Does Jesus Really Need Facebook?

As Christians we’ve come up with all kinds of ways to tell people that I love Jesus. It began with bumper stickers on our cars – anybody remember God is My Co-Pilot? and it quickly spread to tee shirts and mugs for your office desk. One of the latest ways to make sure that people know you’re a Christian is your Facebook page.

Have you ever wondered why we need extraneous ways to declare our faith? Is it because people won’t know who we are just by looking at us? If so, what does that say about us?

As Christians don’t we already have a way to declare to other people who we are and where we stand on the person of Jesus Christ? Why do we need a tee-shirt or bumper sticker or Facebook page to tell people that we’re Christians? They should already know that by our lives. And that may be the problem. Perhaps our lives don’t reflect Christ the way they should so, just to make sure people aren’t confused about who we are, we declare it on Facebook.

The Apostle Paul wrote that every Christian is an epistle (a book) . . . known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2).The page of our lives should be enough to show Jesus Christ to anyone who reads it.

Matthew’s gospel adds to this when it says, Let your light (life) so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). If our lives are lived in agreement with the Word of God so that they shine out the person of Jesus, people will see who we are and that will lead them to give glory to God.

I’m not sure if a Facebook page can do that. God is into people not technology.

As a Christian, your life is like the page of a book. Make sure that the people who read your book are reading something worthwhile.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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You Need to be Addicted

I’ve been off the grid for a few weeks while I prepared for teaching in Haiti. Then there was the actual missions trip (18 days) and putting my life back together – not to speak of my office when I returned!

In the past I’ve sometimes written from Haiti but this trip we only had sporadic use of wifi. At times we went two to three days between connections. Talk about withdrawal systems! I didn’t realize what going without wifi for a couple of days would do to a group of Americans. Technology is great but we seemed to have reached a point of addiction – at least if my experience was typical of the average Americans.

That brings up an interesting thought. Is addiction always wrong or is there a time when it’s actually a good thing?

Waiting on my desk when I returned was a letter about a seminar on addiction. It dealt mostly with alcohol and drug addiction. But there are many other forms of addictions. Those who study addictions report the following statistics in the United States:

Alcohol Addiction 14,000,000
Cocaine Addiction 2,000,000
Meth Addiction 1,400,000
Heroin Addiction 800,000
Gambling Addiction 15,000,000
Porn Addiction 4,000,000
Tobacco Addiction 83,400,000
Food Addiction 8,000,000
Sexual Addiction 12,000,000 (and no ladies it’s not just a man problem!)

The list of addictions is long and includes workaholics, compulsive spenders, TV and video game addicts, and other less well-known addictions.

It seems like everyone is addicted to something.

Therapists list six signs of addiction:

1. Importance. How important is this to your life? What priority does it have in your life?

2. Reward response. Does doing it make you feel better and not doing it worse?

3. Prevalence. Do you want to do it more often?

4. Cessation. Do you feel uncomfortable if you do not do it for a period of time?

5. Disruption. Does it mean that you have to reorder your life in some way?

6. Reverting. Do you try to stop but find yourself doing it anyway?

As Christians we tend to think that all addictions are wrong and damaging. And for the most part that’s true. But think again about addiction.

Aren’t there some things that Christians should be addicted to? What about . . .

Loving God
Living like Jesus
Reading your Bible
Praying
Going to Church
Sharing your Faith
Loving other people

Shouldn’t these things be Important, make us feel better (IE loved by God)? Shouldn’t we want to do them more often and shouldn’t not doing them make us feel uncomfortable? And shouldn’t we reorder our lives to make them priorities and find it next to impossible not to do them?

I recognize that using the word addiction may be over the top, however, I think you get my point. Too often as Christians we take the things that are important to our spiritual lives too lightly. We’re not addicted to them the way we should be.

The Apostle Paul’s encouragement to us is to let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). If we’re going to live in a way that is worthy of God it’s going to take some effort, some work, maybe even some addiction.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You can read more about addiction here

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/is-everyone-addicted-to-e_b_490824.html

https://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/consumer_updates/sexual_addiction.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201411/6-signs-youre-addicted-something

Some Spiritual Lessons from Halloween

I know there is a debate raging among Christians about Halloween – it’s been going on for years and it’s not likely to end soon. How Christians respond to Halloween run from unrestricted participation to nonparticipation. Here’s a good article by John MacArthur’s Grace to You on the subject with some good suggestions.

The debate has even spilled over into Facebook with comments revealing which side of the spectrum people fall on. Without taking sides in the debate I was intrigued by one Facebook posts by a man named John Moore.

I don’t know anything about John Moore except what he posted on his Facebook site so this is not an endorsement of any kind. According to his Facebook site he is the CEO of John Moore Ministries & Leadership Consulting in San Antonio, Texas – and that’s the extent of what I know about him.

However, I found his post about his participation in Halloween both interesting and challenging. Here it is:

I opened the door to give out candy tonight in my preaching robe (see previous post). The kids asked me what was I? I said, I’m a preacher. A 9 year old girl asked me could I pray for her? While I was shocked, I said sure. After I prayed for her, the girl parents starting telling me how they left Christ and that they have been going thru tons lately and they wanted prayer as well. I prayed for them and they rededicated their life to Christ right on my front porch. They are going to church tomorrow for the first time in 6 YEARS! Get this, that was the first of 3 families who asked for prayer tonight because I was dressed as a preacher in a robe. My point? How many times have we as Christians missed an opportunity to win souls because we weren’t in a church, on program, or in the spotlight? I know most church people don’t celebrate Halloween, and that’s totally fine. However, I’m glad I didn’t take Halloween off as a Christian. Many Christians protest it and tell others how wrong they are and that they are “going to hell” when really all we should be doing is working to win souls! They came to my door looking for candy, but I gave them COMPASSION AND CHRIST!

Of course he received praise for his actions and condemnation for participating in what some see as a pagan holiday.

My purpose is not to argue for or against Halloween. That’s another discussion. I shared his post because it challenged me in the area of sharing Christ. Whether you think he did the right thing or not you can’t deny that there are some lessons here for all of us. Five that come to my mind are:

-Take advantage of the opportunities around us. We all have opportunities to share Christ. You don’t have to manufacture them, just use the opportunities that God brings into your life.

-Be creative in your approach to sharing your faith. I have to confess I would never have thought to do what he did – and I AM a pastor. I think with a little creativity we might see more results.

-Don’t be intimidated. It would have been easy to be intimidated in this situation. Intimidated by the occasion. Intimidated by strangers. Intimidated by what other Christians may have thought or said. We don’t need to be intimidated into silence when it comes to the gospel.

-Expect the unexpected. It was interesting that God used a 9 year old girl to change the whole dynamic. I’m not sure his plan was to pray with people when he started out the night, but that was God’s plan. God often brings about the unexpected when we’re faithful.

-Trust God with the results. If we are faithful God will do what only He can do. Let’s trust him.

Who would have thought that we could learn some spiritual lessons from Halloween?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Heaven: The Celestial North Korea?

A trend that has become decidedly more noticeable in the recent past is the aggressive position of atheists and atheistic organization in getting out their message and their confrontation of Christianity. In fact it now has its own name: the New Atheism. The “new” doesn’t refer to a new set of beliefs as much as it refers to a new attitude and new tactics.

According to one source; New Atheism is a social and political movement in favour (sic) of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
This is happening not only on an academic level (Christopher Hitchens et al.) but also on a more popular level (Bill Maher for example).

Prior to his death, Christopher Hitchens was one of the New Atheist who championed this new approach. Take this statement for example: I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque. . . . Just consider for a moment what their [the devout’s] (sic) heaven looks like. Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea.

I want to make several observations, first about New Atheism in general and then about Hitchens’ view.

Christians should not despair over the new vocalness of atheist, in fact we should welcome an open and honest conversation with those who oppose our faith. It is in the spiritual darkness that we are told to shine the light of the gospel (Matthew 5:14-16). In one sense people like Hitchens are doing us a favor – they are bringing the conversation out into the open; they are instigating the dialogue. We don’t have to wonder how we can bring up the subject of the gospel with our neighbors, they have done it for us. Let’s rejoice and take advantage of the new opportunities!

As for Hitchens’ view of God, the Christian life and eternity, I think that we can take away several things. First we need to ask ourselves where his views came from. Is that really the message that we as Christians are communicating by our lives and message? I rather suspect that it comes from a very prejudicial reading of the Bible, however, we need to keep in mind that for most people their views on God, the Christian life and eternity are going to come from how we live and what we communicate. If they have defective views perhaps it is our fault.

Secondly, we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. How do you respond to the charge that we as Christians live under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring? How would you explain heaven to an unbeliever? Will it be as Hitchens claimed a place of, endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea? (Notice the truth mixed with error – heaven will be a place of endless praise and adoration, as should our lives be today. It will not be a celestial North Korea). Too often we despair over criticisms of our faith instead of searching for ways to answer them.

Thirdly, it seems to me that Hitchens operates from a world view that is not just centered on man (anthropocentric) but expressly self-centered (egocentric). Life and eternity are all about Christopher Hitchens. In contrast in the Christian life God is at the center of our lives and our eternity (theocentric). When anyone installs themselves at the center of their universe they have enthroned themselves as the ultimate authority, as their own god. That might give them an ego boost but it’s a dangerous place to be.

There have always been atheists (2 Peter 3:3-4), people who choose to deny the existence of God and fashion their lives in their own image. As we come to the end of the age – and we’re there (Hebrews 1:2) their voices will grow louder. That’s when our lights need to shine the brightest.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Why You? Why Now? Why Here?

This is the season of Thanksgiving in America. It’s a time to reflect on our blessings as a nation and as individuals. As I’ve thought about the blessings of life two questions often come to my mind. The first is Why was I born at this time in history? The second is Why was I born in this country of the world? I think these are important questions for Christians to contemplate especially during this time of the year.

From a purely secular point of view any of us could have been born at any time in history and we could have been born in any country. Think about how different your life would have been if you had been born to a struggling peasant family during the middle ages somewhere in Europe. You probably would have lived in a small hut made out of branches and mud with a dirt floor. No lights. No running water. No central heat. No bath or shower. No indoor plumbing. One change of clothes. Bread and porridge once a day. No doctors or medicine. And no prospect of a better life – if you even survived childhood. If your parents were peasants you would be a peasant. That’s how the class system worked.

Yet we (especially American Christians) live in prosperity. All of the things that peasants lacked throughout history we have. And more. We are free. We are rich. We are healthy. We are fat. We are spoiled. Not only do we have one of the most enviable lifestyles in the world, we have one of the best lifestyles in human history. Why?

The simple answer is that God put you where He put you. I asked a dear pastor friend in Haiti if he had ever wondered why God had him born into a Haitian family instead of into an American family. He replied that he had thought about it – often. And the conclusion that he came to was that God had a purpose in the circumstances of his birth. He understood that God had placed him into a country of immense suffering in order to make a difference.

There is a Biblical principle that comes into play here. Luke 12:48 says for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. Although this statement is found in the context of eternal rewards and punishment, it states an eternal principle. We will answer for how we use what God has given us. Those of us who have been privileged to have been born into prosperity and health are those to whom much is given in a material sense and we will have to answer for how we use our blessings.

This is no small matter. If it is true that we are among the most prosperous and blest people in the history of the world, and there is great evidence for this, then what is/will be required of us is immense. We have a greater responsibility to minister the grace of God than any other generation has ever had.

God has put you here, now because He has a purpose in the circumstances of your birth. He wants you to make a difference with your life. How that plays out in your life will depend to a large extent on how you view the ownership of your life and possessions. If they belong to you, you will most likely make a small difference. If you see them as belonging to God then you will probably make a great difference.

Being thankful is more than simply reflecting on the blessings of the past year. It’s an understanding of the source and purpose of our blessings that motivates us to action. Never forget that we have been blest to be a blessing.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Promoting Patriotism in the Church

After that headline I need to begin with a disclaimer: I love my country. I think that it is good to be patriotic. I’m thankful that God put me here. I don’t want you to jump to the wrong conclusion by what follows.

Here’s my concern. I am concerned that the evangelical church (not individuals here but churches) has become so involved in flag waving that people, especially those from other faiths, cannot see the difference between what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian. And if this is true, even to the smallest degree, haven’t we in some way hindered the gospel?

I’m not talking about our country or government promoting democracy and freedom around the world. My concern is with the Church of Jesus Christ. To what extent does the Church get involved in promoting either democracy or America? To what extent do we mix faith and patriotism?

I realize that there are some evangelical churches and even complete Christian denominations that shy away from getting involved in anything remotely political, even to the extent of not displaying the American flag in their church. But they seem to be in the minority, at least in my experience.

So what about the gospel? Have we made accepting the gospel equivalent to accepting democracy? Or at least accepting America? The crucial answer to this question is not your answer – it is the answer of the Muslim in Iran or the Hindu in India or the Buddhist or the Jew. It is their perception of what we are doing that matters, not ours. And if what they see in our actions is not the gospel and only the gospel then we have failed.

As Americans we need to wrestle with this issue. For generations our churches have displayed the American flag, held patriotic services, said the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the National Anthem, and endorsed God and Country rallies. For most of us it would be un-American not to do all of this and more. But as Christians what we do in our churches is not about being a patriotic American it’s about being a Christian. It’s a spiritual question not a patriotic question.

We need to engage on a range of issues that will impact where we finally land on this topic:

Is it the function of the church to promote the country in which it exists (for example to hold God and Country services)?

What does it mean that our citizenship is in heaven as opposed to this earth (Philippians 3:20) and how does that impact our actions?

What does it mean that we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11)?

In what way is Abraham who waited for the city . . . whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10) our example?

Is our promotion of democracy and/or America hindering people in other countries from listening to the gospel?

Remember our primary responsibility is the gospel – not democracy or even America, as great as she is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve