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.

God gives you freedom to figure it out

God’s Hope for Your Heart from 1 Corinthians 8

GOD GIVES YOU FREEDOM TO FIGURE IT OUT

Food will not commend us to God.  We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.   (1 Corinthians 8:8-9)

One of the hot moral issues of Paul’s day was eating food sacrificed to idols.  It was a divisive issue, to be sure, with people on either side certain the others were not pleasing God by their behavior.

But both sides were wrong.

To be clear, this was not an issue that God had spoken about definitively one way or the other…until now.  This was not about a commandment being broken.  It was about a cultural practice and a conscience issue.

So, as the Apostle Paul wrote under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration on this hot-button issue, he gave this instruction to the Corinthian Christians…

“God doesn’t care, just be considerate of one another.”

What?  God didn’t take a side in this culture war?  Nope, He just wanted His people to care for each other.

Again, this was not a cut-and-dry issue like sex or murder or marriage or obeying the law.  This was a gray area, and by leaving it gray, God left room for growth.

Here’s why this is good news.  It means that in Christ, you have room to figure things out for yourself as you follow the Holy Spirit!  It means that in the gray areas in your life, you have the freedom to seek God through His Word and discover where He wants your convictions to be.

In Christ you can rest easy and be free of the fear of getting things wrong, because God gives you freedom to figure it out.

-Pastor Phillip


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God is the greatest authority

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 47

GOD IS THE GREATEST AUTHORITY

God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.  (Psalm 47:8)

Nations rise and grow strong, then weaken and eventually fall.  Societies grow and expand, then contract and inevitably collapse.  As surely as winter follows autumn and spring follows winter, all civilizations have their seasons, too.

But God remains in charge.

The highest authority over a people is not government, but God.

The last word in the destiny of a nation is not given by their president or prime minister, their king or their emperor, but by the greater sovereign who allowed them to come to power in the first place.

This means that wherever and whenever you find yourself in the flow of history, you don’t have to be afraid of what’s to come.  Good days or bad, easy times or hard, you don’t have to be a victim of the world around you if you’re part of God’s family.  You can be a victor as you hold fast to truth and walk in faith, hope, and love.

Have confidence in Christ today, whatever the headlines say.  Look to His Word and Spirit for your answers and strength, and as you do, you’ll find hope in this truth: God is the greatest authority,

-Pastor Phillip


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God gives you options to use

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Acts 25

GOD GIVES YOU OPTIONS TO USE

“If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.  But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them.  I appeal to Caesar.”  Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”  (Acts 25:11-12)

The heart of the gospel is spiritual, but the ways in which we live it out must be practical because we live in a physical world.  Each of us has been placed at a specific point in history, in a particular country, city, and system of government and economics.

Paul was in the same situation.  He did not stand outside the system of his day, but was an involved part of it.  God had placed him in the Roman empire as a citizen.  Because of that, he had options, and he used them.

Maybe it’s time for you to do the same.

Do you have situations in your life that are less-then-ideal?  Do you have relationships where wrong has occurred, or circumstances where a change needs to be made?

When it comes to trusting God and pursuing His purposes, don’t forget that while prayer is the most important thing you should do, it’s usually not the only thing you can do.  If there are practical options available in your situation, pursue them!  If there are tools at hand, use them!

You exist in a place and a time and a system because God put you there.  Even though it’s disheartening to have opposition, you can take heart and find hope in this truth: God gives you options to use.

Small-Graphic-[Counter-Culture]-Pastor Phillip

p.s. To learn more about resolving conflict well, check out message 02 from my teaching series, “CounterCulture.”  CLICK HERE to listen online.


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God is your refuge in times of trouble

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 43

GOD IS YOUR REFUGE IN TIMES OF TROUBLE

In the wake of an historic Supreme Court decision that has left so many believers saddened and afraid for what’s to come, the best thoughts of all are not those I could share from my heart, but those God would share from His.

In the calendar of content that guides this devotional series, today brought us to Psalm 43.  I invite you to read it slowly and prayerfully, and as you do, may you find hope in this truth: God is your refuge in times of trouble.

-Pastor Phillip


PSALM 43

“Vindicate me, God, and defend my cause 

against an ungodly nation; 

rescue me from the deceitful and unjust man. 

For You are the God of my refuge. 

 

Why have You rejected me? 

Why must I go about in sorrow 

because of the enemy’s oppression? 

Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. 

Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, 

to Your dwelling place. 

Then I will come to the altar of God, 

to God, my greatest joy. 

I will praise You with the lyre, 

God, my God. 

 

Why am I so depressed? 

Why this turmoil within me? 

Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, 

my Savior and my God.”

http://ref.ly/Ps43.1-5;hcsb



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Jesus crossed boundaries to love you

God’s Hope for Your Heart from John 4

JESUS CROSSED BOUNDARIES TO LOVE YOU

 A woman from Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
(John 4:7-9)

The Samaritan woman was shocked at Jesus’ request, perhaps even that He spoke to her in the first place.

The Jewish people of that day believed that those from Samaria were unclean, ungodly, immoral and wrong.  They believed that sharing any physical contact with them or objects used by them would cause ceremonial uncleanness, something repulsive to a good Jew.

But Jesus crossed those boundaries.

Jesus wasn’t put off by the woman’s past or present lifestyle, because He saw her potential.  He wasn’t repulsed by her uncleanness, because He knew He could make her clean.  He wasn’t disgusted by her sin; He drew near to her for salvation.

He did the same for you and me.

Maybe you’ve been in the faith for a while, or maybe you came to Christ only recently.  Maybe you grew up in the church or maybe you’re new to the whole thing.  Regardless, it’s all-too-easy sometimes for us to see ourselves as we are and forget who and what and where we were before Jesus found us.

Always remember this: Jesus is holy and righteous, yet He entered in to a sinful world to redeem sinful people.  Jesus looked at the stain of your sin and mine and instead of running away, He ran towards us to offer redemption.

This means that even now, when you find yourself in seasons where you feel separated from God by sin or shame in your life, you can have hope because of this truth: Jesus crossed boundaries to love you.

-Pastor Phillip


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A Terrible Story With a Timely Reminder

I love getting “theological” questions because it gives me a chance to dig into subjects that I don’t always have occasion to explore.  If you like that sort of thing, welcome to “Theology Thursdays!”  If not, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.

