Standing With the Others

This has been called the era of Celebrity Christianity. It’s a term that has been used in a variety of different ways. Some use it to refer to Christians who adopt the lifestyles and mindsets of secular celebrities. To others it has the connotation of Christian leaders acting like celebrities – you know, special treatment, more recognition, more power and more influence.

Then again it can refer to the Christian subculture and our need to have our own celebrities. People we look up to. People we can emulate. People who give us hope that we can make it just like they made it.

Over the years evangelical Christianity has developed a parallel universe with our own schools, our own publishers, our own musicians, and even our own celebrities.

Every culture has their celebrities. Every culture seems to have a need for celebrities. People who have made it in life. The rest of us are just the others still hoping to make it.

The Bible presents a vastly different picture.

Hebrews 11 is a good example. In the first 34 verses it relates the faith of some of the greatest “celebrities” in the Bible. People like Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his son Joseph, and Moses. People who were celebrities in the right sense of the word.

Then you get to verse 35 and it says others . . .

We all know about Enoch and Noah and Abraham. We’re familiar with Jacob and Joseph and Moses. And we know that we aren’t worthy to carry their bags. But what about the others that the writer mentions? Those unnamed, anonymous followers of God who lived by faith even though they faced mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:36-38). They were just ordinary people – people like you and me. But people who knew what it meant to live by faith.

Up until verse 35 most of the things that are said of the people who are named are positive. They walked with God. They were obedient. They led great nations and conquered great cities.

All of that changes when you come to the others. They had great trials, suffered for God, were homeless and wandered destitute. No glory here. This is not the stuff of Celebrity Christianity.

But it is the stuff of our lives. Most of us live on the other side of verse 35. The hard side. History will probably not record your name. You will stand anonymous, unnamed.

But not to God. He knows. And ultimately that’s all that counts.

God is not looking for the next Abraham or Moses. He’s not looking for another Christian Celebrity. He’s looking for ordinary people, the others, who will live with courageous faith. He’s looking for people of whom He can say the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38). He’s just looking for people who will be faithful no matter what life throws at them.

The truth is we don’t need more Christian Celebrities. We need more others.

It’s an awesome heritage and responsibility that has been left to us to live life with the others.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Which Culture Influences Your Life?

Culture. We each have a particular culture that we were born into that is made up of our language, customs, traditions, institutions, values and beliefs.

Culture is one of the primary drivers of our lives. It influences our decisions, our perspectives, our faith and our desires. There are few things that affect our lives as much as our culture.

One of the interesting things that I have observed about culture is that it isn’t always the culture in which you were born that influences you the most. It’s often the culture in which a person lives. People like to fit in so they are willing to make significant changes in order to be accepted by the larger group. I’ve seen this with people who have moved from one country to another, and to a lesser extent with people who have moved from one region of our country to another.

Christians have to deal with culture on two levels, the physical and the spiritual. We find ourselves simultaneously living in two cultures and they often clash with each other.

The question for Christians is, which culture should exert the greatest influence on our lives, the culture of the country in which we live or the culture of the country where we are going (heaven)?

That’s the struggle. It’s been the struggle for followers of God since the beginning.

So how do we deal with two cultures and their influence on our lives?

Jesus made it clear that we are not of this world (John 17:14), and the emphasis of the New Testament is on our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20), not our earthly citizenship.

In Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews tells us how faithful saints of the past viewed their culture in relationship to their heavenly citizenship:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

For these faithful, the culture of heaven was preferred over the culture in which they lived. Their eyes were on where they were going, not on where they were. They knew there was something better than this life. Their spiritual culture was the dominant influence in their lives.

For us to be godly, faithful Christians the same must be true about us. While our earthly culture will undoubtedly have some influence on us, our spiritual, heavenly culture must be the dominant influence in our lives.

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

It’s a War Out There

The title of this blog can relate to almost any area of life today.

If you are over 50 you can probably remember a time when life was much calmer; people weren’t so uptight; the news wasn’t so depressing; political parties tended to work together in congress for the good of the people; and for the most part, everyone got along with everyone else.

Did everyone agree? Of course not, but there was a certain civility and respect that permeated our society.

The 60s change a lot of things. Many of the changes had ripple effects into other areas of life that I’m not sure we understand even today. Since then it seems that we have become more uptight, less peaceful, less respectful of other people, less tolerant not more, and less hopeful – as a nation and as individuals.

Many people – mostly the older crowd, remember life before the 60s nostalgically and long for the good ol’ days, while those who were born after the 60s scoff at the thought of every going back to the days of Ward, June and Beaver.

The post-60s crowd is right – you can’t go back. But does that mean that we’re destined for ever-increasing bickering and division in our society? Isn’t it possible for us to move forward and do it in a civilized manner, respecting our differences and honoring those with whom we disagree?

