Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Do I Reflect God's Love?

John 13:34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Have you ever heard the story of David Hampton? It's a true story, David Hampton was a con artist back in the eighties who scammed money out of the Manhattan elite by claiming to be the son of the actor Sidney Poitier. He had no real connection to Sidney Poitier, had no right to claim the title of his son but he did so anyway and several people believed him. When people fell for his scam it had the unfortunate side effect of reflecting on Mister Poitier. Everything he did reflected on the man he had no true connection with.

Likewise today there are many people who claim to be Christians, who say they are a Christian because they went to church once or they live in a”Christian” town or maybe they do go to church from time to time and sleep through the sermons! They are what we call “Cultural Christians”  - they know enough to talk the language of our faith, but they truly do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  Yet, for most of the country, they are what people think of when they think of Christian. Everything they say or do reflects back on someone they have no true connection with.

Each of us is a witness for Jesus Christ. We have no say so in this, each one who claims to follow Christ is His witness. We can either be a good witness or a bad witness but we are His witness.

That is why the world is shocked when they meet someone who is truly a follower of Christ, who truly has been saved and is truly trying to live by His commands, especially this one in verse 34. The world is shocked by love: so we should go shock the world. Go out and show love to others.

Often we dismiss this idea by convincing ourselves that we already love others.  I mean we don't hate them, we're not actively trying to harm them, so then we must love them, right?  The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. It's not that we hate others it is simply that most often we do not care about them at all.  When our relationships are filled with apathy then we do not care what effect our actions or our preferences will have on others. But when we replace apathy with love, when we love as God loves we are willing to sacrifice for those we love. We make compromises on our preferences without ever compromising the truth and we seek to do everything in a way that draws us closer together and closer to God.

If we want the world to see how much God loves them then we must love them. If we want the world to come to God's saving grace then when we must show them grace. The short answer to the question “Why should I love like God loves” is simply because Jesus told us to and He is our Lord, He is King, He is God and that should be enough reason for any of us!  However, God never tells us to do something without a reason behind it. God never tells us to do something that will not glorify Him or benefit our holiness. And notice in verse 34 Jesus said this is a command not a request.

It is by reflecting Him in our life, by reflecting His love in our actions, that others see Him and His love. Doing that glorifies God. Doing that leads to living holy lives, and doing that points people to salvation through His sacrifice and His grace.

Even through simple acts and changes of perspective we can show show God’s love. By intentionally choosing love over apathy, by deciding to be more welcoming to others even if that means making changes, not to what we teach, but to how we live out those teachings. By showing hospitality to our neighbors and kindness to our enemy.

Think about it for a moment. What would happen? Don’t think what would I get out of it, don’t think what would it cost me, but instead think what would God do through this? What happens when we truly reflect God's Love?  How could God work through you and me if we were intentional about showing His love to others this week?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Holiness Of Hospitality

Hebrews 13:2 Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.

The book of Hebrews is a master class in learning how the Old Testament was fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what this New Testament, this New Covenant, is all about. Here, in Hebrews 13, the author calls upon us to not neglect hospitality and reminds us, most likely, of the Old Testament encounter of Abraham entertaining angels without knowing it. Through this encounter we realize that hospitality is a reflection of our hearts. So what does that mean for us today?

There is a difference between showing hospitality to someone because you want to be known as a nice person and showing hospitality because you believe by doing so you are being obedient to God’s command and showing His love. It’s a subtle difference but it is key.   It is quite likely that being friendly and welcoming strangers will boost your reputation  and may lead to future rewards or "paybacks" but if that is your goal then you are not showing true hospitality.  Hospitality is focused on our love of others because of our love of God, it is not motivated out of personal gain.

Our Hospitality reflects our understanding of the gospel.  It is a good yardstick of where we are at in our walk with Christ. It should be fundamental to our identity.
As Pastor Mike Leake says; If we’ve messed up hospitality it is because in some way we have missed the gospel. We see this in the story of Simon the Pharisee. He was a terrible host and Jesus tells us why, “...he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Our hospitality reflects our grasp of the gospel. This is why Hebrews 13:2 appears where it does. Everything we are commanded to do in chapter 13 flows out of the work Christ has already done in chapters 1-12. Including this command to show hospitality.
The early Christian's faced intense persecution, first from their surrounding culture and then from the state.  It was always a temptation for us to not show kindness to others when we are not being shown kindness ourselves, but that is when it is often most necessary. That is why the author of Hebrews took this time to stress the importance of hospitality.

He is reminding us again of the fact that throughout the Bible, God’s people are portrayed as sojourners.  We are just temporary residents of this world, people who are passing through on our way home. He knew his listeners would be more likely to give up the faith if they forgot they were not alone.  If they forgot that even the people who were making their lives miserable were loved by God.  If they forgot that God could use their suffering, and the love they show in the midst of it, to help others discover Him and His amazing grace.

When we have grown too comfortable in our pews we forget the discomfort people feel when they take their first step into church. When we have become so self-sufficient in our homes, we forget that our neighbors are real people with real needs and made in God’s image.  When we stop practicing hospitality, then we stop practicing the gospel itself.

Ask yourself: How have you shown hospitality to others in the past week and why did you do so? Maybe hospitality doesn't come easy to you but the same power of the Holy Spirit that is driving you towards holiness will also enable you to show hospitality. In fact the two are deeply connected because hospitality is a matter of holiness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What Makes Us stick Together?

Colossians 3:14 Above all, put on love —the perfect bond of unity.

What is it that should make the church stick together?  What is it that binds us with one another?   Are we held together only by tradition, or familiarity or is there something greater we can depend on?

What does bond mean? Webster’s defines the word bond as a thing used to tie something or to fasten things together. Have you ever watched kids try to stick things together. First they just hold them next to each other and push hard. They expect that when they let go it will just stick together, but what happens when they let go? It just falls apart, right? Then begins the great kid adventure of trying to find the stuff to make them stick, to bond them. If you look around a child’s room, you will find things held together by play-doh, silly string, spit! All of these will hold for a little while but none of them will hold forever.

In the same way we see many attempts of bringing people together and bonding throughout culture. 
Around the world we find many approaches to peace, harmony and unity.  The new age movement says we can chant our way there, politicians say we can force our way there, and Madison Avenue says we can just buy everyone a Coke and teach the world to sing. We try many ways to accomplish this peace and unity and they all fail because we leave out the only thing, the only One who can actually do it. God.

God is the One who has made each of us a unique individual. He created us with our own personalities and backgrounds and He is the one who has brought us together into one body, the church. We should not throw away this diversity that God has created but embrace it. It is through Him that all these different people, with their weird edges and designs fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to make the beautiful picture that He is painting.

It would be a mistake to think that we can just put a bunch of different people together in a room, throw a worship song up on the screen and BAM! We would have an instant bond. As a church we must be held together by something stronger. A tighter bond - the bond of love. This is the bond of God the Father to God the Son, From God the Son to His bride the church. This is the bond that must hold each of us together in unity.

A bond that is willing to look past petty differences.  A bond that is willing to forgive even when we don’t feel like it.   A bond of love that reflects our unity with and in Jesus Christ.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Monday, September 3, 2018

Love Limits Liberty

Love Limits Liberty
1st Corinthians 10:23-24 “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. [HCSB]

What is Christian Liberty. We talk about having liberty in Christ, about how where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. These are all very true statements but what do they mean?

In essence, liberty is freedom from oppression. Throughout the New testament we see that through Christ we are free from the law, free from the frustration of our fallen nature’s inability to keep God’s law, but we are not free from God’s standards.

In other words I can not punch you in the face and then say “I am free in Christ!” Liberty is not saying I can continue to do things that harm myself or my marriage or my children or my community and excuse it with the name of Christ.

"Contrary to popular opinion, freedom is not the ability to do whatever one desires. This inevitably leads to enslavement to our own passions. Rather, the Bible defines freedom as the ability to deny one’s self, to deny one’s desires in the interest of pleasing and glorifying God." ~ Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

If you look at our liberty as being free to glorify God then all of sudden you see we are honestly being held to an even higher standard. That’s what Paul is getting to here in his letter to the church at Corinth, when he says “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. All of a sudden we realize our liberty is not just about not doing wrong, it is about building up our brothers.

A good example of this in our culture today would be alcohol. No where in the Bible does it say that merely drinking alcohol is a sin, but there are many places in the Bible where it warns us against drinking too much. The Bible paints a picture where not only is drunkenness a sin but letting alcohol get in the way of your relationship with others and with God is a sin, however, having a drink with dinner or a beer with friends and keeping your consumption moderate and within boundaries is not a sin.

BUT still I choose not to drink alcohol at all. Period. I do not drink at home, I do not drink away from home. I do not drink in Cleveland, in Charleston or in Timbuktu no matter where I am at or the situation, I do not consume alcohol. Why? I just explained that it is not sinful to drink in moderation so why do I abstain? Liberty.

If I am ministering to a recovering alcoholic and they see me drinking, even in moderation, then I have given the devil a weapon they can use against them. They may think “Hey the Pastor drinks so I can too and before you know it they are back in the chains of addiction. What if one of our children or youth hear me talk about having a drink and then decide it’s okay for them to follow my example, but they don't realize how dangerous it is to drink and get behind the wheel? Who would be responsible for their actions? Of course they are held accountable for their own choices but I would share the blame.

In my liberty I choose to deny myself so that I will not lead others astray, even accidentally. It is not always about being right or wrong it is about not being a stumbling block. In the sixties the band the Monkees had a hit song “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”, but as Christians perhaps we should think more like “I’m Not Your Tripping Stone."  I am more than happy to be a stepping stone for you on your walk of faith that leads you closer to Christ. I do not want to be the stone you trip over on that walk.

What preferences or activities do you have in your personal life that may trip up someone else? What does this liberty to restrain ourselves look like when it comes to our church life? Well one thing that should become obvious within the church is that our liberty should not get in the way of our mission.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church