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Heart Check for the Lord’s Table: Dependence

I will post some random thoughts this week to guide your thoughts and prayers as you prepare your heart for Holy Week and to come to the Lord’s Table. These thoughts are based loosely on the Model Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.

Give us today our daily bread.

groceriesThe short trip to the Lord’s Table is really a big reminder that everything we have and need is provided by the hand of God. Yet we sin mightily in our fear that we will not have what we need, or we confuse wants with needs. We get so focused on the thing we need or think we need that we forget God provided it all and has made some promises to those who love, worship, and honor him with their lives and their stuff.

Consider Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Think about 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Yet, we still do the very thing Jesus cautioned us against in the Sermon on the Mount. We labor and toil and worry and in the process allow the very things HE provides to crowd HIM out of our mind and thoughts. In essence, the things He provides become the gods we worship.

He simply reminds us in the Model Prayer to trust Him for the things we need and not to worry about future needs. Just live life by faith one day at a time. “Lord, please give us our daily bread.” It is a simple prayer that says much about where we  are on the “trust” meter.

The value of coming to the Lord’s Table is that it gives us a quiet place to re-align our priorities, to remove idols of the heart, and to learn once again to trust Him for what we need. After all, isn’t it ironic that in the busyness of life, we trust Him for our eternal salvation and destiny, but forget to trust him for our daily needs? Spend a little time today evaluating your own “trust” meter. Have you allowed other little gods to creep in and steal your faith in Him for the daily needs of your life? If so, as he reveals those gods to you, confess that to Him and forsake them. Ask for forgiveness and in the quiet preparation for the Lord’s Table, let HIM regain his place as the rightful Lord of your life!

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Heart Check for the Lord’s Table: Kingdom

I will post some random thoughts this week to guide your thoughts and prayers as you prepare your heart for Holy Week and to come to the Lord’s Table. These thoughts are based loosely on the Model Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.

Thy Kingdom Come smallIs the central prayer and desire of your life the advance of the Kingdom of God? We are told to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Yet, for me, and perhaps for you, that focus is lost in the shuffle of life and the desire to grow our own kingdom. It is a simple command to pray a simple prayer, but it is profoundly difficult to keep it central to our faith journey.

It really boils down to two questions, one of perspective and the other of obedience.

1. Is the advance of God’s Kingdom a greater desire for you than the advance of your own kingdom?

While you may not feel selfish or greedy, a Christ follower has to evaluate that in contrast to how much time and energy and thought and focus they are giving to seeing God’s Kingdom move forward in their community, nation, and home. So, here is the real question. Which kingdom gets the most of  your attention?

2. Do you pray for the advance of God’s Kingdom and for His will to be accomplished in your home and community as perfectly as it is accomplished in heaven?

It begins as a matter of obedience, but as you obey, it refocuses your attention from your kingdom to His Kingdom. As you pray for it, you will begin to want it. When you want it, you will want to pray more for it.

As we turn our attention to the Lord’s Table this week, take a few minutes and evaluate your level of commitment both to praying for and working for the advance of God’s Kingdom. If it turns out you have been more focused on building your own kingdom, repent and obey. Ask God to give you a desire more for His will and plans than for your own and more for the building of His Kingdom than yours. The more you ask that, the more it will happen, and the more you will want.

Heart Check for the Lord’s Table

I will post some random thoughts this week to guide your thoughts and prayers as you prepare your heart for Holy Week and to come to the Lord’s Table. These thoughts are based loosely on the Model Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.Image

Is the name of the Father being hallowed (revered, lifted up, proclaimed, and honored) in the decisions you are making, the words you are using, and attitudes you are displaying to those around you?  A key verse to dwell on would be Isaiah 26:8.

“Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”

Can you honestly say that today? God, your name and your renown are more important than anything else in my life today. If not, begin your preparation for the Lord’s Table and Holy Week by confessing that and asking the Father to resume his rightful position in the center of your life. Literally, the first step toward God is to turn His direction. It will be the beginning of a great week for all of us.

A Church Practicing Grace and Truth re: Same Sex Marriage

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This the final post in a series about the same-sex marriage debate. You can read my core philosophy here; my understanding of Scripture here; and  practical application ideas here. This final post is to simply say what I plan to do and what I will attempt to lead our church to do.

1. We will continue to cling to the authority of the Bible on this matter, teaching as it comes up, that any sexual involvement outside of God’s plan for marriage between one man and one woman is contrary to Biblical teaching.

2. We will choose to be known as a church that loves all sinners and actively work against bullying of anyone, including but not limited to the LGBT population.

3. We will attempt to make every person welcome regardless of the sinful choices they make, recognizing that all of us are sinners by nature and by choice.

4. We will attempt to look past the outer scars and appearances of all those who attend our church with a heart to learn about God and His claims on their lives.

5. We will use the resources, facilities, manpower, and energy God has given our church to advocate for and strengthen Biblical marriages and families.

6. We will not use our resources, facilities, manpower, and energy to condone or bless any marriage that is contrary to God’s Word.

7. We will defend our 1st amendment rights to believe and teach the Bible without interference or intimidation by any government or non-governmental organization.

8. We will make every effort to build relationships and dialogue with any individual genuinely interested in hearing about and considering the claims of God upon their life.

9. We will choose to be known more by what we advocate than what we oppose.

Christian Grace in the Same-sex Marriage Debate

westboro3-body-4-8-13The foundation of my thinking and teaching about same-sex marriage is rooted in John 1:17 where it says “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” You can read a fuller explanation of that philosophy here. I am also a Biblicist so I am compelled to believe what the Bible teaches is right and wrong. You can read the “why?” of that here. The purpose of this post is to simply offer some practical application of what it looks like for a Christ follower to believe the Bible when it teaches homosexuality is a sin, yet extend grace to those who struggle with and have given into same-sex attraction. These are random thoughts but held together by what I believe is the spirit of Christ in the way He treated those who were sinful.

First, religious people have a long history of condemning those who “eat with sinners.” Jesus encountered that Himself in Mark 2:13-17. The biggest problem with both sides of this same-sex marriage debate is that there is far more “talking at,” “talking about,” and pontificating than there is “talking to.” It is a knife that cuts both ways, but I can only speak for me and “my kind.” Most of us don’t know a gay person or if we do, have not sat down and had a meaningful and non-confrontational conversation with them. There is so much fear on both sides that there is rarely a conversation. Christ followers could extend a lot of grace by just listening without condemning. There is no reason to waffle on your conviction but you don’t have to agree on everything to have a civil conversation.  There are so few of those who identify themselves as gay sitting in our evangelical churches, we are going to have to go to them if we want to have that conversation. A friend and former secretary did that by volunteering with a local HIV/AIDS support group. Grace will build meaningful life-giving relationships.

Another key “grace moment” could be when believers quit referring to the gay population as though they were all just alike. There are some arrogant, overbearing, obnoxious gay activists. There are also some arrogant, overbearing, obnoxious evangelical believers. Neither really represents the true colors of the vast majority of those on both sides of this issue. I have no interest in a conversation with anyone who is that way, because arrogance is never a foundation for understanding. Yet, there are millions of people on both sides of this issue that are neither arrogant, obnoxious, nor overbearing. Yet, due to stereotyping on both sides of the issue, they never sit down with someone of the opposite thought and have a meaningful conversation. Grace will see the individual and not the movement.

Closely akin to that is the way we label those who struggle with same-sex attractions. In church, we don’t routinely refer to people by their sin, but we tend to label the gay population. We highlight their particular sin as though it is worse than our sin. We say, “I have a gay friend, or a gay brother, or a gay boss.” I think we could go a long way toward extending grace and building relationships that would win people of all sinful backgrounds to Christ if we dropped some of the labels. I know those activists on both sides we discussed earlier tend to use those labels but I am talking about the rest of us. Lets just try to not label people’s sin. Let’s stand for Biblical truth, but let’s treat sinners with the kind of grace and respect that we would like to receive and that we did receive from Christ. I told a young friend recently to try to grasp that she did not have a gay sister. She has a sister. That sister is sinful and her sin is homosexuality. However that should not and cannot be the defining issue of their relationship. Grace will simply love sinful people.

Finally, don’t make judgments you are not qualified to make. You cannot decide if someone is a Christian or not. Why would you even want to? We live in a fallen world and have wicked, sinful hearts. Many of us fall back into sinful habits long after we taste the grace of redemption. We know and believe that salvation requires repentance of known sin when we come to Christ. There are millions of people who have done that and still struggle with same-sex attractions. Not all of them give into those attractions. Some of them do. Yet, there are people that pick that one sin out of a lineup and say you cannot go to heaven if you have that sin in your life. It goes back to thinking homosexuality is a worse sin than say adultery. Can a faithful believer fall into sin and have an affair? Is He still saved? Do you see the dilemma? The purpose of this paragraph is not to decide when and where repentance occurs or to decide if a gay sinner or straight sinner will make it to heaven. The purpose is to say IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS. Grace will let God be the judge.

I would like for this conversation to continue. What are some other practical ways grace can change the debate on same-sex marriage? I would love to hear from you.

What Does a Biblicist Think about Same-Sex Marriage

(Before you come unglued about this post, let me remind you it is one in a series and if you want to know what my foundational teaching is on the matter, you might want to read my earlier post on Grace and Truth.)

grace and truthWe live in a culture that views tolerance, at least the newly-defined tolerance, as the ultimate virtue. Formerly, tolerance meant that every one has a right to their own opinion. Now, it has come to mean that everyone’s opinion is right. That is a difficult culture for those of us who are Christ followers and consider the Bible our standard for truth. Some years ago, I came to the conclusion after much prayer and touching base with several other theories, that I believe the Bible as my standard of truth. When I say the Bible, I am not saying one line I pull out and use for my own ends, but that the totality of the Holy Scriptures inform my belief system. I further believe that any evangelical Christian should hold a similar position.

I settled on this “verbal, plenary” inspiration view of the Bible partially in response to the understanding I got from reading Josh McDowell’s journey toward faith in Christ. To oversimplify a bit, he said that in order to be truth, it has to be universal (true in Moscow, Russia, and Moscow, TN); constant (true in 1713 and in 2013); and objective (true in a victorian culture and a post-modern culture.) Knowing that  might help you understand why I decide what I believe about same-sex marriage not based on current political correctness, public opinion polls, or its popularity among my friends. I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus Christ and I make this decision based on what the Bible teaches me.

There is much writing by both atheists and liberal theologians that call into question the authority of the Bible. What they cannot do is call into question that it is my belief system and it informs my beliefs.

Having said that, I am opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage, based on these issues that the Bible raises.

In Genesis 2:24, the Bible says “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Lest you dismiss this as “old covenant,” let me remind you Jesus quoted that in Mark 10:6-9. It appears that even though many Bible era cultures had some gay population, early spiritual leaders as led by the Holy Spirit, showed no inclination to allow them to marry. In fact, some of the earliest writings of Scripture (Leviticus 18:22-30, for instance) made it clear homosexuality was a sin. Marriage has a clear purpose, one of which was procreation, which is necessarily limited by the marriage of two males or two females.

Additionally, in the fifth commandment (found in Exodus 20), we are told to honor our father and mother. The indication is that in the foundational law for his people, God’s desire was that every little boy and little girl have a relationship with mother and father. Some of the same mental health professionals that have lined up on behalf of same-sex marriage have long contended that a great deal of the mental pathology in our world is related to failed relationships with the parent of the opposite sex. Honestly, I am more concerned about little ones being deprived of a mom or dad than I am about procreation.

Another concern raised in the Bible is Romans 1:18-32, which calls homosexuality both perversion and unnatural, and indicates it is far down the evolutionary scale of sin. The apostle, Paul, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit spoke of homosexuality being the end result of God giving sinful people free reign to go as far as they wanted to go. Multiple times in this passage, he said God gave them over to a depraved mind. I am not condemning anyone, but simply saying I believe the Bible and the Bibles says this is sin.

Finally, I am opposed to same-sex marriage because in Ephesians 5:25-32, Paul tells us the Christian marriage is a mysterious picture of how Christ relates to the church. As much as we want everyone to like us, I think we make a huge mistake when we try to redraw a picture God has already drawn and throw away 5,000 years of cultural history and Biblical understanding in the name of enlightenment.

There are dozens of other passages, both old and new Testament, that speak to this issue. The purpose of this writing is not to do an exhaustive study but in general terms, to present the reason for my opinion on the matter and the reason I am leading my church in the way I am.

In the next post, I will get beyond the truth of this post and deal with some really tough questions about how we show grace in this situation. After all, the Bible doesn’t just tell us what is wrong, it informs us on how to do things right. Thanks for thinking with me.

Grace and Truth in Same-sex Marriage

images-6This week, the Supreme Court took up two cases involving same-sex marriage and the social media world went berserk. Christ followers and non-believers alike defined their positions on a very complex subject with tweets of 140 characters and a profile image. Friends were dropped and added based on whether you had an “equal” sign on your page or not. The traditional media joined social media in declaring those who believe in marriage only between one man and one woman as bigots and conservative churches and pastors as neanderthals. I have some thoughts on the subject. Feel free to get mad, de-friend, or do whatever you must. I will not waste a lot of time defending these thoughts. They are my thoughts and in spite of the politically correct world in which we live, for today, I can still think and say what I want to think and say. So, here goes….

  1. I believe the Bible clearly declares homosexuality to be sin. It is not the worst sin, nor the unpardonable sin, or even a particularly “icky” sin. But, if you consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus Christ and that the manual of your faith is the Bible, you cannot deny that homosexuality is therein declared to be sin. The book of Romans says it is “unnatural.”
  2. Because God’s word calls it sin, I cannot call it otherwise even if the Supreme Court, public opinion, and the law all line up against me.
  3. I believe there are Christian men and women who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. Those of my conservative friends who summarily declare that no gay person can be a christian set themselves above God and  limit God’s grace. All my life, I have struggled, failed, and rebounded from any number of sins. If God loves me and still calls me His child under those conditions, who am I to opine that “their sin” is outside the grace of God while mine is not. (Yes, I know the Bible says men who have sex with men will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but you might want to check out who else is on that list and read it in context. I Corinthians 6:9-10)
  4. I believe the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and should last a lifetime.
  5. I believe it is not only possible, but necessary for the church to speak with a clear voice on this matter. According to John the Baptist, Jesus came preaching grace and truth. Unfortunately the church has decided we have to pick a side…to be people of grace who decide to go with the world and say it is not sin or people of truth and condemn those who struggle with this sin. Jesus would do neither. He would boldly declare the truth and he would love and welcome the struggler into his most inner of circles.

To be sure, the debate will be heated and vitriolic in the days to come and I am but one small voice, but I will be doing all I can to foster honest conversation among Christ followers and non-believers about grace and  truth.