5 Ways to Love Your Neighbor This Christmas

mister-rogersI came across this article the other day and found it a great reminder of where our focus should be during the Christmas season.  For most people, Christmas is a joyous time with family and friends…but for some people it can be a very lonely time of the year.  Who do you know that might need a little love this Christmas?  Who might you run into that you have never met and may never see again that could use a little love this Christmas?  Take a couple minutes and READ THIS ARTICLE from the Resurgence network.

Love your neighbor, and have a Merry Christmas!

From the Pastors at The Mount

Jesus Creates…Truth & Accountability (Part 2 of 2)

Truth Test“…we can do what we want to.”

These are the words immortalized by Miley Cyrus on Top 40 radio today.  For a generation this is a rally cry for individuality and a shaking off of the rules and regulations of those who have gone before us.  Don’t get me wrong; every generation has had this ideology at some level.  The Woodstock generation of the 60’s and 70’s was known for it’s anti-establishment sentiments; but a new generation has taken this “you can’t tell me what to do, I am accountable to no one” attitude to new heights.  The thought of submitting to someone’s authority flies in the face of today’s culture that believes that a person’s personal life and decisions are nobody else’s business.

It is no wonder then, that when the Church speaks out against these societal norms the backlash is often instant and visceral.  But the fact is, as Christ followers we fall under the commands of scripture to walk in one accord under the banner of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That banner calls for our complete and total submission to something greater then ourselves.

That is a tough pill to swallow until we come to terms with the fact that our natural tendency is to rebel against God.  I love the Apostle Paul’s honesty in Romans 7:15 where he says:  “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  In spite of our natural tendency for rebellion, the command is for believers to be like Jesus.  Here are a few examples:

  • 1 Peter 2:21 – follow in his steps
  • Ephesians 5:1-2 – be imitators of God
  • John 13:13-17 – I have given you an example
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 – put off your old self…put on your new self
  • Romans 8:2-8 – walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit

So, if our natural bent is rebellion…yet the command is to be like Jesus…how do we accomplish this monumental task?  A study of the Bible quickly shows us that as believers we should not only submit to accountability in our lives but seek with joy after those who will consistently inspect and examine our lives with a critical eye.  Ephesians 5 is full of guidelines for our Christian walk and in verse 21 we see a clear command to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

We find a great picture of this in Acts 5:1-11.  A husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira; made a commitment to sell a piece of land and give the proceeds to the church.  They conspired together and in the end retained a portion of the profits for themselves instead of honoring their commitment to give the full amount of the proceeds to the apostles.  To compound the problem, they still presented the gift as if it was the full amount earned from the sale of the land.  Peter calls them out on in verse 4 saying “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”  The story ends with them “breathing their last”.

We should never try this journey alone.  It’s just too easy lie to ourselves that we are better then we are.  The very nature of Jesus is perfection and in Him we are progressively sanctified until we are perfected in His presence one day.

  • Do you have people who will speak truth into your life when needed?
  • Do you listen when they sharpen you?
  • Who holds you accountable?
  • Do you willingly submit to that accountability?

This may fly in the face of the world around us; but Jesus creates…even commands truth and accountability.  Our very souls depend on it.

Jesus Creates…A Commonality (Part 1 of 2)

CommonalityThe world is much smaller then it used to be.  As air travel became more affordable in the 60’s, people had the ability to travel to new places that prior to that time was only something read about in magazines.  Now, 50 plus years later, you can travel to the other side of the country or even the world and experience cultures and people very different from ourselves.

No other book demonstrates this better then the book of Acts.  As you read through the book of Acts and begin looking at how the early church laid a foundation for the spread of the gospel all over the world you will see this theme of being set apart or different.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sparked such massive changes in the religious systems in place at that time that followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2) stood out like a sore thumb as a Christ initiated conversion of the heart led to some radical changes in the lives of early Christians.

In Acts 2:42-47 we see the fellowshipping of believers and specifically in verse 44 that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.”  Now this doesn’t mean that they lost their unique identity, or walked around in matching garb trying to clone each other; rather, they found a commonality in a Savior that chose to save them and change them and ignite in them a passion only found in the atonement of the cross.  In chapter 16, we see God use Paul to reach a rich upper class woman, a demon possessed slave girl, and a blue-collar soldier.  These three were from very different backgrounds and living very different lifestyles; but the Gospel message showed no partiality to status or upbringing as the Spirit of God wooed them to new life found only in Christ.

Now you might not have thought of this, but they ALWAYS had a commonality…

Lostness.

Sin is no respecter of status or upbringing.  We are born into this world bearing the imputed sin of Adam and we find commonality in separation from our Creator.  However, as we see in Acts, a new commonality is found as Followers of Christ.  We are bearers of a Gospel message that saves from death and brings us from lostness to life!  Only Jesus creates that kind of commonality.

Coming Soon, Part 2:  Jesus Creates Truth & Accountability.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

bloom where plantedI walked through our parking lot recently.  Heat waves were rippled from the concrete.  Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and succumbed to the pull of gravity within seconds.  I thought of how wonderful it would feel to have the steady ocean breeze to circulate the oppressively humid air.

I was in such a hurry to get to the air-conditioning in my vehicle that I almost missed this little guy.  I was two steps past it when my mind processed what I had seen.  This little sprig of grass was growing in the middle of an enormous sea of hot asphalt in a tiny bit of sand that pooled during a rain storm.  I was amazed.  I took the picture to remind me of the phrase I heard from a ministry mentor, “Bloom where you’re planted.” (I Googled to see where he heard it.  There are many sources it’s attributed to, and even a song written with the title but nothing definitive.  So for now, he still gets the credit).

I started thinking about my life and how often I might be missing opportunities to bear fruit of the Gospel, in my life, and for the Gospel, through my life because I’m always waiting or looking forward to or wanting a different set of – “right/better/perfect” – so I can give my all.

  • When this Committee finishes this task/project I can focus on other, more important things.
  • When the kids finish this season/play we’ll set better schedules, activities, and devotional times with them.
  • As soon as we pay off this debt we’ll start saving or giving.
  • Fill in your own:  “When I/we _____, then ____.”

Didn’t take you long to come up with something did it?  You live where I live don’t you.

This sprig of grass reminded me that I’ll never have perfect circumstances.  When my kids finish one sport, another starts.  Crazy how that happens, huh?!?  As soon as that Committee finishes their project another will start or we’ll 3 others projects to implement the first one!  We did however pay off the bill.  Then we had a car wreck.  Guess what?  Now we have a new bill.  See how it works…?

Now I see the importance of a single word in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  Notice that Paul says he “learned” to be content.  It doesn’t happen naturally, but it can be learned if we persevere, walk with Christ, and trust him to help us grow, mature, and bear fruit for the Gospel.

Stop longing to get out of the parking lot, out of the heat, away from dry, barren land around you, and ask God to provide everything you need (which he’s already done) so you can “bloom where you’re planted.”

God’s Goodness in Tragedy

images-1Dr. Albert Mohler shared an article this morning that speaks to a question that often comes to mind when we see natural disasters and tragedies.  These are different from terrorist attacks or the murderous rampages that are more and more common in America.  We often file rampages under the category of “human sinfulness,” but have a more difficult time coming to grips with God’s goodness as we see footage and images chronicling the loss of life, especially children, and destruction left in the wake of natural disasters like the Moore, OK tornado.

This morning our thoughts and prayers are with that community as they grieve, sift through rubble, and begin the process of rebuilding.  Pray especially for believers and churches ministering and serving in that region.  I’m thankful for Dr. Mohler’s insight this morning, and in particular the words of Charles Spurgeon that often run through my mind in times like this:  “When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.”

Join in my praying and offering any support/help we can for those impacted by this tragedy.

You can read Dr. Mohler’s blog here.

 

The Dark Side of Godliness

Now that the title has led you to read the first line of my post, please understand that I won’t be telling you that godliness brings something bad to your life.  It can create a by-product that many people don’t like and try to avoid if at all possible.  And if we’re honest with ourselves (even as believers), most people would rank the experience of this biblical truth as being bad.  However, we must always remember that our perspective on bad/good doesn’t always follow what God says is bad/good.

images

So here’s the fine print on godliness, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Ouch!

Remember that Paul was declaring the same truth Jesus expressed to his disciples when he said, “A servant is no greater than his master.  If they persecuted me they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).

You don’t hear those verses in evangelistic pleas inviting people to place their faith and trust in Christ and follow him do you?

A couple of thoughts from I Timothy 3:12 struck me when I read it this morning.

ALL  – That includes you.  Anyone, and everyone, who desires to live a godly life in Jesus Christ is referenced in that word.  This is a universal truth for believers whether they’re in America, remote jungles of Africa or South America, or in the arid plains of the middle east.  ALL who desire to live a godly life in Jesus Christ can expect persecution.

DESIRE – Note where spiritual life, spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, and spiritual fruit is born…in our desires.  How do we focus our desires on Christ and the things of God?  Through the practice of personal spiritual disciplines:  Bible reading and study, prayer, scripture memory, fasting, giving, and serving to name a few.  Spiritual Disciplines bring Psalm 37:4 to fruition, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the DESIRES of your heart.”  God doesn’t give you what you want, he gives you HIS desires, which move you to want what He wants, including “to live a godly life” (I Timothy 3:12).  See how that works?

Remember too, that our desires eventually lead to actions and behaviors.  Therefore, we need to fix our desires on the right things, so spiritual fruit is borne out of our desires.  Thus, when you seek God and he gives you HIS desires, those desires will lead to godly actions and lifestyles.

PERSECUTED – I don’t want to be overly dramatic or simplistic on this idea.  Persecution will most likely not come in the form of beatings, stoning, shunning, or imprisonment for many believers.  On the other hand, according to I Timothy 3:12, some form of persecution, or more simply stated – spiritual opposition, will occur for every believer who desires to live a more godly life in Jesus Christ.

David Platt said, “Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger of our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.  Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for growth of his church.”

Is there a dark side to godliness?  How can desiring, and pursuing, godliness be a good thing if it results in persecution, opposition (spiritual and/or physical), and suffering?

The answer is found in Jesus himself.  If we desire to live godly lives, then we pursue Christ.  When we pursue Christ we know him more fully.  Our experience and intimacy with him grows stronger and more abundant (John 10:10).  That will bring persecution, opposition, and suffering, but guess what – we’re closer to and stronger in Jesus because we drew close to him.  Therefore, we can cling to the promises that:  A) Jesus will get us through/over any suffering, trouble, or hardship we will experience on earth (Isaiah 40:31, Romans 8:37).  B) Even if we give all we can give – including our lives, then we get the greatest blessing and reward of all…WE’LL BE WITH JESUS!  

That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means labor for me…But whatever I had gain, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 1:21-22, 3:7).

This is no “dark side” to godliness, because to say so would mean something bad occurs as a result of desiring, and pursuing godliness.  When we pursue Christ we find him and everything we find in him is good, because he is good.  That doesn’t mean we’re free from persecution, suffering, or opposition, but it does mean that we’ll know, and have, Jesus in spite of them.

The Paralyzed Leader

The Paralyzed Leader

I came across this blog by Perry Noble, Pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina.  It’s a post directed to Pastors that was very timely for me this week.  It helped me pause, reflect, pray, evaluate, and assess some things in my own heart, mind, and leadership.Perry Noble

It’s in a Pastoral context, but I believe the principles are applicable for all believers, so take a few minutes to read, pray, evaluate, and assess your own heart, life, and leadership.  And remember, everyone leads something (your children, your co-workers, your little league team).  Therefore, lead in such a way as to bring glory and honor to Christ.

Most Popular Misinterpreted Bible Verse

judge“Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Matthew 7:1

I read that John 3:16 was the most familiar Bible verse for decades, but that in recent years Matthew 7:1 has become the most oft quoted verse in America.  If you can believe that survey, I believe it’s because our pluralistic, morally relativistic culture loves to cite that verse to tell anyone who might try to correct their immoral behaviors to, “Back off because Jesus said so.”

However, this verse is a classic example on the importance of interpreting the Bible in context.  If you read the next verses Jesus reminds his hearers that they aren’t to be hypocrites who point out specks of sawdust in their brothers (or sisters) eyes when they have planks of wood in their own.  Again, people celebrate that Jesus appears say, “Don’t judge others, because you’re not perfect either.”

But Jesus points us to the Gospel and tells us to not be hypocrites by judging others while we have unconfessed, unrepentant sin in our lives.  He admonishes us to “first take the log out of your own eye.”  That’s the Gospel.  We need to deal with our sin first.  That can only be done through the cross where Jesus died to pay the price for our sins.

After we’ve dealt with our sin Jesus says, “Then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  Did you catch that?  The aim is to help your brother or sister get the annoying, irritating, painful, possibly even dangerous speck out of his or her eye – NOT LEAVE IT IN THERE.  The goal is to help a brother or sister in Christ when we see, or they reveal, that there’s a “speck” in their eye/life.

However, we’re to examine our own hearts and lives first, to ensure that we’re wading into their situation (“walking toward their mess”) with a right heart and pure motives.  Once we’ve done that, then we can trust the power of the Gospel that has cleansed and purified us to accomplish that same work in the heart and lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

One last thing, this truth isn’t for the faint of heart or the spiritually immature.  That’s why Jesus adds, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”  Most people don’t like to be confronted with the truth about sin in their lives.  Jesus knew that.  That’s why these verses are primarily for believers living in biblical, gospel-centered community.  When we love and care for one another, in community, then we can approach these truths under the umbrella of grace, mercy, and love.

Confronting people without self-examination, confession, and personal repentance only sets us up to be called judgmental and condemning.  If you approach sin in people’s lives, particularly unbelievers, without the important step of Gospel cleansing through self-examination and personal repentance, then you’re going to lose your pearls AND get attacked to boot!

Bible Math?

mathHow did you come up with that blog title?  John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Those are the words spoken by John the Baptist when his disciples asked what he was going to do now that more people were starting to follow Jesus than him.  He simply acknowledged his role in life:  to point people to Jesus so they could follow Him (Jesus, not John).

That’s why John 3:30 is my favorite verse, and a regular prayer.  I want people to see more of Jesus and less of me each day.  In a world of “following,” (facebook, twitter, blogs) my desire isn’t to have a huge following, but to point people to Jesus so we can follow Him together.  My prayer is that this blog will help us do just that, follow Jesus more faithfully.

I preached a sermon with this blog title and reminded the congregation of these two simple truths about Jesus, “Jesus + Everything = Nothing,” whereas “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”

“Preventing Early Pornographic Exposure”

One concern I have for our children is their exposure to pornography at such a young age. You may not be aware of the issue, but it’s a growing problem in America. Did you know that by the time a boy reaches 10-years-old, 50% of them will be exposed to pornography? While the rates for girls are lower, they’re still being exposed at younger ages than ever before. Many times, it’s not even intentional. It could be an ad on YouTube, a pop-up on the internet, a billboard, and much more. Check out these statistics about pornography by PureHope:

 

  • 12% of internet websites (4.2 million) are pornographic.
  • Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the U.S.
  • 70% of 18-24 year-old men view pornography sites in a month.
  • According to pastors, pornography addiction was the top sexual sin in their congregation (57%).
  • 93% of boys are exposed to porn by the age of 18.
  • 28% of teens have sent a sext.
  • Only 23% of parents have rules about what their kids can do on the computer.

 

That last stat really shocked me. If parents were more knowledgeable about what their kids were doing on the internet and the games they’re playing on their devices, I believe we can greatly limit our children’s exposure to pornography. The honest truth is there is no certain way for you to ensure that your child never sees pornography. However, there are precautionary steps you can take, and conversations you can have with your children now to lower their chances of exposure.

 

  1. They’re never too young to talk internet safety.

 

Explain proper internet behavior. They should never talk to strangers, no matter what their age. Be cautious even with kids’ apps, because some have chat features and adults will go on there to talk to the kids. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, your child is being asked their address or to send pictures to them. Before you allow your child to play an app, look at it yourself to see if it’s safe. Don’t allow your child to download an app without your approval. Check out commonsensemedia.org to see reviews of apps and what is age appropriate.

 

  1. Set clear boundaries.

 

This is something you need to talk about as a husband and wife. A few things to consider: Should our child be allowed to have a computer or iPad in his room? This may sound a little strict, but most pornography is viewed in the privacy of someone’s bedroom. Have we talked to our child about sexual integrity? According to the ReThink Group (a resource to equip Christian parents and leaders), you should start talking to your kids about sexual activity and porn by the fourth grade. Have a biblical discussion about lust and staying pure. Not only does this help them better understand protecting their heart, but it also builds their relationship with you. Talking about these things early on will help them feel comfortable going to you about such issues in the future when it rears its ugly head in the coming years. What time must our kids be off their devices? Are they allowed to keep their devices in their rooms overnight? Maybe you consider making a charging station at your home where all devices are put before bedtime or exchange the screen time for more simpler toys, that are even easy to get at sites like ProductExpert online. This removes any temptation, or any situation where you child innocently stumbles over something late at night. Have you installed software, such as Covenant Eyes, on all devices in your home? This will send you a weekly report of everything your children have viewed and any potential red flags.

 

  1. Lead by example.

 

If you want your kids to live a pure life, you must show them what it looks like. You can’t expect your children to pursue a godly life if you are not. Men, love your wives and let your children see the love you have for her. Women, respect your husbands and always yield to his authority as the spiritual leader of the house. Your children will take notice of the way you treat your spouse. Talk to your kids about marriage and how sacred it is. When looking at inappropriate websites or even having lustful thoughts, it leads you away from Jesus and will negatively impact your family.

 

  1. Explain and caution pornography.

 

Most preteens don’t intentionally look at porn. It often happens when trying to cancel out of an ad or pop-up. But when they see it, it peaks their interest because this is totally new to them. Because we’re born with a sinful nature and drawn to these things, it’s no surprise that they keep looking at it. Educating your children on what pornography is will help them identify it and know how to handle it. Use Scripture and tell them how going down this path can destroy their life. Clearly identify this as sin and talk about how Jesus wants us to use our bodies. It’s also very important to explain appropriate and inappropriate touch early on during the preschool years.

 

 

Again, there is no sure way to prevent exposure to your children. These are merely suggestions, but I believe they will be beneficial to your family. Kids are growing up in a different culture than you did. They have access to the internet everywhere they go. Temptation is right around every corner, but with Jesus, those temptations can be overcome. Pray daily and fervently for the protection of your children. Trust the Lord and dedicate to raise your kids for His honor and glory. I hope your children grow up to be men and women who desire to live a life of purity. May God have His way in the hearts and minds of every member in your family.

 

 

Garrett Oppel | Children’s Pastor

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

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