Loving God More

Loving God is an interesting thing. Many Christians think that they love God simply because they say that they love God. But loving God surely has to be more than just an affirmation. It’s too easy just to say it.

I can say that I love someone without it really being true.

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the commandments in the Bible, He said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). He identified this as the first (in priority) and greatest of all of the commandments that God has given us.

We are to love God with every fiber of our being. Loving God is of no little importance.

But how to do it is the issue.

How can we love God more?

This morning I read this passage which sheds some light on the subject. Jesus said: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

Loving God begins with understanding just how much we have been forgiven. Without a proper understanding of our indebtedness we will never love Him the way we should.

The event that led up His statement was a dinner to which Jesus had been invited. During the meal a woman who possessed a less than stellar reputation came into the room and began to act rather strangely.

A brief explanation will help us understand the situation. When guests visited a home they would be greeted with a kiss on the check similar to the custom of some cultures today.

Then because of the hot climate some provision would be made to have the dusty feet of the guests washed before they reclined on low-lying cushioned “couches” or mats arranged around a central table. Depending on the exact arrangement of the mats, it was possible for the feet of another guest to be a little too close to your nose. Not a pleasant thought if their feet had not been washed.

Apparently the normal customs were not provided at this particular dinner.

Back to the woman and her strange behavior. The story says that she began to wash and dry the feet of Jesus. Nothing too strange at this point – these were accepted norms in the culture. It would not have been unusual for the other guests, if they were not paying close attention, to assume that she was one of the house servants.

But she went beyond what was expected and began to kiss his feet and to anoint them with a fragrant oil. Definitely not normal behavior.

If the other guests, however, were paying attention they would have noticed something unusual in the demeanor of the woman. She was in deep anguish of soul. The text says that she stood at His feet behind Him weeping: and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hair of her head (Matthew 7:38). Definitely not normal behavior.

That brings us to the question: What produced this unusual action?

The clue is in the words of Jesus: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

This woman was not just a sinner – she was a sinner who had been forgiven. And she understood the magnitude of her forgiveness. She understood that she had sinned greatly and that God had forgiven her greatly. This was no little thing to her.

Her love for Jesus sprang out of her understanding of her forgiveness.

The same will be true in our lives. When we understand our forgiveness it will lead us to not only say that we love God, but to demonstrate our love the way this woman demonstrated her love.

Those who understand just how much they have been forgiven by God will be the ones who Love God More and it will be reflected in their behavior.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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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

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

Do We Really Worship?

Worship has received a renewed emphasis in Christian circles in the past decade. That’s a good thing. Anything that causes us to think about worship is good.

With that said, I wonder if the reason we talk about it more today than our parents or grandparents generations is that they had it but somehow we missed it. They didn’t talk about worship – they just worshipped. We talk about it but don’t. At least not like they did. Perhaps.

Several years ago Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled The Heart of Worship. It was made popular by a number of Christian artists including Sandi Patti. You can listen to Matt Redman’s version here.

The lyrics of the first verse and chorus are:

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

The song is true, as far as it goes. Worship is all about Jesus. It is all about what’s in our hearts. It’s true that it’s about blessing Jesus, not just being blessed. It’s true that we’ve turned it into something less than it is.

The shortcoming of the song (and this may never have been Smith’s goal) is that it tells us what worship ISN’T but it doesn’t tell us what worship IS. And that’s rather important. We won’t be able to worship until we know what the worship of Jesus is supposed to look like.

So let me offer some general thoughts on worship that I believe are grounded in a study of worship in the Word

  • Worship is more about how we live each day in the holiness of Jesus than it is about what we do on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about giving to Jesus than it is receiving something from Jesus.
  • Worship is more about who we are as sanctified people than it is about what we do (and it is about what we do).
  • Worship is more a life-style of obedience to Jesus than it is an hour spent with Jesus on the first day of the week.
  • Worship is more about the time we spend with Jesus every day than it is about the hour we spend with Jesus on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about serving Jesus than it is singing about Jesus.
  • Worship is more about Jesus than it is about me.

I don’t claim these statements define worship in its totality. Maybe you can add to them. But they are a place to begin the discussion.

So the question is: Are we really worshiping or are we doing something else?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Day After the Resurrection

It’s the Day After. Yesterday was a day of Hope, Praise, and Expectation for Christians. We celebrated one of the greatest days/events of our faith. It’s the day that gives our faith meaning and significance. Without it we have nothing. We had every right to be excited and to celebrate – Jesus rose from the dead!

But what about today? It’s the day after and we’re back to our normal routines, our lives as we know them. For most of us nothing has changed. Today is the same as the day before yesterday.

But . . .

Shouldn’t yesterday have some impact on today?

Shouldn’t yesterday change the way we view today?

Shouldn’t the euphoria of yesterday carry over into today – and the next day and the next?

Resurrection isn’t just about a future event. It’s about a present reality (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It’s about transformed lives. It’s about a present hope. It’s about how we live out our faith in this world.

Our lives should be fundamentally different today than they were before yesterday. Yesterday should have a bigger impact on us than just the hour or so we spent in church with other Christians.

