Is it Really Love?

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)

Love is a word our culture loves to throw around without definition. We use it in a way that seems to say the essence of love is “always be nice to me and never tell me anything that I don’t want to hear.”

This is why any talk of sin and conviction and repentance is often instantly branded by some as “unloving” and immediately shut down. But is it? If “love does no wrong to a neighbor,” we must know and think clearly about what “wrong” really is.

Is it wrong to not warn a friend about to drink that the milk has already gone bad? Is it wrong to let a teenager drive the freeway without ever learning how? Is it wrong to let a small child play with a firearm?

Is it wrong to let an alcoholic have “just one more” when you know what it will do to them, and what they will do to their family after that? Is it wrong to do nothing about the sexual harassment of a coworker, when you know the pain it is causing them and the problems it is creating for the whole company?

Is it wrong to say nothing while a friend pursues an affair, when you know what it will do to their spouse and their children not just now, but forever? Is it wrong to embrace and condone lifestyles and patterns of behavior that you know are not only unbiblical, but also scientifically proven to lead to problems, pain, and ruin?

Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore, if your goal is simply to never offend, annoy, or cause pain, even at the cost of your neighbor’s well-being, perhaps by being “nice” you’re not really loving them at all.

A Legacy of Faith

Scripture Notes Header

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure, dwells in you as well.  For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.  (2 Timothy 1:5-7)

For what reason does Paul remind Timothy to press on and increase in the power of God?  Because of Timothy’s godly heritage.

A legacy of faith is both an opportunity and a responsibility.  It provides a set of shoulders on which to stand, and a charge from God to rise to the occasion so that others may stand on your shoulders, too.

If you come from a long line of believers, may God give you strength and will to follow the path they started.  If you don’t, may He give you courage to blaze the trail for those who will come behind.

–Pastor Phillip

Nightmares [An Encouraging Word]

It was 4am when my son’s little hand rapped loudly on our bedroom door.

The “shave-and-a-haircut, two bits” pattern I taught him echoed through the caverns of my subconscious mind, dragging me up from a deep, clear sleep into the  groggy fog of a much-too-early morning.

“Come in” I moaned, loud enough for him to hear through the white wood, but hopefully soft enough to not wake my still-sleeping wife.  Lucky her.

“Daddy,” he said with the adorable pleading tone of a seven year old boy, “I had nightmares.  Can I sleep in your bed?”

Now, for some people this request might be a no-brainer, but for us it’s a problem.  You see, my son is not a stationary sleeper.  Like a fish out of water or a presidential candidate, he flips and flops and shifts positions all over the place; not exactly the kind of bedmate that is conducive to quality R.E.M.

I knew, too, that not only did I need to sleep, but more importantly, my wife would be waking up early for a long day at work, so she needed as much rest as she could get.

The answer was clear.

“No, son, you can’t sleep in our bed tonight… but I’d be happy to come stay with you in yours.”

After a quick trip to the bathroom, we padded our way quietly back through the dim blue landscape of the night-lighted apartment, grateful that all the Legos had been picked up before bed and weren’t waiting for us like foot-stabbing landmines.  He climbed up to his wooden bunk bed, and I slowly and carefully made my way after him, up the creaky ladder and under the “Star Wars” sheet and comforter.

I knew that for him, being in his room alone would have been difficult, because for this moment it was associated with his nightmares instead of a good night’s rest.  So, nestling close to my son, I settled in for a sleepless hour that I knew would be well worth the sacrifice.

My little boy needed me in his season of fear, and it was my joy to be by his side.

Did you know that’s how your heavenly Father feels about you?

Speaking to the worries and anxieties of the people of His day, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)  Sometimes we think of the “Kingdom of God” as only a future destination, but Jesus taught that it’s also a present experience of God’s presence and power on earth.

What does that mean for you?

It means that wherever you’re afraid today, God wants to speak words of courage to you, because He’s with you.
It means that wherever you’re in turmoil today, God wants to speak words of calm to you, because He’s with you.
It means that wherever you’re anxious today, God wants to speak words of peace to you, because He’s with you.

