It’s Just Not that Easy

We are all familiar with the Great Commandment – Love God, love your neighbor. If you need a refresher, see Matthew 22:35-40. According to Jesus, our entire moral duty is summarized in these two, twin acts. All that God wants from us is to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind – i.e. with our entire being, and love other people as much as we love ourselves. If we do both of those things, everything else in life will fall into line with what God expects.

Easier said than done. The problem is in the details.

Take loving your neighbor in the current pandemic climate. What does it mean to love other people?

One person will say that loving your neighbor means criticizing the government and insisting that small companies be opened to business with careful planning and adequate safeguards just like the big box stores. After all it’s not loving to see people suffer financially, be unemployed or lose their business. That’s just not loving.

Another person will say that loving your neighbor means continuing the quarantine as is. That the infection and death numbers are still too high and it’s not loving for people to go out into public and risk spreading the virus. To change the status quo at this point is not prudent. That’s just not loving.

Each side will have arguments in support of their position and each side will say that they are acting in love. I know pastors on both sides of this issue – men who are doing their best to obey the Word of God; who believe that they are acting in love; who are trying to lead their churches to act in love.

Sometimes, even with statements in the Bible that we think are clear and unambiguous, it’s just not that easy.

While we believe in absolute truth and don’t subscribe to a philosophy of relativism, there are contributing issues that can make your actions loving at one time and unloving under a completely different set of circumstances.

And that seems to be where we are with Covid 19.

So what are we to do? How do we handle situations where good and godly people are on opposite sides, each firmly convinced in their own minds (Romans 14:5) that they are doing the right thing?

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation in Romans 14. His advice was that in matters that are not specifically commanded or prohibited in the Bible (such as opening our society – or not) we are to follow the promptings of our conscience.

God has given a conscience to each of us to help guide us in the decisions of life. The more conscience is informed by the teachings of God’s Word, the better it can be trusted to guide you in a godly way. That makes knowing the Bible critical to knowing where to stand on debatable issues.

Even with that, there will be disagreements. And when there is, the loving thing to do is to agree to disagree in a godly way. Then throw yourself on the mercy of God, acknowledging that you may be wrong (it is possible you know!).

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

The New Normal

Things are changing! In some ways change is coming faster and more extensively than most of us imagined. What will our world look like when we’re on the other side of COVID-19?

I don’t think any of us know for sure.

One thing that is undoubtedly a given is that it is bound to be different.  There will be a New Normal. But what that difference will look like and how far-reaching that difference will be is anyone’s guess.

This touches the Christian life in two areas.

First, how will our individual Christian lives be different? What will be the New Normal for each of us? Certainly, it will vary from individual to individual. How you come out of this will not be the same as how someone else comes out of it.

The New Normal for each of us will depend on the decisions we make and the habits we form during our time of separation/semi-isolation. Many people have more time on their hands either because they are no longer working or because they just can’t go so many places. How you spend that extra time will be reflected in the post coronavirus person you become.

You can spend at least some of it to increase the time you spend in Bible reading/study, prayer and mediation on God’s Word. That would set some new habits that could change your life far beyond COVID-19.

Secondly, how will Church be different after the coronavirus runs its course? What will be the New Normal in terms of how the Church ministries in the world?

Will we do more ministry online? Will social media play a bigger role in our ministries?

Will our ministries expand because we have learned new methodologies? What will worship look like? How will the missionary enterprise change? Will people be more or less faithful?

Whether it’s on a personal level or the corporate church level, one thing is certain: We will come out of this either worse for the experience or better for the time we’ve had to think, contemplate and plan.

This moment is part of God’s larger plan and we need to look at it in both a personal and corporate context.

Questions that we need to struggle with are: What is God doing? and, How should it impact my life?

Don’t let this time be wasted. Redeem it (Ephesians 5:6). Use it for spiritual growth so that in the future you can look back at the decisions you made during this pandemic and see it as a time of spiritual change and growth rather than a time of disaster and defeat.

The New Normal will depend on the decisions you make today as you navigate your way through this new and challenging time.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Relax, He’s Got This

In my daily Bible reading I just finished the book of Daniel. Talk about timely and appropriate! One of the great themes running through this Old Testament book is that God is still in control even when life looks hopeless. That’s a message that all of us need to hear right now with the world-wide Coronavirus epidemic.

The truth of God’s involvement in our world and lives is found in every chapter of the book.

Chapter 1 – God honors Daniel and his friends before the king.

Chapter 2 – God sets up and takes down kingdoms.

Chapter 3 – God saves the three Hebrews from certain death.

Chapter 4 – God humbles the greatest king on earth.

Chapter 5 – God brings judgment on the mighty Babylonian empire.

Chapter 6 – God protects Daniel from the lions.

Chapter 7 – God determines kingdoms and will set up His own kingdom.

Chapter 8 – God reveals the future kingdoms of the Medo-Persians and Greeks.

Chapter 9 – God reveals the future of Israel to Daniel.

Chapters 10-12 – God reveals more of His future plans for Israel and the world.

From the personal lives of Daniel and his friends to great Kings to the future of the world and eternity, we see God’s hand moving people like chess pieces into the places He has determined.

So why are we so concerned about the Coronavirus?

It’s probably because we’re afraid of what we don’t know. And that’s understandable. An unknown future is an unsettling thing.

But realize that it’s only unknown to us. It’s not unknown to God, in fact, He is the author of the future and as Christians we believe that history is going exactly the way God wants it to go.

And if that is the case then we have every reason to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6), even though we’re going through something unlike anything we’ve experienced in life.

