Jesus Doesn’t Live in Your Past

Do you ever feel like you need to “pay God back?”

“‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” -Hebrews 10:17-18

“Jesus paid it all” is the title and refrain of an old hymn, and Hebrews 10 makes this truth a primary focus, saying again and again that since Jesus died once to secure salvation for His people, there is no need for any further work to be done.

Do you feel as though you need to “pay God back” for the sins you’ve committed?  You don’t, because Jesus did!

Do you try to “make up for” the wrongs you have done to God?  STOP!  Jesus took care of it!

Jesus doesn’t live in your past, so you shouldn’t either.

Jesus put your sins out of His mind, not holding you to their memory any more.

It’s time for you to do the same.

Why Some Christmas Songs Make You Cry

Do you ever get extra emotional when you hear certain songs?

A friend of mine commented the other day, “I don’t know why, but Christmas songs always bring tears to my eyes, but they’re happy songs!  Why is that?”

Have you noticed this yourself?  Maybe there’s a particular carol or Christmas pop song that just hits you deeply.  Maybe it’s not a Christmas song at all, but whatever it is, it strikes a chord in your heart and produces a deep response.

I find that the reason this happens is because those are the songs that over time have become tied to a whole host of personal experiences that really matter to us.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Some are memories of things that have been, while others are hopes and dreams for things to come.  All the while, though, the songs get connected to the feelings and when the music rises, so do the tears from your heart strings…and that’s a good thing.

I hope for you this season isn’t just another routine of shopping and services.  I pray this year is used of God to touch you in a special way, to remind you that the joys of your past were gifts from Him, and even the pains can be redeemed in Christ.

After all, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating His birth.  It’s about remembering that in Christwe can all be born again.

 

Discerning Good and Evil

Why is it sometimes hard to know the “right” choice?

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” -Hebrews 5:14

Life can sure get complicated, can’t it?  Sometimes it’s just hard to know which way to go.

In the garden at the beginning of the human story, it was the fruit that brought knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that opened the door of death through sin.

Now that sin infection has so multiplied that even knowing the difference between good and evil is not always an easy thing to do.

That’s why we need the Holy Spirit.

As we walk with the Spirit and live in the Word, each choice becomes a training opportunity that will help us see more clearly each time we choose correctly.

After all, the more we train in anything, the better we get at it.

Remember the Past, and Have Hope for the Future

Today is Pearl Harbor Day.

“On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 America’s naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the forces of the Empire of Japan. The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer and damaged 188 aircraft. More than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded.” (From Wikipedia.org)

We live in such a self-absorbed culture, don’t we?  From advertising to education to just basic human nature, we as a people are consumed with ourselves.

That’s why days like today are so important.

To set aside a day of remembrance is to take a step back and acknowledge that our little lives are not the main point of the universe.  Our individual dreams and desires are important, but they are part of a much bigger dream that includes all of us, and has required a great price to purchase and secure.

Please join me today in three things.

First, let us remember the tragedy of war and the reality that save for the grace of God, we are not nearly as safe as we believe.

Second, let us honor the sacrifices of those who lost their lives on that tragic day, and show our gratitude by saying “thank you” to member of our Armed Forces today.  Thank them for their willingness to be put in harms way to preserve the freedom of our nation, even for those who would disrespect them for their service.

Third, let us take heart and have hope for the future, for not only did America recover and go on to victory in the war, but we were able to help rebuild Japan and see them grow into one of our allies today.

May our hearts not lose the strength and resolve to fight hard for freedom whenever necessary, and by God’s grace, may we also continue to work for peace as much as we can.

 

Islam is “Strong” & Christianity is “Weak”

Thursdays are usually geared towards answering theological questions I receive in my role as a pastor.  However, today I wanted to share a piece that takes a brief look at one of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity.  May it be a helpful tool for discussion and an encouragement to your soul.
—Pastor Phillip


Islam is a religion of strength.  Christianity is a religion of weakness… and that’s a good thing.

Allah shows his deity by overwhelming force,  while Yahweh shows His by self-sacrificing love.

Both call their followers to act in the same way as their god.

Yet, while the world magnifies strength as the surest path to victory, strength will always eventually fail.  Force will eventually reach the end of its capability, and if it is on strength that salvation and victory depend, it is sure to fail as soon as the well of strength runs dry.

But, if victory is gained through weakness, then it is eternally available and always close at hand.

The beauty of Christianity is that if salvation comes through surrender, then deliverance can be had in any circumstance by any person who will lay down their claim to capability and embrace the sufficiency of the cross of Christ and the love of the Christ of the cross.

That means that as a follow of Christ, you don’t have to be strong all the time because Jesus will be strong for you.

May you surrender to Him today.

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(NOTE: Islam also teaches the importance of surrender to the will of Allah, but the most fundamental difference between the two faiths is in the action and character not of their disciples, but of their deities.)

God Will Vindicate Your Suffering

Do you ever wonder if your pain has a purpose?

“Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages. For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.”  -Psalm 135:13-14

Jesus Christ was ridiculously mistreated.

He was mocked and murdered, abandoned and abused.  Because He spoke the truth about the darkness, those who lived in darkness made it their mission to silence His voice once and for all, and they succeeded.

Or so they thought.

With His resurrection, Jesus proved that the power of God is infinitely greater than the persecution of men.  He was not spared from suffering, but He was given far greater glory and restoration on the other side, and that glory has echoed through the ages in the lives of His people, the Church.

Jesus told us we would have trouble and opposition in this world, but He also gave us a great assurance: “Take heart; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33b)

The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee, the seal of authenticity that the Lord will indeed vindicate His people.  He will affirm His love and compassion for us just as He affirmed the message of Jesus.

After all, God is passionate about the glory of His name and its renown through the ages, and WE are the instruments He has chosen to bring Him praise, both in the midst of suffering, and in the great glory on the other side.

In you’re in Christ, God will vindicate your suffering by the glory He gains as a result, and by the glory He gives to YOU.

 

How to Stay Constantly Close to God

Do you ever wish you were “closer to God?”

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort [encourage, remind] one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  -Hebrews 3:12-13

Sometimes the line between an open and closed heart isn’t understanding, but encouragement.

Sometimes we may drift from God not because we don’t believe, but because we don’t remember.

In a hyper-connected age of constant communication, we as the Church have great opportunity for constant encouragement and remembrance.

Do you want to stay constantly close to God?  Surround yourself with people who will remind you of His goodness and His Gospel.

Let’s remind each other of the Gospel through every channel we can…today.

–Pastor Phillip

Let God Set You Free From Overwork

Do you ever worry that you’re not getting enough done?

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” -Psalm 127:1-2

Are you anxious?  Weary?  Worn down from feeling like the weight of the world rests on you and your ability to achieve results?  STOP IT!

In this Psalm of Solomon is the reminder that anxious overwork will not bring the fulfillment and peace you imagine.  On the contrary, it is futility to think and act as if your destiny is wholly yours to command.  Your loving Father wants to free you from responsibilities you were never intended to carry.

Notice, of course, that it is not a bad thing to build, or to watch, or even to rise early and stay up late.  The key is the attitude and frame of mind you hold in the midst of your daily life and work.

Your Father wants you to rest and let Him take care of the results you’re trying so hard to produce on your own.  He wants you to trust Him in every way, especially in those places you feel it all depends on you.

Let go.  Let it all depend on Him.  Work hard, yes, and be diligent.  But, receive the rest God wants to give you by trusting Him to take care of the timeline and results.

 

When Does Marriage Really End?

Thursdays are usually geared towards answering theological questions I receive in my role as a pastor. They tend to be longer and more detailed than the other days, and I hope the topics are helpful in your journey.
—Pastor Phillip


Marriage is hard.

As a single man, I look forward to being married and having a family one day, but this is the statement I keep hearing again and again about marriage, that it’s hard work.  One preacher said it this way, “You can’t put two sinners together and expect things to always go smoothly.”  Good point.

Yet, even though many say that marriage is the most difficult thing they’ve ever done, the Bible tells us that simply giving up is not an option.  We are called to approach marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:31-32) and He certainly doesn’t give up on us when things get hard.  However, there are examples in Scripture where divorce is permissible, but sometimes the lines can be hard to define.

I grieve to see so many in our day going through the pain of divorce and infidelity.  It’s disheartening, and I know for me it takes an intentional effort sometime to resist the spirit of fear that can try to creep in that such things are inevitable.  Praise the Lord that they do NOT have to be inevitable, and there IS hope for us as the people of God!  Of course, we must do our part as well and try to walk in wisdom.

Along that line, here are two questions I received on these issues, and some thoughts that will hopefully be of some help.

– – – – –

QUESTION 1: “When does marriage end?  Does it end at the “legal” end when a divorce becomes final?  Or, does it end in biblical terms at the moment when a spouse commits adultery?

The Bible speaks of marriage not as a contract, but as a covenant. There are several differences between the two, but the one that applies most in this case to this question is simply this.