“Don’t be afraid, little child,” He wants to say to you.  “It’s my joy to be by your side.”

Will you listen?

–Pastor Phillip

Jesus will surely hold you up

[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.  (Hebrews 1:3a)

From starfish to stars, goldfish to galaxies, Jesus holds the universe together.  He is both Creator and sustainer of all things, and nothing slips by His notice or through His fingers.

Do you think He can handle your problems?

Make no mistake, Jesus did say those who follow Him would face hardship in this life, but He also promised you would never have to go it alone!

Right now, this moment, Jesus sees and knows and cares about your situation.  Not only that, but He is willing and able to sustain you through ’till the end.

Whatever you’re facing today, be encouraged by this truth: Jesus will surely hold you up.

–Pastor Phillip

Thoughts on working through a miscarriage

It was a Tuesday night around 9pm.

The doctor strode in to our room at the ER and announced to my wife and me, “I’m sorry, you’ve had a miscarriage.” Heather had already known; she had felt it in her body and her heart. I was holding on to hope, not wanting to believe, but with the matter-of-fact words of the doctor, the case was closed. It was over. We had joined the ranks of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage.

She was ten weeks along, and though we had shared the news with a few people, we were waiting to let people know until we had ultrasound pictures to show. Now, instead of announcing the joyous prospect of new birth, we found ourselves having to share news of death.

In the wake of this shock, we knew we needed time to grieve, to process, to heal, but we didn’t know what to do. We felt we needed to get away, but didn’t have the money to do so. In God’s Providence, one of our congregation provided a Pastor’s Appreciation gift that enabled us to afford to drive to see family in Virginia, where almost the entire clan from my father’s side were visiting.

In the last sermon I preached before that fateful day, I shared this encouragement: “maybe your struggle is helping someone else grow strong.” Who would have guessed that that thought would end up being for me.

I never want to rush through something that God has allowed for a deeper purpose, and as I work through this new chapter in my journey, I wanted to share some thoughts God has put on my heart in the midst of this trial, in the hopes that they will encourage and strengthen you for yours.

– – –
I find myself alternating between strength and sorrow, between holding things together, caring for Heather and Bradley and the other facets of our life, and letting myself go into grief, embracing the ice-cold waves of sorrow as they rush without warning into my soul.

This back-and-forth experience is healthy, but it is hard. It is good, but gut-wrenching, this journey into the deeper layers of human experience in a broken world. For that is what this is, simply our turn on the merry-go-round of loss and pain, and like any merry-go-round, I know this, too, will come full circle in its time and bring us back to joy again.

I find myself frustrated because I know that grief is something you can’t simply rush through, but I have a family to take care of, a job to do, and a church to lead. In my more reflective moments, I have to admit that I don’t want to enter fully into the pain, because I am afraid of what it will do to me.

Yet, I have to face that fear. You have to face that fear.

– – –
I realize that for me, it’s still so early in the grieving process that right now I’m simply falling back on what I know to be true. I am clicking into auto-pilot to try and cope, and to hopefully bring something good out of this tragic moment.

Yet, at the end of the day, we are not the ones who bring light out of darkness, God is, and He will do so in His way, and in His time.

In the meantime, I cling to three things that give me hope. To share them with you doesn’t mean that I have it all together and figured out, but simply that I’m choosing to hang on to what I know is true, even as I realize that I’ve still only weathered the first few waves of grief in the onslaught of emotion to come.

– – –
First, Heather and I don’t blame God for visiting this pain upon us, nor do we believe He had nothing to do with it at all. Both of these extremes lead only to despair, and neither have any claim on the God of the Bible.

No, God did not cause our loss, but neither was He powerless to stop it. Instead, He stood by us and stands by us still in the midst of the pain. He has allowed us to go through this trial not because He doesn’t love us, but because He loves us enough to let us be tried and forged in the fire so that we might come out stronger and brighter than before.

Today we choose to not blame God.

– – –
Second, we don’t blame ourselves, because we know in the long history of a world marred by sin and marked by its repercussions, the day of heartache will come to us all.

