get justice we know where we would spend eternity. I’m not talking about heaven.

But God is not only Just, He is also the Justifier (Romans 3:26). In His Justice He deals with our sin. As the Justifier He forgives our sin. And it’s all because of Jesus.

God made it possible for our sin to be assumed by another (1 Peter 3:18) and for anyone who will put their faith in Jesus to stand before him in complete innocence (2 Corinthians 5:21).

His is a hard Justice. But it’s a justice tempered by mercy.

Justice without mercy is cruel. Justice tempered by mercy gives hope.

Thankfully God knows what we struggle to understand. That Justice and Mercy can walk hand in hand.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where Is The Glory?

One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel. Israel had been captive in Babylon for approximately five years when God revealed to Ezekiel through a vision, the extreme sinfulness of the small group of people who had been left in Jerusalem.

They had turned the temple of God into a center of pagan worship. There had been a complete rejection of God. Instead of learning from their sin, which resulted in the captivity, they said God does not see us, God has forsaken us (Ezekiel 8:12).

The irony is that God was still there, it was the people who had forsaken Him.

But He wasn’t there for long.

Because of their callus sinfulness, the Glory of God that had resided in the Holiest place in the temple departed from Israel (Ezekiel 8-11).

God removed His presence from His people.

He will not share His space with sin.

The good news is that one day God will change Israel and will give them a new heart and He will put a new spirit in them (Ezekiel 11:19). And once again Israel will be His people and He will live among them. And the Glory will Return.

It’s worth asking – Where is the Glory of God today?

In the Old Testament the Israelites knew where to find the Glory. At least until the time of Ezekiel. But where can people today find the Glory of God? Where does His Glory shine so intensely that they can’t miss it – even if they’re not looking for it?

It’s true that God has displayed His Glory in nature. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). But that is not the only place where God has revealed His Glory.

And for us – it may not be the most significant place.

Today the Glory of God does not reside in any one place like a temple. It resides in a hundred million places around the world – today the Glory of God resides in the life of every Child of God; in every person who claims the name of Jesus; in every Christian.

People should be able to see His Glory in every one of us. Every. One.

When people look at us they should see all of His magnificence; all of His purity; all of His holiness; all of His splendor; all of His perfection; and all of His love.

They should see all of His Glory.

The Glory of God should be on display for the world to see – in us.

So the Question is: Where is the Glory?

Where is His Glory? Where are people going to see Who God Is?

Let me paraphrase a key text. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, eating, drinking, or whatever, do it so people can see His Glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

If people are going to see the Glory of God they must see it in us.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Learn to Let Go

One of the problems that we as Christians experience in life is not being able to let go of situations that cause anxiety, stress, pain and even anger. It often seems that we are incapable of simply letting them go.

We pray about them and we ask God to remove them (that’s good), but for some unknown, divine reason He doesn’t. And since we cannot know the mind of God, we wrongly assume that He doesn’t care. You’ll have to take this one on faith – He cares, even when we think He doesn’t.

I wonder if we put too much on God. Not too much in the sense that He can’t handle it, but too much in the sense that we can and should handle it.

Not everything requires God’s intervention.

Sometimes we just need to let it go. Not always – but sometimes. The wisdom comes in knowing when it’s right to let something go.

I think the Apostle Paul indirectly touches on this issue in Romans chapter 12. That’s the passage that famously says things like, Repay no one evil for evil. And Do not avenge yourselves. And Heap coals of fire on his head.

The reason behind these statements is because revenge belongs to God (vs 19). When we step into territory that belongs to God, we’ve stepped over the boundary.

So what are we to do while we’re waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do?

There are several things. Naturally we should pray. We should spend more time with God so He can change us. We should try to learn what we can about God, sin, ourselves, forgiveness etc. because God is always teaching us.

But we should also learn to let go. Just. Let. It. Go.

Responding to some things in life is God’s prerogative, not ours (vs 19).

Let go of what’s not yours.

Let go of what you can’t change.

Let go of whatever is toxic in your life.

At the same time let go of your anger (Col 3:8). Let go of your bitterness (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15). Let go of your desire to get even (Rom 12:18). Let go of anything that does not promote godliness in your life (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

You’ve probably heard the expression Let go and let God. It’s an expression that is easy to misuse. But it applies here. In fact it’s exactly what Paul is advocating for in Romans 12. Let go of what is not your right. Let go of what you can’t change. Let go and let God be God.

It’s not easy to do. You will have to learn how to do it. And that means learning to control your mind and thoughts. The mind is a hard thing to control. It wants to control us.

But the key to letting go is controlling it. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:6 that we are to bring every though into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

In the context of that passage he was referring to ungodly philosophies that exalt themselves above God. But the principle is still there – that every though is to be made captive to Christ. That includes our thoughts.

When we learn to control our minds and thoughts we will find that it’s possible to let go and trust our problems to God (Prov 3:5-5).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Is God Hiding?

I’m intrigued by the hiddenness of God. The Bible presents God as both beyond us, hidden from our eyes (Job 11:6-7, Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36) and at the same time there for us (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Matthew 11:28). He is both incomprehensible and knowable.

The idea of the hiddenness of God has caused some people to reject Christianity and to even take the position that there is no God. Their reasoning can take several different directions but ultimately it comes down to this: if God does exist then He should reveal Himself in a way that removes all doubt.