Look at how the early followers of Jesus were impacted in the days following the Resurrection:

-they worshipped Him (Matthew 28:9, 17, Luke 24:52)
-they marveled (Luke 24:12, 41)
-their hearts burned in them (Luke 24:32)
-they were highly motivated (Luke 24:33)
-they were excited (Luke 24:34)
-they were filled with joy (Luke 24:41, 52)
-they continually praised and blessed God (Luke 24:52)
-they professed their love for Jesus (John 21:15f)
-they followed His instructions (Acts 1:4)
-they boldly shared the gospel (Mark 16:20, Acts 2:5f)

The lives of the early believers were literally transformed by one thing – the Resurrection!

So the question for us is – Have our lives been transformed today by our celebration yesterday?

If not then we have missed something – something terribly important.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When Grace Came

Christmas is such a special time of the year. Whether or not we know the exact year of Christ’s birth (we don’t) or celebrate it on the right date (we don’t) really doesn’t matter. We’re not celebrating a date we’re celebrating an event – the birth of Christ. Without question it is the greatest event to occur in human history. That’s worth celebrating.

The birth of Christ is an event that is drenched in grace. Can you imagine the magnitude of what happened in Bethlehem that night? The infinite, eternal One came to be with us. Immanuel. God, the one without sin, came to live with sinners. That’s grace.

Amazingly He didn’t ask us to clean up our act before He came – He just came. He didn’t expect us to change our lives so He could come – He just came. He came to a world that wasn’t looking for Him (with some minor exceptions), to a world that didn’t want Him, to a world that really wasn’t craving what He had to offer. And knowing all of that He came. That’s grace.

The birth of Christ in Bethlehem that we celebrate at this time of the year was Grace with a capital G. As much as I love our carols and the scenes of peace and tranquility that they project, they miss this one thing – if the birth of Christ in the manger was anything it was the one of the loudest expressions of God’s grace that has ever come into our world and into our lives. It might have been Silent Night to some but it wasn’t to God. And it shouldn’t be to us.

That night was God literally screaming grace at us. It was God shouting Here I am! I’ve come to be with you! I WANT to be with you! I want to be with YOU! Even in the quietness of Bethlehem He could not have said it any louder.

Grace seldom comes quietly into our lives. How can it? It’s the Eternal One invading our time, our space, our lives. It’s not meant to be quiet it’s meant to be loud and noisy. It’s meant to get our attention; to shake us up; to change our lives.

That’s what happened in Bethlehem. That night in a village that was insignificant to most of the world, God’s grace came. It came in the form of a baby. It came in the form of God (Philippians 2:6). And it came with an explosion that rocked the world.

That’s what Christmas is. That’s what Grace is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

On Becoming Like Christ

If the Christian life can be summarized in one thought it’s the idea of becoming like Jesus. From the moment of our salvation to our ultimate glorification the entire process of the Christian life, what we refer to as sanctification, is pointed towards the goal of becoming like Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the land of Israel. It was one of the unique experiences of my life. While I have never felt the need to “walk where Jesus walked” I have to admit that there was a sense of sacredness as I touched the stones of the Wailing Wall. The same was true as I stood on the deck of a boat in the Sea of Galilee and as I hiked in the tunnels in the area of the temple mount and stood on the Roman pavement on which Jesus probably walked. Knowing that I was where Jesus had been touched me in a way that I cannot explain. I came away from that trip wishing that I had taken it thirty years sooner.

Christians around the world want to visit the Holy Land because they want to walk where Jesus walked. But it’s not enough to walk where Jesus walked. It won’t do anything for your spiritual life – if that’s as far as you take it.

I’m teaching an Adult Bible Fellowship class in our church on Matthew 5-7, the passage we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. One of the things that I tell the class each week is that you can’t walk like Jesus walked until you think like Jesus thought. That’s the crux of the matter. It’s not the physical proximity to where Jesus spent His life that matters, it’s the spiritual proximity to how Jesus thought that will change your life. We need to begin thinking like Jesus thought.

Again the Apostle Paul spoke to this issue when he wrote do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). It is the mind, the way we think and process life that needs to be changed. We won’t become like Jesus by visiting Israel, but we will become like Jesus when we begin to think like He thought.

The New Testament stresses this need for us to think like Jesus. We’re told that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and to let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). That is, we have been given a new mind, a regenerated mind so we need to use it to think like Christ. The process of sanctification is a process of changing the way we use our minds so that we see and respond to life in a way that is different from our normal tendencies.

Someday our minds will be completely changed. The Apostle John explains it this way: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). That is we will ultimately and totally be like Christ. It’s a process that has already begun in our lives and it’s a process in which we have an important role to play.

The only way that we can begin to think differently, to think like Jesus is to be immersed in the Word of God. It is the Word that will wash our minds so that we think differently. It is the Word of God that will sanctify our minds and our lives (Ephesians 5:25-27). As we are in the Word the Spirit of God will transform our minds and in the process we will become, in small, incremental steps, more like Christ.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve