And Life Goes On

Most problems/hardships that those of us in the Western world struggle with on a daily basis are really not that important. Not to those of us living far from the squalid slums of Mexico City, the oppressive poverty of the Congo, the ravages of war, or the hundreds of thousands of hopeless children that roam the streets of the major cities of the world.

If we can put those pesky, unpleasant images out of our minds – we live well. Nothing much to worry about.

And life goes on.

I’m not disparaging people who are struggling with legitimate and life crushing issues. But that’s not most of us. Most of us are just fine. We have a roof over our heads, food on our tables, and money to pay the bills. We live in the land of the 3 S’s: Security, Satisfaction and Surplus.

Yet we live so much of our lives uptight about the little things. The things that are not that consequential in the grander scheme.

Think about the last thing that made you uptight. Was it really that important? Probably not. No matter which way it went, life would probably go on. You’d still have a warm bed to sleep in, more than enough food to eat, more clothes in your closet than some third world villages combined, and people who still loved you.

That’s more than most people in the world have.

The reason that we in the prosperous West get so uptight about the little things is because we’ve made life all about us. In our minds a good life is dependent on two things – our comfort and our enjoyment.

And what we’ve forgotten is the transient nature of life.

The Bible addresses this issue in several places, like James chapter 4.

You should know better than to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!” What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears (James 4:13-14).

 In the eternal scheme your life isn’t even a blimp on the radar screen. It’s a puff of smoke – here one moment and gone the next.

There has to be something more than our comfort and enjoyment that gives meaning and significance to our lives.

And there is.

James goes on to say, You should say, “If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things.”  (James 4:15).

What James recognizes is the importance of bringing God into the decisions of our lives. We do what we do dependent on Him.

In reality life is about Him. He is the focal point of life. He is what gives life meaning and significance.

Acting as if we are autonomous and there is nothing greater than us is what leads us to place so much significance on the insignificant things of life. When we eliminate the most significant (God) we will elevate the less significant to heights far above what they deserve.

It’s in keeping God in His rightful place that we will find balance in life. When He is the focal point everything else will fall into its proper place.

Jesus put it this way: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

That’s keeping God in the right place. It will also keep the problems/hardships of life where they belong.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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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

It’s the Little Things that Count

How important is God in your everyday life?

Most people who read this blog will agree that God is important in their lives or at least should be. They go to church most Sundays, they pray, they may even read their Bibles. By their actions they are saying that God is important in their life.

But attending church, praying and even reading your Bible does not necessarily mean that He’s as important to you as He should be.

It’s not enough to say He’s important. As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. It’s not even enough to do the minimum things that every Christian should do. God wants more than that.

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:34f), and He said, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He was getting to the heart of how important God should be in our lives.

What does it mean that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds?

The Expositor’s Greek New Testament explains it this way: The clauses referring to heart, soul, and mind are to be taken cumulatively, as meaning love to the uttermost degree; with “all that is within” us.

In other words our love for God is to be complete, total (to the uttermost degree). Love for Him should consume us. It should be the focal point of our lives; the essence of our lives; the center of our lives. Our lives are to be wrapped up in God.

His truth (i.e. the Bible) is to inform every thought you think, every decision you make, and every action you carry out.

Love for God is not determined simply by the things that we so often use to gauge our relationship with Him (church attendance, how much we give in the offering, how often we pray, how many chapters of the Bible we read etc.), as good and as important as these things are. It’s determined by the everyday things, by the simple things we do that reflect His character.

When the everyday things of our lives begin to reflect God then we know that He’s becoming increasingly important to us.

It’s the little things that make the difference. It’s the little things that tell us just how much we really love Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Can You Love Jesus but Not Love His Church?

Good Question.

If you asked most Christians if they loved The Church they would probably answer in the affirmative. But many would have some mental qualifications.

I love The Church but not all of the people in it.

I love The Church, just not MY church.

I love The Church, it’s Christians I can’t stand.

I love the Church but I don’t need it.

According to a Barna survey, 10% of self-identifying evangelical Christians don’t attend church anywhere. They say that they love Jesus, they just don’t love His church. And the percentage is growing – slowly, but growing.

There are inconsistencies here. As Mark Galli, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today pointed out in a recent article, can people really say that they love Jesus if they “refuse to participate in the community he promises to be present in?” Seems rather inconsistent.

The problem goes even deeper. Can people say that they love Jesus if they consciously choose not to do what He said to do? Hebrews 10:24-25 can’t be any clearer about our responsibility in regard to church attendance. Neither can John 14:15 be any clearer about the standard we are to use to judge our love for Jesus.

You can’t say that you love Jesus if you don’t do what Jesus said to do and you’re not doing what Jesus said to do if you don’t attend church. Pretty simple really.

The real issue here is not attending church verses not attending church. The real issue is an issue of the heart. Will we or won’t we bend our hearts to His will?

There are numerous reasons for the Christian to attend church. Among the most obvious are, Obedience, Worship, Fellowship, Instruction, Ministry, Exercising your Spiritual Gift, and Encouragement. Things that you can’t accomplish or experience on the same level as a Long Ranger Christian.

But the most important reason to attend church is because you love Jesus. Christians who say that they love Jesus but don’t love His church are demonstrating theological inconsistency at the highest level.

You can’t separate Jesus and His Church. To love one is to love the other. To be faithful to one is to be faithful to the other.

It’s no stretch to say, You love Jesus best when you love His church.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Know God?

Christians are people who believe that they know God. They have a relationship with God. The deeper the knowledge the deeper the relationship. Or so we like to think.

In the Christianity where I live (and the same is true for most of you reading this) – i.e. evangelical, biblically oriented, non-charismatic, evangelistic, mission-minded – we equate knowing God with gaining knowledge of God. In our minds the more knowledge the more we know God. And we’re sincere.

But is that the biblical understanding of knowing God?

Is that what the Apostle meant when he wrote, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10)?

If anyone knew about God it was the Apostle Paul. He had been personally taught by God Himself (Galatians 1:12), a claim none of us can make. But there was still a longing in his heart to know God. Wasn’t his knowledge enough?

Apparently not.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love learning about God. I spend hours every week as a pastor studying the Word of God. It’s my favorite thing to do.

But knowing God has to be more than a knowledge-gathering pursuit.

I read a statement several years ago that said a collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge.

In other words you can know a lot about God without knowing God. James says that even the demons know about God (James 2:19). That’s not very good company of knowledge gatherers.

Knowing God – really knowing God in a biblical sense – goes much deeper than the gathering of information. It is something that touches the soul and changes your life.

Without life transformation on some level you can’t say that you know God.

I’m not talking about an I’m saved and going to heaven instead of hell transformation.

I’m talking about an, I’m saved so I hate the sin that corrupts and destroys my life transformation.

An, I’m saved so I’ll sacrifice my own happiness and comfort for someone else transformation.

An, I’ll do anything to be more like Jesus transformation.

An, I’ll give it all up for Jesus if that’s what He wants transformation.

The same author I quoted earlier said most American Christians do not know God – much less love Him.

That’s a serious indictment.

Could it be true that while we claim to love God we don’t even know Him?

So how do we go from a knowledge-as-information-gathering to knowledge-as-life-transformation? And show that we not only know God but that we love Him.

Here are three easy things you can do,

1. As you read the Bible ask God, What do you want to change in my life today?

2. As you go to church ask God, What do you want to teach me through the sermon this week?

3. As you meditate on the Word of God ask God, What is it in my life that you want to transform into Your image?

It’s more than knowing more. It’s knowing more with the ultimate goal of life-transforming change.

It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about the change.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Love Jesus?

Occasionally I read something that is unique, something that shares an insight that I’ve never heard before. It doesn’t happen often (not because I’m so well-read as because there is very little original material out there), but it happened recently. John Piper’s website posted an article by Marshall Segal with the title You Can Love Ministry and Miss Jesus. It’s primarily directed to those in full-time ministry but it can be beneficial for all Christians. If you’re interested you can read it here.

That article caused me to think about something that I’ve not thought of before and to ask another, similar question: Do We Really Love Jesus?

Or do we merely love the things about Jesus?

Do we serve God because we love Jesus or because we love what we’re doing?

Do we attend church because we love Jesus or because we love the idea of church?

Do we love other Christians because we love Jesus or because they’re good people?

Do we worship Jesus because we love Him, or because we love the music or the uplifting experience?

Do we pray because we love Jesus or because we love the idea of prayer?

Do we love the Christian life because we love Jesus or because we’re comfortable in that kind of life?

To paraphrase a statement made by Marshall Segal, What captivates your heart more: Jesus or the things about Jesus?

I find this an uncomfortable place to go. I love studying the Word of God. I love teaching the Word both in our local church and in the classroom setting. I love my annual missions trips to Haiti. I love being in full-time ministry. I love everything (well almost everything) about ministry. But do I love Jesus?

Do I do what I do because I love Jesus or because I love what I do? Very convicting.

If you could only do one or the other – love Jesus or preach a sermon; love Jesus or go on a missions trip; love Jesus or sing the latest Hillsong or Chris Tomlin song; love Jesus or hang out with your small group; love Jesus or go to church on Sunday – which one would you choose?

I understand that it’s not an either/or proposition – it’s both/and, but just for fun, choose one or the other.

It’s a good way to gauge your heart, your affections.

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all the Old Testament commandments, he didn’t say anything about serving, praying, worshipping, going on a missions trip, or singing the latest contemporary song or even your favorite hymn.

He talked about our affections. Love God to the max. That’s our highest duty. Our highest aim. Our highest goal.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).

Everything else is extra.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying. Serving, praying, worshipping, missions trips, singing, praising etc are all VERY important in the Christian life.

But not as important as loving Jesus.

It’s not an emotion, although your emotions certainly enter into it. It’s a mindset. Jesus first. Jesus last. Jesus always.

Loving Jesus means that your life is all about Jesus.

It is possible to do many things for Jesus but not love Jesus as your highest priority. When that happens we’ve missed our calling. When we love the things about Jesus more than we love Jesus we don’t really love Jesus.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Pursuit of God

It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m a goal oriented person. I love to plan and execute the plan. For me the results are the prize. And therein is the danger. Too often I find myself pursuing the thing rather than pursing God.

As Christians we are not called to pursue numbers or programs or results, we are called to pursue God. This is to be the Christian’s noblest goal, our highest aim, our ambition, our deepest desire. With the Apostle Paul our longing should be to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

The problem is that life often gets in the way of our pursuit of God. We find ourselves too busy, too preoccupied, too burdened with life and God is left on the periphery of our existence. Too much of our day is spent in the pursuit of the things of life rather than in the pursuit of the Giver of life.

The Puritans recognized the possibility of relegating God to a place of unimportance in life. One of the Puritan prayers that has been handed down to us illustrates the tension they felt in their pursuit of God.

I hasten towards an hour when earthly pursuits and possessions will appear vain, when it will be indifferent whether I have been rich or poor, successful or disappointed, admired or despised. But it will be of eternal moment that I have mourned for sin, hungered and thirsted after righteousness, loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity, gloried in His cross.

We’re no different. If anything the tension for us today is even greater than it was for them. We have infinitely more earthy pursuits and possessions to distract us from pursuing God. In comparison to our lives, theirs were rather plain and unencumbered. That simply means that we have to work harder and strive longer. It is still possible to pursue God if that is our deepest desire. It’s a matter of the heart.

The Apostle Paul again points the way when he writes, what things were gain (IE important) to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Pursuing things is the easy path. Pursuing God takes infinitely more time, more effort and more energy. But the benefits are substantially more rewarding.

Take time this week to pursue God. Get to know Him, spend time with Him, sit at His feet. It will be worth the pursuit.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve