Monday, December 26, 2011

A Few Verses on Truth

"I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit" - Romans 9:1

"Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God." - 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." - 2 Timothy 2:15

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." - 1 Corinthians 13:6

Friday, December 23, 2011

They Gave Him a Manger for A Cradle…

manger-cross

‎"They gave him a manger for a cradle,
a carpenter's bench for a pulpit,
thorns for a crown, and a cross for a throne.
He took them and made them the very glory of his career."
~ W.E. Orchard

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For the Glory of God

whateveryoudoI've heard much ado as of late about how Christians shouldn't do this or celebrate that because of the ties to paganism.

Instead of cowering behind a fear of being corrupted by paganism and risking incurring God’s wrath, it’s important to see this issue in the light of the New Covenant given to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Jesus said, "If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that." (Matthew 5:27 NIV) Should we then not show kindness at all, because we don't want to be associated with paganism?

Reread the passage -- Jesus isn't telling us not to do what the pagans do, but to live our lives in such a way that brings honor to Him, that if people found out we were Christians, they wouldn't be surprised at all.  No, we are not to call ourselves Christians, yet continue to live sinful, worldly lives.  Instead, we are to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.(1 Peter 2:12)

Don't just be kind only to your friends, but be kind also to strangers, even to your enemies.  Live your life with a heart of love, not love merely reserved for those who love us, but for all, unconditionally and radically.

Likewise, don't not celebrate Christmas because it's "pagan."  Don't only celebrate it on December 25th.  Celebrate it every day in the way you act, talk, live!

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.  Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.  For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves.  If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.” - Romans 14:5-9

For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?  If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?  So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. - 1 Corinthians 10:29b-31

What “pagan” customs should we stay away from?

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.  But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” - 1 Peter 4:3-6 NIV

Israel failed to destroy the nations in the land, as the Lord had commanded them.  Instead, they mingled among the pagans and adopted their evil customs.  They worshiped their idols, which led to their downfall.  They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.  They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters.  By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the Lord’s sight. - Psalm 106:34-39

Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth… the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.(Matthew 15:11,18-19)

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Questions

“May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.” ~ Colossians 1:11b-12a


Giving Thanks
A question for you:
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
If you are like most Americans, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’  Of course, there are many reasons we observe the holiday, and I don’t even need to touch upon them.  Everyone has their own unique reasons for celebrating, their own traditions, their own food preferences, their own memories, and on and on.

But what I really want to know is:
What do YOU mean by Thanksgiving?
For Christians, the question is simple.  I’ve often wondered, though, what the word means to those who don’t have faith, who don’t believe in a Creator.  It’s understood that we all things in our life to be thankful of, but the very word ‘thanksgiving’ requires a recipient. 
As you gather with your loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, and to enjoy the food, fun, family, and friendship that characterize the day, ask yourself these two questions:
What am I thankful for today?  And Who is deserving of my gratitude?
Even if you are a non-believer, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect upon these things. 
The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17),” “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23),” and “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
God loves us so much that His gifts to us are not conditional on our acknowledgement of Him, but are freely given long before we even cast an eye in His direction.  Reflect upon the blessings in your life, and give careful consideration to where they may have originated.
Give thanks to the Lord!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Give Me Jesus

Give Me Jesus–Jeremy Camp

“Yes, everything else is
worthless when compared
with the infinite value of
knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have discarded
everything else,
counting it all as garbage,
so that I could gain Christ.”

~ Philippians 3:8

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Law of Christ

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
~ Galatians 6:2

bearing_burdensWhat is the law of Christ? 

Matthew 22:36-40 relates a conversation between a Pharisee and Jesus:

““Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.””

Elsewhere, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus spoke of the heart and intent behind the law of Moses – the proverbial “Golden Rule.”

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

In Romans 13:8-10, Paul elaborates further on how Christ’s commandment to love others fulfills the law of Moses.

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.  For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

Returning to Galatians 5:13-15, Paul reiterates this point:

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another."

Freedom from the law of Moses is not a license to sin, of course, but that’s a topic for another post.

The Gospel of grace is beautiful in its elegant simplicity.

Love God, love others.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Favoritism

From the blog “Ministry Matters”:

“The American church has a “dirty little secret”: thousands of special needs families have been made to feel like Old Testament lepers—forbidden from entering the temple to worship God with their brethren.”

http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/entry/1415/welcoming-special-needs-families

welcome_matJames 2:1-4 (NLT) says, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?"

While this passage speaks about discriminating based upon appearances, it's an illustration about favoritism in general. I understand that the church mentioned in this article seeks "to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests," but at what expense? Rather than making this a church policy, churches should be be modeling the Biblical mandate of "no favoritism."

The church, after all, is the Body of Christ, and each person has a place, regardless of “ability.”  1 Corinthians 12 tells us that, not only can’t one part of the body tell another that they are not needed, “some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”  Jesus also spoke on the topic in His discourse on the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Finally, I am reminded of Matthew 19:13-15:

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”  And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11), but accepts all who come to Him equally.  Shouldn’t we, then, as the Body of Christ do likewise?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Church in the Cloud?

churchincloud

I am always looking for ways to enhance our church's communication and sense of community between Sundays.  My explorations and experimentations sometimes border on overkill, but for the most part, I don't think that anyone can say that they feel disconnected... except, possibly, for those who don't use the Internet.  I'm working on that.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a great, thought-provoking blog post I discovered entitled, "The Church in the Cloud."

Here's an excerpt:

"What do you think might happen if the church adopted this “cloud” thing and consciously broke the connections that tie us to a physical location?

"What would it look like, for instance, if we learned to do community in the cloud? For one thing, we'd figure out how to be in each other's lives all the time, not just on Sundays when we all showed up at the same place. We'd find ways to be together, to pray together, to worship together, and to share each other's struggles. Our community would come from our being connected to each other through the work of God, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and not attendance at the same event."

I encourage you to read the whole article, and to share your thoughts on it with me.

http://www.faithwebblog.com/2009/09/church-in-cloud.html

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pressing On

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”Phillipians 3:12-14

This past weekend was one of the best that I have had in a very long time.  On Sunday, many friends and family joined us as we celebrated the dedication of our new church, Acres of Hope Christian Fellowship, and my official ordination as pastor.  pressingonAs I spoke these words from the book of Phillipians, I was again reminded of everything that the Lord has done in my life over the past year.

It has been a long journey, heartbreaking at times, but through it all, the Lord sustained me through the love, support, and edification of my family, friends, and co-workers in Christ.  We all have had many opportunities to become stuck in the miry pits of discouragement and bitterness, yet each time any one of us found ourselves sinking, the Lord led us ever onward and upward.

Forgetting the past doesn’t negate our testimonies, nor our memories of the people and places that have comprised the stories of our lives; rather, it involves leaving behind the hurts and heartbreaks of our past, however recent or remote.  We may carry our scars, our limps, our still raw wounds, but  we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) 

We may not have arrived yet, but we cast our cares on Him, lay aside the sins and burdens that so easily hinder us, and run the race with the complete freedom that is found in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Further Up and Further In

jewel_unicorn"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!" - Jewel The Unicorn in The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis

Readers of C. S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" will recognize the reference to one of the last lines in the Narnia stories.  I was first drawn to the books in my childhood, but over the years, as I have re-read them over and over, I am constantly amazed at the wealth of meaning and symbolism packed in to these seven all-too-short books.

Some scenes and lines have stuck out in my mind since way back when, though at the time, I didn't grasp the greater messages implied.  Since then, I have greatly enjoyed revisiting the stories from time to time, simultaneously reliving the wonder and excitement I experienced back then, and also seeing the stories through my son's eyes.  Most of all, as an adult, I have appreciated Lewis's expression of his faith in a fresh way that engages the imagination and challenges the spirit.

As a worship leader, the scene quoted above resonates with me.  Here is a group of beings discovering the "real" Narnia for the first time, experiencing yet greater heights of joy with every passing moment.  I find that same sense of the wonder of God's amazing love and grace in the book of Ephesians:

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

There are moments in my life, in the midst of the everyday living, where my spirit catches just a glimpse of these things, and I experience a clarity of thought and emotion, as if I have just awoken from a long dreamless sleep.  My finite mind cannot comprehend of infinity and eternity, and yet, I love to spend time out under a canopy of stars, feeling awed at the evidence of a truth I cannot fully conceive of.  And yet, I experience a strange joy to know that the stark reality of the universe and time without beginning or end has nothing to do with my understanding or acceptance.  It just WAS, and IS, and will ALWAYS BE, and I am but a speck of dust in a split second of time.  Strange, that such thoughts that should depress me instead bring me a sense of wonder and peace.

In the light of space and time, and the God who exists in both, I am nothing, yet the Bible says He knows my name, that He knew me before I was born, and that someday, I will live forever in His presence.  I imagine that each moment will bring greater joy and wonder than the one before as we finally see Him face to face.

Today, live beyond the mundane.  Lift your eyes beyond your circumstances.  Lie back under a blanket of stars, and let the infinite speak to your finite mind.  Dare to hope.  Dare to believe.

"Come further up, come further in!"