Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Christmas Fundamentals and Priorities

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Christmas season can be a maze of priorities. Knowing what is fundamental will help you navigate that maze. 

Priorities and fundamentals are completely intertwined.  In fact, they are so much intertwined that fundamentals are always priorities, and priorities should never be made at the expense of fundamentals.  By definition, priorities are those things that are more important than other things.  If you are starving, food takes priority over entertainment. Fundamentals are those things that are foundational. Being able to hit, catch, throw and run are fundamentals to baseball. You cannot play the game unless you have mastered those fundamentals.  To be a good baseball player means prioritizing practice in order to master those fundamentals.  It would be silly to prioritize learning the catcher’s hand signals if you haven’t mastered pitching, catching, hitting, or running!

Serving God is a fundamental of the Christian faith (1 Samuel 12:24, Colossians 3:23-24), and enjoying him should be a priority (Philippians 3:1, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16).  The two are entwined in such a way that once one has mastered service to God, enjoying him becomes a natural priority. 

Matthew 6:24 teaches us that we cannot serve two masters.  If we try to do that, we will end up hating one and loving the other.  If during Christmas season you find that you are stressed beyond belief, take the time to ask yourself which master are you serving, and what exactly are you trying to enjoy? 

We live in a world that tells us to prioritize all the wrong things, and to serve all the wrong things.  The reason for the season is Jesus Christ, and his birth into our broken world.  So that means celebrating  Jesus is the fundamental of the season, and not gifts for the sake of gifts, parties for the sake of parties, stress, shopping, or financial debt.  Therefore make Jesus the priority and he will give you rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Quiet Time is an Indispensable Discipline for a Follower of Jesus.

Mike Hosey, An Elder
One of the best definitions that I’ve seen for the word discipline is that it is a training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. Honestly, though, discipline is any kind of training that perfects any part of us.  We must discipline ourselves, for instance, to keep our bodies fit. This is not always a fun process, but most people will admit that once they’ve mastered the discipline of fitness, they enjoy the benefits greatly. Every domain of our lives requires it.  If you wish to have a nice garden, you will have to be disciplined at pulling weeds.  If you want to have a functionally intimate relationship, you will have to discipline yourself to tend the garden of your spousal accord. Most people who want a decent pay check must be disciplined to go to work 5 or more days a week.

Quiet time with God is an indispensable discipline that every follower of Christ should embrace like an Olympic runner who trains daily for his greatest events – that is if they want to have the best relationship with Christ possible on earth. So important was this discipline, that Jesus unquestionably modeled it for us (Matthew 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16).

The reason for this is that quiet time, just like other disciplines, is a gentle kind of training that corrects us, molds us, and perfects our mental faculties and moral character. When we get alone with God and his word, it allows the scriptures to shine into our innermost lives and show us where we fall short and how to train ourselves to become more like Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16).  This regular, quiet training, helps us to understand God because it allows the Holy Spirit to search us, and to search God for us, and because of that searching, our bond with God, and our understanding of Him, grows in ways that it could not if we did not have the training and discipline of quiet time (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).  This quiet time helps to make us more like Christ, which is a goal God has for each of us (Romans 8:29, Philippians 1:6). To be transformed into something more like Christ will take a renewing of our mental faculties (Ephesians 4:23, Romans 12:2).  Our transformation comes through a change in our minds!  And the best way to get that transformation in its fullest is quiet time with God.  Not to mention, God’s word tells us that we ought to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6), and we know that he practiced quiet time. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Does Worship Really Mean?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
In modern church world we make the mistake of equating the concepts of praise and worship.  We sometimes use them interchangeably.  For instance, we might say that we are going to have a praise service, or we might just as quickly say that we are going to have a worship service, while meaning the same thing.  But these are significant misuses of the words.  

Praise is simply giving approval, commendation, appreciation, or applause, very often in some kind of loud way.  In fact, this was the meaning in both the Hebrew scriptures, as well as the Greek scriptures (2 Chronicles 5:13, 2 Chronicles 20:19, Luke 19:40).  Interestingly, praise is something that is ok to give to anyone who has done something good.  We praise our children when they make good grades. We praise our team mates when they take one for the team.  We praise our military when they return home after sacrificial duty.  We can show praise in many, many ways.  Sometimes we show it with loud shouts at a football game. Sometimes we show it at a concert when the performer has produced a work of musical art, or when a speaker has said something in a powerful way that resonates with us.  It’s a word that is very often paired with thanksgiving, and it is usually easy, and it usually comes naturally.

