Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Lo$t: Where Am I?

Money is necessary for life. It is what we use to get the food, clothes, shelter, transportation, and everything else that we need for life. Because of its prevalence in our lives most of us have done something dumb with our money. It is easy to do. The reality is most Americans are lost financially. We have too much debt and too many obligations which lead to experiencing significant financial pressure each month. We need help when it comes to money. The Bible says too much about money for us to be lost financially. God cares about how we use our money, which means that money is a spiritual issue. The first step in getting unlost financially is to discover where we are. We need to understand that everything belongs to God and that we are His stewards managing His resources. When we remember this truth everything else begins to fall into place. Text: Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 16:10-13 Big Idea: Christians are to be good stewards of their finances. Challenge: Figure out how much money comes into your bank account and where it goes each month.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Our Purpose and Our Healing

God created humans to bear His image. To bear God's image means that we are to demonstrate God's character: His love, grace, mercy, and kindness in the world around us.

How do we do that?

It starts with love. Jesus taught that our greatest responsibility is to love God and to love people.
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:37-40; CSB)

The best way we can live this life of love is to be kind and caring to those around us. In a word we are to serve. Serving is the foundation of the purpose that God created us to do.

It is logical that our purpose is wrapped up in serving others, but it doesn't make sense that our healing is too?

In fact, it seems contradictory to say our healing and our wholeness are found in giving our lives away. 

Conventional wisdom teaches that we need to take care of ourselves first before we have the capacity to help other people. Some Christians even teach that we need to love ourselves before we can truly love others. 

The truth that our healing is found in giving ourselves away is another example of the upside down nature of the Gospel. Wholeness is found in sacrifice and healing is found in serving others.

One of the reasons why our healing is found in serving is because we are are broken by our sin and selfishness, which leads to broken relationships. Our sin has led to a damaged relationship with God which leads to a damaged relationship with other people. Since we are created to live in relationships, to have damaged relationships means we cannot be the people God created us to be.

We lack wholeness when our relationships are not what they should be.

So how do we build relationships? 

It begins with reaching out to people in love. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught:
Matthew 5:23-24 (CSB)
“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
We are to take the initiative for reconciliation happen. Even if we have been wronged it is up to us to do what needs to be done to make things right. There is no guarantee that broken relationships will be repaired, but our relationships will remain broken if we do nothing. We find healing and wholeness when we do what is in our power to make things right in a relationship.

Not only do we need to reach out to people in love, but we also have to stop following our flesh. Paul gave the Galatians this warning:
Galatians 5:13-15 (CSB)
For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.
Our flesh will lead us to be selfish, which in turns destroys relationships and holds us back from pursuing our purpose to love. To find wholeness and healing we need to be led by the Spirit. How do we know when we are led by the Spirit? We know the Spirit is leading when we experience the desire to help, serve, forgive, and encourage people. 

In our journey to become the people that God created us to be we need to know what we can do, those things that are under our control. How we follow Jesus is under our control and that is what I focused on here. There are times in our pursuit of wholeness when we need more help. This is when we should get counseling. A good counselor will help you to find the path of healing that you need.

The thought I want to leave you with today is that healing isn’t discovered in more self-care, but it is found in reaching out to people in love. Healthy relationships have a healing effect on our lives.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Progress Not Perfection

 One of the things that I would like to share on the blog are my sermons, since they are the result of a significant amount of pondering each week.

This is the sermon that I preached on January 1, 2023.

A new year brings with it a hope of a new start. All of us have at least one area in our lives that we would like to see changed.

The issue we face is that we have failed in the past and we don’t know why now would be any different. Our hope of a new start quickly turns into discouragement.

Thankfully, God isn’t after our perfection, but our progress. Our faithfulness to Jesus is seen in our continual transformation day by day and year by year.

Text: Philippians 3:12-14
Bottom Line: Our faith helps us make progress in our journey to become more like Jesus.
Challenge: Write down one goal for your spiritual formation and think of the step needed to accomplish it.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Is That the Real Reason for Deconstruction?

Ever since Donald Trump’s election as president, and especially since the pandemic, deconstruction has been a topic of conversation within Christian circles.

Deconstruction, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “is the analytic examination of something (such as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy.” 

Deconstruction, for the Christian, is the process of breaking down the beliefs and doctrines held by a church, denomination, or theological framework because the teachings and practices don’t seem to line up. 

When done in pursuit of truth deconstruction can be an admirable work. 

In fact, I went through a period of deconstruction in the years of 2007-2009 (though that wasn’t the term being used then), as I questioned many of the things I believed both religiously and politically. The one truth I held on to in this process is the resurrection of Jesus. I knew it was not possible to have answers to all my questions, but since I was confident about the resurrection, I trusted that to be my anchor point to help guide my life in pursuit of what is true.

Deconstruction, when done to reveal the inadequacies of your former belief system, is less about discovering what is true than it is creating justification for why you changed. This is why, even though I believe deconstruction can be a healthy part of our journey of faith, I am skeptical about all the deconstruction that is happening across the different faith traditions in the United States.

Take this tweet by Zach Lambert:

Because we are tribal creatures we want to be part of a group. If we feel like outsiders with our current group we are going to find a new one and we are going to adopt the practices of that new group. That is partially what is behind the deconstruction movement. People have found a new group to belong and they are joining in on this thing everyone else is doing. In this sense it is the “sexy” thing to do.

I would agree with Zack that people aren’t deconstructing to have an excuse to sin. This is a weak argument given by morality police to make it seem like deconstruction is all about emotions and feelings rather than real intellectual questions that need to be thought through.

My main problem with the tweet Zach's proclamation that people are deconstructing because the Christianity and Christians that they know are unlike Jesus. It is a subtle jab towards conservative Christians because he doesn't like their politics or their belief about Jesus.

What Zach is saying is that people are deconstructing from the Donald Trump supporting, LGBTQ+ hating, racist, and Christian nationalist Christianity of the political right, because that is not the Christianity of Jesus.

But is that true? Are people leaving conservative Christian circles to discover the real Jesus?

I pastor a church that is made up of conservative Christians who for the most part supported Donald Trump for president, hold to a traditional sexual ethic, and are very patriotic. There are certainly issues that we don't see eye to eye on, especially in areas surrounding politics and patriotism, but I don't question their love for Jesus or their sincere desire to faithfully follow Him.

The real issue isn't that conservative Christians are so unlike Christ, rather, it is a difference of opinion about who Jesus is.

We live in a culture where virtually everyone wants to claim Jesus their own. Jesus gets distorted as a result. If Zach is going to claim that people are deconstructing because the Christians they know and the Christianity that they have been handed are unlike Christ, then we need to know what he means by Christ.

From my perspective it seems that progressive politics may have influenced his understanding about Christianity and Jesus as much as conservative politics have influenced much of evangelicalism or libertarianism has influenced my perception of Jesus and his teaching.

The reason behind much of the current trend of deconstruction is the influence of progressivism into American Christian. This influence gives them a different lens to see Jesus, interpret Scripture, and evaluate the traditions of Christianity. Rather than deconstructing to a truer version of Christianity and Christ, they are adopting a Christianity that is more in line with the progressive thought they have adopted.

With the support of a new tribe they feel supported and safe to lob accusations and mischaracterizations towards those who hold their former way of thinking.

I understand the need to critique the current state of Evangelicalism, and other branches of conservative Christianity, in the United States. We need to talk about the unhealthy alliance of Christianity and politics, the lack of true discipleship, and admitting the flaws of those who came before us. 

What is not helpful in that discussion is the accusation that Christians who are loving, helpful, generous, and faithful are unlike Christ because they see the world through a conservative lens rather than a progressive lens.

Deconstruction has less to do with truly finding Jesus and more to do with finding alignment between faith and a new worldview.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Spirit-Guided Sexuality

 Yesterday I listened to episode 1038 of Theology in the Raw: Good Sex, Bad Sex, and Marriage with Dr. Juli SlatteryThe discussion Preston Sprinkle had with Dr. Slattery reminded me of a post I had written back in 2010. I thought this would be a good excuse to update it and repost it.

According to the Bible there are two ways we can live our lives. We can let our lives be guided by the flesh or we can let our lives be guided by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). 

In this passage we notice that the Apostle Paul made it clear that when our flesh is in control then sexual immorality will be a result. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit is our guide, he will help us keep sex a scared part of our lives.

When the Bible talks about flesh, it is not just talking about our physical desires. Flesh is bigger than our bodies. It also encompasses the entire corrupted world system that we live under. This helps explain why sex seems to be everywhere, and this constant exposure to sex causes us to forget God’s intended sacred place for sex in our lives. 

Sex, the way God designed it, is a wonderful blessing that brings intimacy and love into the covenant of marriage. When sex is brought outside of God’s design it becomes a source of complication and pain.

The writer of Hebrews wrote: Marriage is to be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4; CSB). 

If we are going to hold marriage in honor then we need to renew our thoughts and desires surrounding marriage and sex. This requires that we break from the accepted cultural standards of sex and return to God’s standards. 

We cannot allow our flesh to guide our sexuality.

Our flesh firmly roots our lives into the things of this world. It causes us to crave things that are sensual, things that can be experienced by our five senses, and things that are self-centered. 

Since the flesh is selfish, it will distort the cravings we have for the good things God has given. This leads to developing an unhealthy desire for God’s blessings. I think sex and food are two blessings God where we see this clearly happen. Our flesh gives us this selfish desire to consume and when we consume there are negative consequences to our bodies and souls.

The problem for you and me, even though we follow Jesus, is that we live in a world gone wrong, which means we are faced with the reality of a flesh dominated world system when it comes to sex. 

It is impossible to live in the world and not be effected by this reality. Things as innocent as love songs, chick flicks, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to culturally accepted things like 50 Shades of Grey, steamy movies, homosexuality, and pornography to disturbing things like child pornography, bestiality, and sadism declare the terrible truth that the sexuality of our culture has gone terribly wrong. When left unchecked our flesh will take us to places we never intended to go. 

This is why we can’t allow the flesh to lead any part of our lives, including our sexuality.

How do we break free from being led by the flesh?

The simple answer is that the Spirit must guide our lives. The apostle Paul wrote; I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. (Galatians 5:16, 17; CSB). Paul is clear that if we don’t want to gratify the cravings of our flesh, then we need to let the Spirit guide our lives.

It is easy to say, “We need to let the Holy Spirit guide our lives,” but it is another thing to actually do it. Especially when we are unsure of what it takes to let the Spirit guide our lives.

When we read on in Galatians 5 we don’t find an explanation on how to be Spirit led. We do get two pictures.  In verses 19-21 Paul gives us a description of what it looks like to be lead by the flesh and in verses 22-23 Paul provides the image of what it looks like to be guided by the Spirit.

Since this is the case, let me offer three thoughts I have when it comes to being led by the Spirit.  

First, it requires that we offer our lives to God.  In Romans 12:1-2 we read; Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (CSB).  Through the act of sacrifice we acknowledge that our lives belong to God, and therefore they are to be lived by His will.  We reject what our flesh desires and seek to do what God wills.  We have to intentionally move away from the influences of the world and soak our minds and hearts in God’s Word.  If we don’t make this break we allow this world to give strength to our flesh.  

On the other hand, when we truly offer our lives to God and let our minds be renewed by Scripture we are able to resist the pull of the world’s philosophies and teachings. Even though we stand in the midst of the world, God will give us a discerning heart to know right from wrong and truth from deception. 

Not only do we need to give our lives to God, we also need to invite the Spirit into our hearts.  Colossians 1:9-10 has become a favorite passage for me.  The apostle Paul wrote; For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God (CSB).  Here we find Paul praying that the Colossians will by led by spiritual wisdom and understanding. I think Christian leaders should pray this prayer for the people we lead. On the personal level, it is important that we ask God to fill us with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding needed to live lives that honor Christ Jesus.  A life that honors Jesus is one that submits to God’s will in every area of our lives, including our sexuality.

