Faith or Fear?

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3 NIV

During these strange days of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose our discernment. We’re bombarded with information coming at us from all directions. 24 hour continuous TV coverage of sick people, or possible sick people, or the stock market falling, or the sky falling. It seems to never stop. And it’s enough to drive a person crazy!

So how do we know what information is helpful, and what information we should ignore? Simple. Ask this one question.

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

Pretty simple right? Much harder to apply though. We get sucked into the vortex of the news cycle. There’s always another case, there’s always another news report, there’s always another distraction. We want to be informed (and we should be informed), but be careful where you are getting your news from. Not everything on the news is beneficial. After all, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, and any other member of the alphabet soup news media is ultimately trying to accomplish one thing: make money.

“If it bleeds, it leads” as the old expression goes. And if the most engaging news story is the Coronavirus, they will report on it non stop, even if there is nothing new to report. And this type of news builds our fear, not our faith.

So how do we build our faith instead of fear?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Romans 10:17 NIV

If you want to build your faith instead of fear, turn off the news and open your Bible.

Every day we are trying to offer Christ-centered, Spiritually fulfilling content to build your faith, not your fear. Sunday morning livestream Bible studies, Monday blog posts, Tuesday videos, Wednesday morning Bible studies, Wednesday evening prayer time, Thursday afternoon Bible questions are answered, Friday blog posts, and Saturday we rest.

And we’re not the only ones pushing out Biblical content. It’s my opinion that the Gospel is being preached more in this time when we cannot meet than it has ever been preached. Virtually every congregation is trying to get the message of Christ broadcast wherever they can, which sadly is a brand new concept for some of them.

This is a wonderful time to grow in faith, but you have to say no to fear.

So this week before you click on the news story, or before you watch the news, or before you have that conversation with your friend who swears the sky is falling…ask yourself:

Does this build my faith, or my fear?

I look forward to opening God’s word with you on Sunday morning at 10:00am CST on Facebook, our church website, and on YouTube. Until then, build faith.

3 Sins You Likely Ignore

Most followers of Jesus could probably recite the fruit of the Spirit. But Paul actually gives two lists in this passage; one list to live by, and one to avoid. Unfortunately we don’t do a very good job of avoiding the so called “acts of the flesh.” Do you know what’s on the list?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 NIV

Some of these are fairly self explanatory, but I’d like to focus on three that you may not have paid attention to. The first is discord. The Greek word is eris and is translated as discord, dissension, rivalry, arguments, strife, and quarrel in your New Testament. The second word I’d like to look at is dissensions. This Greek word dichostasia is only used here and in Romans 16:17 to instruct the church to stay away from those who cause “divisions.” The last word I want us to look at is factions. The Greek word is hairesis which is translated as factions, heresies, sect, and party (group).

Most of us would heartily agree that sexual immorality, fits of rage, drunkenness, orgies, idolatry and the like are clearly wrong. Of course living like this would keep someone out of the kingdom of God (v. 21). But causing division? Arguing? Rivalry? Really? Yes! A divisive person “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

It’s clear that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament hated division. It’s almost always listed along with all those sins that we hate. And yet we seem to be ok with division for some strange reason. The only time it’s really ok to divide is from a divisive person. The church is supposed to have nothing to do with people like that! (Rom. 16:17)

So before we speak we need to check our hearts, check your motives, and carefully watch our words. We are the people who are called to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:9 NIV

The Only Thing That Counts

For the next 6 weeks the attention of our bulletin articles will be to support our readings from Immerse: Messiah. If you haven’t decided to join us for Immerse yet, it’s not too late. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule.

Our readings for this week will take us through the 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. One of the things that has really stood out to me in Paul’s letters is how he calls us to love as Christ has loved us! Paul comes back to this theme in practically all his writings, but let’s just look at a few verses in Galatians.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:6 NIV

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 NIV

Paul is writing to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who are wrestling with their identity in Christ. Apparently there was a particular group of Jewish Christians who were discouraging the Gentiles in Galatia by putting them down, specifically as it related to following the law of Moses. I can almost hear them saying, “Of course you know you aren’t real followers of the Messiah unless you are just like us and keep the entire law of Moses, circumcision and all!”

Paul writes this part of Galatians to encourage the believers. Their identity isn’t found in the law of Moses. Their identity isn’t found in circumcision or non-circumcision. Rather their identity is found in the way they love others as Jesus had loved them. Through humble service to each other, and loving those around them, they were fulfilling all the requirements of the law. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

I’ve been blessed to see some excellent examples of this in the lives of some of our East Side family members the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen people quietly and humbly tend to the needs of other church members. I’ve seen people abandon their own schedules in order to assist both members of our family, and people in our community we are trying to reach. I’ve seen people sacrifice time, money, and talents all in the name of loving others for the sake of Christ.

