We Need to be Careful (And Kind)

I’m not into the world of secular music so it’s not surprising that I know little to nothing about current musicians and their music. However, my interest level did go up a few notches when articles began to appear recently in both the religious and secular media concerning Kanye West – of whom I admittedly know very little.

What I have read (you can read here and here) is that he has had some kind of religious awakening – call it what you will. His latest album released this past week, Jesus is King, is said to be overtly religious. Apparently, Kanye has dabbled in religion for many years, but in the past year has turned somewhat more serious, even hosting weekly religious gatherings for his staff and friends called Sunday Services.

There are those who are thrilled by his new-found commitment to Christ and those who see it as a publicity stunt. I have no idea and I’m content to leave any judgment up to God.

Here’s where I think we need to be careful. It’s not spiritually wise to make a spiritual novice the face or hope of Christianity. Some people are excited, anticipating the great spiritual influence that a public figure like Kanye can have on people, especially on young people. And he may – we’ll have to wait and see.

But let’s not put more responsibility on his shoulders than we should. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue in writing to Timothy regarding spiritual leadership: not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6-7).

Granted this is a qualification for Elders in the church and no one that I know of has suggested that Kanye should be or even wants to be an Elder. But it is still sound advice and should apply to everyone in spiritual leadership.

While I can’t say with any degree of certainty, from what I have read, it does not appear that Kanye falls into the category of the spiritually mature. He needs more time to grow and to demonstrate that good testimony not only to those in the church but especially to those who are outside.

In the meantime, those of us who are naturally suspicious and may lean toward the is this simply a publicity stunt ? (and even some non-Christians have suggested as much) need to be kind in our assessment and judicial (pharisaical?) proclamations.

Like most things in life, it will become clearer with more time and a little grace.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

How Should Christians Respond to the Immigration Debate?

One of the hot-button topics in our country today is the debate over immigration. I’m referring specifically to those individuals from other countries who attempt to bypass the normal channels of legal immigration.

We’ve been inundated in recent weeks with news coverage over the separation of families; the conditions of the detention centers; raids by ICE in various cities; and the competing and contradictory viewpoints of the political parties. It’s impossible to imagine that there is anyone in our country who isn’t aware of this issue and who doesn’t have some kind of opinion on it.

The way that you view this issue will primarily determine your response to it. You can frame it as primarily a legal issue, a moral issue, a compassion issue, an economic issue, a societal issue, or a political issue.  How you frame this issue will largely determine which side of the debate you fall on.

Each viewpoint has its go-to arguments that for them provides an iron-clad answer. It would be interesting for someone to look at this issue taking into consideration all of the different points of view equally and offering a solution.

For the Christian (and that’s who I primarily write for) this is also a spiritual issue. And that should be where we begin.

Let me make it clear that I am not addressing this in the framework of a national policy as much as I am your own personal attitude. A Christian’s first concern should be our personal perspective.

However, even framing the immigration debate in a spiritual context does not guarantee agreement (when did we ever have agreement when it comes to the spiritual?!). But there are a few things as Christians that we need to consider as each of us develop our own personal opinion.

Let me give you a few things to think about.

First, the Bible has a lot to say about immigrants, especially in the Old Testament, and we need to take all of it into account, remembering that Israel spent time as immigrants in Egypt. I understand that America is not Israel but the various statements in the Old Testament related to the foreigner/alien/stranger (all terms related to non-Israelites) show us something about the heart of God. Statements like the following need to be considered.

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).

If a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33).

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. (Zechariah 7:10).

These statements address a number of different issues related to the immigrants in Israel, but one of the primary applications is how they relate to the worth and the dignity of a person. We are to treat illegal immigrants the same way we treat anyone else in terms of their worth and their dignity.

Another consideration is Christ’s statement in Matthew 22 that we are to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This doesn’t refer just to just those who are in our country legally. It refers to anyone you come into contact with. In the context of the immigration debate, how do you love your illegal neighbor?

A third consideration for the Christian is the relative importance of this world in contrast to the next. Even though Abraham lived in a land promised to him by God, he was not tied to that land. In fact, we’re told that he lived there as if he was living in a foreign country. For him the Promise Land was not home for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Abraham was all about what is to come, not what is now. And that should be our perspective. On a scale of 1-10 where we live now doesn’t even make the chart compared to the 10 of heaven. Which makes the spiritual viewpoint far more significant than any other.

One way to assess where you stand on this issue is to ask yourself the question, What’s more important to me, keeping the illegal immigrant out of my country or helping him/her get to heaven? You answer reveals your heart.

Finally, take into consideration that people are always more important than policies. Jesus came for people not policies. Jesus died for people not policies. Jesus rose for people not policies. And Jesus is coming back for people not policies.

I understand that for our nation, or any nation to function there has to be laws and policies. And because every leader is human, every policy will be less than perfect. But again, my emphasis is not on policy but on our attitudes toward this delicate issue.

Sometimes as Christians we hide our less than admirable attitudes behind the language of policy.

One of the most helpful articles I’ve read from a Christian perspective on the immigration issue is What the Bible Says About the Current Immigration Crisis. You can read it at https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/bible-immigration.

And remember, always, always, always make it about people not policies. If you have to err, do it on the side of people, not policies.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The World We Live In

Anyone born before 1970 probably has a good idea of just how much our society has changed in the past sixty years. Before 1960 illegal immigration was a minor issue confined to a few specific states. Drugs were something that only happened in a couple of major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of the population disapproved of same sex relationships. Terrorism only happened in some remote corners of the world.

Sometime around 1960 that all began to change.

I don’t want to paint too idyllic a picture of the pre-60’s world. While many of the issues that we face today were either not present or existed only in an embryonic stage, there were plenty of ugly and sinful things about our society. Racism was rampant (if you think it’s bad now, it was worse then), Christianity was the proverbial lukewarm (Revelation 3:15f) in many churches, abuse, particularly in families, in all it’s ugly forms was normally swept under the rug, and sexual immorality, especially among Christians was too easily ignored.

No, life before 1960 was no Shangri-La and it was only Father Knows Best on our television sets.

That said, it’s true that we are living in a very different world today. We are dealing with issues that only the most perceptive people understood were potentialities.

Which makes me wonder what our world will look like in another sixty years? What issues will our children or grandchildren have to deal with?

And even more importantly, how can we prepare them for what we don’t know?

That’s where the unchanging Word of God comes into play.

We need to teach future generations of Christians the timeless truths and principles from God’s Word to guide their thoughts and actions. Issues have changed throughout history and they will continue to change. Future generations of Christians will have to deal with things that we can’t even begin to imagine today. And that’s the beauty of having something that never changes. Every generation can examine the issues they face against the same standard that every preceding generation used – God’s Word.

God told Israel, I am the Lord God – I don’t change (Malachi 3:6, see also James 1:17). Because God is eternal and does not change, what He says in His Word is also eternal and unchanging.  That’s why the Apostle Peter can write to his generation that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us (2 Peter 1:3) and we can still hold onto its truth in every succeeding generation.

While the world around us changes, every generation of Christians can judge the issues they face by the timeless teachings of God’s Word and be confident that they can handle whatever comes their way.

I remember when my daughters worked as bank tellers during their college years. The bank didn’t teach them what counterfeit bills looked or felt like – there were too many potential varieties. Instead they taught them what legitimate bills looked and felt like so that when a counterfeit bill came their way they would know something was not right.

That’s what we need to do with the Word of God. Teach truth so that when error comes along, we’ll know that something is not right.

It’s not the issues that we should be focused on, it’s the Word of God.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Is Peace Even Possible?

We live in a world of increasing hostilities and aggression. It’s manifest, not only between countries and ethnic groups, but more and more between groups and individuals in the same country and even the same neighborhoods.

It used to be that while people had differences of opinions about a wide variety of issues, actual hostilities were reserved for the concerns that fundamentally affected us in powerful ways. In ways that had the potential to change the basic fabric and structure of our lives.

Somewhere in the post WW II world that all changed. And the speed of change has been propelled at increasing rates by our addiction to social media.

We now live in an age of instant hostility. It takes little to set people against each other.

We seem to take offense so easily and believe that it is our fundamental right to stand up for our cause by any means necessary – even it that involves hostilities, either physical or verbal.

As Christians, how are we to navigate a culture of hostility?

The answer is Peace. Unfortunately, unless you belong to one of the historic peace churches, it’s an issue that we hear so little about.

But Is Peace Even Possible?

Here I’m addressing the issue on a personal level. Is peace possible between people? Between coworkers. Between church members. Between neighbors.

The first thing we have to understand is that the issue of Peace is something that God takes very seriously. He is a god of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He is deeply interested that we be people of peace. A quick check of the Bible, especially the New Testament, will reveal many references to the subject.

The next thing that we need to know is that peace is a responsibility laid firmly on the shoulders of every follower of Christ.

We’re taught to Pray for Peace (Psalm 122:6); make peace (Matthew 5:9); live in peace as much as you can (Romans 12:18); let God’s peace be the ruling factor in our lives (Colossians 3:15); be filled with peace (Romans 15:13); strive to live in peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14); pursue peace (1 Peter 3:11).

If you’re waiting for peace based on the actions of the other person or group of people, you’ve missed the point. God wasn’t talking to them – He was talking to you.

But here’s the real issue: When we ask the question, Is Peace Even Possible? we are asking the wrong question.

The right question is, Does God Want us to be People of Peace?

And the answer to that question is Yes.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

It’s a Complicated World

We live in a complicated world. As much as we want simplicity there are no easy answers. For every issue that we face there are multiple things that we need to consider. It seems that every issue is more complicated that it appears on the face.

