Pastor’s Blog: Looking out for Others

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

Look out for the interests of another. It is a constant effort for us to be looking out for others rather than ourselves only. It is the “default” position to look out for yourself. It is a God inspired vision to be looking out for others.

I have found through talking with other people that the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is either endearing or repulsive. Seriously, as I have talked about my appreciation for that film (which is celebrating its 70th year of release on December 20th), the reactions are either one of genuine like, or strong distaste for the movie.

For the most part, people like the movie. Perhaps it’s the helpless romantic in many of us that love the story of George Bailey and the little upstate New York town of Bedford Falls. Perhaps for some the “helpless romantic” is in them somewhere but it lies dormant. And the likes of a 70- year old movie isn’t enough to draw it to the surface. Or, just maybe the movie touches the softy in some of us that does not want to be touched. Whatever the case, the movie received mixed reviews when it was released. It only has been over the past 40 years that it has become a staple in a distinctly American celebration of Christmas.

Philippians 2:4 teaches Christians that we are to look out for the interests of others, not simply our own. The message is one of considering another before ourselves. That is a Christian virtue. If I was to choose a verse that sums up “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Philippians 2:4 might just be the verse.

Consider how much selflessness was exhibited in the characters of the movie. Of Course, the main character stands out in the forefront. But, if we study the film a little closer, we would see the same attitude in George’s father, his wife Mary, Ernie the taxi driver, and of course Clarence Odbody, George’s guardian angel.

At the end of the movie the whole town, except for one grumpy old Mr. Potter, seems to catch the spirit of looking out for George, if not for Christmas, and ensures that George’s recent financial difficulties are covered.

And that is the joy of looking out for the interest of others. If everyone is doing it, then everyone is taken care of. The closing scene of the movie is iconic. It represents all that is good in the world, good that God brings when we seek to love others as we love ourselves.

I have noted through talking with the 80 plus members of town, those who can remember WWII, that there was a time when small towns and communities tended to behave like those in the mythical Bedford Falls. But, they quickly note that by the mid 1950’s that had all but gone. Where do we fund such community today?

Christians ought to provide a remedy to our present situation. For we are foolish to think that true community can be achieved in our work places, sporting events, or even social media. True community is Koinonia. This is a kind of brotherhood and sisterhood that is achieved when God comes in and brings new spiritual life to a person and puts that person in a community of persons, a community called the church. These persons are then the “body of Christ”, out doing one another in love and good works. Always looking out for the interests of others. This should spill over to the community at large. When Christian virtues are taught, and lived they seem to take on a life of their own. It spreads into the surrounding world where the church resides. May our churches resemble more of Bedford Falls and may a Bedford Falls spirit sprout in our town – for the Glory of Christ.

Pastor’s Blog 11/22/16: Gifts for Advent

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

Well it’s here, Christmas season 2016 is upon us. Thanksgiving Day marks the “official start”, although retail outlets started about 2 months ago, always the ones to rush things for the sake of revenue.

One of the pitfalls of being a Christian in such a commercialized society is that we get caught up in the seasonal flows as directed by the consumer driven culture. We focus on Christmas from Thanksgiving to Christmas day, but historically the church has focused on Advent, then Christmas. We then wat to focus on New Year’s, quickly letting Christmas fade into memory. The church for hundreds of years has celebrated Christmas tide. This was the time from Christmas Eve through January 6th, which is epiphany. (Remember the 12 days of Christmas?)

Advent is a time to reconsider our lives, our walk of faith, to ponder the wonder that is the first Advent of Christ. Ultimately, it reminds us that Jesus promised to return, the second Advent. Christians have this hope that does not disappoint, Jesus will return one day just as he promised.

As we scurry about purchasing gifts from friends and loved ones during this Advent season, may we as Christians stop and consider, the gifts that God gives us. These are gifts guaranteed through Christ in His First Advent.
James 1:17 teaches us that every good and every perfect gift comes from the Father of lights. These gifts are both tangible and intangible. Food, clothing, shelter are gifts from Him. However, those gifts that money cannot buy are from Him as well. These gifts are available from him now, and they take us all the way to eternity.

This advent and Christmas season we ought to focus on some of these “intangible” gifts. These are gifts you cannon purchase at any retail outlet. These are the gifts of hope, love, peace, life, joy, and glory.

If your reading the blog and do not have a church you call home, won’t you join us at New Covenant Baptist Church. Our first study on the topic of biblical hope is Sunday November 27 at 10:30 A.M.

I wish you a blessed Advent.

Pastor’s Blog: Talking to Ourselves

Psalm 103:1-5

“Bless the Lord, O my Soul”

I’m one of those people who talks to themselves. And like many of you, I have been caught talking to myself.
When caught talking to myself, I often reply it’s because, sometimes I’m the only one that will listen.
Practically speaking, it’s because my mind works best when I talk it out, audibly, so I can hear what I am working through. I can think through my lists best when I talk through my lists.
If the truth is to be known, we all talk to ourselves a bit every now and again. We shouldn’t be all that embarrassed when caught. We all do it. So did some of the greatest people in history.
Biblically speaking, we know of one man who talked to himself. He was the Holy Spirit inspired writer of much of the book we call the Psalms. Psalm 103 is prima-facie evidence that David was a man that conversed with himself, especially when thinking about God.

While we cannot know exactly the situation that prompted David to pen Psalm 103, I like to surmise a bit.  We all face highs ad lows in our lives.  Truth be told, situations face us that are downright unpleasant.  It is during those times that an attitude of gratitude is most needed.  While we may be in a valley at that moment, God has done much in our life.  We need to tell ourselves of these truths.  Reminding ourselves of what God has done, in real time, will help us move out of the valley.

David Points to 5 things God has done for him.  They are the same for us as well

  1. Forgives Iniquity.  God is the one who provides forgiveness to everyone who asks.  This is forgiveness for every sin past, present, and future.  In verse 12 he tells us what the extent of that forgiveness looks like “As far as the east is from the west”  This is not points on a compass.  It is infinity, east and west never meet.
  2. Heals Disease:   Both body and soul.  David is pointing out that God does in-fact heal us.  Our souls can be healed when we trust in Christ for salvation.  Every day our bodies undergo healing.  Every day that we are alive to live for Christ it is because he has sustained us and strengthened our bodies through his providential care for us.
  3. Redeems from destruction:   He saves us from death.  He spares us from death.  Think about all the things that you do that expose you to bodily harm.  Driving a car is a perfect example.  Yet you drive day in and day out, most often safely.
  4. Crowns you with lovingkindness:   John 3:16 is not just a poster to display at sporting events.  God demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we  were yet sinners Christ died for us.   We know God’s love by looking to the cross of Jesus Christ.   Nothing can change that.  He should have let humanity die and face judgement. Instead he chose to provide a way for salvation.
  5. Satisfies your mouth with good things:   Every meal you share. Every new article of clothing you get to enjoy.  The building you live in.  These are all gifts from God.  Something to be enjoyed. Something to be shared.

There is an old hymn “Count your blessings”    It’s words are timeless and remind us again, like David, we need to tell ourselves these truths.  This is the best form of personal communication we can engage in.

When upon life’s billows
You are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged,
Thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you
What the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,
Count your blessings,
See what God hath done!
Count your blessings,
Name them one by one,

Pastor’s Blog: “Ownership”

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth.  Go therefore and make disciples” The words of Jesus, Matthew 28:18-19 

Ownership

Christians are quite familiar with the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel.  We have even given the final 5 verses of chapter 28 a name: “The Great Commission”.   In our familiarity, we are not only cognizant of where the words are, and what they mean, but are fairly clear That this is what the church is supposed to do, all the way until Christ returns.

Jesus said that all authority, both in heaven and earth, (i.e. everywhere, for all time) is His.  It is His because the Father (God) has bestowed it upon Him. Subsequently, He then chooses to place a certain amount of authority to His followers.  This “commission” is ours then, bestowed upon us by Christ.  A commission that involves proclaiming the gospel so as to make disciples – true followers – of the one we are commissioned to work for.

This is rather straight forward, isn’t it?  It is not hard to understand this commission.  But, do we also grasp the implications of the Great Commission.  It is something we must OWN.

When I worked in corporate America for a rather large consumer packaged goods company I was trained that as an account manager I “owned” the results.  I was given resources both financial and human to achieve set dollar sales goals.  I was a manager and owned the outcome.  Success or failure was, quite literally, on my shoulders.  And I must admit I experienced both successes and failures.  I had to own the outcome rather desirable or undesirable.

I think this concept of personal ownership of something plays in other arenas of our lives.  Do we own the success or failure of friendships and even our marriages?  Do we own the responsibility of raising Godly children?  Equally as important, do we OWN the ministry outcome of our church?

I heard it said one time that nobody every washes a rental car.  But, everyone will attend their own wedding.  What is the difference?  The difference is what you have at stake.  The difference is ownership.  A rental car is somebody else’s.  Why put such care into something you are just renting? At your wedding you have, as it is often put, “skin in the game”.  There is something great at stake.  You are making a commitment for life. Marriage is between two people. But, each person must own what they are pledging to on their wedding day.  Ownership is a big deal.

