Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

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10 Practical Peace – Part 1

Romans 14:1-8

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

In Romans chapter 14 Paul calls Christians to address the attitudes and actions that threaten to fracture the flock. The believers he was writing to were divided over special days and diets. Their big issue was whether or not it was ok for a Christian to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol before it was brought home from the butcher. Paul reminds them that the food shouldn’t be the real focus, what really matters revolves around relationship. It is here that Paul offers us help in knowing what to believe and how to behave when God’s Word seems to allow for some differences in application. What does God want in the grey areas? How do we handle people who follow the same principles but have different practices? Paul starts by introducing us to two different groups in the church, the weak and the strong. A “weak” believer is one who hasn’t fully grasped the extent of their freedom in Christ; their conscience becomes consumed by preferences that are not paramount. In this group were Jewish Christians who refrained from certain foods and observed certain days in their attempt to remain loyal to the Mosaic Law. A “strong” brother or sister is the one who can exercise his freedom in Christ with a clear conscience.  While one faction followed a strict diet and felt that some days were more spiritual than others, the other group only had one hang up, the first group. The ‘easy’ solution to this problem would have been to form two churches, ‘The Church of the Carnivores’ and ‘The First Church of fruits and vegetables. But Paul was committed to the nobler, though far more difficult, solution of submitting to the Savior and serving each other. As you read through what Paul preached to the churches in Colossae, Corinth and Rome you see some specific groups of people: The sensitive and insecure, the strong and insensitive and the stubborn and immovable. Not much has changed in the church since Paul penned these words, we still see these three same groups today and we have to ask ourselves which one do I often belong to? The issue many no longer be focused on food but the struggle over frivolous things continues. We seem to struggle with two tendencies, we love to compare and we like to control. It’s easily to fall into the thinking that the way we do things is truth, that our interpretation is the only correct one, and that those who differ from us are wayward and wrong. When we do we try to control and conform how other believers think and behave. For some this is very outward in nature but for many they secretly judge others according to their spiritual standards. Differences don’t have to divide but many buy into the saying: “to dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be such glory, to dwell below with those we know…well, that’s a different story.” We belong to God’s family, His plan is not for us to fight and have fallings out with each other, if we are to be a community united in Christ then we have to change, we need to:

  • Lose our arrogant attitudes

Those who clung to the Law were condemning those who were living in liberty, and they were completing the circle of condemnation by despising them right back. But Paul called both groups to stop condemning and start caring: “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” The word, “accept” means to receive kindly, it’s the idea of opening up your heart and your home, it’s including others in your circle of acquaintances. We’re not to just to put up with each other but to extend family fellowship. This is also a present imperative, meaning it’s a command to make this a continual characteristic of our lives. The key here is the phrase, “disputable matters.” This is the debatable or doubtful, the gray areas of the Christian life. Scripture specifies three areas: those that are right, those that are wrong, and issues of freedom and preference. Yet our tendency is to argue over the freedom issues while we forget and forsake the clear commands. If two Christians agree on 99% they will usually focus and define themselves based on that which they disagree on. Instead of finding our commonality in Christ and His clear commands we argue and attack each other over the pointless. When we do we fall into the trap of judging others, which means to come to a negative conclusion about other Christians on the basis of their outward behavior in disputable matters. In our effort to be right over the gray areas we violate the clear commands like love other. Verse 3 reveals that the real problem had nothing to do with meat, it was really an acceptance issue: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” But instead of acceptance they were consumed with contempt, this is more than just looking down on another’s, it means to so utterly despise that they regarded them as nothing. Also the word “condemn” carries the connotation of punishment reserved for those who have broken God’s laws. We end up treating others like trash to be thrown away, punishing people in an attempt to point them toward our preference. When we condemn we call into question their character, and often make assumptions that are exaggerated, erroneous and dangerously damaging. Instead of peace with people we polarized because we take a disputable matter and turned it into a moral issue. Yet Paul reminds us at the end of verse 3 not to condemn and judge because: “God has accepted them.” There is grace in the gray areas so don’t try to ostracize the one whom God has accepted. Instead of trying to show that we are right we should make sure that our relationships are right. We need to learn to agree to disagree for the sake of harmony in God’s house. When we judge we try to take the place of God in others’ lives: “Who are we to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Christians will be called to account by Christ not His creation and verse 4 reminds us that we will stand strong and be accepted because of what Christ has accomplished for us. We will not stand based on our behavior but His blood, no Christian will collapse because all condemnation has been removed. Today our disagreements are rarely focused of food which to us seems silly. No we are caught up with much more mature matters, like music styles, carpet color, parenting preferences, and politics! Today many have become serious over the silly, instead of getting serious over the things that the Master says matter we have become focused on the pointless and the petty. We need to avoid passing judgment in the “disputable matters.” You don’t have to like it, look like it, or listen to it, but don’t look down on those whom God has accepted. You are not better than others, neither are they better than you, it was Augustine who said, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Second we are called to:

