Peace in a Chaotic World

This morning we turn our attention to Psalm 37. Though our situation differs from David, the wisdom of his psalm is needed today.

In this psalm, David laments the actions of wicked people who oppose him and his kingdom. David admonishes righteous behavior and trust in Yahweh for deliverance. It’s clear from the text that David and “the righteous” with him are deeply concerned about the “wicked” and “wrongdoers” prospering. This is David’s pressing issue.

And yet the wisdom of the Spirit that David records is the same wisdom our world needs today.

Do not fret…” 37:1
“Trust in the LORD and do good;….” 37:3
“Commit your ways to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this…” 37:5
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret…” 37:7
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.” 37:8

Do you catch that last one? Fret/worry only leads to evil? Notice how David is encouraging us to have a quiet spirit? Yes his situation is different from ours, but the needed prescription is the same. When we choose fret and worry over trust in God, evil results.

Most people are displaying everything but a quiet spirit right now. As a nation we are simultaneously worried, angry, anxious, exhausted, and frustrated. The news media certainly doesn’t help.

I visited a news website today (which I never do) and learned from highlighted headlines that I should be very worried. If not about Coronavirus, then the upcoming election. If not about politics, then national safety because a foreign country may or may not have a new leader. And if there is a new leader, who knows who it will be and how bad it might get? And if you are at home and not concerned with politics at all, keep worrying! Someone shot at a house somewhere recently, so you should worry about your safety in your own home.

And all this was from less than a minute on this news website.

My encouragement to you, is the same as that of David through this psalm: pursue a quiet spirit and trust in God to save. Whatever worry, anxiety, or “fret” that comes from this life is nothing compared to the peace that is found by placing out trust, and hope in God. This is the prescription that our world desperately needs.

I close with the final verses of Psalm 37 as an encouragement for the week ahead.

Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.
But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

Psalm 37:37-40 NIV

May we choose peace, and take our refuge in God alone. Shalom.

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

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.

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

Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4