Members of churches, do you have the same level of ownership in the outcome of your church as you do in other areas of your life?   It is a great thing to be a member of a local church.  But, membership is more than a name on a role.  It means you have a stake in the game.  You have a real part to play in the ministry outcome of the church.  Own it.  Cherish it.  Polish, it.  Care for it. Serve it. Give to it.  Make sure that nothing will stand in the way for your church to have the greatest impact in the community, region, and the world.

Pastor’s Blog: The Danger of Unbelief

The Danger of Unbelief
Matthew 13:58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

“Believe it or not” is a phrase used by the Ripley organization in their presentation of the weird, strange, and unimaginable. Driven by showcasing what was once themed in a side show circus, the organization has been wowing audiences for years with things that often defy explanation.

Jesus came back to his hometown. He had been in surrounding areas ministering through the teaching of parables and performing miracles. One would expect a warm reception in their hometown. Such was not the case in Nazareth. Instead, he discovered that even though he had taught with authority in their synagogues, the people just couldn’t believe that he, one of their own, a son of a simple carpenter, could be the true Messiah.

Ripley’s makes it a point for its audiences to see the strange and unimaginable for themselves, then make the call “Believe it or not”. The rather tongue-in-cheek phrase is meant to push you to the obvious. You see it, seeing is believing, therefore believe. This may not fit your reality, but believe it, this strange thing you are seeing is very much a reality.

In a similar vein Jesus was there, in the flesh, his teaching authority, backed up by the miracles he was performing elsewhere (verifiable by eye witnesses), should have been enough even for his own people, from the village of his youth, to believe that He was who he said he was. But, they chose not to believe. Unbelief is skepticism taken to its logical conclusion. Skepticism left alone long enough will lead to unbelief. And that, my friend, is not a safe, but, rather, a very dangerous place to be.

Not believing the doctor when they say you need serious treatment for an ailment immediately, will speed up your demise. Not believing the accountant that you owe the government a great deal of money will not get you a reprieve by the IRS. Not believing you have just flunked out of college will not ensure the people who manage the scholarship money promised to you will keep sending you the money.

For Jesus’ people, those in his own hometown, not believing in Him t meant that he would not perform many miracles there. It also meant he would not linger there. Unbelief, locks out the good work of the Lord in the hearts, and lives of people.

Maybe you are reading this and you don’t believe at all. You are convinced there is no God, that Jesus was a myth, and there is nothing true at all. Yet, you still look both ways when you cross the street, for you know it’s either that car your you. You still check the weather before locking in your outside plans, for you believe that weather happens and can ruin your plans. You don’t steal from your coworkers because you believe that stealing is wrong. In reality you believe many things because they conform to reality. You are not as much of an unbeliever after all.

Yet, when it comes to matters of the heart and soul you choose not to believe in Jesus Christ. But, there are nagging questions you have not found an answer for. Big questions like “What is the ultimate reality?” “Why am I even here?” “What do I do with guilt that I know I feel, even if people push we to accept that it’s all relative.”

I have yet to meet a person that does not struggle with existential questions such as these. These are the ultimate issues. Issues of the heart. Issues of reality. Issues the person of Jesus Christ dealt with. His miracles were verifiable. His teaching was without flaw. His life was without compromise. His death was complete. His resurrection a reality.

Believe it or not. That is the question. Jesus says the same thing to all of us. Either he is the savior of the world, or he is a charlatan. He cannot be both. Unbelief will keep you for entering to a relationship with him that will guarantee your future. A future where our faith becomes sight. Heaven. Belief is the necessary step only you can take. Believe it or not, this is crucial. Don’t be like Jesus’ home town. Rather, believe in Christ and you will find salvation.

Pastor’s Blog: Christmas in October

Christmas in October
Luke 2:10 . . . Good tidings of great Joy

There is a popular song at Christmas time that states “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
Starting about 2 weeks ago (maybe sooner in some places) the Christmas merchandise was moving to the floor at retail outlets. Columbus Day is still a few days away, Thanksgiving a month and a half, Christmas a solid 3 months, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

We all know that the early push for Christmas is because it is the make or break holiday for the American retailer. Personal spending spikes during the Christmas season. Any self-respecting merchant needs to capitalize on the season, making sure consumer spending dollars are funneled into their accounts receivable.