— Pastor Phillip


NOTE: This post includes a story from the Bible that contains extremely graphic content, and is not suitable for children or those who are sensitive to violence and abuse.

~~~~~

QUESTION: Have you written/studied this before?  I need perspective.  I fell asleep listening to this on my reading plan, and it made me upset.  I asked God, “why did you allow this to happen?”  I know there is a reason, but I am stuck in the anger of the act.  I can’t get past it.  What did the woman do to wrong God?

It was a standard-sounding question with a link to a Bible website, and the moment I saw the Scripture reference in the book of Judges I thought to myself, “Uh oh, I bet I know what this story is…”

I was right.

The Bible is often presented as a “road map” for life, or as a collection of good moral teachings.  The thing is, while it certainly has application for those purposes, it also includes a LOT of stories that are dark and troubling, and this is one of them.

Two things by way of background.

First, the Book of Judges contains stories from the history of Israel from the time they entered the Promised Land up until just before the time that Saul was chosen as their first king.  It was likely written after either the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC or the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586BC.  The book is written in such a way as to show the descent of the nation into depravity and sin, as a sort of “morality tale” to explain why God allowed His people to be enslaved again after He had so miraculously delivered them from Egypt.

This is a dark book filled with dark stories, and the key to understanding it is found in the epilogue of the final verse.  “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)  Quite simply, this is a book about what happens when people abandon God.

Second, the story in chapter 19 is about a Levite and his concubine.  A “concubine” in this time period was a woman who was a hybrid between a mistress and a kind of “second-tier wife.”  It was a practice often intended to increase the size of the family or clan, and though practiced by many in Israel, was not endorsed or approved of by God.  A Levite was a person who was born as a member of the tribe of Levi and who was supposed to be devoted to the service of God.  Of all people in Israel, this man should have been righteous, but as we’ll see in the story, he is anything but.

NOTE: The following text is from the English Standard Version of the Bible.  I highly recommend it for reading and study, and you can check out more info here.  I use the ESV Study Bible and it’s one of my most prized possessions.  You can purchase one from Amazon here.

THE STORY: Part 1

Judges 19:1-15

A Levite and his Concubine
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months.

Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. And she brought him into her father’s house. And when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him.

And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and spent the night there.

And on the fourth day they arose early in the morning, and he prepared to go, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Strengthen your heart with a morsel of bread, and after that you may go.” So the two of them sat and ate and drank together. And the girl’s father said to the man, “Be pleased to spend the night, and let your heart be merry.” And when the man rose up to go, his father-in-law pressed him, till he spent the night there again.

And on the fifth day he arose early in the morning to depart. And the girl’s father said, “Strengthen your heart and wait until the day declines.” So they ate, both of them. And when the man and his concubine and his servant rose up to depart, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Behold, now the day has waned toward evening. Please, spend the night. Behold, the day draws to its close. Lodge here and let your heart be merry, and tomorrow you shall arise early in the morning for your journey, and go home.” But the man would not spend the night.

He rose up and departed and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. When they were near Jebus, the day was nearly over, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it.” And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” And he said to his young man, “Come and let us draw near to one of these places and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.”

So they passed on and went their way. And the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin, and they turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night.

So here’s the scene.  An Israelite man with his Israelite concubine need a place to stay for the night.  Rather than spend the night in a “pagan” city (the city that would one day be called Jerusalem was at this point in time still under the control of the Jebusite people), they go to a town that belongs to their own people, presumably the people of God.  It should be a place of safety.  It should be a place of hospitality.  Yet, the travelers are callously denied safe lodging and are forced to settle down in the open square.

The story continues, and it gets worse… (NOTE: Words in brackets have been added or replaced for clarity.)

THE STORY: Part 2

Judges 19:16-30

And behold, an old man was coming from his work in the field at evening. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was sojourning in Gibeah. The men of the place were Benjaminites.

And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?” And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. We have straw and feed for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and your female servant and the young man with your servants. There is no lack of anything.”

And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.”  So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

Gibeah’s Crime
As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door.

And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may ‘know’ [have sex with] him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him.

So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they [violated] her and abused her all night until the morning.

And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer [because she was dead].

Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home.

And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

 

Analysis

This. Is. HORRIBLE!!!

Any person with a shred of decency should be greatly disturbed by this story, and that is precisely the point of its inclusion in the book.  It’s a graphic example of just how bad things get when people turn their backs on God.  When a people cease looking to God for their guidance and source of law, and instead do whatever is “right in their own eyes,” this is where the road leads.  This is what happens to a nation that refuses to acknowledge God as their highest authority, and it only gets worse from here.

This point is driven home by something that many modern readers might not pick up on, but that would have been glaringly obvious to the first audience.  The story here is a mirror image of a similar account in the history of God’s people…the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

Genesis 19:1-11

Sodom and Gomorrah 
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.

When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.”

But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may [have sex with] them.”

Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.

But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

 

