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Who Is My Neighbor? 4-23-18

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When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). This command leads us to ask a couple of foundational questions: Who are my neighbors? And, How am I to love him? As we explore God’s Word together, we discover that God desires to fill us with His love, so that, we can be a conduit of His love to all others.

There is an encounter with Christ that occurred about six months before His death and resurrection with a lawyer that helps us answer these questions. The account is found in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The lawyer wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers the question with a question. Basically, Jesus asks, “What do you think?” The lawyer answers correctly by answering, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). However, a problem arises when the lawyer desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor” (Lk 10:29)?

Although the lawyer knew the Old Testament Law, he had yet to discover that no one can keep this commandment without God’s love in his heart. The lawyer had given a good answer, but he would not apply it personally. The lawyer ought to have answered, “How can I do this? I am unable and need help.” However, he did not admit his own lack of love for both God and others. The result, instead of being justified by submitting to God and seeking His mercy (see: Luke 18:9-14), he tried to justify himself. We find the lawyer embarrassed. He had asked a question he had already known the answer to, so he asks another one. He asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Jews in Jesus’ day split hairs over this question by excluding anyone who was not a Jew (i.e., Gentiles and Samaritans) from their neighbor list. The lawyer believed he had presented himself a loophole. This thought of his was a fatal move in the debate. Jesus is about to share a story that will answer the lawyer’s evasive question. Any debater knows the trick of asking, “Define your terms!” “Who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is direct and crystal clear.

The story Jesus shares has become known as The Story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-35). Jesus starts the parable out by introducing “a man” (Lk 10:30). Jesus doesn’t give away the identity of the man. We don’t know his tribe, race, social status, or language. We apparently don’t need to know any of that! Jesus left all that information out. Just “a man” that’s all we know. It could have been anybody who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. To be honest, if we begin asking about the man’s background and all of that, we start ruining the whole story. Jesus wants to leave the subject right there. All we know is that this man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Jesus fixed it so that all we have to deal with is the man’s suffering. We don’t know how well educated he was or how poor he was. We don’t know what family he came from or what side of town he lived on. Barely breathing, bloody, and near death, the “man” was left to die.

We discover that a Levite and a Rabbi, the religious elite, walk by and offer no help. They simply make excuses and continue on their journey. Then, we discover:  “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (Lk 10:33). By using a Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the lawyer. It was Jewish religious professionals, experts of the Law, who had ignored this man. It was a Samaritan who demonstrated love by helping him.

We often look at “neighbors” as people who are much like we are; we have mutual acceptance and respect, affinity. Jesus turns this thought on its ear. He broadens the common understanding of neighbor. He describes love for God as measured by love for others, including those not considered like us or even likable. In short, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question: everyone is our neighbor.

God calls us to love Him and our neighbors (everyone else). As we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit, then love with our Lord’s love and seek to see people rescued as we have been rescued. Let us encourage one another to this end.

The Second Coming 4-16-18

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I read an account recently involving President Dwight Eisenhower. He was vacationing in Denver, Colorado and read in the local paper about a six-year-old boy, named Paul, living in the area that had a life-threatening illness. In the article, it was noted that he desired to meet the president of the United States. Spontaneously, in a gracious gesture, he decided to answer the boy’s request. Unannounced Eisenhower arrived at the boy’s house. The boy’s father, Dale Haley, answered the door. Can you imagine being the one to open the door and see standing there the president? For some time the whole neighborhood excitedly talked about this remarkable visit. However, one remembered the meeting with personal regret. Dale, the boy’s father, was still beating himself up on being dressed in old worn-out clothes and unshaven. Of course, the president had shown up unannounced, so Dale was unprepared.

Over three hundred times the New Testament addresses another unexpected arrival. Not of a U.S. President, but of the King of Kings and Lord of the universe. Of course, we are speaking of the return of Christ – His second coming. The good news is that although Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected, we can be prepared. The simple truth is that much of what has been written in the New Testament was written to prepare people for His return. John encourages Christ-followers to “abide in Christ, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (1 Jn 2:28).

In our preparation, we need to be cautious not to become obsessed with the second coming and fall into speculative theology. However, we must not avoid the reality of Christ return. We ought to stay focused on the essentials that all Christians, in all places, at all times, have believed about the return of Christ. It is essential to keep the main thing the main thing by knowing God and making Him known.

The nature of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ’s return will be personal (Mt 16:27; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:16). Christ’s return will be visible. Having disappeared from sight at His ascension, He will reappear at His return (1 Tim 6:14; 1 Jn 3:3). Christ’s return will be glorious and powerful (Mt 24:30-31). Christ came as a humble servant; He will return as triumphant King. Christ’s return is certain to happen, but uncertain when it will happen (Mt 24-25).

The purpose of Christ’s return is clearly laid out in Scripture. Christ will be acknowledged as Lord and King (Rev 1:7; Ps 2:12; Is 40:5; Tit 2:13). The church of Christ will be glorified and transformed (2 Thess 1:10; Col 3:1 Col 3:3). Christ will judge the living and the dead (Jn 5:22, 27; Mt 25:31-33). The second coming is the coming of the Righteous Judge. Christ will make all things new (Rom 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:35-53; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev 21:1).

In light of all we understand biblically about the return of Christ a question rises to the surface: How do we prepare for Christ’s coming? Whenever Christ or the apostles taught on the second coming, they did so to answer the question of how we ought to live today. Our anticipation of Christ’s return encourages us to pursue holiness and godliness (1 Jn 3:3; Heb 10:24-25). Our anticipation of Christ’s return moves us to faithful service (Mt 24:45-25:30). Our anticipation of Christ’s return shapes our understanding and engagement in the mission of the church (Mt 28:18-20). Our anticipation of Christ’s return inspires us to endure hardship patiently. This inspiration is in view as James writes to fellow believers undergoing great persecution, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8). Anticipating Christ’s return fills us with joyful confidence (Tit 2:13; 1 Jn 2:28). We discover in Scripture that eager anticipation of the return of Christ is a mark of vital Christianity (Phil 3:20; tit 2:13; Jude 21). Stephen Seamands suggest that the reason many believers today do not anticipate the return of Christ is that, “We just don’t miss Him enough, long to be with Him enough or desire enough that He be with us.” He declares in response, “we need to repent and pray, imploring Jesus to forgive us and to increase our love-passion for Him.”

Although the time of Christ’s coming is unknown to us, we know He is coming. We don’t need to be unprepared. As we know Him and make Him known we live prepared lives ready and waiting for His return.

It is an honor to serve Christ with each of you. I hope all of us can pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” Together let’s anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return. Let us encourage one another to “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Christ Exalted 4-10-18

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A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote, “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us up into an ascension life.” The New Testament Writers believed the ascension of Christ was extremely important and wrote and preached of it often. It is fascinating that the Old Testament verse quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than any other is a verse directly related to it. “TheLord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psa 110:1). This verse is referred to in the New Testament a total of twenty-three times.

We read the account of Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:6-11. We are told: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). However, the implications of Christ’s ascension are much broader than this account. First and Foremost, the New Testament writers wanted us to understand that Christ had not only been raised from the dead (quite remarkable in and of itself), but He has also been exalted to God’s right hand and enthroned as King. Here is the point as Stephen Seamands explains it: “For Jesus is not only risen but reigning, not only alive but sovereign, not only central but supreme.” Therefore, when we fail to exalt Christ as reigning King, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne.

