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.

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.

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.

Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 19

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 16-20

This month I’m reading through the Psalms in my CSB (Christian Standard Bible) translation. It’s an updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I appreciate reading the Bible in various translations because it helps me see nuances in the text that I miss when I stay with one translation. Your mileage may vary, however. Just giving you the heads up that the Scriptures I quote will come from the CSB this month.

Psalm 19 points out very clearly that Yahweh is knowable from the evidence in his creation. It doesn’t require a seminary degree to understand and learn about him. Just look at nature!

The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. 
Day after day they pour out speech; 
night after night they communicate knowledge. 
There is no speech; there are no words; 
their voice is not heard. 
Their message has gone out to the whole earth, 
and their words to the ends of the world. 

Psalm 19:1-4 CSB

Even though creation cannot speak, it is still proclaiming the “message” of our God. But creation isn’t the only knowledge we have of Yahweh. We learn and are transformed by his instruction and testimony (v. 7), his precepts and commands (v. 8), and through the fear the LORD, and his ordinances (v. 9).

The psalmist reminds us that this isn’t a burden, but rather a desirable and sweet pursuit that leads to an abundant reward. (v. 10-11) The psalm closes with a brief prayer asking for forgiveness and concludes with a brief benediction focusing on the psalm itself.

I believe Psalm 19 to be an excellent reminder of how we are to live our lives. My wife and I frequently remind our children to “look for God” in various situations. Did you see anyone acting in a godly way? Can you see where God did something big? Who is acting like Jesus in this situation?

One of the blessings of living in West Texas is the amazing sunrises and even better sunsets. It’s hard to look into the sky in the morning or night and not see our God’s majesty. I sometimes wonder if we would do a better job caring for creation if we remembered that it reflects the glory of the creator.

We need to study the Scriptures to understand more fully how we are to reflect the image of our God in this world. The Bible isn’t a tiresome rule book; it is a story that equips you to live the life you were made for. Learn that story. Embrace it, and live it out as a testimony to the power and sovereignty of our God.

Finally, we need to be repentant of both willful and unintentional sins. Some of us just bounce through life with very little thought to how our decisions and actions reflect upon the reputation of Jesus in the world. I believe one of the biggest barriers to non believers coming to Christ is how un-christlike Christians tend to be. We need to remember that when we claim to follow Jesus, our actions teach others about him. Let’s make sure we’re teaching them the right lesson.

The psalmist reminds us that we even need forgiveness from our “hidden faults.” Perhaps this is secret sin, but I take it as the wrongs we do every day that we don’t even realize. Who have I harmed unintentionally? Who have I cheated by not thinking? Again, what message does it send to the server at the restaurant when you come to eat after worship with your family, you demand lots of attention at your table, and then you don’t leave a tip? Is that what we want people to know about Jesus?

My prayer is that we can all let our lives be “the message” that goes out into the whole earth. Let our words and our actions be an accurate testimony to what Jesus has done in our lives. Let us truly love our neighbor as ourselves in every aspect of life. Let us do so humbly, and joyfully!

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 CSB

Will We Learn From Our Past?

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is to correctly handle the Scriptures. Does any true follower of Christ seek to do otherwise? I’m sure we can find spurious people that misuse Scripture for ulterior motives. Yet Paul needs to caution Timothy about handling the Word. Surely this caution would extend to us, and we have more need of concern.  Timothy saw Paul’s ministry firsthand, and thoroughly understood the culture in which the New Testament was written, and Paul still feels the need to caution him in the correct handling of God’s Word. What are we to do when it comes to the handling of Scripture? This is where a basic understanding of church history comes into play.

The community of believers in Christ has always worked together to study and interpret the Scriptures, and this community approach is still needed today. From the time of Paul we see the Bereans working together to compare the truth of Scripture with Paul’s message (Acts 17:11), or the need in Philippi for the members to be of the same mind (Phil. 4:1-3). We also see the leaders of the church come together in community to discuss how to apply Scripture to these new Gentile converts (Acts 15). There are many other examples of the church coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures in the pages of the New Testament alone, but what about after the first century? Should Christians continue to read and understand Scripture in community? Absolutely! And many of the beliefs you hold today are a direct result of this process.

Most Christians understand that our New Testament was written in the first century AD. What we often forget is that the New Testament didn’t exist in a leather bound, easy to carry book for all believers to read. Many Christians went their entire lives never having the opportunity to read the New Testament. How could they ever live the Christian life without a personal copy of the Scriptures? Community! Believers came together and summarized the teachings of the apostles in the second century with the Old Roman Creed, which eventually became known as The Apostles Creed. While it is not a complete retelling of the New Testament, it does summarize many of the facts of Bible in a format that believers could memorize and discuss.

These discussions eventually raised some questions concerning the deity of Jesus. What did it mean to be “the Son of God,” or the “Word,” or “one with the Father?” Has Jesus existed for all eternity like the Father, or was he created first before all things? In 325 AD, over two hundred Church leaders gathered in the town of Nicaea to sort these matters out. Like the Bereans two centuries before, they searched the Scriptures in community to give language to the deity of Christ. The core Christian belief today that Jesus was “fully God and fully man,” or as The Nicene Creed states “true God from true God…became human,” came out of this meeting.  With Christians coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures, major questions were answered, heresies were silenced, and Scripture was upheld.

We’ll continue to look at other examples from Church History next week, but today I want to leave you with a question: What’s the best way to study Scripture in community today?