So, take care of yourself. Follow the advice of the CDC and health care professionals. Practice good hygiene. And Relax, He’s Got This.

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

 

We Can Be So Unlike Christ

It was the followers of Christ in the city of Antioch who were first labeled Christians (Acts 11:26). It wasn’t a name that they took for themselves – it was given to them, and we’re not even sure if it was in respect or in derision. I suspect the latter.

However it happened, people who follow Jesus have been called by that name since those early days of our faith. Today we wear it with justifiable pride. We belong to Christ. We follow Christ. We live for Christ. At least that is the goal.

Whatever Christians do – we are to reflect Christ.

That’s what’s so distressing in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. By a 7-2 decision, the court found that Christian businessman and bakery owner, Jack Phillips could not be forced to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. It was an act that went against his religious convictions.

While I’m happy for Mr. Phillips and personally agree with the court’s decision, the reaction of some Christians has been less than Christ-like. And for that I am ashamed.

According to news reports A Tennessee hardware store owner is celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding by placing a “No Gays Allowed” sign in front of his store. 

The article goes on to quote owner Jeff Amyx, as saying “Christianity is under attack,” “This is a great win, don’t get me wrong, but this is not the end, this is just the beginning. Right now, we’re seeing a ray of sunshine. This is ‘happy days’ for Christians all over America, but dark days will come.”

You can read the entire article here.

Jeff Amyx doesn’t have to wait – dark days are already here and it’s not just because of sin. It’s because Christians are not bringing the light into the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16).

In what universe does a sign, rejecting the very people who need the light of the gospel the most (Mark 2:17), reflect Christ?

I can’t imagine Jesus posting the same sign in the window of his carpenter shop in Nazareth.

Where did Christians ever get the idea that it’s better to alienate people than to love them?

We certainly didn’t get if from Jesus (Mark 2:13-16, Luke 7:36-39). In fact, Jesus gave us a compelling example of how we are to relate to sinful people. While not endorsing their sin, neither did he avoid (or insult) them.

His purpose was not to keep them out of his store. His purpose was to get them into his heavenly home.

It seems to me that you can’t do both at the same time.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Responding to Violence

Another shooting. More violence. More deaths. It’s getting to the place where it doesn’t surprise us anymore. We almost expect it.

As of this afternoon the death toll in the Las Vegas shooting stood at 58 with another 515 people wounded. 573 people whose lives have been forever changed – and that doesn’t take into consideration the thousands of people – wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children, moms, dads, cousins and friends of the dead and wounded who have been dramatically impacted.

What are we to make of these life-changing events?

How should we respond?

People are going to have a variety of responses ranging from anger to sadness. And that’s understandable on a human level. However, for the Christian there are some appropriate ways to respond and they will take more than a human effort.

Those who don’t confess faith in Christ will struggle to understand this. In fact many Christians will struggle to respond in a Christ-like way. The struggle is not wrong as long as you end up in the right place.

So here are a few responses and how Christians should understand them.

Hate is Wrong

To be a little more specific – hatred of the shooter is wrong. You can hate the tragedy, or the conditions that drove him to act this way, or a society that has degenerated to this point, but to hate the individual, no matter how grievous their crime is wrong. Jesus taught us to not only love those who love us, but to love those who don’t love us (Matthew 5:43f). Hatred does not solve the problem, it exacerbates the problem (Proverbs 10:12) and leaves you filled with bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

Sinful Anger is Not an Option

The Bible is filled with warnings about the dangers of anger (Psalm 37:8, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:31, James 1:19-20), but apparently there is an anger that is not sinful (Ephesians 4:26), such as anger against evil or sin. But the overriding message of the Bible is that anger is not the solution in most situations in life, in fact in the vast majority of cases it is sinful. Jesus equated anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22) so when our response is to be angry with the shooter, we have put ourselves side by side with him.

Revenge is Out of the Question

In a passage of the Bible that falls into the one of the hardest to obey category, we’re told that revenge is out of the question (Romans 12:17-21). As much as we would like to set things right by doing to the shooter what he did to so many innocent people, God says that we just can’t go there. Revenge is His option, not yours. Your only option is to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Prayer is Always Good

Prayer is appropriate at a time like this. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the families and friends of those who died or were wounded. Pray for the family of the shooter. Pray for the people who have been traumatized. Pray for the responders who had to deal with the shooting and with those who had been shot. Pray for the government officials who need to wrestle with this issue. Pray for a solution to violence. Pray for peace. Prayer is always good (Luke 18:1f, Philippians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Self Inspection is Appropriate

When violence happens we are quick to focus on the person responsible for the violence to the exclusion of examining our own hearts. But how many times have we acted in hatred? How many times have we caused pain to another person? How many times have we allowed violence to control us? Times like this are good times for some self inspection. Again, the Bible has something to say about our hearts and it’s not necessarily good (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18-20). A lack of self inspection usually leads to self-deception.

Forgiveness is Always Right

Always. Forgiveness is one of the distinguishing attributes of the Christian faith. We are to forgive regardless of the severity of the crime. It’s fair to say that without forgiveness there would be no Christian faith. It’s that important. God forgives us when we repent of our sin and express faith in Christ (Psalm 32:1-2, Luke 7:47-48, Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9) and He forgives us for the innumerable sins we commit as Christians. How then do we withhold forgiveness from others? We are to forgive regardless of their offense (Matthew 6:15, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness is always right.

Responding to violence as terrible as this will not be easy. It will take more grace than you can muster. That’s why you need to rely on His grace. With the grace that only God can give, you can respond in a godly way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve