Unity in a Divided World

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2-6 NIV

Devotional

Paul writes Ephesians to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Gentiles coming into the faith along with Jews makes for difficult church potlucks. Paul reminds us that no matter our background, ethnicity, social status, etc., we are all saved in the same way by the same Savior sent by the same God.

For three chapters Paul reminds his readers that all the barriers that once divided these two diverse groups have been destroyed through Jesus. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (2:14) Paul was adamant about this diverse group of believers being unified in Christ.

Today Christ’s church finds itself divided by politics, polity, worship practice, ethnicity, and a multitude of other issues. If Paul were writing to the church in the U.S. today (or any other nation for that matter), what would he say about our unity? I believe it would sound very much like Ephesians. May we seek a unity within the body of Christ that amazes the world around us and glorifies our Father in heaven.

Prayer

Father, our world is full of proud and boastful people. Our national leaders seem to do nothing but provoke division and slander one another. Lord, help us to remember that you have called us to be different. Your Spirit inside of us should unite us above and beyond whatever could divide us. I pray that your Church will truly be one body, divided only by physical location, but never divided in purpose, mission, and fellowship. May we base our unity as one body in the common Spirit, Lord, Faith, and Baptism we share. And may our unity be a witness of your salvation to the world around us. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

A Shield and Reward

This is week 2 of Immerse Beginnings, and Sunday will be our second week of our sermon series As He Promised. We are focusing in on the many ways our God keeps his promises to his people. Even when the people are not faithful, God remains faithful to his promises!

Sunday we will be looking at God’s covenant with Abram. To fully understand this covenant promise we need to look across several chapters of Genesis. Let’s start with Genesis 12:1.

     The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

Genesis 12:1 NIV

It’s not uncommon in today’s world to move away from family. My family lives hundreds of miles from family. This is not unusual in our culture. This would be nearly unheard of, however, in the ancient world. A male was identified in the ancient world as a member of his father’s household, and would assume all property and responsibilities at the time of his father’s death. To leave your country, your people and your father’s household is to give up all rights to Abram’s inheritance.

This still might not resonate with us since we’re so far removed from this culture. Allow me to try to modernize this calling a bit. Suppose God called you to walk away from all your bank accounts, your job, your retirement, your social security, your cell phone and email accounts, and move to a foreign land under an assumed name. You have no safety net of any kind and no way to contact anyone you know. You have very little means of making money because you have left all your assets behind. Now you are startinging to get a grasp of what God is calling Abram to do. And Abram actually does this! He gives up everything and goes where God (who up until now may have been unknown to Abram) calls him to go. And now look at the beginning words of Genesis 15.

“Do not be afraid, Abram. 
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

Genesis 15:1 NIV

Abram gave up his protection (family clan living in close proximity), and gave up his inheritance. God’s promise to Abram is that God would be Abram’s protection (shield) and inheritance (very great reward). Abram didn’t give up everything to follow God. He followed God and gained everything.

Just like Adam and Eve didn’t have to concern themselves with self care in the Garden, God has promised to take care of, and provide for Abram if he would answer God’s call in faith. And even when Abram deviated from God’s plan, God remained faithful and fulfilled the covenant with Abram, As He Promised.

(Sermon text for 9/20: Genesis 12-15, Heb. 11 – Immerse Reading – Genesis 30:25-50:26)

Forgiveness and the Heart of God

Prayer is less about getting God to do something we want, and more about getting ourselves in tune with who God wants us to be.

When Jesus said “When you pray, say…” I believe he meant it. There is something transformational about the commanded words that Jesus gives us within the Lord’s Prayer…but they aren’t given for us to speak in order to transform God. They are given so that by saying, reflecting, and absorbing these words into our hearts we can be transformed to where our very longings resonate with the heart of God.

Simply put, every desire of our heart cries out “Your kingdom come!”

Close to the heart of our God is forgiveness. When Yahweh draws near to Moses on Mount Sinai, he reveals himself as follows:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NET

Notice that part of God’s hesed (“loyal love”) is that he forgives iniquity and transgression and sin. This is huge! When God introduces himself and represents his character in words, it includes compassion, grace, loyal love, faithfulness, and forgiveness! What an amazing God!

But God is no push over either. When you choose to be his enemy and reject his covenant, then punishment comes. God is generous, abounding in grace and willing to forgive wrong, but he will not force his forgiveness on those who don’t want it. 

Forgive us our sins, 
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Luke 11:4 NIV

God is willing to forgive our sins, and we should realize that our sins are many. God is willing to forgive! And God wants our hearts to be like his. The two lines of this statement are connected. We ask God to forgive because (Greek: gar) we forgive. 

We must have a forgiving heart toward those who have sinned against us in order to receive forgiveness from God. This is the way Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness. Our forgiveness depends on our willingness to adopt God’s posture of forgiveness towards others.

So if you still harbor unforgiveness towards others, now is the time to ask God to soften your heart and help you forgive as he does. It’s clear that forgiveness is important to God. Is it important to you?

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

Sunday in our Bible study we spoke about what it means to fear God, and we noticed that there are a wide range of views on what this means. Some even recounted being taught to be terrified of the Father in the past.

We also referenced a sermon by the great preacher Jonathan Edwards from July 8th, 1741. The Title of that sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and Edwards could not finish the sermon that day. So many in the congregation were crying out and weeping because they were so terrified of hell based on the words of Edwards that day. I spoke about the abhorrent theology present in the sermon as well. You can read the sermon for yourself, but I want to share a quote from this sermon that illustrates the point.

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes that to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the more hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry GodJonathan Edwards

Effective as this type of preaching may have been, this is not what the Bible tells us about God! Let’s look at 1 John.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:18-19 NIV

God doesn’t abhor you. He loves you, and he loved you even when you didn’t love him! This is the very reason that Jesus came into the world; not that God abhored you and couldn’t even look at you, but he so loved you that he sent his only Son! (Jn 3:16)

Notice also John’s admonition that in love there is no fear. Why? Because fear has to do with punishment. And just to be clear, there is no condemnation (punishment) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). For those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no fear of punishment!

Trying to scare the Hell out of people may make for effective preaching, but it distorts the message of Scripture. God isn’t eager to destroy you. He paid the ultimate price for you! You are loved, you are precious, and as a loving Father he pleads with you to love him as well. And those who have chosen to love him in Christ Jesus have no reason to fear.

And yet, we are told that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Prov. 9:10)

So what does it mean to fear God? We’ll talk about that Sunday morning. See you there!

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.

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!

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

Looking At Ruth And Seeing God

This week we continue our sermon series called Great Is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the character of God revealed to us in the life and actions of widowed pagan foreigner by the name of Ruth. We looked at Ruth in our sermon and our auditorium Bible class back on July 14th. But I think it’s a point that is important enough for us to look at again. But before we look at Ruth, let’s begin by looking at God.

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NRSV

The phrase steadfast love is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s how God introduces himself to Moses. It’s the very character of God and can be described as a “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. When Moses is reminding the people of God’s covenant with them in Deuteronomy 7, he once again reminds the people that they serve “the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments…” (Deut. 7:9 NRSV) Again…hesed.

Now to the story of Ruth. Naomi has lost her husband, and her sons. She is going to return back from the land of Moab to Bethlehem in Judah to live out her days. She bids farewell to her two daughters-in-law (somewhat successfully) by saying “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”  (Ruth 1:8 NIV)

Hopefully the bold words have tipped you off. The Hebrew word there is hesed. Notice that Ruth and Orpah are commended for showing hesed to Naomi and their husbands. Naomi is blessing them by asking Yahweh to do hesed to them as they have already done hesed to her and her sons.

This would be shocking to the original Israelite readers of this short story. The characters that most embody the character traits of Yahweh are not Israelites, nor faithful worshipers of Yahweh, nor wealthy, nor are they males. They are Moabite widowed women. Orpah quickly exits the narrative and we hear from her no more, but Ruth continues to be an example of Yahweh’s hesed through her relationship with Naomi.

Many different applications can be made here. But for now I want us to consider this one point. As we were reminded by the Deuteronomy 7 passage above, a clear example of God’s faithfulness is his hesed. To quote Bobby Valentine, “[Hesed] is the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the ’Jesus Creed.’” We discussed that last week. Sometimes God’s hesed is brought to us through our neighbor’s actions and faithfulness toward us and others. And we too are called to bring that hesed to others through our actions and relationships. 

When we look at the faithfulness Ruth shows Naomi, we begin to see a glimpse of the faithfulness of our God. To quote Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 146

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 146-150

Psalm 146 is one of my favorites. As the psalter comes to a close today, we are reminded of many important beliefs and practices through these praise psalms.

I attended a funeral service yesterday that was life changing for all who were present. It was a celebration of a Christ-centered life well lived. As I read this psalm this morning I couldn’t help but recall all of these themes from yesterday’s service.

I will praise the LORD all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Psalm 146:2 NIV

We are called to praise our God as long as we live, no matter what life holds. In the good times and the bad, in joy and sorrow, in health and in death, we are to praise God!

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Psalm 146:3-4 NIV

Life is short. We are all from dust and to dust return. Nothing in this life lasts, therefore our trust should be in God alone.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.

Psalm 146:6 NIV

This is difficult to remember at times. When chaos seems to affect our lives it’s difficult to remember God is faithful. Yet he always has, and always will be faithful and we are called to join him in this faithfulness. No matter what life hands, no matter how much hurt or pain or destruction comes in this life, God is faithful. We are called to be faithful as he is faithful.

The LORD watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:9 NIV

This is a key theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God is one who looks after the widow, orphan, and foreigner. We are called to do the same. God is compassionate and cares for those in need. We are called to do the same.

Today I am thankful for who God is and for what he has done. Though I don’t always understand why things work out the way they do, he is sovereign and faithful. He loves the sinners and abhors the sin. He cares for the needy and those whom society has forgotten. He is faithful forever, and loves us in spite of our faults. And he calls us to be just like him. And for that we praise the LORD.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 106

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 106-110

Psalm 106, in many ways, is the “other side” of Psalm 105. Where 105 calls us to recount the blessings that God has given us, Psalm 106 calls us to acknowledge our sins by telling the story of our failures.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
    we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

Psalm 106:6 NIV

While harm can come from ruminating on our failures, acknowledging them in recognition of God’s grace is important. Here the Psalmist starts with praise (v. 1-3), petition (v. 4-5), confession (v. 6), and then begins the story.

The first episode recounts God’s salvation. Even though Israel forgot forgot Yahweh, he did not forget them. He saved them out of slavery and defeated the Egyptian army. Israel saw the might of Yahweh and believed! (v. 6-12)

From here the psalmist recounts many of the episodes that led to Israel’s exile. “How did we get here?” This is the confession that the psalmist makes: Yahweh asked us to do these things and time after time we did not. But that’s not the end of the story!

Once again the psalmist returns to the grace of Yahweh, and tells of his goodness, mercy, and future favor.

Many times he delivered them,
    but they were bent on rebellion
    and they wasted away in their sin.
Yet he took note of their distress
    when he heard their cry;
for their sake he remembered his covenant
    and out of his great love he relented.
He caused all who held them captive
    to show them mercy.

Psalm 106:43-46 NIV

How does this captivity come to an end? It isn’t anything that the people do, but the unmerited favor of God. It is God’s faithfulness to his covenant! Our faithlessness does not nullify God’s faithfulness! (Rom. 3:3-4) He is faithful! And because of God’s faithfulness, we have hope in him for salvation!

Save us, LORD our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 NIV

Once again, we end on a petition for rescue, not for our own benefit, but for bringing glory to Yahweh in praise. He alone is our hope. He alone is our salvation. He alone rescues us, and so we give thanks to him in praise.

It is good to tell our story. It is good to remember our past. How did we get here? Where are we going? These questions recall God’s continued blessings and our continued need for them. We must never think we have “arrived” in our walk with God, but always remember, analyze, and adjust our walk as we move forward. Yahweh is good and faithful. Don’t forget this. Live accordingly.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
Let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord.

Psalm 106:48 NIV