Worship, on the other hand, is something entirely different. Worship means to submit and to bow down. It can be quite hard.  In the Old Testament it came from the Hebrew word, shachah, meaning to bow down or to show obeisance (Strongs H7812, שָׁחָה). In Greek, it comes from the word, proskyneo (Strongs G4352, προσκυνέω).  It, too, means to show obeisance, to bow down, or to show homage. These words are always associated with kneeling, bowing, or becoming prostrate (Matthew 2:11, Matthew 4:9, Matthew 28:9, Mark 5:6). Both of these words are words of submission.  So while praise is almost always loud, boisterous and even cheerful, worship is something that is reverent, quiet, and submissive. The keyword being submissive.  While praise can be given to any worthy person, there is only one person who is worthy of worship (Luke 4:8). Interestingly, Luke 4:8 tells us that we are to only worship (proskyneo) and serve God.  The word for serve in that verse comes from a Greek word which means divine service.   Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that our spiritual act of worship is to present our bodies as living sacrifices by renewing our minds. His word for worship there is derived from the same word for serve in Luke 4:8.  Therefore, our divine service is to worship God by changing our thinking, and submitting our bodies – that is our whole selves -- and bowing down and paying homage to him.  The more we do that in our everyday lives, and especially in every domain of our lives, the better and more enjoyable it will be for us when we do it with our Christian brothers and sisters on a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Learn How to Preach and Teach While Eating Dessert!

Mike Hosey, An Elder
There is a distinct difference between the words “teach” and “preach.”  These two communication activities serve two different purposes, and are different in more than just form.  Usually, when we think of these terms we imagine preaching as a louder version of teaching.  But it’s not that at all.  Preaching is simply an evangelism activity in which someone proclaims good news. That’s actually its meaning in Greek. Go ahead, look it up (Euaggelizo, Strongs G2097).  Teaching, on the other hand means to instruct by word of mouth. Inherent in its meaning is a deliberate and measured increase in knowledge and understanding for the pupil being taught. Go ahead, look that one up too (Didasko, Strongs G1321). Notice how in English the words look very similar, but in Greek they are completely different!

We also tend to think differently about where these two activities occur. We tend to think of preaching as occurring pretty much in only two distinct places. Preaching usually conjures up images of someone standing on a street corner calling down fire and brimstone, or it conjures up images of someone standing in a church’s pulpit hollering at everyone about how they are going to hell.  In contrast, we think of teaching as quietly happening in a seminary, Sunday school classroom, college class, or beneath the tutelage of a professor.

In reality, both of these activities can, and do, occur everywhere.  But the place they occurred most in the New Testament church was in the homes of people.  Notice in Acts 5:42, how the disciples engaged in preaching and teaching in both the Jewish temple, and in the homes of people. As you read through Acts, you find that most of that activity occurred in homes rather than in the temple.  The reason for this is pretty easy to understand once you think about it.  Homes are where people are comfortable.  Homes are where people feel free to express themselves.  And most importantly, homes are where people are able to dialogue!  When a pastor says something from the pulpit, it’s a one way communication activity.  When he says something at your friend’s house, while you are sharing a dessert and coffee, you are able to ask questions, share about your own experiences, and explore context.  He can share what God has done for him on that day, you can ask questions about it, and he can then instruct you on what it all means. Amazingly, the reverse can also happen! But even more great than that, is when a group of people meet in a home, and wisdom can flow from many sources, be checked by many sources, and the church can be built in a loving, caring environment!  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

America is in Crisis. How Should a Christian Vote?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
The word “crisis” has been misused severely for the past several decades.  So much so that it’s misused meaning has become its accepted meaning.  When we use it today, we generally refer to a time of extreme difficulty or danger requiring serious attention.  But its actual meaning is rooted in the Greek word krisis, which means “a decision.” It is derived from another Greek word (kreinen) which means “to decide.”   Therefore, a crisis is a time in which a choice of some kind must be made. In a true crisis, that choice will lead to either disaster or recovery.  Its semantic origins are medical. Essentially, it meant (and still means) the turning point during a disease process in which the disease conquers the host, or is conquered by the host.

America is in a disease process. We have cancer, and we’ve been dying for decades. The situation is critical. Our choices in the next couple of weeks will contribute in profound ways. Will we continue down a path of disease and death, or will we begin a long and arduous climb into recovery? We can either begin treatment, or we can forego it and allow the disease process to advance to an unrecoverable stage.

