Give Thanks

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 5:20  

There is a reality show called Alone in which individual contestants are dropped into a remote wilderness to live off the land and their wits. Equipped with the basics for survival, cameras to report their progress, and a satellite phone to “tap out” when they have had enough, the last man or woman standing receives half a million dollars.

After going two weeks without finding any game to eat, one woman, hungry and demoralized, turned 45 years old and made a birthday wish. She then went out to check her traps and behold! – a rabbit was snared. Delighted and teary-eyed over finally having a meal, she searched for words to express her emotion, finally landing on “Thank you, rabbit gods!”

Her reaction illustrates something we all instinctively know, namely, that when something good happens to us, there is someone to thank for it, even if it is “rabbit gods.” In fact, truth be told, we all know there is a divine Giver. When Paul explains the fallen human condition he says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). The choice to thank rabbit gods or anything else instead of the true God is a choice not to thank the One whom we know is responsible for our good things.

But God in his mercy sent his Son into the world to turn our affections and our thankfulness back to the right place. By the cross and the Spirit, we become people who are “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Always means it is a continual habit. For everything means we trust that every pleasing providence and every difficult affliction has behind it a loving Father who means to do us ultimate good by them. So we thank him.

And this we can do, because in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we have much to thank God for even in a year like 2020. Consider the blessings you have in Christ:

  • You don’t need to atone for your sins, because Jesus did that for you (Hebrews 10:12)
  • You don’t need to worry about falling short of God’s standards because through faith you have Christ’s perfect record of obedience (Romans 5:19)
  • You never face anything alone, for God is with you by his Spirit (John 14:23)
  • You are promised to have God’s help in all things (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Even your afflictions are not random, but have a sanctifying purpose (Psalm 119:71)
  • You will be raised from the dead in a new immortal body (1 Corinthians 15:53)
  • You have an eternal inheritance that is being kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4)
  • You will live with Jesus in a world without sin, sorrow, or danger (Revelation 21:4-5)

If you are a believer, these blessings and more all belong to you. We have reason to give thanks always… to God the Father. May your hearts be warmed by the memory and expectation of God’s blessings to you in Jesus Christ this week and always.

Pastor Mark

What the election won’t change

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace … from Jesus Christ …the ruler of kings on earth… who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.  Revelation 1:4-6

Believer in Jesus, are you worried about who will have authority over you and what they will do once this election is over? You probably have your own worst-case scenario about what life will be like when the hundreds of elected officials are sworn in at the end of this term. And what if it comes to pass? Can you still find peace in that?

Yes, you can. Because the election won’t change the most important reality on which our peace rests, which is this; Jesus Christ is the ruler of kings on earthwho loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. This reality was enough for John the apostle to say, “Grace to you and peace”, while writing as a persecuted Christian to the persecuted church in the first century. This reality is also enough for you.

Let’s dwell on it for a moment and allow its encouragement soak into our hearts.

Jesus Christ is the ruler of kings on earth.

That means he rules everyone who rules you. He has final say over what every local, state and national leader can do that affects your life. You won’t hear about him in the news and he is not on the ballot, but he was yesterday and is today and will still be tomorrow the supreme ruler who governs all things that concern you. 

How much power and authority does he have over those who will be elected or re-elected? Let the Scriptures speak to this:

  • All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 28:18
  • From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God. Luke 22:69 
  • He upholds the universe by the word of his power. Hebrews. 1:3
  • The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Psalm 2:2-4
  • Indeed, the LORD who commands armies has a plan, and who can possibly frustrate it? His hand is ready to strike, and who can possibly stop it? Isaiah 14:27 (NET)
  • Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. Psalm 145:13

The reality is that Jesus has power and authority over everything and everyone. Whether that is how healthcare will work, or what will be taught in the schools, or what you will be required to do in a pandemic, or whether there will be legal consequences for exercising faith in Christ, or anything else that you care about, Jesus Christ has final say over that. He has the power to shape how that looks. And that is good news because of the second truth.

Jesus, the supreme ruler, loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.

If you are going to have someone who has ultimate power and authority over you, you want it to be someone who loves you, because then that power will be exercised according to your best interests. And no one loves us more than Jesus, who proved it by dying on the cross for our sins. That is where he sacrificed himself to free us from the eternal penalty and temporal power of sin. That is where he secured our rich inheritance: never-ending life with him, which is in the Spirit today and will be in person in a renewed world one day.

Again, let the Scriptures speak of him:

  • Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1
  • Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. John 15:13
  • the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
  • neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Applying this to the election

Now, how do we apply all this to the election and our future after it? Because you are no fool; you know that bad things can and will still happen and that it doesn’t always look like Jesus is doing anything with all that power. So how are we to be helped by this knowledge that Jesus rules everyone who rules us, and that he loves us with the greatest love a person can have?

Just this; it means that everything that comes out of this election must pass through his wise and loving plan. It will be consistent with his great love for us. Often it will be good outcomes that we readily praise him for. Other times it may be painful and confusing outcomes. But it will never be without a loving purpose. It will always be part of his plan that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). 

Whatever happens we can trust that the Savior who died for us must be up to something good even when it is not what we want. His love didn’t end at the cross. He is still just as passionate about us today as on that day. And he will still be in charge after the election. That is a very good situation for us to be in. Let’s rest in that on November 4th and beyond.

Grace to you and peace, from Jesus Christ.

Pastor Mark

Church Unity: Love believes all things

This is the last of a mini-series on church unity, though in truth all the posts on this blog are about maintaining the unity of the Spirit and attaining the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:3,13). 

Today we revisit a text briefly mentioned in a previous post, 1 Corinthians 13:7. Love …believes all things. What does it mean?

Obviously “believes all things” must be limited in some way. Love does not believe untrue things because “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Nor does love believe everything because “The naive believes everything, but the prudent man considers his steps” (Proverbs 14:15 NASB).

So what does it mean that a person “believes all things” when love is operating in their lives?

This is difficult to pin down precisely, so commentators land in one of two main places. It either means love “never loses faith” (New Living Translation) or that love “believes the best about a person until proven otherwise.” Matthew Henry’s commentary expresses this latter view, saying that it is “to believe well of all, to entertain a good opinion of them when there is no appearance to the contrary; nay, to believe well when there may be some dark appearances, if the evidence of ill be not clear.”

These aren’t mutually exclusive; the latter is an application of the former. In the context of 1 Corinthians 13 there surely is an emphasis on love toward one another in the church and what that looks like. We are to be patient, kind, not easily irritated, not rude, humble, persevering, enduring, etc. This is what each of us should experience from one another. So, in that context, “believes all things” is part of what you experience from a person who “never loses faith” in the God who is all these loving things to us in Christ. It is the open-hearted, forgiving and generous approach to others that chooses “to believe well of all… if the evidence of ill be not clear.”

Let’s apply this attitude to how we view each other across our different responses to the COVID restrictions and the election. 

The unloving heart believes things like this:

  • Because you won’t wear a mask you don’t care about other people.
  • Because you wear a mask you are controlled by fear and capitulate to the rising control of the secular state.
  • Because you are voting for a Democrat you don’t care about the slaughter of unborn children.
  • Because you are voting for a Republican you are a racist.

Here’s the thing: Any of these beliefs could be accurate. But any of them could also be completely untrue. So, love becomes the referee. And what does love teach us to believe from a spirit of humility, kindness and an unwillingness to become irritated? What does it look like “to believe well of all… if the evidence of ill be not clear”?

The loving heart believes things like this:

  • Maybe you don’t wear a mask because it feels like paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1) forced onto you by the secular state. Your motivation is to be true to Christ.
  • Maybe you wear a mask because someone you love died from COVID and mask-wearing seems like a small price to pay for preventing that outcome for others. Your motivation is to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Maybe you are voting for a Democrat because he/she seems to be doing something about racism and you’ve experienced that in your life. You are motivated to bring about social justice which God cares about.
  • Maybe you are voting for a Republican because he/she seems to be doing something about protecting the unborn. You are motivated to protect the innocent from lethal injustice, something God also cares about.