In a CONTRACT (as far as I know), once one party breaks the terms, the contract is officially null and void in the eyes of the law. This is because a contract is inherently based on DIStrust and therefore has provisions in place that explicitly invalidate the contract in the event of a breach.

A COVENANT, however, is based on trust, not distrust. This means that when a spouse commits adultery, they have indeed broken the “terms” of the covenant, but Biblically that doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage is over. Moses and Jesus and Paul are the Biblical figures who spoke to the issue of marriage and divorce, and in each case the idea is that in cases of infidelity, divorce is an option, but not a requirement and certainly not an “automatic.”

So, according to scripture, marriage “ends” when the divorce is finalized according to the laws and customs of the culture of which the couple is a part. (This is why the Old Testament law spoke of “a certificate of divorce” in Deuteronomy 24, a passage on which Jesus comments in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10.) However, in the case of adultery, this is an option, not a given.

 

QUESTION 2: “Is someone that is in the process of divorcing their spouse committing adultery if they are dating someone while they are separated from their spouse?”

This question is a trickier one, because the concept of “dating” is a relatively new invention in our society, and didn’t exist per se in “Bible times.”  In those cultures the norm was usually arranged marriage, or if not arranged by the parents, it was more a matter of a man proposing to a woman’s family and being granted permission, and that was that.  The idea of a man and woman spending time together “getting to know each other” in unsupervised environments has no real Biblical precedent that I know of.

That said, here are a few principles I believe would apply.

1) Jesus said “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)  This speaks to the idea that it is a violation of the original covenant to enter into another covenant in its place without proper justification.

Jesus speaks to some of the dynamics of this a few verses earlier, “the two shall become one flesh.  So, they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)  The big issue from a covenantal standpoint is sexuality, the “two becoming one.”  Obviously, then, someone in the process of getting a divorce should not be intimate with someone else, though of course they also shouldn’t be intimate until they are married again!

2) Expanding the principle of “two becoming one,” we know that if a man and woman are married, they should not be developing intimate emotional relationships with a member of the opposite sex, either.  This is one of the big problems that comes up with office relationships, where the excuse becomes, “well we didn’t ‘do anything’…”  Maybe nothing happened physically, but there was an emotional bond that was created and the heart of the married person (or persons) was led astray.

Here’s why this is an important point.

Again and again in Scripture, God issues judgement against Israel because they “turned their hearts” after other Gods to worship them.  THEREFORE (long explanations aside) according to this principle, someone who is in the process of divorce but has not completely finished it should not be building intimate “heart” relationships with others, because that is still violating the terms of the covenant.  Even though the covenant is in the process of being terminated, it is still in effect until the last details are finished up.

On a positive note, by refraining from building intimate heart ties with others during the divorce process, that leaves the door open for God to do a restorative work in the hearts of the couple and bring them back together!  He can and does do this, and it would be wrong to close off that possibility.

3) Finally, if “dating someone else” is less like the heart-to-heart connection of being “boyfriend/girlfriend” and more of a casual getting-together with multiple other people for companionship, I would not say it was sin, though I would approach it as a wisdom issue and say that one should be very careful.

– – – – –

I hope the points above have provided some helpful perspective. As I said, I grieve the state of marriage in our time, and pray that God may use each of us who follow Christ to actively “drive back the darkness” by helping people walk with wisdom and grace and thus honor their covenants of all kinds before God… and may we do the same.

 

Self-Control Sets You Free

 Do you struggle with self-control sometimes?

“Older men are to be…self-controlled.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior…and so train the young women…to be self-controlled.  Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled…For the grace of God has appeared, training us to live self-controlled…lives.” -Titus 2:2-6, 11-12 (selections)

I find it interesting that not only in this chapter but all throughout the book of Titus, Paul urges the people to embrace the discipline of self-control.  It is significant that Titus was a pastor in the city of Crete, a place known for everything but self-control.

Surrounded by constant temptation and encouragement to simply “go with what you feel” and pursue pleasure at all costs, Christians in Crete had a simple choice: to be slaves to their own whims and the spirit of the world around them, or to master their actions through the power of the Holy Spirit and thus live in true freedom as servants of Christ.

The same choice is given to us as well.

We may find it hard to be self-controlled, but to not be controlling ourselves is to be controlled by any and everything else that comes our way.

The good news is that God wants more for His children than that!  He wants freedom for us, and has given us everything we need to walk in it today.

Walk in self-control and let God’s Spirit set you free!