Jesus made it very clear. The world will know who his disciples are by the way we love.

So I ask you: How well are you loving your neighbors? How well are you loving the “others” in our community? When was the last time you went into the mess in order to lovingly bring someone else out of it?

Loving “others” is radical. Spending time with them, listening to them, praying with them, feeding them, caring for them…the Kingdom of God is made to do exactly this. Read Mark’s Gospel, and make note of what you see Jesus doing.

And then “go and do likewise.

Are You Bearing Fruit?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week as we look to Isaiah’s Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5. God uses the imagery of the nation of Israel and the people of Judah as a vineyard that God himself had planted. He did everything to make sure that it flourished, but no good grapes were found. Then through Isaiah’s prophecy, God tells the listeners what will happen.

“Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Isaiah 5:5-7 NIV

Isaiah’s prophecy did come to pass. The people were carried off into captivity. Their cities, including Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed as well. But God did promise to restore his people and to do so by sending the Messiah (Isa. 11).

Now fast forward about 700 years. Jesus is born and begins his ministry. He goes around teaching people about God’s kingdom, healing people doing the things that only the Messiah could do. When the religious leaders question his authority, Jesus references John the Baptist, but then goes into a parable to explain what his ministry is about (Mk. 12).

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

Mark 12:1-2 NIV

Jesus uses the exact same language of Isaiah 5, but places himself into the story. Jesus says the vineyard owner sends his son (Jesus) to those who rented the vineyard after they had beaten and killed many other representatives. Instead of responding to the son, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Mark 12:9 NIV

Mark tells us that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they knew he was speaking against them. In these two texts we discover that twice God has planted a vineyard, and twice the vineyard and its caretakers have been destroyed and removed because they failed to manage the vineyard for God. How are we doing?

Now go read John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, but we can only bear fruit if we remain in him. Think about your life for a moment. Think about the ministry that God has called you to. Are you bearing fruit? If not, perhaps you need to consider the words of Jesus:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5 NIV

Daily Psalms – Psalm 84

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 81-85

How happy are those who reside in your house,
who praise you continually. Selah

Psalm 84:4 CSB

Psalm 84, perhaps my favorite of the songs of Zion, focuses on this point. Being in the presence of God, where he resides, is our ultimate goal and longing.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming a desire to be where the presence of Yahweh is, and then moves into an almost play-by-play of a pilgrim traveling to the temple (vs. 5-10). Each verse brings us closer and closer to God’s presence until the arrival in the temple courts.

Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than live in the tents of wicked people.

Psalm 84:10 CSB

The presence of Yahweh dwelt in the temple. In the Israelite context, do draw near to God meant a pilgrimage to the temple. But to the Christian, you and I are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God because of the atoning blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4ff).

So how do we encounter the presence of God? It starts with Jesus. We can only enter through Christ. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah to Israel. This fulfillment of God’s promise changed the way God interacted with his people! When we commit ourselves to Christ, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and we can and should ask God for his Spirit to be ever present and powerful in our lives. He also promises his presence when we gather together with other believers. (see Rom. 8:9ff, John 14:6-7, 1 Cor. 6:19ff, Acts 2, Luke 11:13, Matthew 18:20)

We should all long for the presence of God daily in this life, to gather in his presence with fellow believers as often as possible, and to dwell eternally in his presence in the next life.

Happy is the person who trusts in you,
LORD of Armies!

Psalm 84:12 CSB

Daily Psalms – Psalm 37

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 36-40

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 37, and I can’t think of a more appropriate psalm for God’s people today. Our culture pushes outrage at every turn. If you are not upset and furious about something then you are not “normal.” But God’s people are not called to be “normal.”

As I read through Psalm 37 today I settled on two realizations.
1) Outrage and anger only bring harm (v. 1, 7, 8, etc)
2) Yahweh will bring about justice (v. 5, 6, 9, 13, 19, 26, 28, 33, etc.)
3) We are called to be different. (v. 3-8, 27, 34, etc.)

Please do not misunderstand what I write here today. I am not saying that God’s people need to sit around and do nothing. We need to do something, but it’s probably a different something than we realize! Right now there are so called “Christian leaders” on television, radio, and the internet that are promoting outrage, bitterness, and anger over abortion, political affiliation, gun control, immigration, social justice, and any other political issue you can imagine. And it will only get worse the closer we get to an election. These actions are antithetical to Psalm 37, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. Consider these verses.

Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants.

Psalm 37:1-2 CSB

Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for him;
do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
by the person who carries out evil plans.
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm.