Even as Christians we struggle with the hiddenness of God. When we face the acute pressures of life we want God to make Himself known to us in unmistakable and obvious ways. And we want to decide what form that takes.

The reality is that God has revealed Himself. He’s revealed Himself in creation (Romans 1:20), in the Bible (pick a page!), in history (this was one of the arguments used in early church history – see Acts 7:2-54), and most of all in Jesus (John 14:9, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15).

That brings questions to mind, such as What more does God have to do? How many more times does God have to show Himself before we’re satisfied?

Our desire for God to be obvious is not unlike the wife who continually asks her husband if he loves her. At first he tells her. Then he tries to show her. But no matter what he says or does, she continues to doubt – and ask. That’s going to get old after awhile.

I wonder if it gets old for God when we continue to expect Him to reveal Himself when He’s already given us all of the evidence that we need.

The problem is not the lack of evidence. The problem is our lack of trust in God – we don’t think that He’s done enough, or a lack of satisfaction with the way He’s chosen to reveal Himself.

But if we believe that God is who He says He is – an omnipotent, all-wise God of love, then He has revealed Himself in exactly the right way and enough for anyone to believe and be satisfied.

As finite beings, we should not expect to know the Infinite One in great detail, nor should we expect (demand?) that He act in ways that meet our requirements. As Paul reminds us, He’s the potter and we’re the clay (Romans 9:21) and we have no right to question what God does or how He does it.

There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14). To state it another way, all that God does is right and righteous. Even when we wish He would do more.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What’s On Your Bucket List?

I’m not sure where the term bucket list originated, but it was certainly popularized by the 2007 movie of the same title, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. You remember the movie – two terminally ill men escaped from a cancer ward and headed off on a road trip with a wish list of things that they wanted to do before they died. Their list included skydiving, driving a Shelby Mustang, flying over the North Pole, eating in France, visiting the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Mt Everest and a safari in Africa.

Not a bad list!

As the story goes, they were able to do many of the things on their bucket list before time ran out. In the end one died and the other lived to the age of 81. Both of them were cremated and their remains were left on a peak in the Himalayas.

Since then, the idea of a bucket list has reached a certain popularity in our culture. It seems like most people have a list of things that they hope to do before it’s eternally too late.

But have you ever considered a spiritual bucket list?

The benefits of crossing things off a bucket list are limited. Beyond a few moments of pleasure and a sense of accomplishment, there isn’t much more.

The benefits of accomplishing items on your spiritual bucket list are far more significant. Depending on your list you may change someone’s eternal destiny; bring peace into a tumultuous life; encourage someone who is down; lift a fallen brother or sister; or offer hope to the hopeless.

There’s nothing wrong with having a bucket list. I have places in the world that I would include on my list – Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Taktshang monastery (The Tiger’s Nest – check it out!), and the Great Pyramids to name a few.

But how much better – and more exciting – to have a spiritual bucket list that has the potential of eternal outcomes.

If you were to sit down and begin composing a spiritual bucket list, what would you include? What things do you want to accomplish in the spiritual realm while you still have time?

It’s never too late to get started!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Makes a Good Missionary?

Some of the greatest people I know are missionaries. Not great in the sense of power or influence, and especially not great in terms of how well-known they are. But great in the sense of faithfulness, loving people and serving well.

I know a lot of missionaries and I have the highest respect for them.

The question of What Makes a Good Missionary? is complicated. The missionaries I know are all different. They have different personalities; different abilities; different perspectives; different spiritual gifts; different ideas; different ways of approaching ministry; different interests in ministries; different temperaments – you get the idea. They are as different from each other as the rest of us.

So What Makes a Good Missionary?

Part of the answer is in what they believe and how they put what they believe into practice. That is, it’s in their theology and their practice.

Theologian Ed Stetzer wrote about this in an article with the title Two Grids Every Church Pastor/Planter/Missionary Must Use: Missiological Grid. The essence of his article is that every pastor, church planter and/or missionary needs to view their ministry through a theological grid (what they believe) and a missiological grid (how they put what they believe into practice).

But it was something else he said that grabbed my attention. He wrote: Think like a missionary wherever you are. For a church and church planter to be missional, thinking and acting with a missiological purpose, they have to be living on mission where they are. That means behaving as if they were a missionary, because the reality is that every Christian is just that.

Did you hear that?

That means behaving as if they were a missionary, because the reality is that every Christian is just that.

Every Christian is . . . a missionary.

Every one of us.

We don’t have “missionary” Christians and “non-missionary” Christians. We are ALL missionaries. We are all to be living on mission wherever we are.

That means that each of us needs to view all of life “through a theological grid (what you believe) and a missiological grid (how you put what you believe into practice)”.

That’s not just what makes a good missionary. It’s what makes a good Christian.

And that’s really the issue.

As Christians we need to know what we believe and then we need to live out what we believe in the places God puts us.

Missionaries have no greater responsibility to live out the gospel than the rest of us. Or to put it another way, we have as great a responsibility to live out the gospel as any missionary has.

So let’s start living like missionaries. Right where you are. Right now. Don’t expect things of missionaries that you don’t expect of yourself.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) isn’t the Missionary Commission, it’s the Christian Commission.

You can be the greatest missionary you know by living on mission where you are.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve