Tax Collectors and Prostitutes
How much does sin really matter? I mean, we all do it, right? If we can’t be perfect, then why not give in to sin a little bit? Isn’t it just legalism to say that we have to follow the Bible exactly? God knows that we are imperfect, and Jesus ate with the tax collectors and the prostitutes, and I am a good person, right? Jesus did eat with the tax collectors and the prostitutes, but that does not at all mean that Jesus condoned their sins. What it means is that Jesus loved the sinner as he does today. He wants the best for us and for every person who has ever lived and sinned, but ceasing sinful practices is what is best for us. In Lk 5.30, the Pharisees grumble at Jesus “Why do you eat with sinners.” Jesus’ reply is especially key: he calls the sinners “sick” and not “healthy” (calling himself the physician to make them well) and says that he is here to bring sinners to repentance. Jesus wanted a change in the tax collectors and prostitutes. He wanted them, like us, to stop sinning.
Who is a Pastor?
Most Christian denominations today use the term “pastor” to refer to their preachers or ministers. Even some people in the Church, when referring to these individuals who call themselves “pastor,” will use this terminology as well, but is this a responsible use of the term? The only time this word appears in most modern translations is Eph 4.11 which offers no context for what the role of the pastor is. Instead, we must rely on the greater context of the New Testament to determine the way in which this word is used. Peter, an elder according to his own epistle (1 Pet 5.1), is told to shepherd the sheep by Jesus in Jn 21.26 (“pastor” is the translation of the Greek word for “shepherd”; the following verses all use the verb form of the same word). In Acts 20.17, Paul summons the elders of the church at Ephesus and tells them they are to shepherd the flock that Jesus purchased with his blood. It is clear from these verses that the role of the pastor is no different and in fact not distinct from the role of the elder. A “pastor” is not a minister, preacher, or evangelist. A minister, preacher, or evangelist is not a pastor. A pastor is one in the same with an elder. Anyone who calls themselves a pastor and is not serving the office of an elder is not actually a pastor. Accordingly, anyone who seeks to be a pastor must meet the qualifications of an overseer found in 1 Tim 3 and an elder in Tit 1, one of which is “a husband of one wife.” That makes the modern use of “pastor” particularly difficult since we know that Paul had no wife (1 Cor 7.7-8). We need to be very conscious so that we use biblical terms in a biblical way, and most people today use the term “pastor” (or shepherd) incorrectly.
This upcoming week, I’d like to encourage you to do two things. First, take some time to reflect on your life. Go into your inner room (Mt 6.6), and through study, prayer, and reflection, examine yourself (1 Cor 13.5). After you have made this examination of yourself, you should find ways that you can grow and improve yourself. When you do, apply those things to your life through study and prayer, meditating on the things written in the Word (Jsh 1.8). We have been given not just empty words, but given the living word (Heb 4.12) that is literally “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3.16). These words shouldn’t just be things we remember that give us comfort but the Word by which we live.
I sincerely hope that you will all have a wonderful Easter. I hope that you have a good time with your families, and I hope that all the children enjoy their egg hunts and their Easter baskets. I also hope, however, that you will take a few moments, personally and not just in our worship service this morning, to think about why we have the Easter holiday: to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I further hope that this period of reflection on Jesus or his resurrection will not be limited to today only, but will become an intricate part of your life every day since the resurrection of Jesus is significant every day and not on Easter only.
Vanity of Vanities
What does it matter? That’s the question that Solomon was asking in the book of Ecclesiastes. When he wrote, “vanity of vanities” he was making the case that life has no purpose, except for this: serve God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. That’s what matters. In our lives, when so many try to grow their bank account, they chase vanity. We have the chance to do something that matters, though. To serve God and keep his commandments!
Distractions. We all know about distractions. Whenever the lawn really needs to be cut but the couch feels so comfortable. Something needs to get done at work, but something so interesting just popped up on your Facebook wall. We know about these distractions that are seemingly harmless, but we don’t usually think of distractions being something to worry about in a spiritual sense. Solomon writes in Proverbs 4.25-27 “Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” Peter warns us to “be sober” and “be on the alert” in 1 Pet 5.8. Distractions are more than Facebook and have greater implications than the length of grass. We have to be focused on God and Christ without being distracted by the world.
Be Holy for I am Holy
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Accordingly, at the grocery store, every beer, ale, and lager was on sale in large displays with clovers and streamers. It’s funny to me that a “saint” (so-named by men and not by God) would be honored with the consumption of alcohol. Paul says that drunkenness is fleshly in Gal 5.19-21 and debauchery in Eph 5.18. This is the exact opposite of what it means to be saintly. “Saint” literally means “holy one.” “Holy” means “separate, set apart, or sanctified.” An individual cannot be a saint and act like the world: the two are contradictory. To be a saint, an individual must be separate and distinct from the world. As Jesus says in Jn 17.16, “in the world and not of the world.” This St. Patrick’s Day and every day after, do your best to be holy. “You shall be holy for I am holy” 1 Pet 1.16.
Being a Good Neighbor
Jesus said that the second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself. This is an obligation that we all have to love our neighbors regardless of how they act toward us, but have you ever thought of the role you play in this for others? Do you make it easy for others to love you as they do themselves? As you interact with people this upcoming week and for the rest of your lives, ask yourself if you are the kind of neighbor to others that you would want for them to be to you (Mt 7.12).
Being Filled with the Spirit
I love food. I mentioned a few weeks ago asking my mother once if there would be food in Heaven since I knew that Heaven would be a perfect place. The reason I love food so much is that I hate being hungry and I love being full. If this kind of food is so important to me, should not “being filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5.18) be even more important? Many people come to worship being spiritually emaciated without even knowing it and leave without getting any kind of fulfillment. Some people exchange spiritual fulfillment for emotional fulfillment believing it to be the same thing when it is not. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness, long for the meat of the Word, and be filled with the Bread and Water of Life (Jn 4.14; 6.48-58).
Recently, we sang the song “He Lives.” I love that song because of what it teaches. “He lives! He lives! You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.” Now, I know that Jesus lives beyond simply living on in my heart. The angels asked in Lk 24.5, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” But the point remains, Jesus is to continue to live in us and we in Christ (Gal 2.20; 3.27). How can Paul say, ”it is no longer I who live”? By giving his life over to Jesus completely in his living, in his attitude, in his thinking, and in every aspect of his life. Paul very easily could sing “He lives within my heart!” and would have been glad to do so. I try every day of my life to have the attitude of Paul so that I can say “it is no longer I who live but Christ living in me.” I hope that the next time we sing this song you will remember this idea and be able to confidently sing that Christ does live within us!
Prioritize Your Life
What order are your priorities in? Since the eighth day, God’s number one priority has been us. Whether it was providing us with food, giving us guidance, or sacrificing his son, God’s chief priority has been assuring that we have what we need. Can we say that we have acted in kind? Is God always our first priority, or even our second or third? We ought to act always asking first what God would have us do. We owe it to him because we owe everything to him.
I would encourage you , as you go about your lives this week, to ask yourself the question, “Am I thinking about God?” Too often, our actions are selfish, where God’s actions are never selfish. Won’t you try to do the same?
Childish or Child-Like?
The first sermon I ever preached was titled “The Importance to be as a Child to Enter Heaven.” I though t it was clever since I was so young; nevertheless, it is true. To enter into heaven, we must be like children according to Jesus in Mt 18.3. To be like a child is to be humble, meek, caring, (mostly) obedient, and to see the best in others.
Jesus did not say, however, to be just like a child. In 1 Cor 13.11, Paul describes becoming a man and putting away “childish things.” We must become like a child without being childish. Being childish is illustrated by lacking maturity: being selfish or unkind, rash, or impetuous.
Even when we are old, we will be either childish or child-like. One is desirable, and the other is not. Like with all things, it is a choice. We can allow ourselves to be immature, or grow into maturity but keeping all the best parts of youth (1 Cor 14.20).
Trusting in God
I’ve had a great year. At this time last year, Desiree and I didn’t really know where were going to go or what we were going to do, but we have been blessed with a great opportunity with Desiree going to law school at Memphis and us being able to become a part of the family here at Oakland.
It’s comforting to me to know that even when we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do, God did. If I am ever completely lost, God is still steady.
Sometimes, when we are lost we think we need to trust in ourselves more, but sometimes we should trust in prayer more, trust in God more. We must have the humility to accept that God is capable of far more than we could ever hope to accomplish.
New Year's Resolutions
The time for resolutions is upon us! Most people make resolutions to lose weight, get healthy, or read a book. Perhaps some of the people that make these resolutions should consider ways of improving more than their physical bodies.
Instead of losing physical weight, why not lose the body (Gal 5.24)?
Instead of getting healthy physically, why not get healthy physically (Heb 5.12-14)?
Instead of reading a book by an earthly author, why not read a book by a heavenly author (2 Tim 3.16)? By reading just a few pages a day, one can read the entire Bible in a year.
These are just a few of the ways that we can hope to grow, in a year’s time, to become better servants of God. Is that not the least he deserves?
