Live in the Spotlight

All of the talk out of Washington, D.C. seems to be about impeachment hearings. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s a serious time in our country. It must be hard to live under the ever-present eye of the public.

I can think of a lot of things that I would rather go through than to have my every word and action scrutinized in the public venue. Not too many people could survive that kind of examination unscathed. I wonder if any of our congresspeople who are investigating the president could go through such an ordeal and come out untouched at the other end. I somehow doubt it.

I know I couldn’t, and I suspect that there are few, if any, who could.

But as Christians, that’s where we live.

Consider two passages:

1 Peter 2:12

Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Titus 2:7-8

In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

We are to live in such a way that no one can legitimately say anything evil about us.  Our goodness (godliness) is to be so evident that when people look at our lives, what they see is so overwhelmingly good that even if they want to condemn us it will be difficult for them to find something to say.

Combined with Matthew 5:14 (you are the light of the world), the implication is that rather than shun the spotlight, we are to put ourselves in the spotlight so that people can see Jesus. We are to embrace the spotlight.

Politicians may not come out smelling so good when their lives are examined, but we should.

If the president, or any other public official is held to a high standard, we are to hold ourselves to an even higher one.

Our standard is not a constitution or law or ethical guideline. Our standard is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:26) and we are to live in such a way that we adorn the doctrine of God our savior in all things (Titus 2:10).

An interesting question might be: If my spiritual life was examined would I be impeached?

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

Why Can’t We Just Play Nice?!

I’ve written similar posts to this in the past and I don’t want to be redundant. However, it remains a problem in our culture. Not just in our culture in general, where it is a problem, but in our evangelical Christian culture, where it shouldn’t be.

I’m talking about the way we talk to people we don’t agree with and beyond that, the way we treat people we don’t agree with.

You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t tell the difference between Christian posts on social media and everyone else. And I often can’t tell the difference – even in some of my posts (this is me asking God for forgiveness).

Our evangelical posts (not all by any means) are often mean-spirited, derogatory, unkind, and demeaning of the opinions and people we don’t agree with. They get very personal. Why can’t we just play nice?

I’m sure that every mother of toddlers is tired of saying, play nice! But mothers under-stand that they have to keep saying it because toddlers will be toddlers and they have to learn.

But we’re supposed to be past that stage. We’re supposed to be spiritual adults. Unfortunately, some Christians fall into the category of people that the writer of Hebrews was talking too when he said that by now you should be eating solid spiritual food but you’re still drinking from the baby bottle (Hebrews 5:12-14).

So, what does it mean to play nice? One writer defined it this way: when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife

In other words, playing nice is just what the words say. But it’s not the words themselves that we need to work on. It’s the application of the words. Because the application is to people we really don’t agree with. People we believe are wrong, wrong, wrong. People who, we believe at the least are terribly misguided and at the worst are out to change our country in some very undesirable ways.

While neither the phrase playing nice, nor this definition are strictly biblical, they certainly agree with the bible’s description of a Christian whose responses to life are to be radically different from everyone else’s.

Paul in the book of Romans summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

That certainly doesn’t sound as fun as ridiculing someone on Facebook or sending out caustic Tweets. After all, if we don’t put them down, who will?

But then that’s not the point.

The point is to reflect Jesus.

So how have your recent Facebook posts and Tweets reflected the Savior?

If there is anything that evangelical Christians need to learn in the current politically divisive environment, it’s how to play nice.

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

It’s a War Out There

The title of this blog can relate to almost any area of life today.

If you are over 50 you can probably remember a time when life was much calmer; people weren’t so uptight; the news wasn’t so depressing; political parties tended to work together in congress for the good of the people; and for the most part, everyone got along with everyone else.

Did everyone agree? Of course not, but there was a certain civility and respect that permeated our society.

The 60s change a lot of things. Many of the changes had ripple effects into other areas of life that I’m not sure we understand even today. Since then it seems that we have become more uptight, less peaceful, less respectful of other people, less tolerant not more, and less hopeful – as a nation and as individuals.

Many people – mostly the older crowd, remember life before the 60s nostalgically and long for the good ol’ days, while those who were born after the 60s scoff at the thought of every going back to the days of Ward, June and Beaver.

The post-60s crowd is right – you can’t go back. But does that mean that we’re destined for ever-increasing bickering and division in our society? Isn’t it possible for us to move forward and do it in a civilized manner, respecting our differences and honoring those with whom we disagree?

Here’s where I take issue with my own tribe. As Christians we have failed to set the example. In fact Christians have often been at the forefront of the political wars – and it’s difficult to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. We’ve made things worse not better. That shouldn’t be.

I’m not suggesting that Christians avoid controversial issues – I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t do battle the way other people do battle. Our attitudes, methods, responses and reactions are to be distinctly Christian. If they aren’t then we may will the battle but we’ll end up losing the war. Not the cultural war perhaps, but the more important spiritual war. The war for the souls of men.

Over and over the Bible implores us to be careful how we walk through life (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). In fact we are not to act like other people act (Ephesians 4:17) and we’re not to act in ways that fulfill our natural desires (Romans 8:1).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

What would happen if Christians actually began to act like Christians? If we approached the political-cultural issues with a Christ-like attitude, spiritual weapons, and dependence on God instead of on a political party?

What would happen if we really understood that the war is essentially spiritual in nature and began to fight it that way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Word of Caution to the Church

There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

Thankfully the 2016 political season will soon come to an end. I get the sense that America is weary of the advertisements, political posturing, and the rancorous atmosphere that has engulfed our nation.

Sadly we are a divided nation with a lack of respect for those on the other side of the divide. And no matter who wins the presidential election, half of our nation will declare themselves winners and the other half as losers. The winners will gloat and try to force the losers to accept their worldview and corresponding policies and the losers will respond in anger and attempt to stymie the advance of the winners at every conceivable juncture. This scenario will play itself out regardless of which party wins and which party loses.

Strangely, both parties will use the same terminology and arguments. They are destroying our country. They don’t represent me. They are evil.

Sometimes it’s difficult as a Christian not to get caught up in all of the rancor and bitterness.

But it’s important that through all of the acrimony of the next eight days, even of the next 4 or 8 years, that we keep a heavenly perspective. Not just a view OF heaven but a view FROM heaven. A view INFORMED by heaven.

So here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1. This world is NOT your home. You are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. Make sure that you are acting like a citizen of heaven.

2. There are more important things in life than who is elected president. Such as the gospel, the Word of God, the church, your testimony, and the Kingdom of God. Keep your priorities straight.

3. Don’t allow the darkness of the political world to dim your light. Too many Christians been caught up in the anger that is sweeping our country that it has affected their light. Keeping a bright light is more important than electing a president.

4. Prayer is more important than voting. I’m not suggesting that voting isn’t important. It’s just that prayer is vastly more important. Here’s a thought. Try to spend more time praying about the election than posting your views on Facebook or trying to persuade your friends to vote for a particular candidate.

5. No matter what happens God is still in control. You’ve heard that said often. It’s still true. Trust Him to bring good out of the present chaos. And trust Him to bring in His Kingdom no matter who is elected president.

As a Christian, Keep Perspective. No matter who you vote for. No matter who is ultimately elected.

And remember the words of an ancient ruler:The most high rules in the kingdom of men, [and] gives it to whomever He will (Daniel 4:17).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve