Pastor Jason's Blog
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January 31, 2018, 7:02 AM

Judge Not?

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without a critical spirit of others. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our predispositions are still there. Many of us spend an enormous amount of unnecessary energy making up our minds about other people and their actions (or inaction). Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about them. We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments can be quite oppressive. The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will also be free for mercy.

William Barclay has listed three great reasons why no person should judge another. First, we never know the whole facts or the whole person. Second, it is almost impossible for any person to be strictly impartial in his or her judgement. Third, no person is good enough to judge any other person.

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus drew a vivid picture of a man with a plank in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else’s eye. The clear point being that only the faultless has a right to look for faults in others. Unfortunately, every organization and every church is full of people who are prepared to criticize from the body of the hall, or even from an arm-chair, but who would never dream of taking office themselves. The world is full of people who claim the right to be extremely vocal in criticism and totally exempt from action. Yet, no person has a right to criticize another unless they are prepared at least to try do the thing they criticize better. No person has a right to criticize others unless they are prepared to venture themselves in the same situation. We have quite enough to do to rectify our own lives without seeking critically to rectify the lives of others. Therefore, we would do well to concentrate on our own faults, and to leave the faults of others to God.

Let us join in prayer: Gracious Father, thank you for loving me unconditionally. Help me to go forth and do the same for others as I interact with those whom You place in my path. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

January 24, 2018, 8:07 AM

Who Is My Neighbor?

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

The Lord declares that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. But who is my neighbor? We often respond to that question by saying, “My neighbors are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.” But this is not what Jesus says. When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” he ends by asking, “Which . . . do you think, proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The neighbor, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man lying on the side of the road, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, “bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, . . . lifted him on to his donkey and took him to an inn and looked after him.” My neighbor is the one who crosses the road for me!

We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between Republicans and Democrats, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, and even those within the same congregation. There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbors.

To become neighbors is to bridge the gap between people. As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look into one another’s eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, put words in their mouth, assume the worst regarding their intentions, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact. We think of them as enemies. We forget that they are created in the very image of God and treat them as objects that can be dismissed or destroyed at will. Only when we have the courage to cross the road, look in one another’s eyes, and offer to bandage wounds can we see there that we are children of the same God. Who will you cross the road for today and be a neighbor? Who will you love as you are loved by God?

Let us join in prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for crossing the road and bridging the gap when I was yet a sinner. Thank you for reaching out to me, bandaging my wounds, and granting me healing. Help me to go forth and do likewise. Help me to bridge the gap. Help me to love my neighbor. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

January 17, 2018, 10:07 AM

On Mission?

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6).

Who are we, and what are we to do? It is vitally important that the church routinely consider these questions. I believe the answer is revealed in the beginning of the book of Revelation. Before we get to the answer, let’s first consider what Dr. D. M. Gunter II says we, the church, are not.

We are not a social club. Although building good relationships and living in community with each other is part of our mission, part of our purpose, and biblical, we are not a social club. We are not a service club. Although we are to care for the needs of each other, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, to tend the sick and help the helpless, and to visit the prisoner and house the homeless, we are not a service club. We are not a historical society. Although we have our traditions and creeds and build on the foundation that was laid by our spiritual ancestors, we are not a historical society. We are not a sales organization. Although we want to introduce people to Jesus Christ and see the kingdom of God grow and increase, we are not “selling” a gospel or “closing deals” for Jesus. That’s not our identity. That’s not our main purpose. So, who are we and what is our purpose?

Our existence is “christocentric.” The church is Christ centered. The “grace and peace” is “…from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead…” (Rev. 1:5). Jesus is the one who freed us. He is the one who made us. The church is to be focused on Jesus Christ, to be centered on him. Our character is to be like Christ. Christ freed us from our sin so that we could live in right relationship with him and so that we could be transformed into his image. He has made us to be a holy kingdom (Rev. 1:6a). We are a different culture from the rest of the world, with a different way of living. So, who we are is a Christ centered holy kingdom. We are His possession (Rev. 5:9).

As His possession, our mission is to be his priests. “[He] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father…” (Rev. 1:6a). A priest serves by connecting people and God. That is their role. You and I – the church – are called to serve as priests. We are to be a holy kingdom and our mission is to reconcile people to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). We are to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) that helps reconcile that which is lost. That is who we are and what we are to do. Are we doing it?

Let us join in prayer: Heavenly Father, I ask you to enable me to gladly do the work to which you beckon me. May I do it as a servant of Christ doing the will of God from my heart. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

December 20, 2017, 8:13 AM

Healthy Christ-esteem

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NIV)

The Apostle Paul was deeply concerned in all his letters, not only with doctrinal purity, but behavioral consistency between belief and action, convictions and character, piety and personality. Throughout his writings he persistently and decisively deals with the problem of people who name Christ as Lord but have not allowed Him to transform their hearts – their personalities and character disorders. The last line, “having a form of godliness but denying its power,” means believers who have the outward trappings of rites, rituals, and rules of religion, but in areas of their lives have denied the Lord’s transforming power. All of the character and personality disorders Paul lists out are a denial of the power of the Lord to break chains and radically change lives.

As we consider the inventory Paul provides, I pray that you and I will have the honesty to see areas in which we need to change and that we would be given the courage to ask the Lord to transform what needs to be changed. When you come to a category that does not apply to you, praise the Lord that you are not troubled by that. But dare to be boldly courageous. Make “I will be absolutely honest with myself and the Lord” your motto in the areas that are a problem to you.

For example, let’s consider the first character disorder on Paul’s list: “lovers of themselves.” The fundamental problem Paul focuses on here is misdirected love. The self is meant to be the container and transmitter of the Holy Spirit, not the object of worship instead of God. The problem is self-centeredness. This is a sin we often tolerate in ourselves and suffer stress from others. Self-centeredness must be seen for what it is: apostasy, the departure from loving God to undue, obsessive, and eventually compulsive focus on ourselves: what we want, how others treat us, our rights, our feelings. It is the opposite of healthy Christ-esteem, loving ourselves as loved by Him.

Self-centeredness turns us inward on the self as worthy of worship; Christ-esteem fills the self with love for God; for ourselves as forgiven and saved by His grace; and then turns us outward to live sacrificially for others. Self-centeredness can ruin marriages, debilitate friendships, disrupt churches, and wreak havoc on entire communities. Now it is not for me to tell you if self-centeredness is ever your problem, but you can. And if you do, and if you ask for the Holy Spirit to redirect your worship away from self to the Lord, He will help you do just that – if you truly want Him to.

Let us join in prayer: Speak, Lord, for your servant hears. Grant me ears to hear, eyes to see, a will to obey, a heart to love; then declares what you will, reveal what you will, command what you will, demand what you will. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

December 13, 2017, 8:59 AM

Faithful In Suffering

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead… that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim. 2:8-9, NRSV)

Scripture calls us to be faithful, even in the midst of suffering. In order to receive the full impact of this passage, we need to understand the particular kind of suffering Paul said he was enduring. The word for suffer in verse 9 is kakopatho (kako – evil; pascho – suffer). This is a very strong word, indicating the influences of evil or Satan himself to use what happens to us to try to induce us to question God’s faithfulness in the management of our lives. We become vulnerable when a physical, emotional, or relational difficulty causes us to wonder if the Lord has forgotten us.

“Why did this happen?” we ask. “What is the Lord up to in permitting this to happen?” we demand. A prolonged illness, relentless pain, grief, strained or broken relationships, misunderstanding of the motives of others, or feeling misunderstood, problems that pile up, etc., – all can bring us to the edge of doubting the goodness of the Lord. We suffer the temptation to question His love for us. Added to all this, we’ve all been upset by the thoughtlessness, carelessness, or just plain pigheadedness of people. Why does God allow their derisive and divisive words and actions?

To help us in our journey, Paul gives us some things to remember. “Remember… Jesus Christ” (2:8). Remember the Incarnate Christ who lived among us in human flesh. Remember the images He used to teach us of faithfulness. Remember the Christ who forgave those who didn’t seem to deserve it, who gave shalom to the distressed, and communicated hope to the disheartened. Remember the cross and the resurrection. Remember Jesus, the faithful One. When we relive Calvary, we realize what an awesome revelation of God’s faithfulness the resurrection was and is.

Another reason Paul could survive and remain faithful in suffering was because he had a gospel. Paul had an evangel – a gospel, good news, truth he had experienced and spent his life communicating to others. Jesus Christ became Paul’s purpose and passion. This gospel kept him going. He had exciting news to share. What would you say is your gospel? What is the good news according to you? We all have a gospel. What Christ means to us personally and our personal application of His message, death, resurrection, and reigning power to all of the demands of life become our gospel. People around us are reading the gospel according to you and me all the time. When they look at us may they see a gospel of love and faithfulness in all circumstances.

Let us join in prayer: Father, I thank you for this day, for what it shall bring, opportunities, life, hope, strength. And for what it may take away. Teach me to trust you in the comings and goings of life. In the name of your faithful Son, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

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