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.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 3

Even though this Psalm of David was written thousands of years ago, we can hear echos of Christ, as well as a lesson on how to pray during the Coronavirus pandemic.

LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

Psalm 3:1-2 NIV

David was anointed as the next king of Israel while Saul was still on the throne. God had rejected Saul as king, and now David finds himself surrounded by Saul’s army. The taunt “God will not deliver him” was intended to break David’s spirit into believing that God had somehow abandoned him. It’s as if his enemies were saying “There is no hope for you David! Even God has left you!” We can hear similar taunts as Jesus was crucified (Mt. 27:43).

But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain.

Psalm 3:3-4 NIV

The Hebrew here is difficult to translate, and the tense can work either in present tense (as the NIV chooses), but could also be translated in the past tense (as the ESV chooses). It seems to work better in past tense as David has already committed to God his requests in prayer and it is as if God has already answered him. Because David has faith that God will deliver, he treats his situation as if God has already completed the work.

Verse 5-6 remind us that God protects, even when we are the most vulnerable. No matter the size of the foe, or how helpless we seem, our God never sleeps and is never weak. We have nothing to fear because of the power and strength of our God. Also hear the echoes of resurrection. Though physical death brings us sleep, that is not our eternal fate. It is God who sustains.

David pleads for God’s deliverance to defeat his enemies decisively. And verse 8 brings us a powerful reminder.

From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

Psalm 3:8 NIV

Deliverance comes from God alone. It will not be by our efforts that we overcome, but by God’s blessing alone.

This week as we are reminded once again that we are not in control, and we are surrounded by fear and foe, let us place our hope firmly in our God. Let us pray for deliverance, hope in resurrection, and rest in the assurance that he has heard our prayer and has already conquered on behalf of his people.

Shalom.

Communion at Home?

We trace our roots to the American Restoration Movement. Thomas & Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone were dedicated to seeing their churches return to simple Biblical Christianity. So many divisions had occurred in the Church over matters of opinion, and because over disagreements over things that are never enumerated in Scripture.

The Restoration Movement sought to restore simple Christianity in order to bring unity to all Christians everywhere. And one of the major ways they did this was through the Lord’s Supper.

If you grew up in the Church of Christ like me, you might be surprised to learn that the practice of the Lord’s Supper was once a battleground for division. We assume it’s always been done this way and there’s really nothing to consider that is new. But in the not-so-distant past the Lord’s Supper was a point of division, not unity. The Campbells ultimately broke their denominational ties over the issue of who could partake of the Lord’s Supper. The denomination they were a part of required people to pass a test and receive a coin as proof that they were worthy of partaking, and only ordained elders were allowed to distribute the elements. The Campbells saw no such exclusion in Scripture and welcomed all who professed faith in Christ to participate.

The desire to welcome all at the Lord’s Table led the Campbells, and similarly Barton Stone, to seek a way of practicing Christianity that was consistent with the Scriptures, and nothing more. They sought to unite in Christ, and in Christ alone. Nothing other than faith in Christ would be required for fellowship.

Some Christian traditions are struggling right now with how to share the Lord’s Supper. Sincere belief that only some can distribute the elements and only some can partake is causing real struggles for some congregations. But we view Scripture differently.

Here are some reasons why you can (and should) take communion at home, and why I believe you can do so on more than just Sunday.

  • If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are ordained by God as one of his priests. (1 Peter 2:5-9)
  • All the early believers were committed to “breaking bread” in their homes (Acts 2:42, 46)
  • It seems that the early church gathered to break bread on the first day of the week, at least in Troas (Acts 20:7). Historical writings from the 1st and 2nd century tell us that the practice varied from place to place.
  • Notice, however, that the church was ok with eating the Lord’s Supper after midnight, meaning this meal took place on Monday morning (Acts 20:7-11 shows they “broke bread and ate” after midnight).
  • Luke informs us that the early church had the practice of eating the Lord’s Supper daily (Acts 2:46).

I’m not trying to change your theology of the Lord’s Supper with this article, but I do want you to rest assured that you aren’t doing anything contrary to Biblical practice if you choose to eat the Lord’s Supper with your family at home.

I’m praying home church will be a blessing to you this week. Don’t forget to tune in to either our website, our Facebook page, our YouTube channel for some announcements, a time of prayer, and a message from God’s word on Sunday at 10:00am.

Sinning Against The Body and Blood of the Lord

What does Paul mean when he tells the Corinthians not to eat the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner?” 

“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 11:27 NIV

I have heard many teachings on the Lord’s Supper over the years, and most of the conclusions based on this verse indicated we need to spend this time focusing on the sacrifice that Jesus made. We need to visualize the cross, the suffering of our Savior, and the blood that was spilled. This should be a somber, quiet, and sad occasion.

The problem is the above describes an altar (a place of sacrifice.) We have often confused the table with an altar. We, however, are called to gather around a table, not an altar!

The first thing we need to realize is the Lord’s Supper was originally part of a meal. It was a time of feasting and celebration, not mournful reflection. Yes, a full meal that fed hungry people. This was not a sip of juice and a pinch of cracker. People were eating their fill. “Supper” is the evening meal. And the explicit problem with the church in Corinth was the wealthy were arriving early and eating all the food, leaving the poor hungry. Paul indicates this type of “dinner” should be done at home, not in worship gatherings. (1 Cor. 11:20-21) Paul further states that their actions show that they “despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing.” (v. 22) So the problem Paul is referring to is the Church being divided by not eating the Lord’s Supper together as equals.

Paul reminds them that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was for all of them (v. 24 – “you” is plural, as well as plural “drink” in verse 25). 

So how do we eat and drink in a worthy manner according to Paul? John Mark Hicks summarizes this passage well in his book, “Come To The Table.”

Consequently, to eat and drink worthily is not about private introspection, but about public action. Paul is not stipulating a kind of meditative silence on the cross of Christ or an introspective assessment of our relative holiness. On the contrary, to eat in an “unworthy manner,” in this context, is to eat in a divisive manner like that which existed in Corinth. The church must examine itself about the manner in which the supper is conducted (1 Cor. 11:28). There may be many ways to eat the supper unworthily (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:18-21 where Corinthians ate unworthily because they ate with a dual commitment, serving two masters), but the specific unworthiness in 1 Corinthians 11 is a communal problem, not an individualistic one. The church eats worthily when it eats as a united community embodying the values for which Christ died.”

John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012).

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

Whatever It Costs, It’s Worth It!

Our Immerse reading is almost complete! Week 7 covers Hebrews, James, & John. Today I want to focus on Hebrews. The anonymous writer basically sends a written sermon to Jewish believers who had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and were now facing great persecution for their belief. Instead of giving up and turning back to Judaism, the Hebrew writer encourages these believers to continue in their faith, and does show by showing how much greater (superior) Jesus is than anything, or anyone else! Here are some of the examples the Hebrew writer gives:

  • God now communicates to the world through Jesus (1:1-4)
  • Jesus is greater than Angels (1:5-14)
  • Jesus suffered just like you, and will help you! (Chapter 2)
  • Jesus is greater than Moses (3:1-6)
  • In Jesus we find the ultimate Sabbath Rest (4:1-13)
  • Jesus is the greatest high priest (4:14-7:28)
  • Jesus established a better covenant relationship for us (8:1-9:28)
  • Jesus is the greatest, eternal sacrifice (10:1-18)

In between these sections of comparison are encouragements to these persecuted Jewish Christians to keep their faith, and persevere even though it’s difficult to do so. And then the book comes to the main argument in chapters 11 & 12: Continue in your faith and run the race Jesus has set before you!

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 NLT

According to the Hebrew writer, faith requires verbs! Action is a must! Faith isn’t something that just happens between the ears, it’s lived out. All of chapter 11 are examples of Biblical characters that were commended for acting on their faith. This is written to a group of Jewish Christians who would be persecuted for acting on their faith, and the Hebrew writer calls them to go full steam ahead! Don’t back down, don’t hide, live out your faith! RUN THE RACE! And we find our strength to run by considering what Jesus did for us!

“Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”

Hebrews 12:3-4 NLT

In our sermon this week we’ll be looking at Mark 8 & 9 where Jesus reminds us that if we are to follow him, we must DENY ourselves, CARRY our crosses, and FOLLOW him (Mk. 8:34). Notice the VERBS?

Following Jesus isn’t easy. It isn’t always comfortable. As a matter of fact it may very well cost you your life. BUT IT’S WORTH IT! 

Whatever you are going through this week, live out your faith. Deny yourself, carry your cross, and follow him. Whatever it costs you, it will be worth it to be His disciple!

Goodbye to Eliphaz – Book Review

I recently read Goodbye to Eliphaz (ok, I finished it about 6 weeks ago and am just now getting to write this book review. Sorry Rob!)

Rob Coyle has written a book that I believe every Christian needs to read. Seriously, it’s that important of a book, and here’s why. Have you ever heard, or said, anything like this?

  • “I guess God sent that earthquake to teach those people a lesson.”
  • “We wouldn’t have so many school shootings if prayer was allowed in them.”
  • “You know how sinful that city is. No wonder God let a hurricane land there.”
  • “She must have died because God needed another angel.”
  • “With as much pain and sickness as that guy is facing, it makes you wonder what sin he’s hiding that’s causing all of this.”

If you’re anything like me, you have heard someone give answers like these to very difficult problems. That means you’ve met Eliphaz. (And if you’ve said similar things, sadly, you are Eliphaz.) But just who is Eliphaz?

In Goodbye to Eliphaz, Rob Coyle addresses our overly simplistic and often harsh attempts to explain life, Scripture, and God. Coyle uses the example of Eliphaz, a character from the book of Job, as an archetype. The book then elaborates on the various reasons we, as followers of Christ, need to say Goodbye to Eliphaz. Through additional examples from Scripture, media reports, and real life events, Coyle makes an engaging and clear case against the Eliphaz mentality.

The book of Job begins with this statement:

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.

Job 1:1 NLT

Did you catch that? Job did nothing wrong. He’s blameless. Job has done nothing to deserve what unfolds in the following pages of his story. Yet Job’s friend Eliphaz thinks he knows better. As Coyle points out:

“…Eliphaz, though backed by a multitude of passages from the Law and Psalms, spoke wrongly about who God is, how God works and how Scripture can be used to guide us through life. It was because of this that God was unhappy with Eliphaz and his two friends.”

Goodbye to Eliphaz, pg. 202 – Rob Coyle

The book highlights this flawed reasoning that plagued the characters of the Bible just as much as it plagues our actions today. We want life to be easy to understand. We want all of our problems to have a neat and tidy solution. The problem, of course, is that not everything we face in this life can be easily explained.

Goodbye to Eliphaz focuses on a number of misunderstood, strange, or difficult passages of Scripture, and shows the shortcomings of simplistic attempts to understand them. As Coyle points out, we fail miserably when we try to place God, who is beyond the limits of our understanding, into the confines of our own reasoning. Through the stories of Uzzah, Moabites, sacrifices, strange fire, and the teachings of Jesus, Coyle helps us see that Scripture isn’t always as straightforward as we would like, and our understanding of the mind of God is woefully inadequate to explain all of life’s struggles.

Coyle reminds us in an intriguing and transforming way that life isn’t always easily explained by quoting a verse of Scripture. Going through life blaming every disaster and heartache on the sins of the people involved is simply unbiblical. It’s the very thing that causes God to chew out Eliphaz!

So what are we to do when life becomes unexplainable?

“If you are Eliphaz, let go and enter the mystery that is life. Enter into a world of unknowns, a world where uncertainties are acceptable.”