In this world of death and loss and tragedy and pain, each of us is allotted a cup of suffering. Though we would nearly all choose to let it pass without partaking, that is not our decision to make. Rather, our choice is how we will drink it: with bitterness and resentment that God would dare allow pain into our lives, or with the strength and courage of Jesus, whose prayer in His hour of trial was, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Today we choose to not blame ourselves.

– – –
Third, we remember the Gospel, because moments like these are precisely where the glorious light of the Good News shines through!

If Jesus has indeed conquered the grave, then though our hearts may hear its bitter laugh in this moment, we choose to weather the pain in hope because we know death will never have the last word, and we will get to meet our unborn child someday.

If Jesus has indeed completely atoned for the penalty of sin, then though the weight of grief is strong, we choose not add to it the weight of guilt that this is in any way our fault. This is not God’s punishment for some failure; it is His providence for our future, a gift wrapped in darkness that still contains a seed of light.

If Jesus has indeed secured our position of favor with the Father, then not only can we take courage in knowing that “this too shall pass,” but we can also take heart in the truth that the Almighty God of the universe is not only with us in the storm, but is working it into a grander story than we can possibly imagine, a story with a sweeter and more glorious happy ending than our mortal minds can conceive.

Today we choose to believe the Gospel.

– – –
So there they are. Three truths and three choices that help us cope with loss and suffering and pain. Three truths and three choices that are Biblically correct and spiritually sound.

And it’s really, really hard to actually live them out.

Please don’t think that because I share these things, I’ve fully figured them out and am doing just fine. I’m not. We’re not. We are angry and hurt and confused and knocked down – but not destroyed.

This is hard and painful and disorienting and just plain bad – but it is not the end.

Today we choose to trust Jesus and take it one day at a time, and so can you.

– – –
What does this mean practically? It means we take time away to heal. We do not rush through the hallways of the house of mourning, or else we may find ourselves circling back though them longer and later than we would like or need.

No, we take them at their own pace, each turn at whatever angle and speed it requires to truly move past it to the next. We write. We cry. We pray. We cry some more. We talk. We listen. We cry again.

We remember our past dreams and by faith begin slowly to build new ones, starting simply with the dream that someday, somehow, this blood-red thread in our life’s tapestry won’t be so prominent in our view, and will simply be folded in to the background as our life begins to feel normal again.

–Pastor Phillip

The Holy Spirit is your boldness

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Acts 14

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS YOUR BOLDNESS

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.  But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.  When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch…  (Acts 14:19-21)

Paul and Barnabas had been rejected at Antioch, kicked out of Iconium, and Paul had just been stoned by the people of Lystra and only survived by the grace of God.  Now, after a brief stop in another city, here they are going back.

What’s the deal with that!?

You’d think they would have learned the first time.  You’d think they would have gotten the hint that there was high opposition to the Gospel in those cities.  You’d think they would have looked for other places to minister where the work wasn’t quite so challenging.

However, in this passage we see that Paul and Barnabas don’t think that way.  They don’t feel that way.  They don’t work that way, because they have something that is working in and through them that is far more powerful than any opposition they may face.  That something is a someone, the person of the Holy Spirit.

Because they are empowered by the Spirit, they are emboldened for the Gospel.  Because they follow His command, they are filled with His courage and nothing can hold them back from spreading the Good News.

You know what’s even more exciting?  If you’re in Christ, that same power is available to you.

Don’t let the world’s resistance hold you back from the wonderful things God has planned for you.  Don’t let fear and uncertainty cripple the faith and confidence God wants to give you.  Trust Him today, follow His leading where ever it may take you, and as you do, you’ll be filled with hope as you walk in this truth: The Holy Spirit is your boldness.

-Pastor Phillip


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The presence of Jesus is the power you need

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Acts 4

THE PRESENCE OF JESUS IS THE POWER YOU NEED

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.  And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.  (Acts 4:13)

In the span of just two months, the disciples of Jesus had gone from being men who fled in fear at the first sign of trouble and denied knowing Him at all, to being men who stood up with courage to the very people who sent their Savior to the cross.

From cowards to courageous witnesses, it was a remarkable transformation and even the Jewish leaders could see the source of the change–they had been with Jesus.  It wasn’t time or training that made the difference, it was a transfer of His power because of His presence.

