The Ultimate Banner

Did you know that this past Tuesday was Flag Day? Back in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson established the tradition – each year on June 14th Americans would celebrate the red, white, and blue. Legend has it that Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross, who created Pennsylvania naval flags, designed our flag that initially featured 13 white stars in a circle of blue and 13 red and white horizontal stripes. The American flag in its present form would grace our presence in 1960.

Some see the flag as simply a piece of cloth, while to others it is so much more. Certainly the brave men and women who fight for our country view the American flag as a symbol of the freedom that too many of us take for granted. The flag is a symbol of life. Of liberty. Of national pride. Of hope.

Yes, we are Americans. And we should thank God every day for the privilege to live in this nation. But our ultimate flag waves elsewhere. As Christians, we are neither citizens of this country nor of this world. Our banner is God’s image – the victory He gave us through the death of His only son makes us triumphant in any battle. We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. More importantly, we pledge our loyalty to the Creator of the universe. The God who knew us before he formed us in the womb (Jer. 1:5).

Our God is an awesome God. And He has blessed our nation beyond belief. But make no mistake – He is not an American God. The love He has for a family living in a luxurious house in Manhattan is no different from the love He showers upon the residents of a poor rural town in Honduras. His desire is for all of us to honor the flag – Old Glory, yes, but the glory of the cross first.

As we think about the flag’s meaning and what it symbolizes in our lives, consider some other questions as well: What does the blood of Christ mean to me? How does the cross offer me freedom that I can’t find anywhere else? What can I do ensure that other people – regardless of background – enjoy the same gift of eternal life that I do?

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Ultimate Banner

The Moments Leading up to Sin

 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4

Trials produce joy? I don’t know about you, but temptation sure does not sound fun to me. But let’s face it. We will all be tempted at some point in our lives. There are no exceptions. Matthew Henry said, “The best of saints may be tempted to do the worst of sins.” With this in mind, did you ever think that if you are being tested more than usual, it’s a sign that you are actually doing something right?

Think about it: when does Satan attack us the most? When we are closer to God! When Christ was in the wilderness, Satan pulled out all the stops – and we only read about three. For forty days Christ was tempted by the devil. Luke tells us Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (4:1), a statement that should not be overlooked. While we don’t have a whole lot of details regarding this time, we can confidently say that the Spirit kept the Son from giving in to temptation.

Consider a recent time when sin trapped you. Now ask yourself, “what was going through my mind right before I sinned?” Sin starts in our mind before it is manifested outwardly. For example, if a man steals from the company that employs him, he made the decision ahead of time. Maybe he was greedy. Maybe he was struggling financially. Perhaps he believed he was worth more than what he was getting paid. The point is that all these thoughts enter the mind prior to the sin being committed.

That’s why it is so important to pause before we act. Or breathe before we offer an emotional response. According to Proverbs 13:16, All who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly. A brief pause before we click that web link or a three-second breath prior to answering a difficult question can be the difference between promoting the Kingdom of God and turning people away from it.

There’s a reason Satan is so active in your house each Sunday morning. He knows where you’re going! The devil surely doesn’t want you, the committed Christian, worshiping with your church family. That’s why he tempts you even more when you are closer to the Lord. But please never let that discourage you from persevering. It is not the test, the trial, or even the temptation itself that is wrong. It’s the critical moments that follow that separate right from wrong. Keep that in mind this week as you face the challenges of this world.

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Moments Leading up to Sin

Conform or Transform?

Right now you are holding this piece of paper in your hands. That doesn’t seem like anything special. But think about it: you are reading words on an actual sheet of paper. In our digital world, I’m guessing most words you read are on a laptop, cell phone, Kindle, or some other electronic device. You don’t see too many newspapers in driveways these days, do you?

I read somewhere that teens spend approximately nine hours each day using electronic media. Nine hours. Daily. It’s not necessarily the amount of time spent using these devices (which is staggering), rather it’s what the teens – and adults – are seeing on these screens that should concern us. Clearly there is a difference between spending time using your YouVersion Bible App and scrolling through Facebook for 45 minutes wondering how that old “friend” can afford a family vacation in Hawaii.