  • Live for the Lord alone

We need to lose our arrogant attitudes and accept those whom God has accepted and the best way to do that is to live for the Lord alone. When you recognize that we’re all on the same road we are just at different points in the journey you will give God’s gift of grace. As we commit to live for the Lord alone, we should strive to see and serve our fellow saints as members of the same team. The truth is that we are all growing in grace, none of us has arrived. Instead of wasting our time condemning other Christians we should be giving careful thought and prayerful consideration to all the principles taught in the Word of God. Verse 5 tells us that each believer must be “fully convinced in their mind.” we’re not to automatically adopt the convictions of others but listen to the clear conviction of Christ. Many of us are quick to offer personal judgments on believers who don’t meet our personal standards but verse 6 serves as a great reminder that none of us has a corner on commitment. As a result we don’t need to questioning other believer’s motives: “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” They both thanked God for the food they received, they both live out their convictions as an expression of their devotion to Jesus. They were both striving to serve the same Savior, it’s when they took their eyes off of Him and put them on the preferences and practices of the people around them that the problems began. If we truly believe in God’s right to rule, then let Him deal with those who disagree with us. So stop wasting your time trying to straighten others out, love the Father and His family. What arrogant attitudes do you need to lose? Who do you need to accept, and are you living for the Lord alone?

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9 People Peace – Part 7

James 4:7-12

5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

First James called us to come face to face with the truth that conflict comes from our desires that battle with us. We love to point to others as the source of conflict but as long as we do we pass the buck instead of taking personal responsibility, and end up participating in the blame game.  We end up trading peace for pretending, because we buy into the lie that the source of our conflict resides outside of self.  We become convinced that it’s an external problem which leads us to behavior based on our belief, but the truth is that selfishness, covetousness and spiritual adultery reside within.  James doesn’t stop at just helping us to understand the cause of conflict he also gives us the cure. He reminds us that the war with worldliness is winnable.

  • The Cure for Conflict

Recognizing the problem is only part of the solution, doing something about it is much more difficult. James starts in verse 6 by bringing us to the heart of the problem, pride by revealing the cure, humility. Humility involves having a heavenly view of the heart, an honest assessment of self in light of the Savior. Then in verse 10 James again brings us back to the cure as he hits home the need for a heart of humility.  The Bible is filled with stories of people who in their proud self-sufficiency tried to exalt themselves above God, Lucifer, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar just to name a few. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble and not just grace but more grace. Hemmed between the humility we see a series of instructions that heal and humble the heart.

Relinquish control – First we are called to submit ourselves to God. Submit here is a military term that means to put in proper order or rank, to subject oneself to another, to obey. As we submit to God we start to serve His will over our wants, departing from our destructive desires. To submit really means to yield control to Christ, to stop fighting our heavenly Father and face the facts about our sinful self. It comes down to control; will our lives be driven by a desire for the things of God or dominated by the devil and his destructive desires? A heart controlled by self doesn’t see the need for personal change, so we go through life trying to control and conform everyone to our ways and wants, and it becomes about our wishes and will. But when we submit to the Savior we are no longer controlled by self’s desire to change everyone else but are concerned instead with Christ conforming our heart. Freed from wasting our efforts trying to change others, we have the time and energy to work on us. When we find ourselves in conflict with others, self wants to fight and argue, to prove it’s point and put the person in their place. But if we have put God in charge then we view conflict from His perspective of peace not proving our point and promoting self. The only way to deal with the conflicting desires that want to drive and destroy our life is to give control to Christ, to keep coming to the Lord in submission so that we serve out of His strength not self. Submission is the voluntary act of placing yourself under God’s authority, it’s what happens when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Submit means much more than a passive acquiescence, it’s signing up for service. It is our pledge of allegiance to serve our sovereign Savior by fighting under his banner. You have a choice, you can surrender the free will of self to the Savior and live a controlled life or continue to live a conflicted chaotic one. C. S. Lewis said “there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”  The great hymn “I Surrender All” was written by American art teacher and musician Judson W. Van DeVenter, who subsequently became a music minister and evangelist. He said the inspiration for the words came from his struggled between developing his talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. “At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all, a new day was ushered into my life. I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, He caused me to sing.”

All to Jesus I surrender;

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,

I surrender all;

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;

Humbly at His feet I bow,

Worldly pleasures all forsaken;

Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;

Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;

Let me feel the Holy Spirit,

Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender;

Lord, I give myself to Thee;

Fill me with Thy love and power;

Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;

Now I feel the sacred flame.

Oh, the joy of full salvation!

Glory, glory, to His Name!

So what song are you singing, is it the song of self, like Frank Sinatra who sung, “I did it my way,” or the song of surrender? Who have you signed up to serve, self or the Savior?

Resist – Second we must resist the devil, this is the other side of the same coin. You submit to God by resisting the devil and you resist the devil by submitting to God. C. S. Lewis said: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” Satan constantly seeks to lead people into self-centered worldly attitudes and activities. He wants to subvert our service to the Savior. If you won’t submit yourself to God then trying to resist the devil is pointless. We are at war with the wicked one who is out to slay and enslave, he wants to trick and trip us anyway he can in order to get us off track and away from trusting God. The best way to resist is to respond in submission to the Savior. This is a two-pronged approach to peace, and these two principles come with twin promises: Resist the devil and he will flee from you, draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Respond to relationship, third we are called to come close to God. The goal of the Christian life is not following the rules but fellowship with the Father, rules restrict relationship revives. We tend to make it about doing but James reminds us it’s about being.  But in order to come close we have to come clean, to sever our ties with sin because sin always separates. This reminds us of Adam and Eve’s walk with God’s in the garden as well as the sin that severed their close communion.  James calls us to see and take sin seriously, less we are seduced and our relationship severed. This is a call for clean hands cleansed hearts, a washing of both our attitudes and actions. What are your hands handling, what is it that your mind meditates on? Are you pondering the pure or the polluted? God’s plan is for us to live in the freedom of forgiveness not in the futility of sin. God’s plan brings purpose and true pleasure, where sin like poison slow spreads through our bodies, bringing pain, punishment and prison. When we fall into folly, and stumble in sin, we do not have to live with the stench of the pig pen we can come clean. We need to. We should respond to sin in our lives with remorse and repentance, we need to distance ourselves from the disease of sin. God’s children should relish righteousness and be repulsed by sin because it brings suffering and sadness not satisfaction. When we refuse to come clean we not only compromise our relationship with God but we enter into conflict with others. Sin doesn’t just affect us it afflicts others. Sin causes us to be jerks and judgers, setting us up as superior to others. As we focus on the faults of others we fail to see our own sin and start to see ourselves as right and others as wrong. Judging others leads to a sinful attitude of prideful superiority where we set ourselves up as judge, jury and punisher. Instead of doing good we take the place of God, pronouncing guilt instead of grace.  It may give us the illusion of feeling bigger or better, but it comes at the expense of beating and belittling others. When we become preoccupied with pridefully pointing out others sin, conflict and chaos are the unavoidable results. But when we respond with a humble heart God gives grace and what we do with this gift of grace determines the direction of our relationships. When we give grace people get God’s love in their life but when we keep it we kill the very life of our relationships as lust takes the place of love.  So are you a grace giver or a grabber? Are you surrendering self to the Savior? This is the call to chose, the same call that Joshua challenged his people with in Joshua 24:15 “But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” Like Joshua I have set my heart on serving the Savior, what about you, which side will you serve?