Third, we need to love people.  Remember I said that the flesh is selfish.  It wants to consume and do what feels good.  To combat selfishness we choose to love people.  We ask God to give us eyes of compassion instead of eyes of lust and we choose to extend a helping hand rather than a groping hand. This is the way we discover that a meaningful life is greater than simply fulfilling our desires.  Love helps us move past the idea that others exist for our enjoyment to understanding that others exist to honor God.  It is this type of serving unconditional love that only comes from the work of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22).

Sexuality is too precious of a gift to allow our flesh to be our guide, because in its pursuit to consume pleasure the flesh ends up destroying the gift.  The Spirit leads us to place sex in a place of honor in our lives, and when sex is in its proper place we experience the enjoyment of sex the way God intended for us from the beginning.  

This won’t happen magically and it won’t happen just because we get married. Experiencing sex as a blessing requires that we intentionally surrender our lives to Jesus by sacrificing our lives to God, by inviting the Spirit to be our guide, and by committing ourselves to love people. Great sex happens, not because advice offered in some magazine, but because we live a Spirit-guided life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Take Care Of Your Health

This Sunday I am starting a new sermon series on finances called LO$T. Many people feel lost when it comes to handling money, they have a great deal of stress around their personal finances.

The church term we use for properly handling finances is stewardship. Christians are to be good stewards of their money. 

What does it mean to be a steward?

A steward is a person who manages another persons’s property or financial affairs or a person who administers anything as the agent of another or others. When we put this in the context of God, we are created in His image to be His representatives, or stewards, in this world. We are to manage God’s good creation.

The implication of this reality is that everything belongs to God. The money that we have isn’t really our money, but the wealth that God has given us to manage and leverage for His Kingdom.

This reality isn’t just limited to our finances. It also applies to all areas of our lives. It applies to our talents, to our relationships, to our property, and to our lives. 

One of the truths that we need to accept is that we are not our own, we are God’s people. We belong to Him.

Since we belong to God we need to take care of all the blessings He gives us. That includes our health. We are to be good stewards of our physical lives.

An obstacle that we run into with both our finances and our health is too much information. There are tons of books, websites, and podcasts that offer information about managing money and taking care of our health. We can paralyze ourselves by thinking that we don’t know enough or that we need more knowledge before we can make a decision.

Being a steward isn’t about having all the right answers, it is about making the best decision you can with the information that you know. Acting is often  better than remaining still.

This new bout of blood clots I am experiencing has forced me to face the fact that I need to do a better job at managing my health. I need to take my stewardship responsibility for my health more seriously. 

I was complacent because I thought since I was on Eliquis I wasn’t going to have a problem with blood clots again. I relied on a medical fix to the problem rather than focusing on what I could do to minimize the risk.

When we are good stewards of our health we will do those things that we know will promote a healthy life and minimize things that might contribute to disease and other problems.

For me this begins with losing weight. The reality is that being overweight contributes to all sorts of health issues, and while losing weight isn’t a guarantee to stay disease free, it does reduce some of the risk. To loose weight requires proper nutrition and activity. 

Second is to drink more water. I know that one of the reasons I eat as much as I do is because I am thirsty, but I have trained myself to grab food rather than grabbing a glass of water.

Third on my list of being a good steward of my health is better sleep. As long as I can remember I have had trouble sleeping. I know that I need to increase the amount of sleep I get, but also the quality of sleep I get. One thing that has helped me so far is no eating an hour before bed. By tracking my Fitbit sleep score I have noticed a 10 point difference in my quality of sleep between the nights I eat right before bed and the nights when I don’t eat.

We are God’s stewards, managing His possessions. One of those possessions is our lives. We need to make an effort to take care of the lives God has given to us.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Take Time To Study

Christians are people of the Book. By that I mean Christians are guided, first and foremost, by the Bible. We believe that the Bible contains the wisdom and truth God wants His people to know. 

This is why many Christians have a goal of reading through the Bible each year. The commitment to read the Bible the reveals their desire to be more familiar with the Book that is to guide their lives. 

The problem that many of us face, me included, is that there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to read. So if you expect to come away with a little nugget of truth from your reading each day, you might be disappointed. It is hard to understand how parts of the Bible apply to our lives.

Not only is there the difficulty in understanding the Bible, but there is also the reality of how our memory works. We simply do not remember what we read which means there isn’t much transformation happening in our hearts and minds.

In Romans the apostle Paul wrote:
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. — Romans 12:2 (CSB)

To keep from being conformed in the image of the world we need to be intentional about being transformed into the image of Jesus. This starts with the renewal of our minds. To be transformed we  need to give our minds the proper material to dwell on. While reading is the foundation of getting God’s truth into our minds, I think many of us need to take the next step and create a system of Bible Study that fits our lives and personalities.

I know there are different study systems available, but I have found many of them too complicated and time intensive to consistently do.  Over the years this discouraged to me as I have tried to study the Bible. 

I want to share with you what I do to study the Bible and get God’s Word into my heart and mind.

First, get a Bible translation that is easy to read. Don’t get hung up on “what is the best Bible translation?” All the main translations had a team of scholars working on them to create the most accurate translation as possible. Remember, get a translation and not a paraphrase like the Message or the Living Bible. While paraphrases have a place, they are usually the work of one person trying to smooth out the English translation. For ease of reading I would recommend the New Living Translation (which is what I preach from) or the Christian Standard Bible (which has become my go to Bible translation in 2022).

Second, get a good Study Bible. Until this past year I have never had a Study Bible, but now I own several on my Olive Tree Bible Software, and I have discovered that they are super helpful in my sermon preparation each week. Now there are a number of speciality Study Bibles out there that I have found not near as helpful, they have good articles and highlights in them, they lack the commentary notes that are useful. The Study Bibles I have found useful this year are the CSB Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible, the ESV Global Study Bible, and the NIV Bible Background Study Bible.

Another option would be to invest in Olive Tree Bible Software. While the the App is free and there are some free resources to go with it, to get the most out of it you need to purchase resources like study bibles and commentaries. To give it a try you can sing up for a study pack (there are NIV, ESV, and NKJV study packs available for $60 a year). Learning how to use Olive Tree this last year has transformed my study time.

Third, get a notebook or journal that you will use exclusively for Bible Study. You can use this journal for your regular personal study as well as taking notes from the sermons and classes you listen to. I use the note feature in the Olive Tree Bible Software. Writing things down helps you to remember them and it gives you a place to refer back to if you desire.

Fourth, adopt a Bible Study Method. This is what held me back for years, I couldn’t find one that I could understand, that fit the rhythm of my life, and that could be done an a regular basis. A few years ago I decided to develop my own method. I call it the STOP Bible Study Method and it is the way I start out my sermon study each week. It is also what I use to work through books of the Bible on my own.  STOP stands for Summarize, Truth, Observations, and Prayer. What you do is at the top of the page write down the passage you are studying, I usually only do a paragraph or two at a time. Then read the passage. After reading the passage take a few minutes to summarize what you read (which usually requires rereading it a few times). After summarizing the passage, write down what you think the main point or truth of the passage is (this usually becomes my Big Idea for the sermon). Once you have the truth down, make some observations about the passage. These observations can be things that stood out to you, questions that you have, or other details that you found interesting. Finally, write out a prayer asking God to help you apply the passage, or at least the truth of it, to your life. 

Fifth, use the Study Bible to read the commentary notes on the passage to get a better understanding of what the text is about. Write down any ideas that you think are important to remember. This way you are not only relying on your own ideas and observations, but are also gaining the insights from scholars who have studied the passage.

Sixth, make a commitment to attend Sunday morning worship and other study times that your local church family offers. Individual study time is important, but study and discussion with a group is crucial. We benefit from the perspectives of other people in our pursuit of spiritual formation. 

Study is a crucial part of our spiritual formation. I encourage you to make space for study in your life.

The Spiritually Mature Life: Having the Fruit

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, I started a new sermon series at Bethlehem Church called A Spiritually Mature Life. This sermon series is focused ...