Thursday, June 25, 2020

After Thoughts: What is Truth?

I started a podcast for Bethlehem Church this week.

The podcast is called After Thoughts because it goes beyond what I am able to share in the sermon each week.

This week I am talking about what it is important to anchor our lives on the reality that Jesus is the truth.

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Patience is Required

It is hard to be patient.

Our culture has trained us to be impatient. You and I expect to have things now.

Remember when the internet first started to become a thing?

There was the process of connecting through the phone line. Then websites and content took their sweet time to load. Streaming videos would not have been possible since the constant stopping and buffering would have been unbearable.

Now, we expect our internet experience to be instantaneous and smooth.

Our expectations have changed to the point that if images and videos don't load lighting quick we are moving on to something else.

Impatience isn't isolated to our online experience. It colors everything that we do.

It is one of the reasons why consumer debt is unbelievably high in the United States. We want what we want right now. We don't want to wait and save for it. With easy credit all we have to care about is, "What is the monthly payment?"

While impatience affects our lives in many different ways, one of the most impactful ways is in the area of discipleship.

"Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence  for mature Christian discipleship is slim...There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.16

We can be manipulated into have some sort of "religious experience" that makes us feel good. This is why feelings and emotional experiences are a poor foundation to build faith on. Once the feeling leaves and the experience fads into the past, it is easy to doubt God and wonder if any of it was really real in the first place.

True discipleship is a slow process.

It requires patience and a commitment to endure the ups and downs life throws our way.

The goal of discipleship is not an experience, feeling, or even acquiring all the right knowledge.

The goal is becoming holy.

I know holiness sounds rather dull and boring. Our pictures of holiness have to do with a life of strict discipline and quiet solitary life.

Let's face it. Satan has done a great job of turning what should be our greatest desire into something that we want to avoid.

I want to encourage you to think about holiness in this way: holiness is to live the life of Jesus.

Imagine living life with the compassion, mercy, wisdom, confidence, strength, and love of Jesus. 

Through discipleship we seek to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That takes time as we learn to be guided by the Spirit rather than the flesh and how to love God and people the way they need to be loved.

Discipleship doesn't happen over night and it takes faith, commitment, and work, but it does lead to a life of no regrets.

A life worth living is found on the road of discipleship.

Be patient and stay committed and you will discover the life God created you to live.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Be Humble and Respectful

People are different.

I know that isn't breaking news, but it is worth remembering. You and I are different in dozens, if not hundreds of ways. That is a good thing

The world would be a boring place if everyone believed and acted the same way.

The world advances when people of different backgrounds and skills work together. Everything from making a ham sandwich to creating a pencil to assembling a car requires a division of labor that benefits the world.

Diversity is one of God’s great blessings to the world.

Even though we acknowledge the blessing of diversity, the number 1 reason we judge other people is because they are different from us.

They do things different than we would do them, they believe different ideas than what we believe, they value different things than what we value, or they have a different set of morals than what we have.

These differences lead us to call other people weird, stupid, ignorant, immoral, and evil.

Our prideful side whispers in our hearts that our way is the right way and if that person doesn’t do it our way they are wrong. This reality (even though we wouldn’t actually admit to it) causes us to be very harsh with one another.

We see it in our discussion of politics, in our conversations about religion and theology, in our relationships at work, and our interactions with our neighbors.

Be careful about the way you view other people.

If you label people as weird, ignorant, or wrong simply because they do things differently than you do, you doing what Jesus asked you not to do.

Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
In order to live the way of Jesus we need to be humble and patient.
The apostle Paul wrote; “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NLT)
Without humility we will cast judgement on others and treat them harshly. A lack of humility will prevent us from embracing the diversity God designed within the world.

This is especially crucial to do with people who are ideologically opposed to us. It is too easy to disregard what they have to say and to treat them as second class citizens. Yet, as followers of Jesus we are called love our neighbors and our enemies. To do that we have to treat them with respect.

Be humble and be respectful of the diversity that is all and us.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Evaluation

This is the third sermon I preached in a series called Listen to Jesus.

God created us to bear His image in this world. We don't naturally bear His image, we have to be taught how. Jesus came to teach us how to demonstrate God's character in this world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Design Patterns


One of the great gifts that God has given to His people is the Bible.

The Bible helps us understand who God is and what He desires for His creation. This means it is important for Christians to read, meditate, and live out Scripture.

One of the difficulties that we have when in it comes to reading the Bible is to see it as a unified Book. With all the different stories and types of literature we can be tempted to view the Bible as a hodge podge collection of writings that don't have a lot to do with each other.

God inspired the authors of the Bible to create a unified Story by using certain words, images, and themes that help link the various parts of the Bible together.



The design patterns of Scripture are something we can overlook when we are only reading short passages at a time.

To catch these patterns we have to read long sections at a time and then keep in mind things that seem to keep popping up. This skill takes work, and it helps to have some sort of teacher who is able to start pointing them out.

This is certainly a skill that the more you using, better you become at spotting the patterns.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What are Rights?


Rights are a popular topic. It seems like everyone justifies what they want to do by calling it a right.

The major issue in this discussion about rights is that few of us have a good understanding of what a right truly is. We want to claim certain behaviors as rights, but few people could give a working definition for rights.

Think about it.

If someone asked you the question, What is a right?, how would you respond?

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson named life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as God-given and unalienable (which means they are not transferable to another or not capable of being taken away or denied) rights.

What makes those three ideas rights?

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They were written to protect the rights of citizens that the Founding Generation feared the new general government might violate.

What makes the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and all the rest rights?

Are rights anything that would make life easier? Are they anything that supports the life we want to live?

I believe it is crucial for us to spend time thinking about what makes something a right and what disqualifies something as being one.

 In this article, Rights and Non-Rights: A Simple Way to Distinguish the Two, Lawerence Reed provides a brief summary for identifying rights.

Ultimately a right requires nothing from anyone else, except that you are left alone.

We have the right to our lives. That means no one can take our life away from us. It means I have the right to defend myself against people who want to do me harm. Because everyone has the right to life it means the only justification for killing is in defense of life. Abortion is wrong because it takes the life of another human being.

We have the right to liberty. This means we are able to choose the course of our lives. It is a violation of our rights to have another person force us to do things we do not want to do. This is what makes slavery evil. Slavery robs people of their liberty.

Admittedly, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conversation about rights.

My hope is that this will provide you with a starting point when it comes to thinking through whether something is truly a right or not.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Don't Surrender to Fear

The tasks God calls us to do are often scary and overwhelming.

One reason for feeling this way is because we know that if completing the tasks depended solely upon us then they will remain unfinished. We are well aware of our weaknesses and the ways we have fallen short in the past.

A second reason for feeling this way is because of the unknown. We don’t know what the obstacles will be, but we know that there will be obstacles. Anytime we are moving with God we can expect opposition.

I imagine that Joshua felt this same way when he was called to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 31:7-8 (NLT)

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Moses had been the leader of Israel for 40 years and he understood the difficulties that were involved with the task leadership. Like a wise leader he took the opportunity to encourage Joshua to be strong and courageous. Moses reminded Joshua that he could be confident in the task because God would go with him.

Deuteronomy 31:23 (NLT)

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun with these words: “Be strong and courageous, for you must bring the people of Israel into the land I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

For a second time Joshua is encouraged to be “strong and courageous.” This time the encouragement didn’t come from Moses, but from God. Joshua wasn't appointed to be leader by Moses, but by God. God told Joshua that he can boldly lead the people into the Promised Land because God will go with him.


What a great promise to have as you begin to live out your calling.