Not only has Christ been exalted, but also Christ followers have been raised to new life in Him. We read over and over again in the New Testament that those who have professed faith in Christ and confessed Jesus as Lord, are joined to Christ. The Apostle Paul repeatedly declared, now they are “in Christ.” Meaning that the major movements in Christ’s life are now movements we are now caught up in too. This truth leads us to the second reason why the New Testament writers kept coming back to Psalm 110:1. They understood that not only was Jesus raised as exalted King but since believers are now joined to Him, they too were destined and invited to sit with Him on the throne. In the revelation given to John we read: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).  The tragic reality is that many Christians do not realize this, never learning to live in Christ from the seated-on-the-throne position that has been granted them in Christ. Now there is no doubt that believers can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” But, the simple truth is, if we are going to be any earthly good we must be heavenly minded.

Again look at Luke’s words: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). We are to understand the cloud as reminiscent of the cloud that descended upon the tabernacle constructed by Moses and the people in the wilderness (Ex 40:34) and the temple built by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11). With the cloud came the glory or manifest presence of God. To enter it was to be in the immediate presence of the Lord. Christ ascending into heaven means that Christ was brought back to the place of the fullness of God’s presence. When He became incarnate, the eternal Son voluntarily laid that aside (Phil 2:5-11) and limited Himself to and awareness and experience of God’s presence through human faculties and consciousness. The ascension means that the period of self-limitation had come to an end.

The fact that Christ ascended into heaven also means that Jesus is no longer limited by time and space, as He was during His earthly life when He could only be in one place at one time. N.T. Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same spatial continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creation. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the One who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. One of the practical realities of this is that Jesus is fully accessible, without needing to travel to a particular spot on earth to find Him. Jesus is always with us in actual presence. As Stephen Seamonds explains: “because we are with Him in heaven and He is with us on earth, that means we can live every moment of our lives in the holy of holies presence of God. This reality led St. Patrick to pray: “Christ be with me, within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” Because Christ is in heaven and no longer on earth, He can bring redemption to all places at all times. Since Jesus is “the one who ascended,” He can “fill the entire universe with Himself.” This truth led Paul to proclaim: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10)

Not only has Christ been exalted and His followers raised to new life in Him, but also believers have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. The ascended Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33). Through the Spirit, both in our personal lives and as communities of faith, we are given power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), to carry out Christ’s mission (Jn 20:21-22), to live victoriously over sin (Rom 8:9; Gal 5:16-25), to overcome weakness (Rom 8:26), to forgive our enemies (Acts 7:55-60), to now we are God’s beloved (Rom 1:7; 8:15-16) to be bold ad courageous (Acts 4:8-13, 29-31), to use our spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11), to exercise spiritual authority in Christ (Acts 16:18), to persevere in prayer (Eph 6:18), to patiently endure trials and suffering.

All of this is why A. B. Simpson proclaimed: “Christ ascended to the right hand of God that He might lift us into an ascension life. Let’s encourage one another to rightly acknowledge and live in this precious reality. It is a joy to do life with each of you and be united together with Christ in such a significant way.

The Cross Of Christ 3-26-18

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Salvador Dali’s painting Christ of St. John of the Cross is a staggering depiction of the crucifixion of our Lord. The picture depicts Jesus holding back the darkness surrounding Him. In the foreground, the light streaming from the cross brightens the earth, sky, and sea. The whole world is viewed from the cross. Dali wanted the viewer to grasp the crucifixion from this perspective. The gospel truth is that life ought to be considered from the vantage point of the cross because the cross is at the very heart of the Gospel. It is the cross of Christ that offers us staggering hope.

During the time of Christ, the cross was far from being a religious symbol. There is no doubt that the cross was an intensely painful way to die, but it was the social shame associated with crucifixion that people dreaded most in Roman times. Crucifixion was deliberately designed to be revolting, vulgar, and obscene. David Seamonds notes: “Crux was a four letter word, not to be used in polite company. Cicero, one of Rome’s greatest philosophers, said that no respectable person should ever have to hear it spoken.” This perception of crucifixion is why Paul writes: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). In fact, the Christian use of the cross as a symbol did not begin until three centuries after Christ.

The surprising truth is that the cross, with all its scandal and horror, is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Even though it seemed peculiar and off-the-wall, they were convinced that is was Christ’s finished work on the cross that supremely demonstrated the power, wisdom, and love of God.

Most believers can connect the cross with the problem of sin. We understand that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. Paul proclaims: “Jesus was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Rom 4:25). But, how does Christ’s finished work on the cross undo the problem with sin? How or why does it provide the solution? The Christian scholar Jerome, who lived in the dawning of the fifth century, said that if you are going to understand the antidote, you must first understand the poison.

The Bible describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God’s law (1 John 3:4). It is also defined as disobedience or rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7), as well as independence from God. The original translation means to miss the mark of God’s holy standard of righteousness. Humanity sinfully lives in defiance of God, the Creature. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3). Here our deep-seated, hostility toward God is exposed. Our hatred is so intense we would kill God if we could. Seamonds notes, “In our determination to be autonomous and independent, to be our own gods, we would go so far as to get rid of God so we could take His place.” At the cross we do not see “sinners in the hands of an angry God” as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous eighteenth-century sermon, but “God in the hands of angry sinners.” When we look at the cross, we discover how determined we are and how horrifying sin is. Sin is not solely falling short of an established standard, but our desire to get rid of the One who established the standard in the first place.

The cross of Christ reveals that sin is too heinous and God takes sin too serious to simply ignore it or casually forgive and speak it away. Therefore, Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Peter proclaims, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The simple truth is that sin’s poison is so devastating that the only remedy was the death of God’s Son (John 3:16).

The cross does not only graphically reveal the horrific nature of sin, but it also reveals the incredible cost of what God has done for us. The prophet Isaiah foretold of how God would deal with our sin problem: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). God, due to His great love for every one of us, has chosen to provide a way for our deserved punishment for our sin to not fall on us, but on God Himself (Rom 6:23). For the believer, the cross tells us that God understands our suffering, for He took upon Himself at the cross all of our sins and all of our failures and all of our sufferings. Jesus has brought us the victory not by sheer might but by the power of suffering love. The cross of Christ is the supreme revelation of love. I’ve heard it said that forgiveness is free, but it certainly is not cheap. The staggering hope we have in Christ is found at the cross where He was willing to display His love by being the real antidote to the poison that is sin. Now that is staggering hope!

It is an honor to partner with Christ with each of you. Given the staggering hope we have in Christ, how can we not share this good news with others? Together God is going to use us to share His love and message throughout our region and to the ends of the earth.

Humanity & Divinity United 3-19-18

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Hope is an interesting word. We often use it with a tinge of pessimism: “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” However, biblical faith speaks of settled confidence in God and His promises. In a very real sense the incarnation, the act of Jesus, the Son of God, taking on human flesh, brought us dawning hope.

In the very first chapter of John’s Gospel, we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 12-14).

We discover that God the Son became human without ceasing to be divine. He became what He was not while remaining what He always was. In the fourth century, Athanasius expressed it in a way that has never been improved upon: “The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well…At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the Universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.”

This loving act of the incarnation allowed Christ to identify with us to the fullest. John declares that He “dwelt among us” (v. 14). Literally translated, the Greek states that He “pitched a tent” or “tabernacled” in our midst. Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrase reads that He “moved into our neighborhood.” Jesus made Himself vulnerable in His humanity and by entering directly into our own condition, littered with frustration and hurt, tasted our predicament and embraced our despair. As Stephen Seamonds suggests: “This means that God has not only “spoken” to us through His Son (Heb 1:2), He has also “listened” to us. He has shared in the fellowship of our sufferings and heard our cries.” Therefore, the answer to the common question, Does God really care?” has been answered through the incarnation with an emphatic “Yes.” This loving act has a practical implication. Since God has come to us in such a significant way to meet us where we are at, we in sharing Christ’s love and message can’t do it from afar. We must “move into the neighborhood” too! It is when we invest time and meet people where they are at that the gospel breaks through.

