Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Good morning -

Carefully choose your bragging rights. It's a lot more than whether your Dad can beat up my Dad, or who has the bigger house, nicer car, or larger income. The challenge is to brag about the right things.

"Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Wisdom, strength and wealth are ultimately not worthy of "bragging rights"; only knowing the Lord is. And yet how the world mocks such priorities! "I have a higher college degree than you ... I'm stronger than you are ... I've got more money than you ... I know the Lord". Can you just imagine how the conversation in a room would stop at the mention of knowing the Lord? Such a "boast" would be met with blank stares and ultimately ridicule.

If we dare to be brutally honest with ourselves we'll pause to consider that which we truly boast about. I'd like to think that my boasting is about knowing the Lord but the uncomfortable truth may be that I boast more about what I can do, or what I know, or who I know. I might even brag more about knowing God's Word than the Lord Himself.

If I truly know the Lord then I know that He "exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth" and delights in these things. Not only will I know that but I will also participate with Him in carrying out these great purposes. This knowledge again drives me to pray the familiar words that Jesus taught us to pray: "Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven". Knowing the God who "exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth" is participating today in advancing the kingdom of tomorrow. The future kingdom - characterized by lovingkindness, justice and righteousness - will have a bearing today on my life and the lives of those around me if I truly know the Lord.

Carefully choose your bragging rights. The world screams out the ones that it thinks we should claim; the Lord whispers His in the stillness if we are quiet enough to hear. Take time today to tune out the shouting of the world long enough to hear the quiet voice of the Lord.

Working' on braggin' on the Lord today,

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Good morning -

It's amazing how many people believe that going to church earns them "points" with God. The assumption is that God is taking attendance and recording it in His judgment book and that, along with a record of good deeds, will allow one into the Kingdom if the good deeds and attendance outweigh the demerits accrued because of sin.

Jeremiah the prophet essentially warned the people of Israel not to rely on their temple worship to offset important lifestyle issues:

"Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever." (Jeremiah 7:4-7)

Temple worship did not offset negligence in areas of justice, oppression, violence, and idolatry. As Jesus would later say, "these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23)

Salvation is grace-based rather than merit-based, but the "fruit" of salvation is both authentic worship and a lifestyle of good works. We cannot depend upon faithful church attendance to offset injustice, oppression, violence and idolatry nor can we depend upon a lifestyle of good works to offset genuine worship. A part of worshipping "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24) is integrity in all of these areas.

I'm convinced that worship can be the springboard to service and lifestyle. When we encounter our Creator in a dynamic way our heart's desire is to please Him in all our ways; lifestyle and service become expressions of love and worship. The real test of worship is not how well we sing or "amen" in church, but how we walk in faithfulness to that which pleases our God the rest of the time.

My prayer is for each of us to have an encounter in worship with the living God today such that our great joy is to walk with integrity and obedience to Him.

Working on the worship and the walk,

Pastor Steve

Friday, May 25, 2007

Good morning -

Global Positioning System units are pretty amazing. In non-technical terms, they are those little electronic boxes with display and voice capability that tell you how to get somewhere when driving ("turn left at the next intersection ... exit at next ramp right" ... etc.). You enter the address of your destination, the unit calculates where you are via a satellite signal, and provides directions for driving.

Whether you are using a GPS unit, a map service on the Internet, or an old-fashioned map, destination information is vitally important. You just can't get from point A to point B if you don't know what point B is.

It's very important in our spiritual lives that a course be plotted to the correct destination. God reminds us through Jeremiah the prophet:

"Thus says the LORD, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16)

The ancient paths aren't very popular these days; just like the 2-lane highways that used to be the main travel routes in years past. The paths of discipline, sacrifice, service, and holiness aren't well-traveled in this age of quick-fix and self-centered focus. The ancient paths are nearly as forgotten as the famous Route 66 highway.

I used to live near an Amish community, and it was interesting to notice their lifestyle. They have deliberately chosen to live a simple lifestyle that necessitates cooperation and community. Those ancient values dictate the lifestyle that is characteristic of these people. Now, I'm not advocating that we adopt their practices and lifestyle (although perhaps it might be wise), but I'm suggesting that we heed God's words in deliberately choosing the paths that the great people of faith in the past chose. In particular, the paths that enhance community with God's people need to be a priority. There is a great emphasis in the New Testament on "one anothering", and it seems to be a much-neglected path today. The first church in Acts was largely characterized by their commitment to one another, and that seems to have been a path to the great blessings of the Lord. I'm confident that the same holds true for today.

Let me challenge you to pause long enough on the path you travel to be sure it heads toward the ancient paths. As God said through Jeremiah, this is the good way where we will truly find rest for our souls.

Enjoying the trip down the ancient ways today,

Pastor Steve
Good morning -

I'm a bit of a skeptic. I often am suspicious of what I see and hear and wonder what's really behind it. That which is designed to look appealing and beneficial to me may be far more beneficial to someone else.

I wish the truth were otherwise, but this scenario is too common in Christianity. Some mega churches and televangelists promise spiritual and material benefits through support of their ministries while the greatest recipient of the 'blessing' is themselves. Truth be told, there is no church, pastor, church leader, or christian who is immune to operating from misguided motives.

God, speaking through Jeremiah, conveyed a promise to those who would sincerely seek Him:

"Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding." (Jeremiah 3:15)

In seeking to know and grow in the Lord it's important that we seek out the help and teaching of those who are "after My own heart". It takes time to know those whom we trust to lead and instruct us but the fruit of their lives is eventually evident. As Jesus said, "you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20). When it becomes clear to us that the "fruit" is wholesome and good we can be assured that they will "feed you on knowledge and understanding."

Being a bit of a skeptic is not necessarily bad; the Apostle Paul encouraged it: "Now these (in Berea) were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11). His message is that we should not trust our teachers and leaders until they have proven to be trustworthy. He calls us to "be a Berean".

It's important in life that we be discerning with the information that we choose to receive. Secular news and media may be biased for their gain and benefit, as can churches and ministries. Determining motivation is key in safeguarding against error.

A greater degree of skepticism by followers of Christ could have prevented some of the major errors in understanding over the past 2,000 years. Careful discernment is the only safeguard that any generation of disciples has against error.

A friend once commented that people are discerning in most areas of life (insurance policies, warranties, etc), but are alarmingly non-discerning in areas of biblical teaching. His challenge was to "think like mad" when in church, or reading christian literature, or listening and watching chistian media.

Be a bit of a skeptic; your spiritual life and vitality literally depends on it.

Seeking understanding through discernment,

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good morning -

We've all heard the saying, "I love it when a plan comes together". You and I are part of the most amazing plan of all that has come together. We were given a mission and a message before we were ever born:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations ... everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak ... Behold, I have put My words in your mouth." (Jeremiah 1:5,7,9)

What God said to Jeremiah goes for us as well: He called us before we were born; set us apart for His work; has given us a heart for obedience; and has put His words in our mouths. It's all there; all we've got to do is appropriate it.

It's much too easy to think that the Lord calls us to do His work with our power and resources. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a recipe for disaster. His plan is designed to be executed with His power.

I'm coming to more fully appreciate the power and potential of the Spirit of God that has been placed in my life through Jesus my Lord. I'm learning that it "locks in on God" like a satellite dish locks in on a signal and communicates more effectively than my words ever could. That same Spirit nudges each of us into areas of involvement and service according to the great plan, and provides the means of obedience that our humanity naturally wants to resist. The Spirit within prompts the words and message that God would have us speak.

I am fully convinced that the greatest concentration of the activity of the Spirit of God centers around the main message of Jesus, the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of God within His people is prompting the message to be declared and demonstrated. I will dare to go so far as to say that any Christian activity or service that does not align itself with this great purpose and plan is not fully in line with the Spirit of God and does not enjoy the fullest blessing of the Lord.

There is no more important prayer that we can pray at the start of each day than, "Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". That prayer calls the Spirit of God within us to align us with the great purpose and plan that we are called to participate in with the Lord, and invokes the powers of heaven to guide and prosper our work and our words. When those things happen we step into the realm of that which God has consecrated us for.

Appreciating the call and the work today,

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Good morning -

I'll confess: sometimes I'm self-absorbed. It's amazing how big and important my world can be all the while that I almost forget the worlds of other people. Some of the greatest moments in life have been when others have taken the time to talk to me about me, and those moments have been a springboard for doing the same with others. But, I'll confess that it's much too easy to dabble at this rather than for it to be a lifestyle.

Romans 15:1-3 tells us, "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME."

Life is seasonal; sometimes we are strong and sometimes we are weak. In moments of weakness we need the strength of others, and in moments of strength it's good to be "other-focused" on those who are weak and in need of our strength. In weakness or strength each of us are called to "please his neighbor for his good, to his edification". Such is the pattern of Jesus.
The world has never seen One who made others His agenda as Jesus did. The coming ruler of all of God's creation chose an "other-centered" agenda for His own. His sacrificial death became the ultimate symbol of that agenda.

I've become absorbed with the "magnificent obsession" of Jesus, the kingdom of God. I've found much richer purpose and meaning in life since I've more fully discovered the truth about the King and His Kingdom, but I sometimes resist the implications of this discovery. If I am to live today under the reality of the coming Kingdom I will become other-centered rather than self-centered, even as the King of the Kingdom was and is. My world needs to take a back seat to the worlds of others.

I'm discovering that the joy of others is a key motivation in sharing these daily thoughts with you. If the Lord can use these words to encourage and build you up then I am indeed blessed; the time and effort is an investment rather than a sacrifice.

So, let me leave you with words from the Apostle Paul that were a blessing to me today. If they bless you as they have me then my life will be a bit brighter today.

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Seeking to serve the King and His Kingdom by serving His people,

Pastor Steve

Friday, May 18, 2007

Good morning -

Kingdom people are great lovers. Now, to avoid any confusion about that statement, let me clarify what I mean from the Apostle Paul's words:

"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Romans 13:8-12)

The future kingdom becomes today's kingdom through love and truth. When we align ourselves with the greatest truth of loving God with heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as our self we've appropriated some of tomorrow's reality today. The future kingdom will be characterized by total and absolute love and devotion to our Father and unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters. Perhaps more than anything else, the kingdom will be characterized by perfect relationships.

I often return to the story of the first church in the Book of Acts and notice that kingdom truth caused these believers to live as a radical kingdom community. Truth permeated their personal and corporate lifestyles and gave powerful testimony to their culture of the reality of the risen Christ and His kingdom authority and power.

Scripture has plenty to say about the priority of truth but it also has plenty to say about love being the outgrowth of truth. Kingdom people should be solidly based on truth but authentic love should be evidence of the reality of truth. If tomorrow's kingdom means anything to us it will have an effect on us today. It will personally cause us to "lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" and do "no wrong to a neighbor".

I believe that the church - whether a home group, small group, or congregation with a building - is the Lord's "kingdom laboratory experiment". Here truth is worked out in relationships and lifestyles; sometimes successfully, but more often than not through failure, forgiveness and restoration. At its best it becomes "salt" and "light" to a bland and dark world.

Kingdom people ARE great lovers. Maybe we need some bumper stickers to declare that truth and remind ourselves.

Pastor Steve