We have finished our series of messages on the blessings that come with taking God seriously. And as I reflect on the many blessings that God has poured out on us as followers of Jesus; I wonder if we would be content if God took our needs as seriously, as we take His word? You might say "I do take God's word seriously!". But in the final analysis it is not what you think, it is what you do. James tells us if the works do not follow your statement of faith, then your faith is dead.
We are now two full months into the new year and one of the most controversial political years in my remembrance. What a firestorm of differing opinions; what fear and hatred displayed on a regular basis! Even among those who call themselves Christians I see such angst about the actions of our new president. But really is this something new?
When Jesus walked this earth it was also a very turbulent time politically and socially, yet Jesus was focused on the most important issue in our lives. That issue is where are you going to spend eternity? Jesus defied the religious and even sometimes the social norms of His day in order to reach us with the good news. Of course that good news is that He is the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to the Father. We may differ in our opinions on social policies or political parties but we can agree that the Lord Jesus is the answer to our souls greatest need.
There may be some difficult times ahead for all of us as Americans, only God knows how all this unrest is going to get sorted out. Yet we can defy the fear, anger, and uncertainty by remembering what the Disciples learned out on the Sea of Galilee. When the storms of life rock your boat and you think you are not going to make it, remember who is in the boat with you. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have trusted Jesus as your sin bearer, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. God is with you, God is in you, and He has promised to never leave you.
Have you ever heard, (or thought to yourself, even though we don't want to admit it), "What are they doing here?" This week we have started a new series of messages from the gospel of Mark that are entitled "Defiance: Challenging the Norm". Jesus defied the religious norm of His day without being mean or difficult. In fact He gave us a roadmap for how we, who are Jesus followers, should interact with the people we have in our circle of influence.
Jesus drew crowds of the wrong kind of people, at least to the religious crowd of His day, they were a bunch of "tax collectors and sinners". Mark goes as far as to say a great many of the people who followed Jesus around were these same people. The Pharisees raised the question, "Why does your Master eat with that kind of people?" The implication was that if Jesus was a good Jew He would not associate with those people.
Here we are in 2017, and the social atmosphere in our country has become so filled with bigotry, hatred, and self righteousness. It reminds me of the saying, "as much as things change, they stay the same". The one place that people of any color, race, station, or reputation should be met with love, is in the community of Jesus followers, in the church. Jesus showed us how to love people without compromising our moral or Christian values, He demonstrated His mission to seek and save those who are lost.
We cannot isolate ourselves in Christianized communities, who are uncomfortable around the very people who need to hear the good news, that Jesus can set them free, give them a better life, and ultimately give them a forever relationship with Him. To Jesus everyone was welcome to, "Come to Him", they didn't have to clean up, get their life straight first, before beginning to follow. We as churches should have the same policy. May God open our eyes to see the hurting and broken around us.
What good is an app that does not work? Everything these days seems to run on an application program. Our phones have become more than just a device to talk to someone else, they can guide you to a destination, remind you of appointments, track your fitness, or lack of it, and connect us to the world wide web. But how irritating is it when your app does not meet your expectation? What good is it to have an app for that, if the app only promises great things but does not deliver?
James, the step brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter to the churches that just hearing the truth, and not applying what you have heard, renders your faith, your religion, useless. The truth of the Word of God, that we hear taught or preached every Sunday, must go further than just causing us to agree we need to do something about our behavior. The application makes all the difference!
James goes on to say that if we simply hear the truth and do nothing to apply the truth, we are deceiving ourselves, thinking that God is okay with that. We don't get credit for just showing up and participating. If we want to change the world, make a difference, we as Jesus followers must look intently into the Word, using it as a mirror to expose the flaws in our lives, and then do something about what we see. We can't see what a mess we are and walk away and say, "I guess that is as good as it gets". You don't do that with your personal appearance and we all should not do that with our spiritual lives: there is too much at stake.