The loving act of the incarnation provides revelation at its clearest. How do we explain the existence of God? It is not enough to say that God exists in the same way we might say Canandaigua Lake exists or that a certain person exists because God is in and of Himself existence. All other realities exist through Him. The simple truth is that if the incarnation never occurred, we would be left simply explaining what God is not. As a result, if we are to know anything about God in any certainty He has to reveal it to us Himself. God must take the initiative to show Himself to us. God has done just that through His Son, Jesus Christ. John explained it this way: “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18). The apostle Paul explained it this way: “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Col 2:9). God does not merely desire to communicate with us, but to commune with us. He has made this possible through a face-to-face, person-to-person encounter with the living God. God so loved the world that He went beyond a simple text or post and came in person. This truth, in part, is why the church, Christ’s body, is called to partner with Him in reaching those far from Him, yet close to His heart. The truth of the gospel is most convincing when it is embodied in a person or a community of persons. When others see us live our lives in partnership with Christ, they are much more likely to believe.

The loving act of the incarnation provides redemption at its finest. God has been committed to making right what went horribly wrong in the Garden, where Adam betrayed God and chose to do life his own way apart from the Lord. Through the incarnation, God took the ultimate step in that commitment. He showed His love for humanity by becoming human. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “God has now shown us the high place human nature holds in creation, for He entered into it by genuinely becoming man.” Not only did God become man, but He did so, living in our fallen world, while remaining righteous (living rightly) and holy (totally pure). Because of Christ, we can be transformed. The word C. S. Lewis used for change is transposition, where a lower reality is actually drawn into a higher one and becomes a part of it. What Lewis is suggesting is that “Humanity, still remaining itself, is not merely counted as, but veritably drawn into, Deity.” William Placher, in his book Jesus the Savior, sums it up well: “When the word became flesh, what it means to be human changed for us – you, me the Opioid addict huddled on a street corner – because in one human being humanity was united with divinity. Now that is dawning hope!

I am thankful to do life with each of you sharing in the hope Christ’s incarnation has brought us as well as sharing His hope with the world around us. As God loved us enough to meet us where we are at, lets in His power, love others by doing the same as we share His love and message.

On Tithing 3-12-18

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When we boil it down, the key to life is to know Christ and put Him first in all things. The simple truth is that what we do with what we have reveals whether or not Christ is indeed first in our life. One of the best gauges to determine if we are doing this is our money or treasure.

Even before the nation of Israel God appointed a discipline called tithing to help us determine how we are doing at putting God first. If the tithe is an essential aspect of our life in Christ, then it is important to know what tithing is and why we ought to do so.

Some may use the term tithe to describe any giving to the Lord’s work. However, the term literally means 10%. Now since everything we have is the Lord’s we do not, in reality, give a tithe, but return it to the Lord.

Tithing is returning the first 10% of our income to God through His church. The Lord deserves our best. In Leviticus 27:30 we discover this explanation: “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” Imagine I gave you a $100 bill and asked for 10% back and allowed you to keep 90%. This actually is what God does for each of us. Therefore, tithing is not something the Lord wants from us, but for us.

Tithing is also giving God my first and best so He can bless the rest. We discover this wisdom from an ancient sage:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barn will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov 3:9-10).

Tithing is part of God’s plan to bless us. When we give Him from among our firstfruits, He uses the remaining portion to bless us, so that, we can be a blessing to others.

Once we understand what tithing is it is important to know why we do it. Tithing provides for God’s work through the church. Look at these words from Malachi: “Bring the full tithe into thestorehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Mal 3:10). Theologians for the past 2,000 years have understood the Old Testament references to “house of the Lord” or “storehouse” to be the New Testament church. The Local church is the hope of the world, because it stewards the love and message of Christ to the world. Since the church is the body of Christ, giving to her is giving to Christ and the continuation of His mission to reach those far from Him, but so close to His heart.

Tithing also teaches us to put God first. This is plainly explained in The Living Bible’s translation of Deuteronomy 14:23: “The purpose of the tithe is to teach you to always put God first in your lives.” We are to seek God above everything else. God uses tithing to teach us to put Him first.

Tithing builds my faith in God. It is interesting that here God invites us to test Him. In Malachi 3:10 we discover this challenge: “…put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” When I give my first and best to the Lord, he blesses the rest. These blessings are not always financial, but they can be. These blessing may also include healthy relationships, or his peace, or a place to serve and use your gifts. The possibilities are many, but the fact is blessed are those who tithe and their faith God builds.

Some baulk of the concept of tithing and say it doesn’t apply to those of us under the New Covenant. In reality, Christ affirmed the tithe (Matt 23:23).  Also, biblically we understand that Christ paid the price for our sins, but that this does not mean we ought not to live morally. In fact, in the New Testament, the bar of morality is drastically raised (adultery to lusting after someone; murder to thinking badly about another; tithing to how generous can I be with what I have above the tithe to honor God and advance His work in and through me).

Some frantically proclaim, “To tithe will take some major change in my life.” It most certainly will. Sacrifice is a major part of the Christian life. However, our sacrifices never outweigh God’s rich blessings (Matt 6:3316:25).

We discover as we seek life in Christ and put Him first in all things, not only is God honored, but we are truly blessed to bless others. Let’s take God up on His challenge and give Him our first-fruits. I can’t wait to hear the stories of God’s beautiful provisions and work in and through each of us.

Financial Freedom 3-5-18

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Real freedom is found only in Christ. It does not take long for a believer to discover the consequence of trying to straddle two world-views. In fact, I believe all of us have wanted to proceed up the ladder of Kingdom living while trying to advance up another ladder of our own making. Eventually, such an ascent will be quite painful. You can’t climb two ladders leaning in opposite directions without finding yourself doing a split and getting stuck.

There is no doubt that Jesus delivers. He brings freedom. But, often the freedom bestowed on us by Christ is received while being strapped by the things of this world. For instance, I can come to Christ and be liberated while bound by the suffocating grip of financial debt. The ancient sage rightly proclaimed: “The borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov 22:7). All of this might lead us to ask whether or not the spiritual freedom we believers experience in Christ impacts our temporal reality. The simple truth is that the freedom we have in Christ not only affects our eternity but our here and now.

In Matthew 6 we discover Jesus teaching on Kingdom perspective. Jesus warns that greed, materialism, and worry stem from misplaced worldly priorities. We discover that all of us have been given the ability to choose between two masters. We can either choose God or something else.

What is the “something else?” Jesus chooses money to represent the “something else.” He could have chosen anything we tend to serve – anything to which we bow our knee. But, He chose money. Why? He chose money because money buys things. The emphasis is on the pitfall of placing your faith in money over God.

Therefore, the Bible makes it clear that we cannot serve God and money. Jesus powerfully explained: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24). The word used for “serve,” in the original Greek, is the word for “slave” (douleuō). A slave can only have one true Lord or master. A slave is to give his master exclusive service. Jesus is making the point crystal clear that a disciple’s loyalties cannot be divided – that is, one is either a slave to God or money (“something else”).

So, does God hate money? Is money bad? The simple truth is that God does not hate money or designate it as bad. Money is morally neutral. By this, I mean money does not have the power to hurt or help apart from the decision of the one who possesses it. Paul instructs his young protégé, Timothy, that it is not money that is evil, but the love of it (1 Tim 6:10). The love of money is not necessarily the desire to have things, but finding one’s worth, security, and strength from money. Such an unhealthy love will drive us to make poor decisions.

As John Wesley explored God’s Word, he came to realize that biblically, a disciple of Christ ought to: “make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” The Bible actually lays out principles to assist us to live in financial freedom expressed through generous living. We are to serve God, not money. As we serve God, money serves us. Such a life is God’s desire for all of us.

Let’s walk in freedom together, as we trust the Lord to lead us from freedom to greater freedom in our daily living. No area straps Americans more than finances. As we partner with God, living by His financial principles, He will unleash us to live in financial freedom expressed in generous living.

Made New 2-26-18

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One of the rich blessings and promises of being in Christ is being made new. As we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we identify in a very real sense with His death and resurrection. Our old-self dies, and we are made new due to the finished work of Christ on the cross as well as the power of our resurrected Lord reigning in us.

The newness we experience in Christ is positionally immediate. We move from those not in Christ (in Adam) to those in Christ. However, practically the old-self is still in play this side of paradise, so to be radically made new in a day-to-day living sense we must partner with God, allowing His Spirit to do the work of making us more and more like Christ.

In the book of Ezekiel we find a prophet, Ezekiel, in approximately 571 BC announcing God’s judgment upon Judah, to allow them one last chance to repent. God provides this opportunity knowing the people will refuse to do so. The result of Judah’s disobedience is catastrophe and exile. However, in God’s great mercy He preserves a remnant that will be delivered and eventually returned to the promise land.

In this book ripe with doom and gloom we come upon this promise:

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

This promise is quite wonderful. God redefines His relationship with the remnant declaring that what they are really searching for is God Himself. This new relationship is marked by a “new spirit” and a “heart of flesh,” provided by the Lord, which enables faithful living previously impossible with a “heart of stone.”

There is a theological tension in Ezekiel between divine provision (11:19-20) and human endeavor (“make yourself a new heart and a new spirit,” 18:31). In the later they are challenged to repent and take responsibility for their own moral lives, thus the appeal to “make yourself a new heart and a new spirit.” The verse we have been examining (11:19-20) speaks of the Lord giving “a new heart” and “a new spirit” to the remnant. What we discover is a principle that is just as true for believers to today as it was to those in days of old. God calls us to partner with Him in this amazing work of making us new.

When we come to Christ, we are truly made new in our position or standing before God. We are His, and we share in the very righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). It is this new position that allows us to identify with the salvific work of Christ and partner with God’s Spirit to practically become and live out of our new position (Rom 12:1-2). This journey of newness is not a burden for the believer, but a blessing. God in Christ has already accepted us; therefore our journey of newness is one where we joyfully get to honor God while being blessed and being used by Him to bless others. Remember this encouraging promise given to us by Christ, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36), while “putting on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10).

Let us rejoice with one another that we have been made new in Christ while encouraging each of us to continue to partner with God in the richness of that renewal. This promise and partnership are at the heart of being Christ’s disciple who is actively making disciples. What a privilege it is to fellowship and be on mission with each of you.

The Blessed Life 2-19-18

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Over the years I have had many people come up to me and ask a variety of questions about God and faith. One of the more common questions asked of me is this, “How can I live a good (or blessed) life? Now I understand that this question is loaded with intent. Some are asking, “How can I get what I want from God?” Some are asking, “How can I get through life without trouble and heartache?” However, some genuinely want to know how to live in partnership with God and be blessed with a desire to bless others.

To be blessed means to protect, make holy, to favor. When we speak of God blessing us we are addressing his divine protection, His allowing us to partner with His Spirit as He makes us holy and Christ-like, as well as, finding favor with Him. One way I know I am blessed is because I am forgiven. The ancient sage David had this to say:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psa 32:1-2).

In short, blessed are the forgiven.

As we explore God’s Word, we discover that only the forgiven are truly blessed. The Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans 4:7-8 explaining that the forgiveness David spoke of was in anticipation of the sacrifice of Christ as the ultimate basis for our forgiveness. Paul will later write in response to Christ’s salvific work:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

Believers through faith in Christ has been justified and declared righteous by God, once and for all. The result is that the Christian does not live under the fear of judgment but has peace with God, which is more than a mere feeling, but an actual state of being – a reality. Not that is a blessed life.

