Do not be afraid?

“Do not be afraid.”

That phrase appears 74 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. It’s one of the most common phrases in the entire Bible. But even more common than being told to not be afraid, the Bible tells us no fewer than 85 times that we should fear God, his Word, his actions, and his judgement.

God knew that we humans would struggle with fear. That’s why he told us so many times not to fear. But at the same time, there are things God wants us to fear.

Tim Archer shared with me a great illustration of fear. Every day we sit in rooms filled with electrical wiring, and devices. We even carry some of them around in our pockets. We have no fear of this. And yet at the same time we aren’t afraid of our environment or devices, we aren’t willing to stick a screwdriver into an electrical socket. We don’t live in fear of electricity, but we do realize there is a dangerous side.

We understand this when it comes to electricity, but often we don’t act in similar ways when it comes to other issues. We tend to live in the extremes when it comes to fear; either we fear everything, or fear nothing. Neither of these is what God wants.

Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes. – Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV

On Sunday in the auditorium Bible class, we will begin a study on fear. What does Scripture say about fear, why did God create fear, and how are we to live as followers of Christ?

These lessons will be recorded for later access. You can also join us in person, or via livestream. Until then, I leave you with the words of Moses to God’s people reminding them of how they are to live.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? – Deuteronomy 10:12–13 NIV

Daily Prayer – 7/20/2020

God of all comfort, grant us peace. We pray that as Jesus calmed the storm on Galilee, you would also calm the storms of our lives. May you grant us faith over fear when we face the tumults of health crises, hateful political climates, and blatant injustice. Remind us that though this world is not our home, we do have a mission to fulfill here and now. And help us to show your kingdom, your power, and your glory through our lives this day. Through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Morning Prayer for 7/13/2020

God of peace, teach us to live according to your will. May we learn your wisdom so that we may reach those dying in sin around us. May we receive your strength to build your Kingdom while living as foreigners in this land. And may we hear your voice above the noise of this world so that we may go wherever you call. Through Christ, our brother, Lord, and Savior. Amen.

Worthless Idols & Temporary Kingdoms

For those who follow me on Facebook, you have noticed that I’ve begun writing prayers throughout the day (usually morning). I’ve only been posting those to Facebook, but will begin to post them here as well. I pray that this serves not to elevate my words, but to share my heart in hopes of moving you to prayer as well.

Father, the world is full of worthless idols that occupy our time and attention, and the earth full of temporary kingdoms that demand our allegiance. Captivate our hearts Lord, that we may keep our focus on your mission and use our energy to build your Kingdom here, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Morning Prayer, 6/15/2020

Finding Unity in Diversity

Most congregations don’t understand unity. We understand uniformity, but not unity. This is why we have so many church buildings, each full of people who are largely the same with very little difference. If you like this music, go to that church. If you like this translation of the Bible, go to that other church. Most congregations understand uniformity, but not unity.

The Apostle Paul sought unity in the church through diversity, a very different approach than we usually see today. Romans 14 speaks a great deal about how Christians find unity in their mission through Christ while still embracing different practices and beliefs! Though the setting is a bit different in Romans, the application is much needed in the American church today.

 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 

Romans 14:2–4 NIV

Notice that Paul does not attempt to get everyone to see things the same way. Rather he reminds them that they all belong to Christ and will all be judged by God. It is not your job, nor my job to judge others (v. 13). Instead, Paul reminds the believers that everything they do should be focused on peace and building each other up (v. 19). And to further clarify that Paul expects the practices of the church to be diverse, he reminds people that wrong to feel pressured into doing things against their beliefs.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

Romans 14:22–23 NIV

So how does this apply to today? As we come back together in our places of worship (as East Side has already done) we will have some that think we should have stayed open the entire time, and others that still don’t think it’s safe to meet in public. And Paul would say this is fine. And neither group should condemn or pressure the other. Wear a mask or not? Same answer. Join a peaceful protest? Same answer. Voting? Same answer.

There is room for difference of opinion in the Kingdom of God. There is room for difference of practice in the Church of Jesus. But there is no room for disunity, accusing, arguing, fighting, and disfellowshipping over these differences. Those don’t come from faith, but from sin (v.23).

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Romans 14:19 NIV

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.