How does what we see influence what we think? Paul encourages the Philippians to mediate on things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8). When we are about to watch a movie or TV show, we should ask ourselves, “Will what I’m about to do bring me closer to God or closer to the world?”

It is tempting to want to fit in, particularly for younger people. The pressures I faced growing up are nothing compared to what my children will encounter. This is why it’s so critical to meditate on Romans 12:2 –   to the pattern of this world,

We will be discussing discipleship in the upcoming weeks. Part of being a genuine disciple is stimulating a thirst in others to be like Jesus Christ. Jesus followed his father’s will. He didn’t conform to the culture of his day. He didn’t cave in to the Pharisees. And he certainly didn’t spend time worrying about what people thought of him. Christ had a mission. That mission centered around God’s perfect will. And because Jesus transformed the world, you and I can enjoy eternal life in the present day!

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Conform or Transform?

Who Are You?

Do you know who you are? That sounds like an odd question, I know, but do you have an identity? It’s been said before, and needs to be repeated: It’s not about who you are, rather whose you are that truly matters.

Philippians 4:13 sometimes gets misapplied. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This does not mean, “I believe in Christ, therefore I will be able to play in the NBA” or “Christ will give me the strength and skills to sing on Broadway if I only pray hard enough.” That verse instead points to the secret of contentment – Jesus Christ (as v. 12 alludes to). Keep in mind Paul wrote this letter from prison, where his perspective was a tad different than ours this morning. Perhaps it’s better to interpret 4:13 as “I can make the most of any and all bad situations through the strength that Christ provides.”

Paul was a man who would not be defined by any label or experience. He was a Jew, a Benjamanite, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, a persecutor, and ultimately, an apostle turned missionary. But none of these were his identity. No, Paul’s identity was in Christ! He uses the phrase “in Christ” many times in his writings. Paul knew who he was, but more importantly, whose he was.

We can say the same. I’m a father, son, brother, husband, minister, Philadelphian, etc. But my identity stems from Christ first and foremost. If you have to be labeled, isn’t the word Christian a great label to have?

Do you know who you are? You are a child of God. You are a representative of Jesus Christ. You are an extension of his church. You are the only Bible some people will ever read. You are a man or woman who was known by God before He “formed you in the womb” (Jer. 1:5).

You are the recipient of your Creator’s unconditional love. Think about this next time you hear someone say, “I need to go find myself.”

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Who Are You?

Strength in the LORD

Today we conclude our sermon series on the Book of Psalms. We laughed, we cried, but one point should stand above the rest: God remains in control! We see it throughout the Psalms, be it a penitential, royal, messianic, praise, imprecatory, wisdom, or lament psalm. God is our strength during times when we struggle to find any. David was certainly considered a strong man, both physically and spiritually. But even he – a man after God’s own heart – chronicled his weaknesses and his reliability on a “power greater than himself.”

The word that comes to mind as I studied the Book of Psalms was strength. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “strength” (or its variants) can be found 108 times in the Book. For example, Psalm 46:1 assures us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” In 68:28, David asks God to “summon your power…show us your strength, O God, as you have done before.” If your “soul is weary with sorrow,” God can strengthen us according to his word” (119:28).

Joshua was given the enormous task of following in the footsteps of Moses as leader of Israel. God almost immediately tells him – three times – to “be strong and courageous” along his journey. The strength of which God speaks is not necessarily physical strength. Physical strength is useful in many ways, but without the divine relationship, it only takes you so far (Goliath, for example). God instructs Joshua to not be afraid, “for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (1:9).

It seems counter-intuitive to gain strength from relying on someone else. After all, we’re strong and independent people! “I can do it all by myself,” we like to claim. That’s a fine attitude to adopt, but aren’t there times when you, quite frankly, can’t overcome a challenge on your own? There’s a reason the very first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is “admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” No one likes to admit defeat. But when admitting defeat leads to a belief in a Savior who paid a debt he did not owe because we owe a debt we cannot pay, then isn’t that really a victory?

We can’t “do it all” on our own. I don’t know about you, but I need Jesus Christ to help me get through each and every day. The strength and courage he displayed at Calvary give me the strength I need to not only endure a difficult time, but even to embrace it. Because I know it is at precisely that moment when Christ is closest to me.

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Strength in the LORD

The Unsung Hero

When you accomplish something, do you want everyone to know about it? When you perform a good deed, are you sure someone sees it? Do you like to be recognized for all your hard work during the week?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, don’t worry. It’s natural for us to want to receive credit for something we did. Who doesn’t enjoy a pat on the back or an “atta-boy” (or gal) once in a while?

There are plenty of heroes in the Bible. We all know the stories of Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, and, of course, Jesus. But are you familiar with the names Shiphrah, Puah, Shobi, Makir, Barzillai, and Anna? How about the story of the servant of Naaman’s wife?

I assure you these are names that did not come up during seminary training. That said, each played a pivotal – and unsung – role in the harmony of God’s story.

Shiphrah and Puah were two brave midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders to kill any baby boy they delivered (Exodus 1:15-21).

Shobi, Makir, and Barzillai provided food and other materials for King David and his men while they were on the run from Absalom (2 Sam. 17:27-29).

The prophetess Anna was blessed to see the baby Jesus. Her testimony included speaking “about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

After the soldier Naaman contracted leprosy, his wife’s servant girl (unnamed) informed her mistress that Elisha the prophet could cure Naaman. She pointed her master in the right direction, and this simple act saved his life (2 Kings 5:1-3).

We all have an unsung hero in our lives, don’t we? That person who has helped guide us when we never even realized it. It may have been a prayer on our behalf at a time when we desperately needed it. Or a teacher’s aide from years ago who taught us a shortcut to divide fractions. Or even a simple “thank you” from a customer to whom we served coffee.

Ultimately it matters very little what recognition we enjoy here. Everything we do is for the glory of God, and it is He who deserves all the credit in the world!

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Unsung Hero

It’s Not Fair!

I’ve been reading a book titled Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey. It tackles a similar subject to the one we talked about last week – the concept of fairness. Is God unfair? Is God hidden? Is He silent? These are just a few of the questions addressed in the book. As I mentioned before, God’s idea of fairness is different than ours. To us, it likely doesn’t seem fair that a man whose wife developed breast cancer, which eventually spread to her lungs, was the victim of a brutal drunk-driving accident. But that’s exactly what happened. ­

The man’s wife and young daughter were also in the car, but he was the one who sustained the most serious injuries, one of which resulted in severe head trauma. He survived, but his focus, vision, and everyday tasks such as walking, eating, and reading were profoundly affected. He had been the primary caregiver to his ailing wife. Now it was he who needed special care.

Instead of screaming, “Life’s not fair,” this gentleman considered a unique perspective regarding his situation. “I learned, first through my wife’s illness and then especially through the accident, not to confuse God with life,” he said. “I believe God feels the same way about that accident – grieved and angry. I don’t blame him for what happened.” Grieved and angry. Notice this man did not diminish the gravity of his situation or say something like, “Well, everything happens for a reason.” No, he was angry. He was disappointed with what happened. He just refused to blame God – or mention anything about fairness.

Reading the Book of Job, one can’t help but acknowledge (hopefully) that God can be trusted in spite of the perceived unfairness of life. Certainly Job’s situation was extreme, but don’t we see parallels today? A brief visit to the Caring Bridge website tells us all we need to know about fairness.

Perhaps the most telling part of Job’s story is this: God does not offer an explanation to the problem of pain. If God Himself does not attempt to explain why “bad things happen to good people,” why should we? The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) takes the concept of fairness and turns it on its head. And doesn’t Jesus extend the metaphor when he claims, “The last will be first, and the first will be last?”

Like you, I wish I had an answer to life’s injustices. But we won’t know until we are in the presence of the Lord. Until then, keep exercising those faith muscles. We need them now more than ever!

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on It’s Not Fair!

Don’t Fight the Law

It was the Bobby Fuller Four who sang, “I Fought the Law,” adding “and the law won.” It’s a catchy tune, and a good reminder to stay out of prison (as if we needed that). I can’t imagine the “Law” in question here is of the Old Testament variety. Of course, singing something like, “I Fought the Levitical Ceremonial Law and the law won” doesn’t exactly have radio-friendly lyrics, but I digress.

The Law of Moses contains 613 commandments. You read that correctly. We often think of the Ten Commandments only, but this was a culture that was in dire need of strict laws at the time. Remember that the Bible was written for us, but not initially to us. The Mosaic Law was intended for a specific group of people. Similarly, laws today are intended for us.

We know that Jesus Christ came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). So does that change the expectations God has for us in 2016? No! Paul reminds us in Galatians 5 not to get tied up in the law…but also not to let that freedom satisfy our fleshly desires. I see this as the Holy Spirit working in us to guide our moral and ethical decision-making. Like you and I, those living during the time of Moses, David, and the Prophets were instructed by God. His instruction at the time applied to the pagan-worshiping culture of Israel’s neighbors. God’s Law (The Old Covenant) was for them to follow. Ceremonially. Judicially. Morally.

The laws introduced in the first part of the Bible are still relevant. If not, they would not appear in an inspired work. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We learn quite a bit about our Heavenly Father through the laws – every one of them – that He gave to his chosen people. I pray that you take some time to read through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy to get closer to God. No, the Levitical Law will not change your life, but don’t you want to gather as much information about God’s character as possible? I know I do!

Certainly we are blessed to be born after Christ fulfilled the Law. But that does not permit us to live lawless lives. If we truly believe that the love of Christ conquers the Law, let us then live out what He believes to be the most important commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Those are two laws we should strive to obey each and every day.

In His Name,

Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Don’t Fight the Law

Stewardship

Stewardship is defined as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something…the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” What does that look like in our lives today? I believe it is first necessary to understand a simple, yet sometimes-complex, truth: nothing we have is ours. Every emotion, every thought, every dollar, every “toy.” They were all given to us by our Creator. C.S. Lewis writes, “If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”

When we genuinely care for resources that are not our own, that’s stewardship. As God places trust in us, it is our responsibility to tend his garden. It is an important concept to Jesus, as we see in the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16: 1-15).  As devout Christians, we should adopt an attitude that focuses on putting others first. As we serve God, let us serve our friends, co-workers, families, and even those we don’t know. That, too, is what stewardship looks like.

Additionally, we are stewards of our own bodies. Paul urges us in Romans 12:1 “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Holy and pleasing to God. Yes, my body is a temple. Surely I think about this as I dust off a meal at Qdoba or a blizzard at Dairy Queen. But look further: our bodies belong to God. This includes our sexuality as well.  As the world continues to pervert the meanings of words such as “marriage” and “relationship,” we have to trust that God’s plan for our sexuality is better than our own. After all, God created it, didn’t He?

Again, we are stewards. Of our money, of our time, and even our own bodies. I heard someone say recently that sexuality is not ours to devalue. I couldn’t agree more! This world is not our own. And every part of the world – of our own personal “worlds” – belongs to the LORD.

Like so many things in life, it comes down to a temporal perspective vs. an eternal one. Which will you choose?

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Stewardship

Worn Out

The final slide in last Sunday’s sermon included the lyrics from a song titled “Worn,” by the band Tenth Avenue North. The opening verse is below:

I’m tired 
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Are you feeling worn out today? Like those sneakers you refuse to get rid of? Jesus hears you.

Are you burnt out at work? Have you “had it up to here” with your children today? Jesus hears you.

Are you about to burst at the seams in a fit of frustration? Is your mind racing in ways it never has before? Jesus hears you.

There are times when your burden will be overwhelming. “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is a popular aphorism that, quite frankly, sounds better when you say it than when someone says it to you. I prefer something like, “God will give you the strength you need at that time.” And He will.

Psalm 55:22 instructs us to “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Even as a small child, Christ was described as one who will carry the government on his shoulders (Isa. 9:6). Now that’s a burden!

Each of us has work to do, and our heavenly father has given us that work. Is it a burden? Perhaps, but it’s ours. Fellowship with God will allow us to conquer that burden, but the responsibility nonetheless falls on us.

It is when we are in constant contact with God that our hearts become lighter, our breathing is easier, and our burdens – whatever they may be – become just a little more tolerable.

Cast your burdens on the King. He knows what you are going through.

In His Name,

-Matt

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Worn Out