You see, love believes the possibility of a good motive behind an action contrary to your own; it doesn’t assume the worst. It tries to “believe well when there may be some dark appearances”. It does not assume a complete disconnect between genuine faith and a choice you don’t agree with. It starts from a posture of generosity and then seeks understanding, and only afterwards does it revise its good opinion if the “evidence of ill” becomes clear.

Fellow believers, God’s generous posture toward us is what enables this generous posture toward one another. This doesn’t mean we never debate an issue and try to come to agreement on how to live faithfully in light of the whole counsel of God. Love does “rejoice with the truth” after all and doesn’t settle for “let’s just agree to disagree” about everything. But it does mean we don’t start at opposite ends of the ring, ready to come out swinging. Rather, we see each other as fellow workers who gather in love at the meeting table to see how we can best serve our master and Savior, Jesus Christ. Those are the discussions that are fruitful and unifying.

Pastor Mark

Church Unity: Faultfinding

These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (Jude 1:16, NIV).

Jude said this about certain people [who] have crept in unnoticed (into the church) …who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 1:4,19). These are non-believers in the church who cause divisions by means of, among other things, faultfinding. This doesn’t make every faultfinder a non-believer, but it doesn’t put you in good company if it describes you. If we value relational unity in the church we will resist this temptation.

Faultfinding is the continual criticism of other people, the habit of seeing only the speck in a brother’s eye, of regularly commenting on what is reprehensible and not on what is commendable in another person. Faultfinding and ‘boasting about yourself’ go hand in hand, because by pointing out the failures and sins of other people you can feel superior by comparison. There is a perverse pleasure in this, as the food critic Anton Ego said in the Pixar movie Ratatouille, “negative criticism …is fun to write and to read.”

The gospel of the grace of God changes this in us. It tells us that though we are filled with weaknesses and faults, the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14). It tells us that though our sins are many, God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). This doesn’t mean God is forgetful and can’t remember all of your sins. It means that though he is completely aware of all of your sins – past, present and future – he chooses not to remember them against you because he remembered them against Christ. 

If God were a faultfinder toward us we’d be in big trouble. If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3). The unspoken answer is: none of us! But this is not God’s way with those he loves in Christ. In love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back (Isaiah 38:17). You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Rather than rubbing our face continually in all that is wrong with us, God our Father lovingly removes it out of his sight. He chooses rather to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:22).

When this grace of God is remembered it makes us less eager to find other people’s faults and insert them into our conversations continually. If you see yourself as “the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) you will not be quick to point the finger at people in the news, or in your church, or in your house. Faultfinding has much more in common with the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) than of Jesus Christ our advocate (1 John 2:1). The devil advances his agenda through broadcasting our faults; Jesus advances his by dying for them. 

The ever-quotable Charles Spurgeon had this advice for those of us tempted to faultfinding.

“If we would always recollect that we live among men who are imperfect, we should not be in such a fever when we find out our friends’ failings; what’s rotten will rend, and cracked pots will leak. Blessed is he who expects nothing of poor flesh and blood, for he shall never be disappointed. The best of men are men at best. …In this wicked world the straightest timber has knots in it, and the cleanest field of wheat has its share of weeds.

I have no patience with those who poke their noses into every man’s house to smell out his faults, and put on magnifying glasses to discover their neighbors’ flaws; such folks had better look at home, they might see the devil where they little expected.  What we wish to see, we shall see or think we see.  Faults are always thick where love is thin. …It would be a far more pleasant business, at least for other people, if fault hunters would turn their dogs to hunt out the good points in other folks; the game would pay better, and nobody would stand with a pitchfork to keep the hunters off his farm.”

Let’s be better at hunting out the good points in other people than in discovering their flaws. God has done no less for us in Christ. It will be a more pleasant business for you and the pitchforks of offended people will come out less often.

Pastor Mark

Church Unity: Sinful judging

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing [Paul] in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. (Acts 21:27-31)

Sinful judging. Oh, what a different place the world would be if we did not do this! How many needless conflicts would be avoided; how many unjust penalties would not be meted out.

What is sinful judging? It is when we accuse someone of wrongdoing without sufficient evidence. We make a conclusion based on hearsay. We assume motives. We don’t ask questions or fact check. Then we declare our negative opinion and break the ninth commandment, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). 

We have an example of this in Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem.

He went to the temple at the encouragement of the elders of the church there. The church flock was mostly Jewish in background and still zealous for the law, though also believers in Christ (Acts 21:20). They had heard that Paul taught “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs” (Acts 21:21). This was not true. While Paul did not tell the Gentiles to follow Mosaic laws, he didn’t discourage the Jews from doing it, provided their hope was in Christ and not in the law.

So, to set the record straight he went to the temple with four Jewish believers to perform a Jewish ritual, probably the completion of a Nazirite vow these men had taken (see Acts 21:22-24; cf. Numbers 6:1-7, 13-18). How unjust it was that he was accused of the very thing that he went to the temple to disprove. 

Upon seeing him in the temple, his enemies sounded the alarm. “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place.” Note the exaggeration to intensify the perceived threat: he is teaching everyone everywhere. Note also the emotional hot-buttons being pushed: he is teaching against the people [that means you Jews!], against the law [God’s very commands!], and against this place [the temple where God’s presence dwells!]. Also note the unsubstantiated claim of current evil: He even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.

To the Jews this all sounded plausible. “Reliable sources” said bad things about him. And Paul was seen with a Greek man after all, though not in the temple. The narrative made sense; it must be right. Except that it wasn’t.  And so, a great injustice was done under the appearance of righteousness. Paul was beaten in the streets with no chance to defend himself, judged in the court of public opinion, only avoiding death because of the intervention of Roman soldiers (Acts 21:31-32). 

Is this not the same thing that plays out in our culture every day? Accusations are made, facts are exaggerated, lies are told, important information is left out, emotional hot buttons are pushed, conclusions are reached, and judgments are rendered on social media and broadcast news. We are not immune to the influence of this deluge. How much of what we believe about Supreme Court nominees, politicians, police, football players who kneel during the anthem, and a host of other public figures is derived more from sound bites than from sound wisdom? And how ready are we to rush to judgment because the narrative being told is one we want to believe because it reinforces our own bias? This spills over into how we treat one another in the body of Christ.

Friends, let us not bear false witness against our neighbor with sinful judgments. Let us learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before us.

Speaking about the sin of bearing false witness, the Westminster Larger Catechism asks this question: “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” Their answer includes “a charitable esteem of our neighbors… a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of [that is, accept as valid] an evil report concerning them.”

Similarly, Matthew Henry commented on the description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “love believes all things.” He said, “charity… will go into a bad [opinion of someone] with the upmost reluctance, and fence against it as much as it fairly and honestly can. And when, in spite of inclination, it cannot believe well of others, it will yet hope well, and continue to hope as long as there is any ground for it. It will not presently conclude a case desperate but wishes the amendment of the worst of men.” 

This is the generous and charitable posture toward others which resists sinful judgments. It is eager to find something good to approve in others. It is reluctant to receive an evil report about them. And even when their wrongdoing is proven, it still hopes for their turning away from it and receiving grace from God. 

This posture is right for us to have because the Lord has been the same toward us. Like Paul we must each admit that “Christ came to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus not only “wishes for the amendment of the worst of men” but he secured it for us by his blood. Indeed, he has a generous and charitable posture toward us. Let us have the same for others.

Pastor Mark

Church Unity: Speaking before you hear

Experience tells me that conflict between people is not due primarily to doctrinal, cultural or methodological differences. It is HOW we talk about them that creates the discord. And that is because words have great power either to unite or to divide. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. James says of the tongue “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5) One need only look at our current wildfire season to see an illustration of how much damage our words can cause.

We will address some sins of the tongue in this unity series because we want our words to have the power of life and wholeness, not death and brokenness. Let’s begin with this one:

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13

Have you ever been in a conversation and realized that the other person is hearing what you’re not saying? Somewhere in the conversation they stopped following your train of thought, lost patience to hear the rest of what you had to say and began to formulate their response based on something they latched onto without the full context. Then they give an answer before they hear. You may then become annoyed or even exasperated because you sense that you aren’t being listened to. And nobody likes that. Now the conversation becomes charged with emotion and a wildfire will break out if not quenched soon.