Psalm 37:7-8 CSB

I could post many other examples in this psalm alone. Specifically pay attention to verse 8 again.

Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm.

Psalm 37:8 CSB

God says anger and rage can only bring harm. Why then would we choose to react to injustice just like the rest of the world? God through the Jesus has called us to be different!

Our world is full of injustice. Broken people treat each other in broken ways. The only One who can mend our brokenness is the only one who can restore justice to the world.

Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for him…

Psalm 37:7 CSB

The little that the righteous person has is better
than the abundance of many wicked people.
For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD supports the righteous.

Psalm 37:16-17 CSB

For the LORD loves justice
and will not abandon his faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.

Psalm 37:28 CSB

The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD,
their refuge in a time of distress.
The LORD helps and delivers them;
he will deliver them from the wicked and will save them
because they take refuge in him.

Psalm 37:39-40 CSB

Again, I could go on, but nowhere are we told that it is our own efforts that will fix all the world’s problems. Our first act in restoring justice is to plead for God to intervene. Only he can fix our brokenness.

But we are not to sit idly by and do nothing. The problem will never be solved by addressing problems the way the world does. Instead, we are called to be different. We are called to live faithfully as God’s people in a faithless world. This is one of the ways God will bring about change in the world.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and live securely.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act,
making your righteousness shine like the dawn,
your justice like the noonday.

Psalm 37:3-6 CSB

Turn away from evil, do what is good,
and settle permanently.
For the Lord loves justice
and will not abandon his faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed.
The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it permanently.

Psalm 37:27-29 CSB

In a nutshell, you are called to live a Godly life in an ungodly world. You are called to act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly before God (Micah 6:8). You’re called to love your enemies and pray for those who are doing wrong (Matthew 5:43-48). You are called to love God with all your everything, and love all those around you the same way (Luke 10:25-37). You are called to be different!

There’s an old saying I have grown to appreciate: “Never wrestle with a pig because you will get filthy and the pig will enjoy it.”

When we try to handle the problems of the world in the same manner the world does, we have lost our identity and ignored our calling as children of God bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 37 reminds us that outrage and anger can only bring harm, God is the one who can restore justice. Therefore, live as those who are called to be different. Shalom.

The Problem With the Ten Commandments

The Decalogue, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, have impacted the world in ways that very few things have. They are the basis for many legal systems, they are foundational to our understanding of God, and unfortunately they are the source of much controversy in our day and time. They are a small portion of the sum of God’s Word given to Moses, and yet everyone seems to know (or know about) them. 

And still I think they are greatly misunderstood. The Decalogue is referenced throughout Scripture, and is present in its entirety in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And yet even in these two passages there are differences between the two lists. They are ten “words” to be literal with the Hebrew language, and even what exactly those ten are is debated. Jewish readers will tell you the first command is:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Deuteronomy 5:6 NIV

If one counts this as a command rather than an introduction, then you wind up with 11. Various groups have debated on how to settle that discrepancy, some by uniting 2 & 3 (Dt. 5:8 & 11), while other groups combine 1-3 as one command and divide up the last command into two parts (Dt. 5:21).

In reality, determining the exact grouping is not as important as the text itself. But even the text is problematic when removed from the context of the Torah…after all the Decalogue isn’t independent of the rest of Torah, and really serves as more of a summary, or a statement of understanding before we get into the more technical parts of the law. What kind of killing is defined as murder? That detail is not in the Decalogue. We need the rest of the Torah for that.

Many government buildings have had statues, or monuments removed because the Decalogue was printed upon them. And while I can understand the Christian’s desire to see these monuments remain, I’m also puzzled. If we want God’s Word present at these government buildings, then why not seek to have the Sermon on the Mount put on a monument instead of the Decalogue? Or better yet, why not the Greatest Commands?

When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was he gave two, not one. They are connected and inseparable. I would suggest you cannot fully keep one without the other. Fully loving God requires loving your neighbor, and truly loving your neighbor requires you know and love God. 

I think it’s worth noting that neither of the commandments Jesus gave came from the Decalogue. Rather they come from the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) as well as the eighteenth verse of the various laws found in Leviticus 19.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 

Mark 12:28-31 NIV

Jesus said all the laws and prophets hang on these two commands (Mt. 22:40). Even the Decalogue falls short when compared to the Greatest Commands. Love God with all of your everything. Love your neighbor as yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” 

The real problem with any commandment from God is that if they simply exist in writing, they are useless. These monuments with the Ten Commandments inscribed have done little to prevent our culture from turning further and further from God.

Perhaps our world would be better served by Jesus’ followers living out the Greatest Commands instead of relying on words carved in stone. 

(Sermon text for 10/6: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-31)