The First Priority

These six things the Lord hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23

Love!

It is clear throughout the Bible that relationships matter to God. It has always been sin that damages relationships. Because sin separated humanity from God, Jesus died a horrible death so that all who believe in Him can have a relationship with God the Father. God is love, and the only foundation for healthy relationships is love. We all want to love and be loved, and in times of stress our relationships either suffer or grow stronger. This is true of the relationships that matter most to God – marriages, parents and children, the church. 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3

The Church

The Church is clearly seen by God as being one body of believers in close, loving relationship based on shared faith in Jesus. Unity and love in the body of Christ are exceptionally important to God.

We are living in times that are confusing and stressful in many ways. The challenges to our Christian faith are the same ones that God’s people and His Church have always faced. Technology and politics appear different with blogs and tweets, web sites and internet news, but there is really nothing new under the sun. We know that we are at war; the world hates God, His people and His Church.

God’s people should pray and even agonize over our responses to the issues but these issues should never cause division in God’s church. God doesn’t say the world will know we are Christians based on our political affiliations, but rather by the unity and love that we show towards each other. We would do well to look at how the Church has dealt with these issues in the past.

The First century

Scholars believe that Paul wrote the book of Romans during the early reign of Nero. In other words, Paul’s instruction for dealing with rulers was written while the church was living under a brutal tyrant and a Roman government that was incredibly cruel and unjust. Yet he tells us Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” Romans 13:1-2

Because governing authorities are not absolute authority, there is a limit and God’s people have often defied authority. Examples of that are: 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3)

Daniel (Daniel 6}

Peter (Acts 4:18-20)

As is often the case, sincere Christians will draw the line in different places. This is the case with education, sports, food choices and many other personal convictions. If these convictions cause “fights and quarrels among you” (James 4:1) could it be that Christ’s command to love has been forgotten and we “cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight”)? James 4:2.

1776

As Americans, we rightly place importance on the time of the American Revolution and the political solutions and laws that “guarantee” our freedoms. That historical period was also a time of testing for God’s people. The USA was birthed in deep questions of faith, liberty and personal responsibility amid enormous political turmoil. God’s people and the Church survived and even thrived under Roman persecution 2000 years ago, and they continued to endure throughout the history of our country. In the years leading up to and during the American Revolution there were pastors who supported the Revolution and there were those pastors who thought armed rebellion was not justified. Wealthy slaveholders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson promoted war for their country’s “liberty” all the while owning slaves themselves.

John Wesley (1703-1791), one of the giants of Christianity in America, lived and ministered to the Church during the time of the American Revolution. In 1777 (notice the date) he published a book titled Christian Perfection. The following is from that book:

“Do not even give a single thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Just because someone does not agree with everything you say does not mean they are sinning. Nor is this or that opinion essential to the work of God. Be patient with those who disagree with you. Do not condemn those who do not see things as you do, or who think it is their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or small.

O, beware of touchiness, of testiness, of an unwillingness to be corrected. Beware of being provoked to anger at the least criticism and avoiding those who do not accept your word.” 

2020

There is a great danger today that God’s people become so focused on extremely important political realities that we lose sight of the higher priorities of the Kingdom of God. Let’s learn from the example of those who have come before us; never minimizing the blood that has been shed for our freedom, democracy and way of life. For this our gratitude should continually be emphatically expressed. During this tumultuous moment of our nation’s history when we are tempted to allow our passions to color how we respond to brothers and sisters in Christ who may disagree with us, we must remind ourselves that God must ALWAYS come first!

The First Priority

Am I first a citizen of the United States who happens to be Christian?

Or

Am I first a citizen of the Kingdom of God who happens to be American?
 

How each of us answers this question is of the utmost importance to our souls.

  

 

Sunday’s Message-Let’s Talk About Priorities  


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Sin Exposed

 

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn

Many people were disappointed and surprised to see yet another Christian leader, Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife make the news because they acted like anything but Godly people. The head of one of the largest Christian universities in the world and his wife were exposed as hypocrites who have been privately mocking the holy God that we serve. These are just the latest in a long line of people used by God who have gone astray. The list goes back at least as far as King David. How can this happen? What were they thinking? What are we to think? 

Should we just show mercy and not talk about what they’ve done? God uses the story of King David as an example of the consequences of sin. His failures are recorded for the whole world to see. There are right conclusions to draw from these examples; there are also wrong ones.

Wrong conclusions

There are speed limits on nearly every road in the country. Sometimes we don’t understand them, and they may even seem arbitrary. Rational people realize that because drivers are often careless and reckless, limits must be imposed for everyone’s safety. Imagine that a child is a passenger in her parent’s car for years and nothing bad happens. One day while driving her father becomes insanely angry, ignores the speed limit, accelerates to a hundred miles an hour, fails to make a turn and the girl is seriously injured in a terrible traffic accident. As she thinks about all the pain and suffering she endures, she concludes that speed limits are no good. She will ignore them when it’s up to her because the accident proves they simply don’t work.

She fails to consider the accident is the result of ignoring the speed limit. Riding in the car was safe until then. This proves that speed limits are good and are there to protect us.

Imagine a child is growing up in a Christian home for years and nothing bad happens. One day her mother becomes overwhelmed, ignores God’s law about marriage, and leaves home to be with a man she met online. The child is trapped in the fallout of terrible divorce. As she contemplates all the pain and suffering she endures, she concludes that God’s laws are no good. She will ignore them when it’s up to her because her parents’ divorce proves they simply don’t work.

She fails to understand the adultery and divorce are the result of ignoring God’s laws. Life was good until then. This proves that His laws are good and are there to protect us.

The kind of conclusion we see in the second scenario is all-too-common – almost typical of people who have lived through the moral failings and hypocrisy of “Christian” parents or church leaders. You may know someone who has drawn this same conclusion.

Christians in the news

“Christian” leaders regularly make news headlines because of their moral failures. This often catches us by surprise. In the church of Jesus Christ such a thing should not happen. But people in positions of power and money often fall into sin. We should be no more surprised by those high-profile failures than the fact that all Christians face temptation and those with little or no power and money are often exposed as hypocrites as well.

The news outlets, Christians, and everybody else seems quick to give opinions when things like this happen. I will let the Bible speak to this as it has much to say about sin and its consequences – in the lives of all believers and specifically in the lives of leaders. It also addresses the responsibilities of leadership. 

The Bible speaks

  • 1 Peter 2:11-12 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
  • Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.  
  • James 3:1   My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 
  • Titus 1:6-9 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[b] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
  • Proverbs 30:7-9 “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
  • Luke 12:1-3 In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.

Right conclusions

The call to Repentance and Forgiveness

The exposure of sin is always painful, and it often reflects negatively on the church. However, sin must always be confronted. God is concerned with the salvation of souls, the purity of individuals and the holiness of His church. For holiness to occur we must each be confronted with our sinfulness, truly repent, and turn to God in humility.
 
  • Proverbs 28:1 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
  • 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

 

It is painful and disappointing when we face our sin and its consequences. But honest exposure and repentance is the only path to forgiveness and mercy. It should come as no surprise that people sin. The holiness of God is our standard and our goal. We should rejoice when sin is exposed.

God has not failed people. People have failed God and the consequences prove the rightness of God’s laws and His holiness.

God’s love, holiness, and mercy as well as His name will be exalted and glorified or dishonored and mocked by the actions of his people. As Pastor Alan has been warning us, we need to be ready for what comes next. The day of His return is closer today than it was yesterday. Keep watch; be ready. Keeping our relationship with Jesus fresh and vibrant by taking everything to Him, while pressing into knowing Him better is one of the best ways we can do just that. 


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What’s the Truth? Part 3

 

God wants His children to have nice things

“Christians should never say ‘I can’t,’ because the Bible teaches that we should say ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ To not step out shows a lack of faith. Look it up; it’s in the Book of Philippians in the Bible.”
 
The conversation began at church. The couple we’ve been following for the last two weeks in this column is approached by someone who sympathetically says, “I’ve noticed your car is really old; God wants His children to prosper and have nice things. You should go pick out a new car.”

 

By this time our couple now has several children, and as usually happens, money is tight. They are growing spiritually and as a family. When they explain that they won’t be able to make the payments they are told that the Bible teaches that they can afford whatever they want. Christians should never say “I can’t” but should stand on the “promises of God.”

Philippians 4:13 really does say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This verse is very appealing as a proof text. Anyone can pull this verse out of context and make preposterous claims. However, “All things” does not mean someone can flap their arms and fly or cure cancer with candy. This rich passage doesn’t promise that we can have everything we want. Rather it is a wonderful instruction on how to deal with all those things we find ourselves facing in a broken world. Every Christian will face joys and disappointments. Many times, things go the way we hope and many times they don’t.
 

I can do all things

Look at Philippians 4:13 in context:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

Let your [b]gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your[c] care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to [d]be abased, and I know how to [e]abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through [f]Christ who strengthens me.

How to have peace and contentment

Paul gives us a side by side comparison of exactly what things he is referring to. He talks about anxiety and peace in verse 6; he talks about difficult times and prosperous times as well as being hungry or full and having abundance or suffering need in verse 12.

Mixed throughout is a prescription for dealing properly with all things. Rejoice, verse 4; Be Gentle (unselfish and patient), verse 5; Pray and Be Thankful, verse 6; focus on and think about these things, verse 8; and do what God has taught us to do, verse 9.

The results are amazing! Verse 5 says whatever you are facing, the Lord is right here with you. Verse 7 states that God’s peace, so complete that it doesn’t even make sense in a broken world, will protect how we feel and how we think in every situation.

It does not mean that if we spend more money than we have, money will magically appear or if we eat a terrible diet, we will be healthy. There is no promise that we will have only easy times. We may have easy times to enjoy and we may have difficult things to face, but whatever things we end up dealing with, we can be content because Jesus provides the strength we need. The “things” that happen in life are where God meets us and gives us peace. Whether it’s pandemic, illness or health, financial problems or riches or any of the many situations that we deal with in life, it is important to have a solid theological foundation. This kind of foundation doesn’t happen instantly or haphazardly or by believing everything we hear but only by careful, prayerful study of God’s word.

 

True story – surprise!

So, how is our couple doing now in 2020?
 
I would say that Janice and I did

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

and are blessed beyond our wildest dreams.


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