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.

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.

Why You Really Need Joy and Sorrow

Our thoughts for the past couple of weeks have centered around a Season of Hope, and our theme at East Side this year has been “Hope.” Advent is a season of hopeful waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

The last several weeks have been looks at the prophecies leading up to the destruction and exile of Jerusalem & Judah. Last week we looked at Isaiah 40 and the hopeful promise that God’s people would return home, and he would come to them! This week we see the fulfillment of God’s promise that the people will return home, but not all is joyful.

Ezra begins in the same way 2 Chronicles ends with a proclamation from Cyrus king of Persia. Ezra also wants us to remember that this fulfills the Jeremiah 25 & 29 prophecy that the people would return home from exile. God is keeping his promise to the people!

Ezra 3 tells the story of the reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem. The altar was rebuilt and the people celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). I find this a fitting first celebration for the newly resettled exiles. Tabernacles was to remind the Israelites of the time they lived in temporary huts during the journey out of Egypt. The entire festival recalls the journey out of Egyptian slavery/exile to the promised land; a fitting reminder to those having just journeyed back to the promised land from Babylonian exile. In both generations, God was faithful in keeping his promises.

Our text in Ezra this week ends with the end of chapter 3 and the laying of the foundation of the temple of Yahweh. I find this text both beautiful and haunting.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:11-13 NIV

Notice that everyone praised God in this moment, but the emotions were very mixed. Some were joyful to see this day come. Some were lamenting the loss of the original temple. What brought joy to some brought mourning to others. Excitement and weeping. Yet a great shout of praise came from all.

Our church family is much like this group in Jerusalem, a place of rejoicing and mourning. Sometimes those two feelings are so intertwined that we feel them all at once, especially this time of year. A friend recently reminded me Advent is a time for the church to come together as one, despite our emotions, in hopeful expectation of the second Advent of Christ.

For some the waiting brings joy, for others sorrow. We need both. We are called to rejoice together and mourn together because we are called to be together! The church becomes more like Christ when we rejoice and mourn together.

Wherever you find yourself in the emotional spectrum, you are welcome here. Join the body of Christ as we worship our God in hopeful expectation of his Advent! Come Lord Jesus!

Sermon text for 12/15/19 – Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 3:1-4, 10-13; Luke 2:25-32

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.

2 Rules for Reading Scripture

Last week we looked at the human component in Scripture. All Scripture is from God, but it comes through the mind and hand of humans, sometimes humans writing in community as we noted last week in many of Paul’s writings. This makes the Bible more special in my eyes, that God was willing to partner with humans in getting his word to the world, just as he partners with us today in doing the same thing (See Matthew 28:19). Today we’ll unpack the last part of Bobby Valentine’s quote: “God’s word addressed them in that situation and may not be God’s directive for all time and all places.”

There are two rules for reading Scripture: Context, and Context. Because of the historical nature of revelation we must pay close attention to the historical occasion of the text.  Why was it said or written in the first place? For instance, Ezekiel records many times of coming calamities upon Israel and Jerusalem “from the north.” This does not mean that Americans should be arming our border with Canada and preparing for war. This is a ridiculous example, I admit, but there are some who take equally specific texts meant for a specific people group in a specific time and place and try to apply it to everyone today. We must honor the context of the statements in order to accurately derive their meaning.

Let’s take a look for a moment and look at another example.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NKJV

I’ve seen this verse applied to people trying to make a difficult decision, athletes wanting to win a game, couch potatoes that want to work up to running a marathon, churches hoping to begin a new ministry, people hoping to buy a new car or find a new house, and the list goes on and on. This verse is poorly translated in the KJV/NKJV (the word “Christ” doesn’t even appear in the Greek text), and its meaning is poorly applied to our lives because we don’t understand the context of Paul’s statement.

Paul has been arrested for preaching about Christ, but he doesn’t view this as a bad thing. In fact, Paul believes this is good because believers now see their faith in Christ is worth even going to prison over, and therefore they are spreading the Gospel message more intensely (Phil. 1:12-18). Fast forward a few chapters. Paul exhorts the church to rejoice always, no matter your circumstances…even if you are in chains for the Gospel (4:4). They should focus on Godly ways rather than worrying about the things of this world (4:5-9). Paul acknowledges that for a while the church was unable to support him, or provide for his needs (after all, he is in prison so he doesn’t have much – 4:10) Then Paul writes:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

Paul is saying he doesn’t need money or possessions in order to preach the Gospel. God gives him strength, and that is enough. Want to apply this to your life? You should go preach the Gospel and God will give you the ability in whatever situation you find yourself to do just that. And no, that doesn’t include winning your softball game.

From Hacked Email to Changed Lives

Our church email got hacked this morning. Someone pretended to be our secretary, and made it sound like they were stuck in the Philippines and needed money. Needless to say the rest of our morning was full of changing passwords, creating a new email account, answering the unending phone calls of helpful people letting us know they received that email, and rebuilding email lists that the hacker deleted. What a pain!

On the positive side, we were able to create a better email work environment for our church office! We now have all email accounts on the same domain as our website (www.eastsidefamily.church), and we now have access to a number of resources and really awesome tools that we didn’t have with our old email setup. We were able to recreate new, more usable email lists and found a few mistakes we had in the old ones. As of now, our email setup is far better than it has ever been, and none of this would have happened if someone hadn’t hacked into our email! We were able to take a frustrating, bad event, and turn it into something great! (Even though our secretary’s fingers are still tired of retyping all the email lists!)

God often works in a similar way in our lives. All of us have made mistakes, or have failed at some point in our walk with Christ. Some of us lived lives we’re not proud of before we found Jesus. Most people I know are afraid to even talk about their failings. As a dear sister phrased it, we wear our “church face.” We don’t want anyone to know we struggle.

Paul lived a life he wasn’t proud of before he met Jesus. Yet the change in his life was so great that it encouraged others. Paul wrote this about his conversion:

22 …the churches in Christ that are in Judea didn’t know me personally. 23 All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” 24 And they praised God because of me. Galatians 1:22-24 NLT

We often run from our pasts, but our past in conjunction with our changed life can produce a powerful testimony for Christ! The group I Am Second produces tons of inspiring testimony based on changed lives. The testimony of a changed life is powerful. Don’t run from your past…share your testimony!