In America, the highest public official in the land is not the president of the United States. It is not the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It isn’t a congressman, or a mayor, or a governor.  The highest public official in the land is the citizen. It is the citizen who chooses those to whom he will have to answer. It is the citizen who chooses those who will make his laws.  It is the citizenry that is reflected by the philosophies, deeds and character of its leaders.  In America, God allows us to pick the leaders we deserve.

What this means is that if you are a Christian citizen of the USA, you have a duty not to vote for the man or the woman, but to vote for policies and principles that will shape your nation into the kind of community that God wants. So know what your candidates stand for, and vote in a way that best employs Godly principles and ideals from the choices you have available.  But more importantly than that, influence your immediate world in such a way that America can only produce good candidates from which to choose. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Have You Been Raising Dead People and Practicing Witchcraft?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Murder is wrong.  It doesn’t take a braniac to figure out that it is a terrible sin to take the life of someone else, not just because you would be destroying something irreplaceable that doesn’t belong to you, but because, quite literally, you would be marring the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But guess what is just as bad -- or maybe even worse -- than murdering someone?  That would be planning and arranging for the murder of someone.  The person who is pulling the trigger is certainly worthy of the highest punishment, but there’s something perhaps more diabolical about the person who came up with the idea, funded it, planned it, and gave the trigger puller the tools and blueprints on how to do it.

This kind of moral equivalence is seen in a variety of places in the bible.  One such place is in the story of King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22-23.  Saul, for a variety of reasons, chose not to follow God’s order of operations.  The prophet Samuel warns him in those verses that his rebellion is just like the sin of divination or witchcraft. The Old Testament lumps divination and witchcraft in with a bunch of other terrible sins like necromancy (raising people up from the dead), and calls them disgusting, or detestable, or an abomination to God.  Did you get that?  Rebellion is as disgusting to God as necromancy. Those sins -- necromancy, sorcery, witchcraft, and divination -- all aim to usurp God’s role and authority in human affairs, and any rebellion against Godly authority is lumped right in with those sins.

When you sow discord at your work, at your church, in your family, or anywhere God has ordained an authority structure, you are sowing something that is disgusting to God. But notice how God tells Saul that he hates false sacrifice.  And notice how he tells the Hebrew people the same thing through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11-20). Then consider how he tells them both that he loves obedience more than sacrifice or ritual. Such obedience is marked by doing good, seeking justice, and correcting oppression. It is not marked by the selfishness seen in Saul, or the division seen in Paul’s warnings against those who teach contrary doctrines (Romans 16:17-18).  Instead, such obedience is marked by the submissive example of Jesus (John 5:30), and the maturity of a Godly spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Have You Ever Had A Johnny Paycheck Moment?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
If you’ve been in the work world for any length of time, you have probably come across the foolish boss, or the foolish foreman, or the foolish manager who was able to just push all of your bad buttons. Perhaps that leader was even backed by the organization for which you worked. If so, you’ve probably had at least one Johnny Paycheck moment where you fantasized about pulling down the whole organizational structure as you proclaim “take this job and shove it!” while trying to keep the screen door from slamming you in your butt as you exit in a blaze of destructive angst and sweet, rebellious glory.  

But this would be wrong, and against God’s way of doing things.  Your discomfort may be truly justified, but your fantasy is nothing but pure flesh.  It’s rooted in pride.  But more importantly, it goes against God’s way of doing things.  If you were to execute your fantasy against bad authorities, wherever they are -- whether at work, at home, at your university, or your church -- you would be executing it against God.  Romans 13:1-2 tells us that God has appointed those leaders for a purpose, and that to rebel against them is to rebel against God.  It’s quite a serious charge.  Interestingly, Miriam, the older sister of Moses, speaks out against the leadership of Moses.  She was already a high figure, the first woman to be given the title prophet (Exodus 15:20). And the prophet Micah recognized her as one of the leaders that helped deliver Israel from Egypt (Micah 6:4).  But when she opposed Moses, there were personal consequences.  God struck her with leprosy.

It’s also important to think about what you would actually be doing if you realized your fantasy. First, you would be assuming God’s job, because your intent would be to exact revenge, and Paul tells us plainly that revenge is the purview of God (Romans 12:19). But perhaps the biggest consequence is that to make that fantasy real would have a negative impact on your fellow workers and the customers your company serves. In other authority contexts such as your classroom, your marriage or your church, you would impact your fellow class mates, your family members, or any other innocent person that depends on the stability of a given authority structure, and perhaps even someone who needs to see the patience or wisdom of a follower of Jesus in order to get to know him like you do.