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Finding Rest

Psalm 16:8-10

 

8          I keep my eyes always on the LORD.

                        With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9          Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

                        my body also will rest secure,

10        because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

                        nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

 

            This summer, I am looking forward to taking my family on a journey to a place where my family often vacationed when I was a child during the warm Michigan summers. One of my favorite places in the world is Lake Michigan. If you’ve never been there, I can only give you my greatest encouragement to make that a summer trip for you and your family or friends one day before you die.

            There is nothing like disappearing from daily life and joyfully swimming through the crystal clear waters of the Lake and feeling the warm white beach sand squash down under your feet. The gentle Lake breeze and the smell of barbecues are inviting for you after you enjoy a full day’s activity at the lake– including swimming, boating, hikes along the sand dunes, bike trails, wind surfing and more.

            Whether you are looking to find rest miles away at a lake this summer, or whether you will simply enjoy an Eastern Colorado sunrise on your porch in the morning, I want to encourage you to take a journey that leads to rest for you this summer.

            King David describes the kind of rest that God desires for His people to have throughout their life and not just for a summer trip. We can drive hundreds of miles, fly across an ocean, and spend thousands of dollars but still not find rest if we are not careful. The kind of rest God desires you to have cannot be entered into your GPS. Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa will not help you find it either.

            The rest that God desires you to have this summer can only be found in Christ. King David describes the focus of his eyes. They are fastened on the Lord. He says that he will not be shaken nor will he eternally suffer, no matter what his days would bring. The road to rest that David is describing produces confidence in the presence and hope in the future.

            The Hebrew word for rest in this passage is Shakhan, which means to settle down, to abide, or to dwell. What David found is that there is a road to rest when we relinquish ourselves to the loving leadership of Jesus Christ in our life. It is a place where we can be at home with ourselves and with God. When we lead a life without rest, we are actually demonstrating that God is not good and that he is not trustworthy to lead our lives.

            Since Samantha and I moved to Holyoke, we have observed what a hardworking group of people this community is. It is quite impressive. Surprisingly, this culture is similar to the bustling city we left, a city that never slept. Just like how the deadlines of corporate jobs kept Dallasites hustling all year long, so also does the mercy of nature produce a hustle in this agrarian culture. If you are not careful, you will either work yourself to death or work yourself until death– neither of which are God’s desire for you.

             God desires for you to have rest this summer and all year long. The greatest activity you can do for yourself, your family and this church is to take advantage of opportunities to rest in Jesus– whether that is on your back patio, on the seat of a tractor watching the sun rise or set, or after you tell your loved ones goodnight. Take regular opportunities to remind yourself that your value, significance and worth is not found in your prestige, position or possessions. It is found only through a relationship with God by trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

            Wherever your journeys take you this summer, be sure to make one of your regular destinations that of rest with Jesus. Wherever you are, find yourself at home with Jesus. May your summer be full of joy and fun, and may your hearts overflow with the love of Christ in you.

 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeremiah



Anchored in Christ

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”- Hebrews 11:6

 

Nearly 12 years ago, Samantha and I said, “I do,” and raced off to our honeymoon on the beautiful beaches of Hawaii. Since we believed that this could be a once in a lifetime experience for both of us, we decided to do every excursion and tourist attraction that we could possibly afford.

 

After experiencing a luau, helicopter ride, beautiful beaches, and much more, we decided to try out a catamaran tour we read about in the pamphlet we found in our hotel room. We looked forward to our journey on the north side of the island where we could see dolphins and whales up close in the ocean. Soon enough, we found ourselves living the dream.

 

It was beautiful. We saw dolphins jump in and out of the water. We were able to see the spray of a whale out off in the distance. But it wasn’t long before the choppy waves on the north shore caught up to us. Samantha and I turned 50 shades of green and we desperately needed something to anchor us in place. We really wanted solid ground.

 

An anchor is a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation. The tossing of the boat made us sick that day several years ago. Today, we all experience things in life that can get us even more stirred up. Whether it is uncertainty in your finances, difficulty in a relationship, or changes in your life in the home, at work or at church, it doesn’t take much for an upset to occur. Is there a person or thing that can provide stability or confidence in our otherwise uncertain situations that we might face this day, week, month or year?

 

The answer to that question is, “yes!” There is an anchor for the soul to give us peace in the turbulence of life, and that is the person Jesus Christ (Heb. 6:19). At the heart of the Christian life is trusting the love of God that is demonstrated through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus Christ is the preeminent expression of God’s love to us. We must accept the love of God by receiving the blood of Jesus as our sacrifice and payment for sin. It also means that we find our acceptance and worth in life in the place of God’s love. Trusting God’s love is the highest priority in the Christian life.

 

In other words, we must have faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith, this abiding trust in God, is the essential and non-negotiable requirement to having favor with God. At the heart of faith is believing that God wants to bestow favor on you despite your sin and brokenness. That can be hard to swallow when we carry such an enormous amount of guilt and shame before Him, but that is exactly what faith means for our life. Faith is the act of going to God because we are certain that we have been set free from sin by the blood of Jesus, and we are no longer captive to sin.

 

Faith is motivated by the promise of reward. Our greatest reward is Christ, but He promises us that he will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). In fact, one of the emotional and intellectual obstacles that must be overcome in our hearts before we are ever willing to detach the anchors of our souls from idols and onto Christ is that His reward and promise is much greater than what we are offered by our idols. The motive to anchoring on to Christ is the promise of His rewards.

 

That might not sound right, but that is what His word teaches us in Hebrews 11:6. Not only is this theologically true, but it is also true when applied to life. The only way that we will overcome our addictions and idols in life is when we believe that the promise of what Christ offers has a much greater reward than what the promises of pornography, alcohol, destructive anger, legalism, materialism and idol after idol offers.

 

Part of the vision statement of our church states, “…in Christ, we pursue a better way to live.” In other words, our vision is to be a gathering of believers who increasingly detach our soul ships from anchors of idols that don’t keep us stable and to attach ourselves to the anchor of Christ.

 

If your life is being rocked back and forth by troubles in this world and changes that are happening around you that are not within your control or approval, then I would encourage you to examine yourself. Test yourself and see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). See what you are trying to be anchored with.

 

For some of us, our anchor might be the comfort of a relationship that looks the way that we wish for it to look. It might be for church and the worship experience to be something different. It might be more money in the bank. It might be to have our job turn out a certain way. But what happens if these circumstances don’t turn out to our favor? They will disappoint and we will be like a catamaran drifting in choppy waters.

 

I pray that you and I will increasingly stay anchored to Christ, especially during uncertain times in life. Our idols offer a promise of comfort, security and hope. But they always disappoint. Jesus also offers comfort, security and hope, yet his promises never disappoint (Matt. 6:25; Josh. 1:5; Ps. 37:25; 2 Cor. 4:9). Which anchor will you trust? One that has abandoned you over and over again, or Christ who has demonstrated His love to you by laying down his life for you, even when you were still a sinner (Rom. 5:8)? As for me, I choose Christ. How about you?



Tradition

Acts 26:22, And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place.

When I was young, my family had several traditions. On thanksgiving, we would have a big turkey dinner with extended family. On Christmas Eve we would always get to open one gift, and it usually ended up being pajamas. On Easter we dressed up to go to church, and when we could afford it we would go out to eat. I loved these kinds of traditions.

In Christianity there are also traditions. Different churches have different traditions. Here at FBC, we have a rich tradition of celebrating Easter and Christmas with special songs and decorations. The order of our service and the celebration of the Lord’s Table carries on a tradition in this church. In more practical areas, the saints of this church have a legacy of generosity and service. Traditions like these are often beautiful ways to convey the Gospel and a special reminder of God’s goodness in our life.

But something else to think about is that the Faith itself is traditional- not because of church activity (I.e. what kind of music is sung on Sunday morning or how people dress) but because of beliefs. True faith is rooted in tradition. When Paul argued his defense before his accusers, he argued that what he proclaimed was nothing more than tradition of the faith. The testimony of Jesus Christ was rooted in the Prophets and Moses.

It is not a new rabbit that Paul pulled out of a hat. It was historical tradition. Today, if a church does not carry tradition in this way, it is not a church. Core doctrines are fundamental traditions of the church, worth dying for. The Apostle’s Creed is a sum of historical traditional truth that should be present in every church:
 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

 

Christianity has a rich tradition of being outwardly focused and self sacrificial, pursuing others with the love of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel. May God help us to live for the tradition of the Faith and not the traditions of our preferences.

When we uphold our tradition in order to communicate and celebrate the Gospel, we should consider the outcome. If in the pursuit of our traditions we neglect to show love to others, or if it becomes unhelpful in accomplishing the mission and vision that God has given to our church, then we might pray about changing and starting a new tradition that will help us to accomplish the work that we have been given.

I enjoyed our different traditions growing up. They were fun moments we enjoyed together as a family. In some ways they defined us. In the same way the foundational beliefs of the Church are a tradition that define the Church. Every true Church by definition is traditional. They carry on the beliefs and practices of Christianity in various forms.

Take a moment and reflect on some of your favorite traditions growing up and some of your favorite traditions of this church. Give God thanks for the many good memories and experiences you’ve shared with others through the traditions you have celebrated. Ask God to help you to continue in traditions that are helpful and to show you if there are new traditions that you might start as a celebration of His faithfulness. 

 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeremiah



The Link Between Our Faith and Our Works

            Last month, I wrote about what God really wants from us: a transformed heart. I also wrote that God will reject those who claim the name of Jesus but do not do what is right. On the surface, this implies that we are saved by our works, but that is absolutely not true. Saving faith, being declared legally righteous in God’s sight and finding acceptance by him comes alone through trusting Jesus (Romans 5:1). So, how then is “doing right” related to our salvation?

            First, we need to realize that we cannot muster up the strength to just “do right.” The kind of heart transformation that we need is only accomplished by God when we trust Jesus. God continually demonstrates His works before us so that we will come to fully trust Him. In John 6, Jesus told the crowd that the work of God they witnessed (the miracles Jesus performed), was so that they would believe in Jesus as Savior.

            This is not to say that the only work from us that God wants is that we believe in Jesus, but that the work of God for us (his continued demonstration of his miraculous power and faithful love in our life) is for the purpose of wooing us to trust His love for us in Jesus. In other words, we come to believe Jesus in all that He declares about Himself and who He is and what He has accomplished on the cross and will accomplish in our future. Or to state it another way, we are freed to worship God with our wills and our lives. We are freed from our slavery to dead objects and dead pursuits to serve our new master, the living God. What a great privilege and high honor!

            The Bible teaches that once we are saved, we are not free to continue to walk in sin (Rom. 6:1-2). In fact, we are actually obligated to be good. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Also, 1 John 2:3 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” If we know Jesus as our King, and we respect His position and authority and believe his promises, we will both be right (because the shed blood of Jesus has cleansed us) and do right (because we are compelled to serve our King). This behavior change is the result of the Holy Spirit accomplishing what God promised us in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

            So the reason it is important to pay attention to our works is because there is a link between what we do and what we believe. Our beliefs are the foundation of our works. Faith is the seed from which our works grow. That’s why Jesus taught the crowd in the sermon on the mount that saving faith is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). This is both a quantity of life issue (true salvation that leads to eternal life) and a quality of life issue (finding freedom from hurts, habits and hang-ups that hurt us).

            Regarding the quantity of life, true saving faith has eternal benefits. True believers will enjoy eternal years of blessing in God’s eternal Kingdom where we will forever worship and serve Him, and also to be able to enjoy the fruit of our labor. Eternal life with our eternal King will be filled will endless blessing and joy that is unparalleled to what we know in this short life (Romans 8:18-24). That promise is guaranteed to those who believe in Jesus as their savior, and it can never ever be taken away or lost (Romans 8:31-39).

            Regarding the quality of life, people who have true saving faith will experience a better way of life that offers benefits which transcend even the most extreme suffering and pain this world brings. However, for those who have experienced saving faith but continue to walk in sin, that quality of life will eventually greatly diminish— even when it seems as though people who walk in sin sometimes appear to be successful. The Psalmist lamented this problem in Psalm 73. People who experience true saving faith but continue in sin and fail to serve God will experience the Lord’s discipline. This is what the writer assures us in Hebrews 12, and the Psalmist finds peace about it in Psalm 119:75, and where the sage finds hope in Proverbs 3:12.

            Additionally, when we have saving faith, over time we learn to trust the love of Jesus more and more. As we do this, we should increasingly give up vices that we once turned to during times of stress, difficulty, or boredom and find satisfaction and freedom in Jesus. This process of maturing in the faith (or you can say, “Increasing in trust”) is called sanctification. In sanctification we grow to devote our time, talents and treasures to Jesus. In sanctification, we come to increasingly find satisfaction and contentment from a relationship with God. An increase of this kind of faith will produce fruit that is revealed in our character (Galatians 5), in our countenance (John 4), and in how we use our resources (time, talent & treasure: Matthew 25).

            Living life with an unchanged heart is dangerous because the Lord rejects the worship of the one who claims His name but has a hardened heart. Not only that, but sometimes some of the most scathing discipline can come in the form of when the Lord lets us walk in our sinful desires. Consequences to our choices can be the unbearable pain that the Lord might use to turn us back to Him (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Our desperation in pain can be the solemn assurance of the Lord’s discipline and thus our salvation (Hebrews 12:3-8). God loves his children too much to continue to let them stay in sin.

            When we have continual hypocrisy (the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform) in our life, we can be assured of one of two things. Either we know God and are not walking in a way that brings blessing, and consequently will experience the Lord’s discipline. Or, if we habitually live without bearing true fruits of saving faith in our life, we may be proving that we never really knew God. The seeds of saving faith will increasingly yield the fruit of that faith. God will prune us to make us more fruitful. He is interested in receiving the fruit of our worship. The seeds of unbelief will produce fruits of the flesh that God rejects (Galatians 5:19-21). That is why Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).”

            So, if you have struggled in sin (or habitually producing the fruits of sin) like I have before, you might want to ask, “Am I really saved?” That is, have I ever come to trust in Jesus as my personal Savior? If the answer to that is “no,” then begin to trust Him with your will and life now. Take a moment to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and accept his grace. If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you should believe that Jesus’ blood covers your sin and trust in the salvation that God has provided. You should look for the root of your sin and ask Jesus, “where am I not trusting your love or where are there idols in my life?” When he shows you these, turn away from those idols and find your love, value, and acceptance in Jesus.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this letter that is longer than normal. The relationship between faith and works is something that has created great confusion in the Church for generations, but it is something we need to get right because it is a matter of eternity and a matter of our welfare here on earth and potential as a Church. Let’s get it right and keep God first in our life as a result of so great a salvation!

 

Blessings,
 
Pastor Jeremiah


What God Really Wants from You this New Year

Micah 6:6-8 says, “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

 

Sometimes it is hard to understand what God really wants from us. If you listen carefully on any given Sunday morning, when I am preaching you might hear me encouraging the congregation to be faithful to worship God though giving of our tithes, treasures and talents. Then on another Sunday you might hear something that sounds completely different. For example, I might say that “God doesn’t ‘need’ your money,” or “It’s not about how much you read your Bible,” or something similar. This can sound confusing. You might leave sometimes wondering, what does God want from me?

 

In short, the answer is that God wants us to have a changed heart— one that worships him as King by finding our delight and dependence on Him, and one that loves others well. Deuteronomy 10:16 says, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” This command is repeated again in the Covenant in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

 

Jeremiah 4:4 repeats this again, then later, Jeremiah warns Israel, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh…” In other words, if we don’t match on the inside what we proclaim on the outside by perfunctory religious activity, God will reject our worship. That is why the Apostle Paul says in Romans 2:28-29, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

 

A few years ago when I was flying down from Dallas to San Antonio for a weekend seminary class, on one of my flights, I met a woman who bemoaned the Church. She grieved of the hypocrisy of her mother who ruined several marriages through her marital unfaithfulness. Yet her mother was one who faithfully attended church three days a week, tithed, read her bible, and was baptized. This woman, like so many of us today, equated religious activity with pleasing God. In other words, her outside behavior did not agree with what she professed about her inside to others. That is not what God wanted from her or anyone else. Surprisingly (or maybe not), this problem has been around for the ages. It is something we can all struggle with from time to time.

 

In Micah 6, we get a great picture of what God really wants from His people. Here, Israel is in God’s courtroom. Israel was a nation filled with religious activity. They did many rituals and deeds and offered sacrifices, yet God was bringing charges against them. Israel was filled with dishonest individuals who demonstrated no concern for treating others fairly. Micah charges that they took advantage of and neglected the poor. He also points out how God’s people were allowing idol worship. Religious people often would be seen publicly engaging in sex with temple prostitutes in order to get the attention of the god of fertility known as Baal. This was an abomination to God.

 

Israel was really good at performing spiritual activity for God. However, their prayer, sacrifices and faithful religious performances could never make up for their shortcomings. It was easy to see why God was not impressed. Israel was in serious breach of Covenant with God.

 

Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? In other words, what God wants from his people is no secret. He wants them to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him. God wanted them to be people who have been changed by His grace.

 

To “do justly” literally means to do the right thing. God wanted his people to do what is right all throughout life. To “love kindness” means to demonstrate loyal committed love toward God and his people. To walk humbly with God means to have daily communion with God— much like what Adam and Eve enjoyed with God in the Garden before they sinned. God wanted Israel to enjoy the blessings of being in his presence.

 

Not much has changed today. God wants us to enjoy his presence though our worship. God will reject those who simply say “I am a Christian” but do not do what is right. Whether it is in our marriages, how we raise our children, or how we treat our business relationships, there is a link between our behavior and our faith. James 2:17 teaches us that faith without works is dead. Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone. Faith and works live together. Where you have saving faith, you will also find works that are the fruit of that faith.

 

God’s word teaches us that spiritual activity does not equal transformation. In other words, if our lives are not changed, it does not matter if we go to church one day a week or three days a week. It does not matter if we read our Bible, fast, are baptized, or give our tithe. Our outward symbols and actions should be visual reminders of inward realities. If our lives are truly changed and we are doing the right thing, demonstrating loyal love to God and others, and walking humbly with God, then our religious activities actually take on new meaning. That is what God wants from those who call him Lord. That is what God wants from us as we start this new year.

 

Blessings to you,

 

 

Pastor Jeremiah



Finishing Faithfully

            2016 has been quite the year. For all of us there were up and downs as we moved along the days, weeks and months of this year. Maybe there were surprises in your life that discouraged you. It might have been finances, a broken relationship, or changes at your job. But no matter what we’ve gone through, the Lord wants us to keep our eyes on Him. Trusting God through the journey is the essence of faith.

            Many times, faith is misunderstood. Sometimes we are tempted to look at the cross and say, “I believe,” and think that we have faith. Believing an event happened is different than faith. Believing that Jesus died, was buried and rose again is a matter of agreeing with history. Apostle James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” However, believing in the event at the cross is not enough. We must believe Jesus. The historical event of the cross is the foundation that substantiates faith.

            The cross is the support of our faith where the blind promises of Christ are verified. They bring light to and justify our trust in Him as the one who alone is able to save us from our sin. His sacrifice is sufficient to cover our greatest sins, and the new life we experience in Christ is enough to provide comfort for our deepest pains.

            When the Bible speaks of having faith in Jesus, it is teaching about a complete trust or confidence in Him. The righteous, those who are justified, live by faith (Gal. 3:11). The essence of faith is having immovable confidence in God despite how the world changes around you. When we lack this confidence, it is dangerous.

            Think of Israel. They were only months out of experiencing one of the greatest acts of deliverance in the history of humanity when God rescued them from the shackles of Pharaoh. Not far into the desert, Israel began to return back to her idolatry. But God was gracious. He graciously gave his chosen people the Law. People worked together to collect all the supplies for the Tabernacle. The Levites were commissioned for the Lord’s service. The first sacrifices were offered. God manifested his glory among his people and led them by cloud during the day and by flame at night. Yet, despite these incredible acts of grace and glory, the people grumbled and complained about their food situation. They feared and fretted about the giants who stood in their way in the Promised Land. There was no confidence in God despite all that he did, and as a result an entire generation wasted away and never received the promised rest. There are consequences to failed confidence.

            When we fail to have confidence in God in the midst of difficult or unclear circumstances, we can miss out on God’s blessings. God’s past faithfulness must be looked upon—not so that we glory in the good ‘ole days—but so we will move forward to the greatest days in our life. These days will be better because they will be built upon a thicker foundation of God’s faithfulness to get us through even the most difficult circumstances in our life.

            This year is quickly coming to an end. It is my prayer that all of us will finish faithfully— being “full” off faith. Let us continue to have confidence in God, even through the moment when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. And when this year is complete, may 2016 be strength for your journey of trust in Jesus. Let us trust him in our relationship with our spouse, family, children, friends, and work relationships. Let us continue to have confidence in his provision for us in the area of finances, as individuals and as a corporate body. Will you pray with me this month and ask the Lord to help our church meet our budget needs? We are so grateful for his work among us. Let us confidently and cheerfully give as the Lord works in our hearts. Thank you for your faithfulness, generosity, and the privilege to serve this body. I’m looking forward to all that the future holds for us.

Blessings to you and your family,

Pastor Jeremiah



Why your Praise Matters

“…Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”  James 5:16 

Authenticity is central. Authenticity is essential. Whether it is knowing what you have discovered or purchased is real gold, or you wonder if you have genuine tickets to the Broncos game, or whether the cash you pulled out of the bank is genuine, there are endless pursuits in our life that are established on the promise of authenticity.

We live in a society that treasures authenticity. Former child actor and leadership expert Lance Secretan says, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet — thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing — consistently.” Whether it is buying groceries at the store, clothes for our body, or parts for our car, we want to know that the brand on the package is going to match the product that we purchase. The same is true when we call ourselves Christians or gather as a church.

Your praise matters because it is one of the hallmarks of someone who has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ. Recently, Thom Rainer (Current president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) noted that millennials are seeking 3 things in their worship experience when the church gathers: meaningful words, quality worship service (things done well), and authenticity. Rainer notes that, “millennials can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.”

Personally, in my experience growing up in a multi-generational church and through experiences at every church I have attended, I believe that the traits of millennials are not unique to that generation. I imagine that everyone craves authenticity in worship. Authenticity in worship can only come when what comes out of our mouth (what we proclaim about God in song) matches what is happening in our life (a heart that has been truly redeemed by God).

When we declare praises to God and before others about his qualities and works, it must come from personal experience of cheerfulness brought about by God’s attributes and works at work in our own life— especially in a small town where everyone has the privilege of seeing the dirt in our lives. When we do not experience cheerfulness that is available by the hope of Christ— even through difficult times of grief, if we sing praises, then what is coming out of our mouth does not match what is going on in our life. And it is glaringly obvious to those around us.

This matters because praise is not only to God, but it is also before others. Praise before others also reveals that we are cheerful because of Him. Our praise literally points others to God. So if what we sing is not authentic to what is in our life, it is impossible to hide. What is in our head, mouth, heart and feet, if one of them is out of alignment, then we would say it is inauthentic. Or to state it another way, when someone sings from a heart that is not truly changed, they are lying to God and others. God always knows. The people around us usually do too.

Being inauthentic is one of the fastest ways to kill our faith and our church. When we pull cash out of the bank, and look at our $20 bill and do not see the hallmark signs of an authentic bill, we will not keep that bill. We will turn it back in and report it to the authorities because a crime has been committed. In the church, when hallmark signs of genuine faith are not observed (see Gal. 5:13-25), people will not come back. They see a crime that is committed: people trying to sell faith that is not genuine. Genuine faith results in praise to God and before people. That too is impossible to hide. You know it when you see it. You know it when you experience it in your life.

If you are having a hard time genuinely being cheerful, then take some time regularly to pause and reflect on the Gospel. You once were in trouble because of your sin. You had no way to make it right. But God rescued you through the blood of Jesus, and now you regularly and continually experience the perfect love of God who has promised us eternal life. Regularly reflect and give thanks for all that God has given to you. If we have life and breath today, that is more than we deserve, and that is more than enough to be cheerful. Let us sing praise.



Hearing and Listening

Recently, one of our kids was in timeout for the way he was treating his sister, so I asked him to go tell his sister sorry and to give her a hug and kiss.  He gladly got up from the couch, apparently relieved that he was once again free, and merely yelled into the bathroom door where she was in mommy’s arms and said, “Sorry Bekah” and darted off.

 

My boy’s actions did not demonstrate that he was listening to me. He heard me, but he was not listening. Yelling a flippant “sorry,” and darting off, was not what I was hoping for in my child rearing efforts.

 

So, once again, “Son, please go back and tell Bekah you are sorry for hurting her and give her a hug and kiss.” And he did. This time he was sincere and she hugged him back.

 

This scenario is a quick snapshot of how we can often be with God. We may hear God, but we don’t fully listen.

 

Sometimes we “do what God says” so we can get what we want. Does that make sense? That is what my son did with me. He did what I “asked” so that he could be free to play- not so that he could reconcile with his sister. He heard, but he didn’t really listen. 

 

This kind of attitude of manipulating God’s word was rampant in Saul’s life. Early on in 1 Samuel, after Saul was anointed King, God wanted to use Saul to pour out his wrath on the Amalekites, but Saul didn’t fully obey God’s instructions (1 Sam. 15:1-11).

 

Notice Saul’s words when Samuel called him on the carpet (vv. 15:20-21). (Paraphrased)

 

“Hey Sam, Bro! Long time no see. How are you? Listen, I know you were gonna ask, so I wanted to let you know that I did what God said. I killed everyone and everything. Isn’t that GREAT {insert mischievous grin and nodding head}!?”

 

Samuel probes Saul a little and Saul says,

 

“Well…except… uh.., we kept King Agag- and actually, the army wanted to keep some plunder, the best sheep and cattle, so we can sacrifice it to the Lord– Yeah, it was for God! Isn’t that great Samuel!?” {insert long pregnant pause here…and hesitant grin once again.]

 

Did you catch that? Just a couple of, shall we say, minor issues here.

 

Saul may have been saying one thing, but here is what Samuel actually saw running through Saul’s head when he listened to Saul (1 Sam 15:19):

 

“I didn’t kill King Agag, because, hey, wouldn’t he be a great trophy to bring back to my people so that they can know what a great and powerful King I am?” AND…”We kept some of the best sheep and cattle because I wanted to line my pockets and to let people see how rich and powerful I am.”

 

A careful reader would see that Saul’s problem was greed, people pleasing and pride. Greed is intense and selfish desire for something. Saul’s people pleasing and pride wanted the praise of the people. He wanted the glory.

 

The issue was what bank account Saul was depositing the glory and fame for the battle. Saul put the wealth in his account and not God’s. On the surface it appeared that Saul obeyed God. Probe a little deeper and you can see that what Saul did was intensely selfish and wicked. Zoom out a little and you can see that the consequences are calamitous.

 

For the rest of Saul’s life he lived in fear and uncertainty. Saul became one of the most insecure kings in the history of Israel. He spent much of his time and energy pursing his selfish desires- even to the expense of the lives of others. Thus, God was no longer with Saul.

 

Saul never repented. Essentially, he apologized. But he did not repent. For the rest of his life he lived in rebellion against God until Saul died. In Saul’s death, God finally and completely stripped away the kingdom and reassigned it to David.

 

So there are a couple of lessons we can learn from this.

 

First, what we do is no secret to God. Our actions reveal the intentions of our heart. Actions speak louder than words. And that makes sense because actions reveal who we really are.

 

Second, God desires complete obedience from his people. When we sign up to be a follower of Christ, we agree to direct deposit our resources, fame and glory- all the accolades of the work of our hands- into God’s account. Our life becomes a mission to build the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of {insert your name here}. Thus, if God wants us to do something, we better completely obey and, in the end, give Him the glory.

 

I think of something as simple as my boy whose goal was to be free to play again. His goal and my goal were vastly different. He was seeking his own interests. I was seeking the reconciliation between he and his sister. At first he heard me, but he wasn’t listening. His actions proved this. I was gracious and gave him one more try. Fortunately he listened.

 

We all need to check ourselves. Are we listening to God or are we just hearing him? Are we truly living to glorify God with how we use our time and resources or are we really building our own kingdom?

 

Let’s be people who fully obey God and give him the glory!


The Pastor’s Plea

 
Early last month we had the privilege of hearing Tim Hall preach Philippians 4:1-3.
 
Phil. 4:1   Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand
 
firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2   I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in
 
the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored
 
side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow
 
workers, whose names are in the book of life.
 
If the Apostle Paul had to take time and valuable space in his epistle to the church at Philippi to
 
address conflict, we should not be surprised that we too have the same struggles as the early
 
church. Conflict is a constant problem and a continual opportunity.
 
Those who call themselves followers of Christ are not marked by absence of conflict, but rather
 
in the manner in which they respond to conflict when it arises. People who are brought near to
 
God by the death and resurrection of Jesus respond to conflict in a way that is markedly
 
different than the world.
 
Conflict is never fun. In fact, when the human body perceives a threat, our intrinsic God-given
 
response is fight or flight. Yet, when the presence of conflict comes, we must not flee from our
 
brother or sister in Christ or attack emotionally, verbally, or physically. Our loved ones, friends
 
family or fellow church members are not our enemies. In Ephesians 6, Paul boldly declares our
 
Eph. 6:10   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the
 
whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12
 
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
 
authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual
 
forces of evil in the heavenly places.
 
When conflict comes, the most heroic and honorable act you can do is to have compassion for
 
the one who offended you. Compassion, not in a way that ignores or turns a blind eye to an
 
offense. But compassion that you see your brother or sister, family or friend as a person who,
 
like you, is also plagued by sin and is under spiritual attack and deception.
 
The kind of compassion that is heroic and honorable is one that goes to great lengths to use
 
such a conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, serve another, and grow to be like Christ. This
 
kind of response requires that we cast ourselves upon God’s love and reliance on His grace.
 
This heroic and honorable response is to pledge to respond to conflict according to the following
 
Glorify God – Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will
 
seek to please and honor God – by depending on His wisdom, power and love; by faithfully
 
obeying His commands; and by seeking to maintain a loving, merciful and forgiving attitude.
 
1 “Conflict: Our Constant Opportunity Field Guide,” Community Group Resources, accessed July
 
26, 2016, http://www.watermark.org/ministries/community/resources.
 
Get the log out of your own eye – Instead of attacking others or dwelling on their wrongs, we will
 
take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts – confessing our sins, asking God to help
 
us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict and seeking to repair any harm we have
 
Go and show your brother his fault – Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist or talking
 
about others behind their backs, we will choose to overlook minor offenses, or we will talk
 
directly and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook. When a conflict
 
with another Christian cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to
 
help us settle the matter in a biblical manner.
 
Go and be reconciled – Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to
 
wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation – forgiving others as God, for
 
Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our
 
I have a deep desire to see our church live as authentic followers of Christ, and I know you do
 
too. There is such great potential for what God could do through our Church body. We are
 
privileged with such abundant resources for God’s Kingdom. Yet, one of our most powerful tools
 
does not come through monetary investment. It comes through a risk to trust the Lord in how we
 
handle conflict— whether it is in our marriages, between friends, or fellow believers.
 
