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

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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

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

Lover or Prostitute?

Occasionally I read something that is worth passing along. The following article was written by Dr. David Ryser and published on the website Viral Christ. You can find it at under the category Christian Growth/Love. I don’t know anything about Dr. Ryser apart from this article. He does, however, bring a different – and uncomfortable perspective to an important issue in the Christian life.

Here it is under the title: “Lover or Prostitute?” The Question that Changed My Life. I hope it changes yours.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a school of ministry. My students were hungry for God, and I was constantly searching for ways to challenge them to fall more in love with Jesus and to become voices for revival in the Church. I came across a quote attributed most often to Rev. Sam Pascoe. It is a short version of the history of Christianity, and it goes like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.

Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old–barely out of diapers–and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, “An enterprise. That’s a business.” After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha’s raised hand, “Yes, Martha.” She asked such a simple question, “A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?” I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, “Yes.” She continued, “But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?”

The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that.” I didn’t dare express that thought aloud. God had taken over the class.

Martha’s question changed my life. For six months, I thought about her question at least once every day. “When a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?” There is only one answer to her question. The answer is “Yes.” The American Church, tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don’t even know Him; and I mean really know Him.

What do I mean when I say “really know Him?” Our understanding of knowing and knowledge stems from our western culture (which is based in ancient Greek philosophical thought). We believe we have knowledge (and, by extension, wisdom) when we have collected information. A collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge, especially in the culture of the Bible (which is an eastern, non-Greek, culture). In the eastern culture, all knowledge is experiential. In western/Greek culture, we argue from premise to conclusion without regard for experience–or so we think.

An example might be helpful here. Let us suppose a question based upon the following two premises: First, that wheat does not grow in a cold climate and second, that England has a cold climate. The question: Does wheat grow in England? The vast majority of people from the western/Greek culture would answer, “No. If wheat does not grow in a cold climate and if England has a cold climate, then it follows that wheat does not grow in England.” In the eastern culture, the answer to the same question, based on the same premises, most likely would be, “I don’t know. I’ve never been to England.” We laugh at this thinking, but when I posed the same question to my friends from England, their answer was, “Yes, of course wheat grows in England. We’re from there, and we know wheat grows there.” They overcame their cultural way of thinking because of their life experience. Experience trumps information when it comes to knowledge.

A similar problem exists with our concept of belief. We say we believe something (or someone) apart from personal experience. This definition of belief is not extended to our stockbroker, however. Again, allow me to explain. Suppose my stockbroker phones me and says, “I have a hot tip on a stock that is going to triple in price within the next week. I want your permission to transfer $10,000 from your cash account and buy this stock.” That’s a lot of money for me, so I ask, “Do you really believe this stock will triple in price, and so quickly?” He/she answers, I sure do.” I say, “That sounds great! How exciting! So how much of your own money have you invested in this stock?” He/she answers, “None.” Does my stockbroker believe? Truly believe? I don’t think so, and suddenly I don’t believe, either. How can we be so discerning in the things of this world, especially when they involve money, and so indiscriminate when it comes to spiritual things? The fact is, we do not know or believe apart from experience. The Bible was written to people who would not understand the concepts of knowledge, belief, and faith apart from experience. I suspect God thinks this way also.

So I stand by my statement that most American Christians do not know God–much less love Him. The root of this condition originates in how we came to God. Most of us came to Him because of what we were told He would do for us. We were promised that He would bless us in life and take us to heaven after death. We married Him for His money, and we don’t care if He lives or dies as long as we can get His stuff. We have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be. We are commanded to love God, and are called to be the Bride of Christ–that’s pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don’t even know? And even if we do know someone, is that a guarantee that we truly love them? Are we lovers or prostitutes?

I was pondering Martha’s question again one day, and considered the question, “What’s the difference between a lover and a prostitute?” I realized that both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, “What would happen if God stopped paying me?”

For the next several months, I allowed God to search me to uncover my motives for loving and serving Him. Was I really a true lover of God? What would happen if He stopped blessing me? What if He never did another thing for me? Would I still love Him? Please understand, I believe in the promises and blessings of God. The issue here is not whether God blesses His children; the issue is the condition of my heart. Why do I serve Him? Are His blessings in my life the gifts of a loving Father, or are they a wage that I have earned or a bribe/payment to love Him? Do I love God without any conditions? It took several months to work through these questions. Even now I wonder if my desire to love God is always matched by my attitude and behavior. I still catch myself being disappointed with God and angry that He has not met some perceived need in my life. I suspect this is something which is never fully resolved, but I want more than anything else to be a true lover of God.

So what is it going to be? Which are we, lover or prostitute? There are no prostitutes in heaven, or in the Kingdom of God for that matter, but there are plenty of former prostitutes in both places. Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for unconditional, intimate relationship with God. And I mean there is no palatable substitute available to us (take another look at Matthew 7:21-23 sometime). We must choose.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve