Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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 on following the guidance of the Holy Spirit so he can produce the type of life that God wants us to live.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can follow the desires of our flesh or we can be guided by the Holy Spirit. To follow the desires of our flesh leads to a life that is contrary to the Kingdom of God and thus leads to death. To follow the Spirit produces the fruit of eternal life in us. Eternal life is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In other words this is the type of life God created us to live. It is a life that demonstrates God’s character in this world.

Text: Galatians 5:16-25
Big Idea: Following the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of eternal life in us.
Challenge: This week expect the Holy Spirit to guide you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

We Have A Voice

I am not sure how I stumbled upon Preston Sprinkle. It could be that I was looking for a podcast to listen to and the title Theology in the Raw grabbed my attention. 

It doesn’t matter how or when I discovered Preston and his podcast, what matters is that I have been listening to him for several years now. Not only have I spent hours with him and his guests, he, in the process, has been influential on my own intellectual journey.

One of the areas that I have enjoyed listening to Preston about is the area of politics. If you have known me for any length of time you know that I have an interest in the area of politics and discipleship. I have written several posts about politics because I am concerned about the influence it has on us who follow Jesus. There is no doubt that many American Christians believe their faithfulness to God is connected to their politics.

Last week I saw this xeet/tweet on X/Twitter:

While I am sympathetic to what Preston posted, I don’t think it is entirely correct. The reason I don’t think it correct is because the position of Jewish exiles and 1st century Christians is different than our position as American Christians.

This has nothing to do with the United States being a “Christian Nation.” Personally, I  think this belief of being a “Christian Nation” has done more harm to God’s Church in the United States than good. One reason for that is because it has caused us to engage in a culture war to maintain Christian influence in the political sphere, rather than focusing on discipleship, which is the true work of the church.

What makes us different from the exiles in Babylon and the 1st century Christians is that our position as American Christians is one in which have a voice. And since we have a voice we should use it as much as we can, because what happens here and the decisions our politicians make affects the entire world (which is why it is correct to see the USA as an empire). 

Using our voice doesn’t equate to choosing sides and voting. One of my favorite posts is this one explaining why not voting was a legitimate option for a Christian. 

Using our voice means we speak “prophetically” about what our government is doing. So if we have the understanding and the knowledge of US foreign policy we should speak out about bad it is or how the healthcare/insurance systems is not good for people. 

Using our voice means praying for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Since the government is so big on both the Federal and State levels, this might seem like a pointless exercise, but it is God has instructed His people to do, so we can live peaceful lives.

The biggest way we can use our voice is to think locally and act locally. The reality is that the smaller the group the bigger the impact. We often get caught up in politics that we have the least influence over: Federal. Outside of voting (and even that impact should be questioned) there is not much we can do to influence those in power at the National level. Yet, there is a lot we can do locally.

At the local level there are always organizations that are looking for volunteers to help. At the local level there are different ways to help shape the condition of the community. At the local level we are better able to see the needs and witness results.

So, I totally agree with Preston that it improper for God’s people to be consumed with presidential politics and other national realities that cause us to forget our supreme allegiance to Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we should find politics uninteresting. Rather it means that we should follow the politics of Jesus: unconditional love and uncompromised truth.

As an exile living in the shadow of empire, remember there is only one kingdom (God’s Kingdom) that you are loyal to and only one king (King Jesus) worthy of your allegiance. So use the voice and influence He has given you to make a difference.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Marriage was God’s Idea

Marriage was his idea, after all. God created marriage, and put the desire in our hearts. However else it is you think you came together, what other forces you think were at work, the hopeful truth is that marriage is something God cares deeply about—including your marriage. When through the prophet Malachi the Lord God of Israel says, “I hate divorce,” we hear it with a shudder. But it ought to be with a surge of hope—the passion conveyed in those three words reveals how deeply he loves marriage, how strong his vested interests are in its success.

John and Stasi Eldredge — Love and War: Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed Of (pp. 17-18)

In life we have many types of relationships. There are the relationships that we form with the people at work or at school. There are the relationships that are formed with the people at church or in our sports league. There are the relationship that we have with our parents, siblings, and other relatives.

Among these relationships marriage is unique. Marriage is a relationship created around the promise to live life together. A relationship that is the foundation of family and creates the environment children need to mature into good people.

Christians believe that marriage is much more than a romantic relationship or contractual relationship created for mutual benefit. We believe that marriage is a sacred covenant ordained by God, and because it is given to us by Him, it contains His wisdom for what is best for people.

Marriage is not merely a union of two individuals but a reflection of God's eternal design for companionship, intimacy, and mutual support.

John and Stasi Eldredge point out that, "Marriage was his idea, after all." In other words, we should not do not devalue or diminish marriage. There is a reason why God gave us the idea of marriage, and when we minimize the value of marriage our relationships, families, and communities will suffer. Marriage is part of God’s plan for the flourishing of human beings.

From the beginning, God created man and woman in His image, each uniquely designed to complement and complete one another. As Genesis records the creation narrative, we read the divine proclamation, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Woven within the fabric of our being is the longing for companionship. This is a desire placed within our hearts by God Himself. This desire for connection, intimacy, and partnership finds its ultimate fulfillment in the covenant of marriage. Not only does marriage provide an intimate connection between a man and a woman, but from marriage the comes other people who become our family and friends. It is because of marriage that none of us have to live alone.

Despite the complexities of human relationships and the all the different challenges we encounter, the foundational truth stands—marriage is a gift from God and is a reflection of His love and purpose for our lives.

It is no wonder that throughout history and in different cultures, marriage has been seen as a sacred institution, a relationship created not by human wisdom but by divine providence. It is true that marriage has not been practiced the same, but it has still held value in the ordering of cultures.

In Malachi 2:16 (NLT) we read:

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

Here we discover God’s plea to husbands to take marriage seriously and to love their wives, because their wives were dependent on them. At that time husbands had the life of their wives in their hands, and so God reminded them of their great responsibility.

Today, in the United States, things are different, but marriage is no less important, and a broken marriage still inflicts pain on all those involved. For marriage to be what God intended it to be, a relationship that benefits human flourishing, it must be built, not only on love, but also on faithfulness.

Loyalty and faith are essential for any covenant to endure. God’s covenant with His people endures because of God’s faithfulness. For a marriage covenant to endure it requires the faithfulness of the husband to his wife, the faithfulness of the wife to her husband, and for Christians, both their faithfulness to God. When faithfulness is lacking love is not able to endure.

In our culture it is love that draws people to marriage, but what holds that marriage together is that faithfulness that love creates. It is the commitment and loyalty that is present that results in the couple to be there together through all the ups and downs of life.

In a world marked by temporary relationships and changing values, the timeless truth of God's purpose for marriage provides a secure place to call home. All of us need a place of rest and safety that allows us to be recharged and strengthen to face all the challenges life has to offer.

So in a time that is plagued by loneliness, depression, and anxiety we should remember the importance of marriage. Not because these realities disappear in marriage, but because in a healthy, loving, and faithful marriage an environment is created that helps us face life together and thus reduces the impact of them on our life.

Part of God’s plan for human beings is marriage, and the more we devalue and diminish marriage, the more our families and communities will suffer.

Prayer Prompts: Living Out Faith in Love


Day 1: Monday
Prompt 1: "Heavenly Father, as we begin this new week, help us to renew our commitment to living out our faith in love. Guide us to be your hands and feet in our communities, showing love and compassion to those in need."
Prompt 2: "Lord, we pray for peace in areas of conflict around the world. Bring reconciliation and healing to nations torn apart by violence and strife, and raise up peacemakers to work towards reconciliation."

Day 2: Tuesday
Prompt 1: "Gracious God, grant us the courage to step out of our comfort zones and share the hope of Christ with those who do not yet know you. Open doors for us to be bold witnesses of your love and grace."
Prompt 2: "Father, we lift up educators and students. Grant them wisdom, creativity, and perseverance as they teach and learn in ever-changing circumstances."

Day 3: Wednesday
Prompt 1: "Lord, we surrender our plans and ambitions to you, trusting in your perfect timing and provision. Help us to let go of control and submit to your will for our lives."
Prompt 2: "Heavenly Father, we pray for families experiencing brokenness and discord. Bring healing and restoration to strained relationships, and help them to experience your redeeming love."

Day 4: Thursday
Prompt 1: "Gracious God, as we face challenges and uncertainties, remind us of your faithfulness and promise to never leave us nor forsake us. Strengthen our faith and trust in you, knowing that you are always with us."
Prompt 2: "Lord, we lift up victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. Bring freedom, protection, and restoration to those who are exploited and oppressed."

Day 5: Friday
Prompt 1: "Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of community and fellowship. Help us to cultivate authentic relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, where we can support, encourage, and uplift one another."
Prompt 2: "Father, we pray for the marginalized and vulnerable in society. Give us hearts of compassion and empathy, and inspire us to advocate for justice and equality on their behalf."

Day 6: Saturday
Prompt 1: "Lord, as we rest and recharge, fill us with your peace and joy. May we find true rest in your presence and be rejuvenated in body, mind, and spirit."
Prompt 2: "Gracious God, we pray for those struggling with mental illness and emotional distress. Surround them with your comfort and healing, and guide them to the support and resources they need."

Day 7: Sunday
Prompt 1: "Heavenly Father, as we gather for worship today, may our hearts be truly open to encounter you in a powerful and transformative way. Draw us closer to you and ignite a passion for your kingdom purposes within us."
Prompt 2: "Lord, we pray for leaders in our churches and ministries. Grant them wisdom, humility, and servant hearts as they shepherd your people and lead by example."

Friday, March 1, 2024

Prophetic Revelation and the Gospel


1 Peter 1:10-12 (CSB)
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and carefully investigated. They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified in advance to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.

The main purpose that Peter had in writing this letter, that we call 1 Peter, was to encourage Christians who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Not only were they scattered, but they also faced opposition. The opposition they experienced caused them to doubt and which led to them to consider giving up. This back ground is important to remember as we read this text, because it would shape the way the original recipients of this letter would have hear it. 

1 Peter was written to people who wondered if following Jesus was worth it.

In order to encourage these exiles, Peter reminded them that the Old Testament contained God’s promise to rescue to His people from the sin that corrupted God’s good creation. This promise, taught by the law and the prophets, caused God’s people to believe that one day the Messiah, the Anointed One, would come to carry out God’s promise . The faith of the Old Testament saints was anchored in the hope of redemption (even though they did not fully understand all the details of God's plan) this Messiah would bring. 

Their anticipation of God’s salvation was secured by their faith and their hearts longed to experience all that God had promised.

According to Peter, the Old Testament prophets diligently studied God’s promises and looked forward to the events their prophecies promised. Their prophecies, which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, pointed toward the coming of Jesus and the redemption he would bring to God’s people. However, they also understood that it was not yet time for God’s promises to be fulfilled, and that is why they longed to see what would happen.

This passage should remind us that salvation in Jesus is far more beautiful and  encompassing than we can imagine.  It is so marvelous that even the angels, who are in heaven with God, are amazed by God’s plan of salvation. 

The Gospel, the Good News that God’s Kingdom comes into this world through Jesus, captivates the attention of the angels to such an extent that they continue to study intently all of God’s promises and actions.  Their dedication highlights their desire to understand the depth of God's love and mercy that is revealed in Jesus Christ.

We are heirs of this Gospel, and if the angels continue to be amazed at God’s love and grace, we too should marvel at the beauty of the prophetic revelation fulfilled through Jesus. Let us join with the angels in heaven, praising God for the indescribable gift of salvation.

My prayer is that the mysteries of God's grace continue to inspire and transform us so we can reflect the heart of our Savior into the world.

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 ...