You may not have all the credentials the world says you need to do great things for God.  You may not think you’re qualified for the dream to which He has called you.  You may feel weak and afraid and unable to do what you know He has sent you to do.

The Good News is that there is a simple solution!  Spend time with Jesus, seeking Him, praising Him, praying to Him, and you will find that things will change in your heart.  You will discover strength and peace that you didn’t have before as you set your hope on this simple truth: the presence of Jesus is the power you need.

-Pastor Phillip


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Jesus rolled away your stone

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Mark 16

JESUS ROLLED AWAY YOUR STONE

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back— it was very large.  (Mark 16:2-4)

The women were heartbroken.

The One they had hoped in, believed in, trusted and followed… was dead.  Their hopes were trashed, their dreams dashed, and even on the way to pay their last respects, they knew that the great stone over the mouth of the tomb would likely keep them from saying their final goodbye.

But when they got there, the stone was rolled away, and it was very large.

They expected an obstacle, one last insult to add to the injury.  What they found instead was that the very thing they thought would keep them out, Jesus had done away with so they could be welcomed in!

And when they entered in, they discovered something more glorious than they could have ever expected.

Today, this moment, there may be obstacles in your life that are keeping you from entering in to the life God has planned for you.  They hold you back, hold you down and block your way, and they may be very large.

But the stone was rolled away.

Just like those women’s obstacle to Jesus was removed, so through the cross Jesus has removed the barrier between humanity and God for all who trust in Him.  If you’re in Christ, nothing can keep you from the destiny God has prepared and nothing can separate you from His love!

So, may you trust in Him today with all of your heart, soul and mind.  May you surrender to Him your sin and your sadness, your failures and fears, and find hope in this truth: Jesus rolled away your stone.

-Pastor Phillip


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God will keep His word

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 12

GOD WILL KEEP HIS WORD

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise, says the Lord;
I will place him in the safety for which he longs.

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:3-4)

Do you ever find yourself in a place where it’s easy to talk big, but not deliver?  Here’s some good news…

God never gets in that position!

Look at the contrast in Psalm 12 between the empty boasts of foolish people and the steadfast promise of God.  When the Lord says He will do something (in this case, place the needy in safety), His words aren’t corrupted by competing interests. They aren’t delayed by an inability to act or a lack of available resources.

They are pure words that Jesus will make sure come to pass.

That means that as you read God’s written word and get to know Jesus the Living Word, you can have confidence that God will hold fast to it, and to you.

Embrace this truth and you’ll discover the hope found within this realization: God will keep His word.

-Pastor Phillip


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God is still on His throne

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 11

GOD IS STILL ON HIS THRONE

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

(Psalm 11:4)

All around us we see chaos in the world.

Wars and rumors of wars. Famines, earthquakes and floods.  Social injustice and oppression of all kinds.

But God is still on His throne.

In our own lives we see chaos of all kinds.

We lose jobs and loved ones.  We experience failure and fear.  We struggle with doubt and discouragement.  We battle sin and temptation.  We wrestle with sickness and disease.

But God is still on His throne.

What can you do when the world around you and the life within you seem out of order?  How can you have hope when it seems like nothing is lining up the way it is supposed to?

You can remember that this moment is just that, one moment in the river of time.  You can remember that this lifetime is just that, one lifetime in a sea of eternity.  You can remember that these things have always been, and until Jesus comes again, will always be.

But that’s not all.  You must remember that God has always been faithful to preserve His people.  He has always been gracious to His children and seen them through even the darkest times.  You must remember that His love is everlasting and His forgiveness never ends, and nothing, nothing, nothing can ever take you out of the palm of His hand.

More than all of these things, though, remember this.  God is sovereign over all the universe, and His wisdom far, far outweighs yours and mine.  You may not like or agree with how He chooses to run things right now, but you must remember that He is good, and that He will work all things out for your good and His glory in the end.

You may not understand what or why things are happening all around you, but no matter what, you can find hope in this truth: God is still on His throne.

-Pastor Phillip


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