Travelers in the town square are ignored, then finally received into the home of a stranger.  The men of the city demand to have their way with the travelers, not the women, but the other men.  The host offers vulnerable women as a substitute sacrifice to be raped in place of the men.  This is virtually the same dark story… except there was last-minute deliverance of God’s people in Sodom and Gomorrah, but none to be found among the people of Israel in the book of Judges.

The Levite man in Judges responds to the killing of his concubine by cutting her body up and sending it as a message to the rest of the nation that the town of Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin must be punished.  The nation assembles and there is a great slaughter that follows, a tale that goes from bad to worse.  It is a chilling tale, to be sure, but there is something more frightening to me than reading such a story.

It’s realizing that this story still happens today.

Every day, women and girls of all ages are abused in all sorts of ways.  From the institution of sex trafficking and slavery to the growing reports of spousal and child abuse, our world is getting darker as it has surrendered to the demon idol of sexual perversion.

There are institutions and initiatives that are working as hard as they can to intervene, to stop these wicked injustices from occurring, but it is an uphill battle because of one key factor that changes everything.  The responsibility for combating the abuses of our day falls to two key people.

You and me.

Like the Levite in the story who did nothing to stop the injustice, we can choose to be silent, or we can speak up.  Like the old man who should have stepped up to protect the vulnerable within his reach, we can close our eyes or we can open them and act.  Here’s the thing though.

Sexual abuse is a simple market transaction.  At one level it is certainly about morality, but at its most basic level it’s simply about supply and demand.

We increase demand when we support pornography, either by paying for it or viewing it on “free sites” that sell advertising.
We increase demand when we choose to patronize adult establishments that objectify women for sexual satisfaction.
But that’s not all…

We increase demand when we support movies whose whole plot is glorify sexuality outside of God’s design all in the name of “entertainment.”  (“Knocked Up” or “American Pie” anyone?)

We increase demand when we purchase or listen to music whose lyrics promote a worldview of violence, sexual perversion and objectification of women, whatever the style of the music itself.

We increase demand when we dress or allow our children to dress in ways that highlight certain areas of the body in inappropriate ways, all in the name of “fashion” or “liberty” or “keeping with the times.”

We increase demand when our humor and language point our thoughts to inappropriate things and desecrate the sacred gift of sexuality by using its acts and terms as vulgar slang.

Don’t get me wrong.  By no means am I saying that I am innocent or have not failed and fallen in many ways.  Yet, I am learning that every choice that I make to compromise puts one more ounce of responsibility on my side of the scale of justice.  If I want to drive back the darkness, I have to start where the problem starts: with me.

And so do you.

Why Does “Growing Old” Bother Us?

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’s not quite “theology” as much as it is a meditation on the cross as an answer to our cultural perspective on the signs of aging. I pray it’s an encouragement to you.
—Pastor Phillip


Thoughts on the Signs of Age

Why is it that the particular signs of advancing age —graying hair, growing veins, wrinkling skin— are so often less desirable to us than the physical marks of youth?

Biologists would say we’re hard-wired to prize youth because of its reproductive viability.  Survival of the species depends on a ready supply of healthy individuals who are able to reproduce effectively and provide viable offspring.

Sociologists might point to a multi-layered cultural system that prizes sexuality above almost all else, and therefore magnifies youth as the embodiment of that desire.

Others might point to the idea that with the outward signs of aging comes the inescapable reminder of our own mortality and eventual death, such that the more we can surround ourselves with displays of youth, the easier it is to distract ourselves from the reality of our inevitable death.

Some would say that the outer signs of aging are an all-too-true mirror of the inward aging of the soul, and if one’s experience is of pain and toil and a growing sense of the loss of the “good ole’ days,” then any reminder of that is something to flee or mask, indeed.

Perhaps it’s the sense that the older we are, the less able we are to produce or accomplish, and in a world that often ranks a person’s value by their achievement, a lessening of that ability seems like a decrease in worth as a person.

Maybe the veins and the hair and the wrinkles are unwanted reminders of the growing loss of innocence, the increasing distance from a time when we were carefree and careless, before the crushing weight of the world took its place like a vulture on our shoulders.

Maybe we prize youth and dread old age, simply because it seems like everyone else does.

Perhaps it’s the fear of pain, sickness or suffering that drives us to close our eyes and mask the marks of growing old, as if we could stay well and safe simply by willing it to be so.

Likely a major reason we don’t desire the signs of aging is the sense that their presence will prevent other people from desiring us —for any of the other reasons— and no one wants to feel unwanted.

Look, now, at the cross of Jesus Christ.

Look on the agony, the injustice of betrayal, and hear the Word of Truth, “I did this for YOU, because I made you, and I desire you.”

See the nail marks and the blood stains, the rough splintered timber that received the lacerated back of a dying Savior, and hear the gentle reminder, “My suffering was great, yet my deliverance was sure, and so is yours.”

Think of the loneliness, the total abandonment of close friends and the jeering scorn of the crowd, and be strengthened by His lone voice crying out clear, “I hung alone for you so you could walk along with me.  The crowd doesn’t matter, only my love for you.”

Remember the promise of His blood, “This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins,” and hear it cry out from the muddy ground of Calvary, “You are innocent!  You are forgiven!  You are clean!”

See the hands of the carpenter, calloused and strong, now so cruelly nailed to wood he never wanted, bones splintering before the spikes, unable to work any more…for now.

Hear His cry from the cross, “It is finished!  It is done!” and be reminded that He did His final work to secure not just your final rest, but a life of rest even now.  Nothing remains to be earned or accomplished to secure the love of God —it is finished.

Look to the streets leading up to the hill of execution.  See the innocent man carrying His own cross for you, and hear His words to your weary soul, “Come to me, all who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Let His burden lighten yours and restore to you the strength of soul that slipped away so long ago.

Turn now, away from the hill of the cross and look towards the garden tomb.  See it there, its entrance stone rolled away, merely a vacant space now because HE IS NOT THERE and no more does death have the last word.

Hear His promise to those who believe, “I AM the life…if anyone comes to me, they will never die.”

He was released from His tomb in the ground.

Now through Him, may you be released from the tomb of the age of fear, and the fear of age.