The Bible is full of, "life apps", and we as Jesus followers have access to them through the help of the Holy Spirit. But just to know that they are there, or to know what they are is not enough, the value is in the application of the truth. So I will challenge all of us as we attend church this week to download the truth and install it in our lives.
Unapplied truth is like unapplied paint. It doesn't do anybody any good. The value is in the application. (Lane Jones)
I was asked recently how I could believe that President Trump was God's choice for America. The answer I gave was that I could, because I accepted President Obama as God's choice for America, even though I did not vote for him twice. As a Jesus follower I believe that God is a sovereign God, and therefore, what He allows will work into His plan for our country. I am not so arrogant to think that I could, or ever need to, explain what God does or allows. What I do have faith in is that God is always good, there is no darkness in Him at all.
As we have been exploring the idea of, "Being Still" before the Lord in order to know that He is God, this years election has been interesting. First of all I believe we all need to take a collective deep breath, calm down, and get some perspective. Our founding fathers, being guided by God set up a form of government that has served us well over the past two centuries. They did not want a tyrant to be able to force his will on the people of this country the way the Kings of England did. They wanted to keep this country from a state run religion, forcing everyone to worship God as the government dictated. So no matter how you feel about the executive orders signed into action in recent days we see that the balance of power is at work. God has not been shocked by the decisions on either side of the issues, there has been no time that God has said, " Wow I didn't see that coming!". So there is no reason for anyone to run around like, Chicken Little, afraid that the sky is falling down. Those of us who know God can stand back and see that God is still able to move the right hearts to do what is right for our nation.
Being still allows us to hear the voice of God, but as Elijah found out, God does not always speak through mighty miracles, or great demonstrations of power, He most of the time speaks in a quiet whisper. As we navigate the choppy waters of our current circumstances we need to remember that the everyday choices we make have a far greater impact on our lives, than the man, or woman, who might be in the oval office. We must be looking for guidance from God, knowing that He is constantly speaking in that whisper to our souls. If we look for guidance in an earth shaking circumstance, or a revelation that blows us away, or a blindingly bright sign that we can't miss, we might miss the gentle guiding voice of God saying, "Don't go that way, or choose this course of action, or even be still and see what I can do."
We cannot allow the noise of the negative, critical, even mean spirited voices out there drown out the still small voice of God. We cannot allow the actions of others, who would try to put fear in our hearts, to dictate what we do, to stand up for what is right. And we cannot allow the noise of those who disagree with us to make us feel as though we are all alone. Just as God told Elijah that He had His faithful 7,000 who had not bowed down to the god of their age, each time we attend the church of our choice, fellowshipping with each other, we are reminded that we are not alone.
Be still before the Lord and allow Him to speak to your heart this week, let Him focus you on the things that are important, let Him wrap you up in His presence, and know that He is GOD!
In a few days our country will have a change of leadership. Many have expressed fears of what that means for them and their particular subgroup of our society. There will be all kinds of hate speech coming from those who want to stir up the fear, just as there was eight years ago when President Obama took office. However as a Follower of Jesus Christ, no matter who is in the Whitehouse the Biblical directive is the same. Paul told Titus to remind the people of his time to be subject to their rulers and authorities, understanding that as Paul wrote this the ruler was Nero. Our responsibility is to pray for our leaders, at every level of government, that they would be guided by God to make the right decisions. In Proverbs Solomon said, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases." So we pray that President Trump will be directed by God to make the right decisions for our country, and that the Congress will do the same.
This week we started a new series of messages, on being still before the Lord. With the holidays having past, with all of the hustle and bustle that goes along with them, we need to take a deep breath, still ourselves and be reminded of who it is we serve. In Psalm 46 the psalmist reminds us that our God is our refuge and strength. There is no unknown to God, He is never been taken unawares by any event in our lives. He has already seen the future, seen the trouble that lurks around the corner. He has seen it and already He has a remedy for what you will be facing. In 2 Chronicles it says, "For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." It is as though our Heavenly Father is on the edge of His seat waiting to help us through our difficulties. In Psalm 46:10, we are encouraged to be still and know that He is God, know that He is our God, and He will be exalted in our world, in our nation, and in our lives.
So as we face this new year, we can face it not with fear but with confidence in our God's proven record, and His amazing love. We are challenged to still our minds, our bodies, and connect with the One who has everything in control. May God bless our nation, our President, and each of you in this coming year.
As we launch into this new year, with all of it's expectations, hopes, and desires the question we usually ask is, "What do I need to do about me?" But maybe it is time for all of to ask the better question of, "What can I do for those around me?"
We examined this past Sunday the attitudes and commitments of the Magi who came from the East to worship the King of the Jews. As with many of the stories in the Bible we can identify with the characters involved, and the stories cause me to ask hard questions about myself and my relationship with God and also with others.
1.How passonately am I pursuing my relationship with the King of Kings?
The Magi were filled with great joy at seeing the light that led them to Jesus. They were drawn with an inner desire
to be close to the Savior, to discover who He was, and connect with Him. Are you seeking that same relationship
with Jesus? Are you filled with great joy, not only to go to church and be with God's people, but also daily to spend
time with Him?
2. When I do approach Him, am I humbly bowing before Him?
In the world's eyes, the Magi were as important as Jesus was, but they bowed down and worshipped Jesus. How
do we approach our Savior? Do we humbly acknowledge His lordship in our lives or do we come with our want list
demanding that He pay attention to us? The position of our bodies is not the important thing, (as I have gotten older
the whole bowing down physically has become more difficult), but it is the attitude of our heart that our Savior is
concerned about. Jesus is worthy of our worship and we must never forget that even though He loves us, and calls
us His friends we owe Him the respect that goes with Him being our God.
3. Do I make my gifts available to Him?
The Magi opened their gifts before Jesus. Are my gifts, talents, and abilities open to Jesus to use? We are the only
hands, feet, and wallets that God has on this earth. He has chosen to minister to the world through us, to relieve
the suffering of the people in our communities through us, and to bear the light to those in tthe darkness around us.
Jesus never asks for more than we have, He only asks us to release what we have to Him, so that He can make
what we have multiply into a miracle before our eyes. When we try to hold onto what we have, we only short-
4. Am I obedient to God's directions?
The Magi were obedient to the message from God to go home a different way. How flexable am I when it comes to
a different way of thinking about ministering to those around me? Through this series of messages I have been
challenged to adjust my thinking about Christmas, outreach, and what I can do for those around me. We have
asked the question, "What can I give the Lord of the universe?", this year. To answer that we have to change our
thinking, we have to open our eyes to the opportunities around us, and obey the leading of our internal GPS the
So I want to wish everyone a happy, prosperous, and blessed New Year. May God make our ways straight and light our paths with His wisdom and grace.
Christmas is here, and I hope that all of you have a blessed time with friends and family. But as we have explored the idea of how we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, it is my sincere desire that we all give Jesus what He wants for His birthday.
So what can you give the Lord of the universe? First of all you give Him yourself. This means if you have not accepted Him as your Savior, that you take that first step allowing Him to wash away your sin. But along with the acceptance of Jesus as your sin bearer, He wants you to allow Him to be your Lord, which means that you allow Him to call the shots in your life. At Elm Ridge we call it "being all in", we know that we can trust Jesus with our lives because of His great love for us, and His proven record, not only recorded in the Bible, but also we have witnessed the love and care of our God many, many times.
As believers, followers of Jesus, we care about what is on Jesus wish list not only in this time of year but also throughout the rest of the year. In the book of Matthew Jesus tells us what He wants. He wants us to feed the hungry, give refreshment to the thirsty, give shelter to those in need, clothe those who are in need, take care of the sick, and visit those in trouble.
The only way that we can fulfill the desire of our Lord is through His power with His resources. So as we celebrate with family and friends lets all pause and think about how we can be instruments used to bring a miracle into the lives of those around us and throughout the world.