Pastor's Blog
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February 21, 2018, 7:11 AM

Jesus Is ______.

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

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Matthew 16:13-15)

Leadership books are a dime a dozen today. Everyone has an angle. Some authors offer a key to effective leadership. Many writers have come up with a catchy title. But, basically, leaders fall into one of two categories: those who lead according to public consensus, and those who lead based on personal convictions. Those who lead according to public opinion wait until the polling data is in so they can see their constituent’s thoughts on a certain issue. Once they have this information, then – and usually only then – will they take a stand on an issue. In contrast are those individuals who lead based on personal conviction. Deep in the fiber of their being, they have convictions about what is right and what is wrong, and those convictions dictate their leadership decisions.

It was on this very point that our Lord took His disciples away from the Galilean crowds. Thousands of people had flocked to them on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, and they had been expending themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Thus, Jesus marched them twenty-five miles north, all the way up the foothills of Mt Hermon, to the headwaters of the Jordan River. There, around a fire, they engaged in a conversation about true leadership and faith in Him.

First, our Lord asked the question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” This is a question about public opinion. This is a question of public consensus. Then He asked His disciples another question. He asked them a question of personal conviction. Jesus’ second question was personal and direct. “Who do you say that I am?” In the language of the New Testament, the “you” is emphatic: its placement at the front of the sentence gives it significance and weight. Had we been there listening to our Lord that evening, Jesus’ question would have sounded more like this: “What about you, you and you only, you and no one else, you and you alone – who do you say that I am?”

In our pluralistic culture, to say that Christ is the one and only way to heaven is akin to waving a red cape in front of a raging bull. We set ourselves up for attack when we state that Jesus is indeed the one and only way to heaven. Yet that is the truth, and we need to follow Simon Peter’s example. When our Lord asked this question, Peter immediately replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Following our Lord’s example, Peter used the emphatic you and said, “You, Lord, and You alone, You and there is absolutely no possibility of anyone else, You are the one and only Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter made this power declaration amid a pluralistic culture that was very similar to our own. What about us? What stand will we take when people ask us who Jesus is?

Let us join in prayer: Enable us, O Lord, to walk before you in holiness and righteousness to Your praise and glory. Strengthen our resolve and help us to take a stand for You. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

February 14, 2018, 7:01 AM

A Change of Direction

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

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’ (Acts 2:37-38)

Often in the Christian experience, it is not that we don’t want to do the right thing, we simply don’t know what the right thing is to do. The question found in Acts 2:37 came in response to Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the day when Pentecost marked the coming of the Holy Spirit. Upon hearing of the death burial, and resurrection of Jesus, people felt convicted of their sins, their “hearts were cut,” and they cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter’s pointed yet poignant one-word response was “Repent” (v. 38). Now if there was ever a lost word in our twenty-first century Christian vocabulary and the modern era of positive preaching, repentance is the forgotten word!

Although too often relegated to a dusty shelf today, repentance was the central theme of our Lord’s message. Jesus started His ministry with this theme: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus continued to share this message in His ministry: “I tell you… unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). And Jesus concluded His ministry with that same truth: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…” (Luke 24:46-47). Sadly, repentance is among the most misunderstood and, I daresay, most ignored disciplines of the Christian life. So, what is it?

Repentance is not remorse. Repentance is not simply being sorry that we have sinned – or that we’ve been caught in our sins. Repentance is not regret. Repentance is not merely wishing the deed had never happened and regretting it. Repentance is not resolve. All of us have made New Year’s resolutions. Most of us have resolved at one time or another to, for instance, strive to live by a new set of moral standards.  We want to live life on a higher plan, but we often fail to do so because we are attempting to substitute resolve for genuine repentance. Repentance is not reform. Repentance is not simply turning over a new leaf and trying hard to reform one’s ways. So, “What shall we do?”

The Greek word translated “repent” simply means to change one’s mind. The genuine change of mind is always evidenced in three ways. First comes a new attitude. Repentance begins intellectually with a change of mind. After this occurs, we experience a change of heart, a change of affections. A change in our will, our volition, will follow, and that is evident in a change of action. Therefore, the grace of God finds us in the dark and leads us to repentance. In response, “What shall we do?” Believe upon Christ, set your mind on Him and your heart will follow, and then your actions will also.

Let us join in prayer: Dear Lord, grant me absolution and remission for all my sins, true repentance, amendment of life and the grace and consolation of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

February 7, 2018, 8:52 AM

Robbing God

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

“‘…Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘But you say, “How shall we return?” Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me…’” (Malachi 3:7-10)

Suppose you asked me to write your biography. And suppose I had access to only one of your personal items to try to determine what was really at the heart of your life. I wouldn’t ask to see your diary, or your prayer journal, or even your Bible, though I might find personal notes and insights you’ve jotted down through the years. If I could use only one personal item to help me write your biography, I would choose your bank statement. Your canceled checks and debits would reveal more to me about what mattered to you. After all, Jesus’ teaching from two thousand years ago still applies to us today, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

The Lord calls us to be aware of where we are investing the gifts He gives us. So, through the prophet Malachi, the Lord asked this intensely personal question: Will a man rob God?And God immediately answered His own question: Yet you have robbed Me . . . in tithes and offerings! This is a strong accusation. When we don’t return to God what is His, it’s as though we’re robbing Him personally. Jesus Himself instructed us to “render . . . to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Most Christians would never entertain the thought of not paying their property taxes, sales taxes, or income taxes: they know this rendering to Caesar what belongs to him is right and good and required. And yet an alarming number of Jesus’ professed followers seldom, if ever, render to God the things that are God’s . . . and in the process they rob Him.

God says, “You have robbed Me.” We answer with a question: “In what way have we robbed You?” In a flash comes his reply: “in tithes” (giving 10% of our income) “and offerings” (gifts beyond the tithe). Some Christians believe the tithe is an Old Testament command with no bearing on us because we’re not under the Law. The reality is that the tithe existed among God’s people before the Law was given (Gen. 14:20). Later, when the Law was given, tithing was included (Lev. 27:30). In the New Testament we find Jesus both approving of and practicing the tithe (Matt. 23:23). Tithing is a constant practice of God’s people before, during and after the Law. Personally, I have not understood, in light of the cross, why anyone under grace would give less than those under the law. Not to mention the beautiful promise that’s tied to tithing. God says, Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).

As far-fetched as it may seem, our finances generally mark the condition of our spiritual pilgrimage. We are often no further along in our walk with God than the point where we have learned to trust Him with our tithes and offerings. So, it’s worth a check-up, what do our bank statements reveal?

Let us join in prayer: Loving Father, considering your Son, help us to be cheerful givers. Amen.

You are Loved!

Pastor Jason Stevens

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

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