Here’s where I take issue with my own tribe. As Christians we have failed to set the example. In fact Christians have often been at the forefront of the political wars – and it’s difficult to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. We’ve made things worse not better. That shouldn’t be.

I’m not suggesting that Christians avoid controversial issues – I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t do battle the way other people do battle. Our attitudes, methods, responses and reactions are to be distinctly Christian. If they aren’t then we may will the battle but we’ll end up losing the war. Not the cultural war perhaps, but the more important spiritual war. The war for the souls of men.

Over and over the Bible implores us to be careful how we walk through life (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). In fact we are not to act like other people act (Ephesians 4:17) and we’re not to act in ways that fulfill our natural desires (Romans 8:1).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

What would happen if Christians actually began to act like Christians? If we approached the political-cultural issues with a Christ-like attitude, spiritual weapons, and dependence on God instead of on a political party?

What would happen if we really understood that the war is essentially spiritual in nature and began to fight it that way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Beauty of the Body

It’s Valentine’s Day and some of you are wondering where I’m going with that title! It’s true that God created the physical body as a thing of wonder and beauty, but that’s not the body I’m referring to.

I’m talking about the Body of Christ.

Just as God created the physical body as a thing of beauty, so He created the Body of Christ to be beautiful. Not just in our local churches but worldwide.

I’ve been exposed to the Body of Christ in both Haiti and the Philippines over the past 27 years and I have been blessed beyond anything I had anticipated.

My purpose in traveling to both of these countries was to teach in Bible Schools and preach in churches but I have learned far more from the Body in those places than I have given them.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from the extended Body of Christ. I hope they encourage you to look at the Body differently.

1. I’ve seen what it means to be Satisfied.

I just returned from Haiti where our team visited eight churches in four days that were in the path of Hurricane Matthew. In each church 80-100% of the people lost the roofs on their homes. Many had family members die.

One thing that I’ve learned in Haiti (it’s also true in the Philippines) is that the Christians are satisfied. Would they like better living conditions? Sure they would. But they have learned to trust God and to be satisfied with what He has given them.

Check Philippians 4:11-13.

2. I’ve seen what Relationships look like.

I tend to enjoy solitude. Being relational doesn’t come naturally for me. But I’ve learned the importance (and the need) of relationships.

Both Haitians and Filipinos are by nature relational. In fact life for them is about relationships.

If I understand 1 Corinthians 12 correctly, the Body of Christ is also about relationships. We can’t survive without each other – at least not in a spiritually healthy way.

Because of the example of the Christians in Haiti and the Philippines, I’ve come to enjoy relationships and even to desire them.

See 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.

3. I’ve seen what it means to be Hospitable.

If Haitians and Filipinos are anything, they are hospitable. They will share their meager meal with you even if it’s all they have.

They can help you in any way they can.

They are generous and giving people – just like the Body of Christ is supposed to be.

Check James 2:14-17.

4. I’ve learned to be more about Jesus.

We talk a lot about Jesus in the church. We sing about Him. We teach about Him. We preach about Him.

But Living Jesus is another thing.

Depending on Him for everything is something that we in the Western church don’t need to do. We have a lot of material possessions. We don’t know what it means to suffer.

Our brothers and sisters have learned through their suffering to make life all about Jesus, not about things.

We can learn from their example.

See Philippians 1:21.

5. I’ve learned to listen more and talk less.

When you are in another culture, especially if you don’t speak the language, you are forced to listen more and talk less.

That’s a good thing. We learn more that way.

And by listening we begin to understand the needs, the heartaches, the joys, the hopes, and the hearts of another part of the Body.

James 1:19 applies here.

6. I’ve learned to value people.

Other cultures value people more than we do in the West. They will go out of their way not to hurt someone intentionally. It goes back to the relationships. When you have relationships that really matter to you, you value those people.

It also goes back to material possessions. When you have a lot you want to protect the things you have. Eventually things take the place of people.

Things are not important. People are. Christ never told us to value things, but He did tell us to value people.

Don’t value things. Value people. Value the Body of Christ.

Check Matthew 22:37-40.

7. I’ve learned about the importance of prayer.

Haiti was never a land without suffering but the suffering has multiplied 10-fold in the past four months. First there was Hurricane Matthew. Then the Hundred-Year flood. Now there’s a drought. There was no food in the gardens when we visited.

The physical needs are overwhelming. Yet not one person asked us to give them money or food. Their only request was for us to pray for them.

Prayer is their only hope.

And it is our only hope. Prayer is important to the Body of Christ.

Check Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6-7

The Body of Christ is Beautiful beyond anything we can imagine. God made it that way. We need to see it that way.

We need to value the Body. We need to take care of the Body.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

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