Joshua 1:6-9 (NLT)

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

On the eve of venturing into the Promised Land God came to Joshua and affirmed the promise that he had been given. Joshua could be strong and courageous because God went with him.

In this passage we also discover God’s instruction to Joshua on how to be strong and courageous: to know and obey the law.

God established a covenant with Israel, and as Israel's leader Joshua was charged with teaching Israel how to obey the terms of that covenant. It was essential that Joshua knew, obeyed, and ultimately modeled covenant faithfulness to the nation.

As Joshua knew, lived, and taught the terms of the covenant to Israel, he would become more and more confident of God’s faithfulness to His promises.

2 Timothy 1:6-8 (NLT)

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 
So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.
Timothy had a task to complete. It was based on the talents and spiritual gifts that God had given him.

Even though Timothy was called by God and had the necessary skills to complete the task, there was a part of Timothy that was holding him back. If he was to accomplish his God-given mission he would face persecution and opposition. Paul reminded Timothy that God's Spirit gave him the courage and boldness he needed to accomplish what God had called him to do.

Followers of Jesus we are not to surrender to our fears. We are to go forth in courage and do what we have been called to do: to make disciples.

Yes, we will face opposition.

That reality shouldn’t hold us back. We move forward, confident that as we demonstrate our faithfulness we will experience God’s faithfulness.

We can go confidently into the world because we know that God goes with us. He has empowered us, through His Spirit, to be the strong and courageous people He called us to be.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Continue to Struggle

We were never promised an easy life.

Even though we know this is true, we always feel like life is unfair when hardships, trials, and difficulties show up in our lives. 

We expect life to go easily, and when it doesn’t it shakes us to the core.

I believe that Christians, though we wouldn’t admit it, secretly believe following Jesus should make life easier. After all, we reason, we are doing God’s will and that means He should help us in our work. This unspoken belief is why it is easy for people to walk away from Jesus when things get difficult.

Let me throw this thought out at you: Does opposition make things easier or more difficult?

The Bible tells us that there is an enemy, Satan, who is opposed to God and His will. It is logical to conclude that following Jesus would make things more difficult. Satan is not going to sit idly by as we pursue the will of God. He is going to fight us every step of the way. 
The presence of an enemy, the reality of evil, and the corruption caused by sin means we can expect difficult times in our lives.

This implies even when we are doing God’s will things will not always go smoothly for us. The mere fact that we are doing God’s will means we can expect opposition. 

When hardships and trials come our way the best thing we can do is to struggle forward. As James pointed out in James 1:2-4, God uses these situations to mature our faith. In the face of opposition, of hardships, and of trials it is vital that we hold on to God’s promise. 

Hope is essential to enduring the struggles of life.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11; NLT)

Jesus told this group of Christians not to give up in the face of persecution. “Hang in there,” He says, “this persecution won’t last forever.”

Our struggle may not be persecution, but it is still a form of opposition from the enemy. In the middle of hardships we are often tempted to give up and do something else. We need hope to stay the course, and this is why Jesus reminds us of the great promise he has for us: a crown of life. 

Don’t give up, the reward is more than worth the pain!

How do we hang on and trust in Jesus when life becomes a struggle?
  1. Ask yourself the question: Is my struggle tied to right and faithful living? We need to be honest, sometimes life is a struggle because we have made bad choices. If that is the case, then we need to change the way we live. While God won’t take away the consequences of bad choices, He will empower us to get through them. On the other hand, if our hardships come from doing God’s will, then we need to remain faithful. If our desire is to honor God, encourage people, help others, and mature in our faith then we can expect to be opposed by Satan. We overcome Satan by being faithful to Jesus.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Each one of us carries around in minds what it life should look like and the wild success we will experience in ministry. These expectations can motivate us, but they can also be a huge stumbling block when life turns out to be different. That is why it is essential for us to be flexible, to lay down our agendas, and seek God’s guidance. Keep your focus on the hope of Jesus’s promise and not on your expectations.
  3. Surround yourself with friends. If we believe that we are alone in our struggle it is very easy to give up. It is much easier to endure when we are with friends. My first hiking trip to Colorado I went myself and I didn’t complete one hike. The reason was because I was alone and I got discouraged by the difficulties of the trials. When I have gone with friends I have been able to complete the trials, even when I felt like turning around, because we were on the trial together. The same is true in life and ministry.
Life is tough. 

The fact that life is tough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong trail. Remember, we can expect opposition to find us as we follow Jesus. That means the struggles of life can be an indication that we are doing what God wants us to do. 

Rather than being on the wrong path, we are being opposed by the enemy. Regardless of the circumstances of life we need to stay faithful. It is only by remaining faithful that we can experience the life God created us to live.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Listen to Jesus: Deep Clean

As I a pastor I am currently preaching a sermon series entitled "Listen to Jesus" that looks at 6 teachings of Jesus that provide an understanding of how we can bear God's image in this world.

This is the second sermon in the series that focuses on our part in cleaning our hearts.

Friday, May 15, 2020

God Cares For You

Worries are a part of life.

Some have worries about health problems and medical tests.

Others have worries about relationship issues.

Still others have worries about money and bills.

Worries are universal, a common experience of life.

The apostle Peter wrote; So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (1 Peter 5:6-7; NLT).

God cares about us!

The implication of this great truth is that all of our worries and cares matter to Him. He cares about those silly fears we have about talking in front of a group of people, being in the dark, or the sound of thunderstorms.

The big worries also matter to God.

He cares about the fact that we worry about the salvation of our friends and family, that we are unable to find work, or that our parents' are sick. Everything that causes us to worry or that we care about, God also cares about.

How do we know that?

Peter wrote that God “cares about what happens to you.”

The evidence of God's love for us is seen in the blessings He generously gives. This is why it is important to take a few minutes on a regular basis to write a list of God’s blessing.

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus is more evidence that God cares for us. He is the one who took the initiative to save us when He had every right to allow us experience the pain of our rejection of Him.

The knowledge of God's love for us should motivate us to pray. The knowledge that God cares about the smallest detail of our lives helps us not to hesitate to pray about the circumstances of our lives, the wounds of our hearts, and the problems of our loved ones.

We have to be aware that with our limited perspective on life will lead us to question what God does and how He answers prayer. Even when we don't understand, I am certain as we reflect on our lives we will be able to see God's handiwork.   I am even more confident that when all is said and done we will realize that God led us by the best path for us.

I think this passage provides us with a great picture of God. We matter to God, and He cares about what happens in our lives. May this truth motivate us to continually come to God in prayer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Setting

An expectation God has for His people is that we will be holy as He is holy. To help us in this task God has given us the Bible. 

The Bible is a wonderful library of books that cover many different events and themes, which are woven together to tell one story. This one story leads to Jesus.

Even though the Bible is a wonderful gift that helps us understand Jesus and guides us on how to live, it can be hard to understand. We need to be taught how to read the Bible.

One of the basic things we need to understand about the Bible is that it is written in a variety of literary styles. The most common of these styles is historical narrative. Understanding narrative means we have to follow the plot, know the characters, and discover the setting. Knowing the setting of the narrative provides essential clues to understanding the point of the story.

 

When we take the settings of the narratives into account it helps us to build links to others stories. As we link different stories together we are able to see the unity of Scripture. For example, garden narratives should get us to recall chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis and get us to start drawing similarities and differences between what that story and what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Another key component of settings is time. The number seven is important because it going to remind people about Sabbath and resting.

Like any good story, it is important that we pay attention to the setting as we read through the narratives in the Bible. The biblical authors provide details about the setting to give us clues to the larger story that is going on.


After Thoughts: What is Truth?

I started a podcast for Bethlehem Church this week. The podcast is called After Thoughts because it goes beyond what I am able to share in...