We must not think we are above doing this to someone else, especially in our divisive cultural and political environment. 

For example, suppose someone begins a sentence with this: “I was listening to Trump talk about the pandemic and one thing that made a lot of sense was…” Now, if you have strong feelings about either the president or his response to COVID, you may have already decided whether you like the direction that sentence is going. You are no longer an objective listener; now you are on alert either to defend or to attack the rest of what is said. And if the sentence takes a turn in a direction you don’t like, you will be very tempted to stop hearing what is being said and start formulating your answer, designed to shoot down the point you think is being made, even if it isn’t the point actually being made. You may not ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand, and you may make assumptions about the person’s character and motivations. Then out comes your answer before you have heard. As one wise voice from the past put it, “Men will scarcely hear out what is unacceptable to them.” And now it is easy for offense to be both given and taken. 

This is folly and shame to you.

Friends, if we are to interrupt each other, let it only be to show love as the father did with his prodigal son, not waiting to hear the whole speech of contrition but eager to overwhelm him with his forgiveness (cf. Luke 15:18-24). This is God’s generous heart toward us. Let it be our heart for one another as well. If we carry such loving intentions into our conversations, and if we are quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19) we will douse many verbal fires before they break out. We will remain friends even if we still disagree in the end. And that is one work of grace that makes the church a refuge from the divisiveness of the world, as it was meant to be.

Pastor Mark

Church Unity: Your smartphone is a poor companion

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)   

Like most of you I have a smartphone, that magical portal to a universe of information, helpful apps and once in a while contact with another human being, usually by text. It has become a practical necessity to do life in a digital age. How did we get places before Google Maps? How did we stay current on our friends’ lives before Facebook and Instagram? The smartphone has opened up a world of good things for us.

But alas, your smartphone also has the potential to poison your relationships and destroy your unity with others. Because not only does it give you access to the good stuff, but also to an inexhaustible reservoir of news feeds and social media, much of which is designed to stir up outrage and divide us. 

Adam Mabry, pastor and author of a new book titled Stop Taking Sides, says the following. 

The “smart” folk in the media no longer treat disagreement as an occasion for conversation but for tribal competition, mud-slinging, and point-scoring—and five minutes on any social-media platform will show even the most optimistic of us that the world takes its lead from its media. In their “Hidden Tribes” study, More in Common—an international initiative trying to understand this phenomenon—found that “many of today’s most contentious issues are framed as us-versus- them identity-based struggles.”

In other words, we are learning from our smartphones (or our laptops) how to hate the people we disagree with. Civil dialog leading toward better understanding is replaced by the imperative to crush the opposition. Therefore, if we immerse ourselves too deeply and too constantly in the flood of “us-versus-them” mentality that the media provides, our ability to have unity with those of a different viewpoint suffers.

This is where the proverb comes into play. The companion of fools suffers harm

A companion is someone you spend a lot of time with, someone you’ve chosen to be close to you, someone who has your receptive ear. How much is your phone your companion? How much influence have you given its media stream over your thinking? It may be more than you realize. One way to tell is by how you react when your fellow believers say something you don’t agree with. Do you feel justified in unleashing your ungracious words? Do you believe you have a moral mandate to shame them into repentance? If so, then you’ve probably been harmed by your foolish companion.

There is a better companion, a supremely wise one, who bids you to walk with him and learn his ways. His name is Jesus. Mind you, he is no stranger to disagreeing with others. Far from it! In fact, he was crucified for the very reason that he would not compromise on the truth about our sin and our need of forgiveness. But he teaches us a different approach in our disagreement with other believers (or anyone else for that matter). 

He says learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). His word says Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). How different this tone is from the “tribal competition, mud-slinging, and point-scoring” of media. Choosing to be gracious from a posture of gentleness and lowliness is the wisdom we learn by walking with Jesus. And counterintuitively, it is much more likely to generate productive conversations when we disagree.

Believing friends, by all means use your smartphone as a helpful tool. But make Jesus your companion. That is how we build unity.

Pastor Mark

Church unity: Do we just agree to disagree?

“We should disobey because the COVID-19 restrictions are nothing more than an election year plot to unseat Donald Trump and attack the church.” “No! We should obey because the COVID-19 restrictions are science-based actions to prevent the spread of a disease that kills.” Both positions are held by genuine believers in Jesus Christ, the beloved of God which he obtained by his own blood (Acts 20:28).

What’s a person to do when we have strongly opposing opinions on matters like the government response to the pandemic, or racial injustice, or climate change or fill-in-the-blank? Just agree to disagree? Or is there a point where our disagreement is NOT okay? 

There is a saying that has been handed down to us from church history that summarizes biblical wisdom on this question. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In other words there are some things we must agree on and other things we need not agree on, but always the tone of our discussion should be Christian love for one another.

This historic wisdom is seen in Paul’s letters to the churches. 

“In essentials unity”

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… Ephesians 4:11-13

Where the Lord wants there to be unity and harmonious agreement is in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. It is agreement on the truth of God’s word which is the authoritative foundation of our faith, and agreement on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something we are to attain, to succeed in reaching through effort. The Lord gave us the apostles and others to bring about unity around these essentials. In this life we will never agree on every point, which is why we have denominations, but each local church is to strive to attain as much doctrinal unity as we can in order to walk together deeply and not merely superficially. In essentials unity.

“In non-essentials liberty”

What is “non-essential” applies to matters of doctrine that are less clear or do not impinge upon the core tenets of the faith, such as whether a church can have women deacons. While it will be important for a church to take a position on some of these matters, they are not essential for our salvation and sanctification. We don’t have to agree.

But what is also non-essential to agree on is how we apply the principles of Scripture according to our individual consciences. And this gets more to our immediate question concerning our opinions on social issues. Consider the principle in Romans 14:5-6.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

What we have here is two people who want to honor the Lord, but they don’t agree on what that looks like. One is from a Jewish background and thinks observing Jewish feast days is important. The other is from a Gentile background and sees no reason to do so. Paul counsels liberty in this area. As long as both are trying to please the Lord, they don’t need to agree. This is a non-essential. Now, if their choices are inherently sinful, or if they are carried out with wrong attitudes and motivations, then there is reason to challenge that in the pursuit of holiness. But if someone is trying to please the Lord, and their application is different from how you would do it, leave room for that, for God has welcomed them. In non-essentials liberty.

We can apply this to differing positions on a range of issues. 

Let’s say you have two believers who want to honor the Lord and the issue of police shootings of black men comes up. What is the right Christian response? One defends the victims of unjust death at the hands of police. The other defends the police force from unjust broad-brush condemnation. How do we walk together as believers while taking different sides on the issue?

One important thing we can do is this: let’s both agree on the essential truth that justice for all people matters because God is a God of justice. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18). We may not agree on the particulars of the appropriate response (the non-essentials) but let us both agree to imitate the character of God who loves righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5).

“In all things charity”

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:1-3

This is the imperative of humility and love in our interactions with one another. In the midst of our disagreements, the only way to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God is to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We’ll never get to the unity Christ wants for us if our relationships fall apart through division over non-essentials and sinful attitudes.

So we cultivate humility by remembering that we do not see everything as clearly as we might think, that we may lack wisdom in staking our position on a subject, and that as sinful humans we are prone to reaching conclusions that we want to believe while disregarding information that would challenge us. This gives us a healthy self-suspicion about our own opinions.

And we cultivate love by remembering that we share the same Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God, as members of the body of Christ. We are eager to maintain this God-created unity, not ready to separate at the first conflict. We are to be for one another as we journey toward conformity to his image and the eternal glories that await. Like the brothers forgiven by Joseph, who was a type of the Savior to come, the Lord would say to us “do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24). Let’s discuss the issues and let “iron sharpen iron” but not attack each other. In all things charity.

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. If we keep these things in mind, we can fruitfully walk together in the bond of peace.

Pastor Mark

We ordained Todd!

On Sunday, August 30th, 2020, we had the privilege of holding a special outdoor service to ordain our newest pastor: Todd Santee. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and so many were able to gather to celebrate God’s goodness to our little church. We hope you enjoy the photos, and the full length video.

Congratulations Pastor Todd!

You can enjoy watching the service here.

The day began early with some audio, video, and sunshade set up. Thank you to the many folks who came early to help prepare our parking lot! God blessed us with a cool morning, but not too cool.

Photo of a parking lot without cars. Four large sunshades are set up along the perimeter.

Many thanks to Will Huffaker, Jonathan Hutchings, and Bill Maxwell for all of their work to provide us with great sound, as well as audio and video recordings of the service.

Photo of two men, one at a computer, one at a sound board.
Jonathan Hutchings (left) on video, and Will Huffaker (right) on sound
The quiet just before everyone arrives

With ample space in our parking lot folks were able to social distance as needed, so many members we haven’t seen in months were able to attend! We were so glad to see their faces.

This was the first time we had all been able to come together and worship since March and it was wonderful to hear the swell of voices praising our Lord!

Spencer Hooker leading us in worship

And we even shared in communion! Hooray for individually packaged communion cups and crackers!

Pastors Dan and Tony opened the service with some encouraging words to the church and Pastor Todd, as well as a little good-natured ribbing!

Pastor Dan
Pastor Tony Walsh from Grace Community Church
Pastor Todd

Pastor Mark then addressed Todd, with the church as witnesses, with three things for him to remember as he begins his ministry as pastor to our church. After the message, the ordination began and all four pastors took the stage. Each pastor took turns praying for Todd and then presented him with some gifts.

Todd’s wife, Bekah, looking on
Pastor Todd receiving his Certificate of Ordination and a Bible

After receiving his gifts, Pastor Todd addressed the congregation for the first time as their pastor, sharing his excitement.

It was a good Sunday!

Pastor Todd and his wife Bekah
Pastor Todd with his parents, Danny and Amy

Church Unity: Seeing What God Sees

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 
Acts 20:28

We are talking about unity among believers in the local church, and perhaps the best place to start is with the big picture. Why should we even care about the local church and the people in it? Is the church’s unity all that important to preserve?

The answer is found in Paul’s word to the elders of the church in Ephesus. These leaders needed to remember how God feels about the people he gave them charge over. Paul said they are the church of God which he obtained with his own blood. Think about that for a moment. Obtained with his own blood.

Your church, like the church in Ephesus, was obtained – purchased by God who secured it for himself – by the death of his only beloved Son. The people in the chairs on either side of you when you meet, or whom you see on the screen on your Sunday Zoom church meeting, are people of whom God said, “It is worth it to me to have my Son suffer and die for their sins so that they can be with me forever. The agony that Jesus must go through in mocking, contempt, being spit upon, lied about, struck in the face, whipped, crucified in public shame and utterly forsaken – all of that will be worth it to have these sinners brought to me in forgiveness and restored friendship.” 

These are the same people of whom Jesus said, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3). Jesus wants us to be with him! He actually takes pleasure in the thought of being with believers forever. Prophetically speaking of the heavenly future, the Lord says I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul (Jeremiah 32:41). It is a heartfelt affection that our Lord has for his people. He will have the prize for which he died; he will have the fruit of his suffering, namely, his bride the church already counted blameless in status and one day to become blameless in experience. Can a person be given a higher honor than this?

In light of that, can we look at these same people with apathy, or worse, disgust? Can we readily nurse grudges, rehearse their faults (real or imagined), hold their forgiven sins against them and cast them off at the first moment they displease us? If they hold a different political opinion, or own a gun, or go to a protest, or express some other view you strongly disagree with, does it give us license to write them off and dismiss them as not worthy of fellowship? Of course not. Such things are the product of indwelling sin in our hearts which is reinforced by the shaming culture we live in.

We do not learn such things from Christ who loves his bride, the church. Grace teaches us to see fellow believers as the people that God obtained with his own blood. The church, for all its faults and differences, is still loved by God and called to be saints (Romans 1:7). As we make the effort to see what God sees, we learn to love them too. We develop the attitude of David who said, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). That is good ground for unity among believers to grow in.

Pastor Mark

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started