Before we can be fully useful to do outreach, we must be faithful to do “in-reach.” Ask God to
 
search your heart. Is there someone you are holding a grudge against? Are you irritated and
 
angry towards another who has hurt you? Prayerfully seek the Lord in how to react against the
 
sin within your own self and the sin that has come to you and offended you from others.
 
There will be no greater compelling and relevant church than the one that is experiencing
 
peace, joy and love when it gathers together to worship the one true God who has given us the
 
ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). When people on the outside see that kind of love that is
 
working on the inside of us and among those in our worship gathering, we will not be able to
 
build a facility that is large enough to contain those who want to have that same joy, hope and
 
love that is only known and experienced through Christ Jesus.
 
So, just as the Apostle Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche, I also entreat you, go and be
 
reconciled with your brother or sister. I plead with you to agree in the Lord.


Seeing Through the Smokescreens in our Hearts

Seeing Through The Smokescreens In Our Heart
 
1 Sam. 8:7- The LORD said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not
 
you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king.”
 
A smoke screen is a cloud of smoke created to conceal military operations. They have proven to
 
be a reliable means of protection to mask the movement or location of military units such as
 
infantry, tanks, aircraft or ships. In the spiritual life, God’s people have also used smoke screens
 
in less honorable ways.
 
In 1 Samuel chapter 8, we read about how Israel complained about Samuel's sons who ruled as
 
judges over them. The complaint was legitimate since Samuel's sons were not living according
 
to the Covenant. They were ripping people off by unjustly accepting bribes instead of protecting
 
the freedom and welfare of God's people. This was a terrible situation for God’s people to be in.
 
The problem was not their complaint but the true pursuit of their heart. The elders of Israel used
 
the current problem as a smokescreen to hide the true intention of their heart. What they really
 
wanted was to be like the other nations. They weren't so concerned about justice and honoring
 
Yahweh and his Covenant. Israel reject God as her King. So God gave them what they thought
 
they wanted and in the long term it did not work out so well. They pursued idols instead of
 
God— the one true God who would not let them down.
 
As I think about that story, I cannot help but ask about how we function during times of need.
 
How about you and me? What is in our hearts? When we face obstacles do we hide the true
 
intentions of our heart? In other words, are we trying to manipulate God by presenting our
 
current problem to him so that we can get something else that we really want?
 
Discerning the intention of the heart is one of the most difficult tasks in the spiritual life. Often we
 
like to try and discern the hearts of others, but what about our own? Many times we might just
 
assume that our intentions are pure. But we might be surprised when we reflect more deeply
 
into the motives of our heart.
 
This is something that I have struggled with on occasion. As I reflect back on my past before I
 
entered vocational ministry, there were many times when I wanted to quit my job and thrust
 
myself into full time vocational ministry. I could tell God, “Nursing stresses me out. I don’t like
 
seeing people sick all the time. I makes me afraid.” I could also tell God, “I should be in ministry.
 
That’s where my gifts are. There are churches that need pastors. I can fill that need.” However,
 
at the time when I struggled with those feelings, it would have been premature to manipulate my
 
circumstance in order to get what I really wanted. I could have justified it over and over in my
 
mind instead of waiting on the Lord to provide the right season and place.
 
Or, there was another time when I was searching for a vehicle. I needed a vehicle for work.
 
There were plenty of opportunities to buy something that wasn't practical for me or my family.
 
While the need for a vehicle was real, it would have been easy to overspend for something that
 
we couldn’t truly afford.
 
In moments like these, when we tell God that, "I need this….[fill in the blank],” it is difficult to
 
discern the true intention of the heart.
 
If we want to live authentic spiritual lives before Christ, then we need to be honest before God
 
about our intentions. God knows if we are seeking to do what is right or if our hearts are turned
 
away from him. Often times, the most spiritual thing is to endure suffering in the midst of
 
adversity and to wait for God to provide. When we try to take actions into our own hands, we
 
can make our suffering worse in the long run.
 
However, if we wait on the Lord, he will provide for us. In my desire to enter full time ministry, I
 
waited on the Lord for the right time and place. I chose to do this, and he was faithful and
 
brought our family to Holyoke. He provided in the right time. With my vehicle that I reflected
 
back on, I remember how I prayed, and after looking at hundreds and hundreds of vehicles
 
online, and test driving several, I finally found a great vehicle at a super low price that was in
 
excellent condition. And I didn't have to take out a loan. It was paid in cash, and I had money
 
left over. God provided!
 
Where are you struggling to trust God's provision? Will you wait patiently instead of trying to
 
manipulate your circumstances? God knows the "smokescreens" of our heart. Let’s be patient
 
and wait on God during our times of need.
 
Blessings to you,
 
Pastor Jeremiah