Goodbye to Eliphaz, pg. 204 – Rob Coyle

Not having all the answers all the time is ok. That’s a truth this book has helped me (a chronic fixer) to remember, and I’m guessing you probably need the reminder as well. Perhaps one day, as the old hymn states, “We’ll understand it all by and by.” Until that time comes, you need to read this book so that you too can say Goodbye to Eliphaz.

Stop Acting Like Satan

For the next 5 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.

This week what really stood out to me was from Romans 14 (Immerse pg. 198). After talking about differing views about food between Gentile and Jewish Christians in Rome, he also talks about calendar differences between the two. Coming from very different backgrounds means they obviously have very different practices. Yet Paul’s goal is not who is right and who is wrong. Instead his goal is unity. Each group should be fully convinced they are right before God (even though they are not practicing the same things!)

Again, Paul is concerned with their unity, not uniformity!

He then summarizes his argument, and gives us some clues as to what might be happening in Rome.

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, 

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, 

‘every knee will bend to me, 

and every tongue will declare allegiance praise to God.’ ” 

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other.

Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

Romans 14:10-13 NLT (emphasis added)

Apparently these Roman Christians were spending a great deal of time accusing and attacking each other. That’s acting like Satan, not Christ. (FYI – “satan” means accuser)

Paul isn’t concerned with matters of opinion, he’s concerned with infighting that might ruin someone’s faith in the Lordship of Christ. Specifically in the context, don’t appear to be worshipping idols (which are demons – see Deut. 32:17 & 1 Cor. 10:20) and in doing so cause another person to fall into this practice.

The history of the Church is full of those who excelled at accusing and condemning other Christians. Sadly this is not just a sin of the past. It still happens today, and people lose their faith as a result. This is exactly what Paul is telling us not to do!

Disagreements will happen. God knows that. Paul tells us to seek unity, not uniformity.

But the moment we let these disagreements turn into accusations and mud slinging, we’ve joined team satan. (Rev. 12:10)

And that’s simply not a team I’m willing to be a part of. How about you?

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.

Immerse: Messiah (Week 1)

For the next 8 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. The small groups don’t begin until this Friday, and you can still make it to a first time group until next Thursday. We have 5 groups meeting on 5 different days in 5 different locations. Hopefully you can make one of them fit into your schedule. (And if you’re reading this from some other part of the world, you can order the Immerse: Messiah book online and start your own small group wherever you are! Just go to www.immersebible.com.)

Our readings for this week will take us through the Gospel of Luke. One of the things that has really stood out to me in this reading is about the young Jesus being left at the Temple, and how that story sets up the rest of Luke’s Gospel. You can read about this on pg. 8 of your Immerse book (Luke 2 for everyone else).

First the story takes place at the Passover festival. His parents can’t find him anywhere on the way home, so they return to Jerusalem to look for him, and finally find him 3 days later at the Temple. Jesus’ responded: “But why did you need to search?…Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49 NLT) There’s also an alternate reading of this passage where Jesus says “Didn’t you realize that I should be involved with my Father’s affairs?”

Fast forward toward the end of Luke’s Gospel. The Passover festival is beginning (Lk. 22/Immerse pg. 52). Jesus is arrested that night, an unjust trial takes place in the middle of the night, he is handed over to the Romans, then sentenced. Jesus is crucified that Friday at the end of the Passover, and his death leaves his family and friends there in Jerusalem alone, and afraid. And when they see the resurrected Jesus after three days they are full of questions. After Jesus convinces them, his response is basically, “Didn’t you know?”

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.

Lk. 24:44-46 NLT/Immerse pg. 59

Luke also carries this idea of 3 days of confusion forward into Acts (hint, look at Paul’s conversion).

I’m curious to see what you picked up on from the reading! Reading through a Gospel quickly like this helps you to see things/patterns/themes that you may not see when taking a longer time to read. Did you notice how many events happen around a table? Did you notice how often women are involved in the Jesus story? 

My prayer is that this short season of reading will be a blessing that ignites a passion for reading and rediscovering the story of Jesus again. Scripture tells us that the Word of God will never return void. 

I guess the question I’m asking is what will you allow the Word of God to do in your life as you read these Scriptures?