Notice that David in Psalm 32 speaks of “deceit.” This deceit, which David addresses, is the deceiving of oneself about his sins. This deception can take the posture of one who does not believe in sin or at least that his sin is really that big a deal. Sin is a big enough deal for God to leave His heaven and come to die on a cross to cancel its power over those who choose to believe in Him. Yes! It is that big a deal.

David’s mentioning of a persons “spirit” is meant to emphasize that mere words do not bring forgiveness, but words partnered with a contrite heart (right intentions) do. Therefore, the words we use are not nearly as important as our actual admittance of wrongdoing and a desire to be right with God. Jesus provides the avenue by which we can travel down to find forgiveness. This forgiveness avenue is not just a blessing but indeed leads us to be blessed.

I am so thankful that God has offered us forgiveness in Christ. As believers, we are truly blessed. As we journey together, let us not forget to remind one another of how blessed we genuinely are and to share His love and message of forgiveness and blessing with others.

Resolution In Change 2-12-18

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It is impossible to live on mission and not embrace change. For instance, consider Abraham. In Genesis, we discover that Abraham is called by God to leave all that he has known to embrace our Lord as the one true God and establish a new kingdom that God will bless to be a blessing to the world. There are a ton of unknowns to Abraham that he needs to trust as knowns to God. The simple truth is that embracing this mission meant he had to embrace change. The difficulty arises that although not all of us to the same degree, all of us to some degree have a negative reaction to change. I often admit that I love change, but only when I initiate it. I find it difficult to deal with the change I deem as imposed on me. This is the dilemma my personality poses to me. How do you react to change?

Scott Mautz, in his book, Find The Fire, identifies the fear of change as an anti-muse or a fire dampener. In other words, the fear of change causes us to miss out on God’s preferred future for us if we let it. He notes:  “Our brains are wired to value longevity. Change threatens our sense of stability and robs us of our sense of control.” The good news is that there is an antidote to the fear of change.

To reverse the adverse effects caused by the fear of change you need to turn resistance into resolution. This begins by believing you are capable of change. This requires a determined insistence to your doubting self that you can succeed on the other side of change. It is natural to believe that routine or sameness is always good, but neither is totally sustainable or healthy for a lifetime in many areas of our life. Consider your walk with Christ. The Spirit’s work of transforming us is not possible in the life of a person holding tightly to their old life and way of doing things. Mautz suggests:

“Think of change like a software upgrade. Change can yield You 2.0 – a better version of yourself.”

At the core of our resistance to change is a feeling of becoming untethered. We feel like we have lost control. Of course, one could argue that one of the greatest lies we tell ourselves is that we are in control of much of the truly uncontrollable in our life. We seldom can control situations, but we do have the power to control our reaction to circumstances. Therefore, the fear of change can be lessened and eventually overcome by remembering what the change won’t change about you and the world around you.

When we are faced with change, it is helpful to become a learner and discover the reasons for the change. Allow yourself to embrace the strengthening case for change. It is helpful to even take a further step and get involved in the change.

Lastly, to overcome the fear of change focus on what you can control. We have the power to control our reaction to change. We have the power to either deliver greater chaos in the midst of change or calmness (God’s peace). We may even have the power to contribute to change being a positive experience versus a negative one as we lovingly help others overcome the fear of change.

Consider Abraham again. God calls him to live on mission. How does Abraham respond?

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8).

It is faith that leads to obedience to God’s promise and calling. Abraham lives out of the Hebrew writers definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Such faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future – something that is not seen but has been promised by God – will actually come to pass because God will bring it to fruition. Therefore, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise and eternally trustworthy. When we are rooted in Him, our unchanging God, we, like Abraham, are able to embrace change and live on mission.

I am so thankful to be on mission with each of you. I know God has a preferred future for us as Crosswinds. I also know we will encounter change. Let’s overcome the fear of change together and embrace our unchanging God, trusting that what He has promised He will do.