Hungry for the Word
At the writing of this article, I am starving. It’s to the point that a health food commercial would probably seem appetizing. It’s only been a few hours since I’ve last eaten. That’s not what we find in Mt. 4 where Jesus has gone forty days without eating. After this amount of time, Satan tells Jesus to turn stones to bread, which he could have easily done, but he did not. Jesus tells Satan “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4.4). Try to imagine the hunger that Jesus must have felt in that moment, yet he was composed to give Satan that reply. The question I have is do I long for the Word of God with the same ravenous hunger that I now possess? Do I hunger for the Word of God with the hunger that Jesus would have had after not eating for forty days? I should. Man cannot live without food, but his soul will die without the Word of God.
Reading the Bible
Several years ago, I was having a conversation with a young man that I worked with, and he said to me, “To tell you the truth, I’d rather drink a beer than read the Bible.” In that moment and whenever I reflect on it, I find myself in disbelief. How could someone prefer to drink beer than read the God-breathed Scripture? Clearly, it sounds ridiculous, but I find myself often doing the same thing. I don’t neglect studying the Word of God to drink beer, but sometimes I discover that I’m watching something on TV that I don’t care about; “it’s just on.” The same goes for reading books, playing video games, and the like. I’m not saying that we can’t do things to entertain ourselves, but I have to wonder, how many hours does my generation spend on Facebook and how relatively few hours studying the Bible by comparison? There’s nothing wrong with TV, books, or Facebook, but there is something wrong with our attitude if we allow those things to rise above their proper place taking precedence over God, His Kingdom, or His Word.
Turning Away from God
“Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice” (1 Kgs 11.9). These words come shortly before the death of Solomon. Because of his lack of commitment, the LORD tells Solomon that his kingdom would be torn from him and given to his servant. The anger of the LORD comes from the fact that Solomon, one to whom God had twice appeared, would turn to the other gods. The LORD was angry that the Solomon who built the temple and prayed “O Lord, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven above or on earth beneath” (1 Kgs 8.23) could build high places for Milcolm, Ashtoreth, and Molech.What about us? Do we not do the same as Solomon? We may not have heard the voice of God, but we have read his word that is God-breathed (2 Tim 3.16). We haven’t seen his glory fill the temple, but we have seen the world he made (Rm 1.19-20). We haven’t been given a long life as rulers over a kingdom, but in Christ we have an inheritance far greater than any earthly realm (1 Pet 1.3-4). How much more foolish are we, then, if we turn our hearts away from the Father and the Son and do not walk in his commandments.
Real Men Don't Cry
“Real men don’t cry.” That’s just not true. Real men do cry. When Lazarus died and Jesus took his disciples to Bethany, He knew that He was going to raise him from the dead. Nevertheless, in Jn 11.35, we read that “Jesus wept.” I don’t know how not crying becomes representative of masculinity. Often, the motivation to cry is love whether it be happiness at the birth of a child or death of a loved one. To say that a real man cannot cry is to say that a man cannot love or that he must ignore his heart.
There is no reason for a man not to cry. Society’s stipulations of masculinity are not what God expects. God expects for a man to love and provide for his family, raise his children according to God’s Word, and above all be a faithful servant of the Lord.
Depending on God
Our society is set up to be independent. People take pride in being “a self-made man.” Someone’s worth is determined by how much they can accumulate for themselves. We are taught to think that dependence is a bad thing that implies helplessness. The thing is, we are helpless. We should be dependent on God. We can do nothing for ourselves. Whatever we have, God gave it to us (Jas 1.17). Both the just and unjust must thank God for the rain that feeds them (Mt 5.45). Everything is sustained by God’s power (Heb 1.3). Without God, we would be helpless, and there is nothing wrong with that, so instead of trying to be independent, which we never will succeed at doing, we should openly and graciously depend on God.
Prayer is a valuable thing. Perhaps it is the most impactful thing that we can do with our time. I’ve always hated the line that doctors give in movies, “all we can do now is pray.” I know the point is that the doctors are incapable of doing anything else, but it comes across as if prayer is something of last resort. It is not. We should constantly pray because when we pray we go to the God of the Universe, the creator and sustainer of all things. Prayer is a powerful thing not because of us, but because of God. James reminds his readers of the power of prayer in Jas 5.16. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Your Own Faith
Do you own your faith? It’s a simple question that I’m afraid lacks a simple answer. Many people were blessed to grow up in a Christian home, but because they were always with their parents hearing their beliefs they never took ownership of their own faith; they just recycled their parents’ beliefs. The same thing happens quite regularly even outside of the home. People continue to recycle the beliefs of their elders, preachers, friends, or loved ones. There is nothing wrong with listening to people we trust. The danger lies in the fact that each of us are going to be accountable to God. As such, we need to think carefully and critically about all things regarding our faith.