When the angels came to the shepherds on the night Jesus the Christ was born they had to calm their fears. After saying to them “fear not!” they explained the reason their fear should be swept away. They were there to let the shepherds know that they were announcing Good tidings (literally good news or gospel), that was full of great joy. And not only that, it was for the shepherds and everyone else – every nation and peoples on the earth.

We are all well acquainted with the story. We understand that the joy was enshrined in a savior. The savior which was Christ the Lord. The promised Messiah had arrived.

Humans are pretty good at manufacturing joy. Manufactured joy is part and parcel of what retailers are counting on. The joy of presents. The joy of finding the right gift for somebody. The joy (albeit fleeting) of that new material thing to play with, use, treasure, and ultimately, watch wear out.

Fleeting joy is not something experienced only at Christmas time. On the contrary, we can witness it every day. The new car gets a scratch, it’s not so new anymore. A loved one does something that displeases us, the happiness in that relationship waivers a bit. The new job with the new salary, is exciting, but then the reality sets in, you will have to put in 60 hours a week to even keep your head above the flood waters called a work load. You were feeling really heathy, but a recent blood test reveals a serious ailment in your body.

Joy, it can be fleeting. However, we must remember it not only is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our stores, in terms of the message of the angels, it is Christmas every day. Yes, that same joy announced to those lowly shepherds is the same gospel message to every human being: True Joy came down, lived, died, and rose again to solidify joy in the hearts and souls of people.

This joy, is the greatest of all. It is the joy of knowing that no matter what you have done, no matter where you have been, no matter where you are right now in terms of your own soul, you can experience the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven, you can be sure you are on your way to a promised place called heaven. By putting your complete trust in what Jesus did for you in dying on the cross to pay for your sins, and rising again from the dead, you are ensuring eternal life with Him. Moreover, you know have a genuine relationship with your creator. A constant friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Christ follower, is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas in your life and walk with the Lord? That is to say, is this message of “Great Joy!” the one you are most anxious to share with another? As one pastor put it. “We are on earth to share the gospel, not for our own comfort, convenience, self-satisfaction, and peace.” That is because, like the angels, we have a singular focus: Inform people of glad tidings of great joy. So, let’s ensure it is not only beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but indeed, the message is 24/7 and 365.

Pastor’s Blog: The Worth of the Individual

John 3:16 and the worth of an individual.

One of the benefits of technology is the ability for many jobs and professions to be executed from just about any place. At least any place that has an internet connection.

This was true of my previous “full time” position. It is equally true of my “present” full time vocation. Because of this I try to “get out of the office” and make the office portable. Being one that enjoys the wonderful God created gift called coffee, the local coffee establishment is a great place to be portable.

Sometimes coffee shops are not as busy as early a.m. When the establishment is not that busy it is quiet. At least quiet enough so that it is difficult not to eves drop in on the conversations going on around you. Listening to the friendly banter opens you up to what people really think about matters of life, living, and other wonderful mysteries of the human condition.

Recently I, (unintentionally) overheard a conversation about what the person wanted to happen if they were no longer able to enjoy the same level what is called the “quality of life”. Basically, the comment was once I turn to such and such of an age, and I’m no longer able to care for myself, then just help me end my life.

Needless to say, as a minister of the gospel, and as one coming from a Christ centered world view, I was taken back a bit. While this was banter, the concepts shared revealed a world view that is contrary to truth. The truth is, all humanity is of inestimable worth. The worth is bound to us, indeed attached to us, because humans are created in the very image of God.

But, alas, in this ever increasing Godless culture, the nonchalant statement that it would be better not to live, if one was dependent on another is really not so nonchalant after all. The person who uttered these words certainly has thought about life, what it means to be human, and outside of a biblical world view has bought into what culture has offered, life not lived on your own terms, with a body that allows you to do what you want when you want is simply not a life worth living at all.

John 3:16 is well known. Indeed, it is the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, it also reminds us that it was God’s love for people that brought about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “so” in this verse is not a statement of how much God loved us. It, means God “demonstrated” His love, and by that demonstration we see His understanding of the of human beings. They are worth saving no matter what their lot in life is. Humans are the highest form of creation. God did not send Jesus for plants or animals. He sent Jesus to humanity. Humanity is valuable and its value is because it is humanity and humanity bears the image of God. It is not a matter of function or contribution.

As Christians we have our work cut out for us. Let us listen to the conversations that are in earshot of us. It will give us a starting place for presenting the most amazing piece of news imaginable. Jesus died for sinners. And as Paul stated, (and I identify) and am chief among them. And because of Jesus a new life, yes even a new world view, becomes not only a potential, but a reality.