And that causes problems between people.

We want quick answers. We have a need to know – now; to hold people responsible; to assign blame; to take sides; to make sure our side wins the PR battle.

And that means that we are often too quick to condemn those who see an issue differently and too quick to defend those we agree with. We have lost the art of reflection and deliberation.

Reserving judgment until all, or most of the facts are in, was at one time more common than it is today. But no longer. Now we rush to judgment. So much so, that anyone who seems too deliberative is considered suspect and their motives questioned.

It’s true in every arena of life.

No longer do we give people we disagree with the benefit of the doubt. They don’t deserve it. And too often we view them as the enemy.

I’m not suggesting that we put aside all of our differences or that we no longer take firm stands on the issues. Only that we do it carefully, with due consideration and thoughtfully.

For the Christian there is a standard that should guide all of our actions. It’s the standard of love. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the Old Testament commandments (Matthew 22:34f) He said that we are to love God with all that is in us. He quickly followed that up with a second commandment that was as important as the first and that is to love other people as much as we love ourselves.

I think that includes people who hold a different position on the issue.

We are to operate, always, in the context of love.

What does that mean in terms of how we related to people who don’t see things the same way we seem them?

The Apostle Paul touches on that in 1 Corinthians 13:7 when he says love believes all things. The Amplified Bible states it this way: Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person.

Always. Even when we disagree.

The New Testament scholar Leon Morris explained what this means when he wrote, it means to see the best in others . . . . This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived . . . but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt.

When as Christians we are too quick to condemn; too quick to draw conclusions; too quick to take sides, we are no longer operating in the standard of love.

Imagine what our society would look like if everyone practiced love this way. Always. All of the time. With everyone. Regardless.

While the issues we face are complicated, the way to handle them is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Where Do You Get Your News?

If you watch the news for any length of time you’ll be tempted to ask is there any GOOD news? We’re inundated with one unsavory story after another that cause us to live in fear, disgust and/or hopelessness. It seems like evil has overrun our world.

As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised. God’s Word tells us that in the days just before the return of Christ, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We’re there.

But back to the question is there any GOOD news? The answer is YES! Yes there is good news, especially for the Christian. It’s all about where you look. Most people get their news from sources like as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or various internet sites and if you keep looking there, you’ll probably continue to get bad news and it will be discouraging. However, if you get your news from God’s Word there is plenty of good news. Here’s just a sample of the good news that God has for you as a Christian:

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’s available to us if we just look in the right place. I’m sure that you can add to this list. 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

A Christian Response

Las Vegas, Nevada – 58/500+
Sutherland Springs, Texas – 26/20

That’s how many people were killed and wounded at two terrible shootings in our country between October 1 and November 5. In 36 days.

84/520+.

I’ll leave the political debate to others. My concern is from another perspective. Since the vast majority of my audience is made up of Evangelical Christians, the issue for us, most of who are far removed from either Nevada or Texas, is how do we respond?

How should Christians respond to horrific events in our culture?

After the shooting in Las Vegas I suggested five Christian responses in a blog published on October 2. You can read it here.

The five responses I gave following the Las Vegas shooting were:

-Hate is Wrong
-Sinful Anger is Not an Option
-Revenge is Out of the Question
-Prayer is Always Good
-Self Inspection is Appropriate
-Forgiveness is Always Right

Those are still good points. Let me add three more.

Recognize the Awfulness of Sin

This is a bottom line issue and the bottom line is that men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and sinners do terrible things. Sure not all sinners do such extremely bad things, but we are all capable of the most horrific actions. It’s time that we faced the reality of the awfulness of sin (James 1:15). There’s nothing good about it. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your life until there is nothing left. The sin that was committed in Sutherland Springs should cause us to take swift and fierce action against any sin in our own lives.

Recognize Your Own Deadly Potential

The problem is that we downplay sin. It’s not so bad. At least my sin isn’t so bad. So we keep it and it lives in the deep recesses of our lives. And all the while it’s worse than we can even imagine. The step from lust to adultery, from anger to hatred, from hatred to murder is much smaller than we think. The deadly potential for unspeakable sin lies deep in all of us – just ask King David (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51). We are not as far from Devin Kelley as we would like to think.

Rejoice in the Grace of God

But then there’s grace. Praise God for grace! It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from committing more horrific sins than we do. It was grace that took a sworn enemy of Christianity like Paul and turned him into the greatest missionary of the church. It was grace that took a slave trader like John Newton and changed his heart so that he wrote one of the most enduring hymns of Christendom. And it’s only the grace of God that will help us cope with the terrible sins in our culture. And in that grace we can and should rejoice.

As you grapple with the awfulness of sin and your own potential for sin and the wonderful grace of God, remember to pray for the people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve