Archive for October, 2014

Romans 16:1-16 — Women. Women. Women. OK, guys, now that I have your attention. Let us as men and women read on. In this passage, we find a who’s who list of early Christians. This passage though it seems like just a list of greetings tell us several important things about the early Christian church that we must remember today.

This passage teaches us, first, that just because a Christian woman is submissive to her husband does not mean that she cannot play important roles in the church and its work. We will look at this point today. Tomorrow (Saturday), we will look at husbands and wives as Christian teammates. Finally on Sunday, we will look at the mobility of the early church and what it compels us to be today.

First, there is Phoebe. She is mentioned first in this passage, Paul’s greetings. Some biblical scholars conjecture that since she was mentioned first here that she was the one who delivered this letter, now called the Book of Romans, from Paul to the believers at Rome. She is noted as a deacon. In the first century, deacons were not the power brokers that they are in many Baptist churches today. Back then deacon was just the first step in service to the Lord. Deacons were those that we singled out for the heart for the Lord and service to other Christians. In the early church, they were the ones who took care of the practical day-to-day matters of the church. The fact that Phoebe was a deacon reminds us that women played an important role in the early church. In a time in history, when women has little or no power and few human rights, the fact that Pheobe is named as a deacon is especially striking. This kind of debunks the sometimes held belief that the Christian church has a sexist bent. Paul mentions Phoebe as being helpful to Paul so that means most likely that she helped his ministry’s financial needs. She was highly regarded in the church. She was a woman who helped the church grow and expand. Women were part of Jesus’ town to town entourage (Luke 8:1-3) who helped meet the needs of his ministry and did so from their own means. They were not prevented from helping the church because they were women. They were empowered by Jesus and later his church.

Sure, Paul tells us in many other places in the Bible that women should submit to their husbands (who are submitted to the Lord and loves his wife the way the Lord loved his church – he gave his life for it). However, that did not mean that they were not allowed to be active, useful, and important members of the church. Throughout the New Testament women are given great value by Jesus and by his church. What mattered to Jesus and it is apparent here is that they were believers and they wished to serve the Lord. Women, as you see, here plaid prominent roles in the church. This shows that a woman can be submissive to a truly Godly man in the matters of their home and as a couple outside it but it does not preclude women from great, great servants in the church. Women are celebrated by the church. Women are gifts to us men. They are the true treasures of God’s creation. They are beauty. They are that which makes our world worth living in. They are what make this world worth fighting for. Without women, the world would be a dirty, ugly, and harsh like the nature of men. Women are made to be home. They are our safe place in a harsh world. They are important in God’s plan and they should be important in God’s church.

Let us remember as Christian men, we are given the gift of a submissive wife. With the submission of our wives to us, we are given an even greater responsibility to her (and by extension to God-fearing women in general). We must be willing to die for our wives as Christ died for us. We are called to be sacrificial for our wives. We are called to put their needs before ours. As Christ covers us with his perfection, we are to cover and protect our wives and make sure that they can grow into the flowers that they are intended to be. We are not to keep them beaten down and locked away. We are to make sure that they can flourish just as Jesus makes sure that we are made right with God. As men, we should make sure that not only our wives are allowed to flourish but all Christian women. We should create an environment that these treasures, women, can flourish and use the special gifts that God gives specifically to women. This is our job, men. The way I see it, women will willingly submit to a man when she sees him living a God-fearing life and is demonstrating a Christ-like love toward her as a wife or a Christ-like respect to her as a woman in general. We don’t get submission by being a prick to our wives or women in general.

So, there you have it, women are important in God’s plan of redemption for the world just as we men are. They played important roles in the first century church and were extremely important to the rapid spread of the church. The Christian church is empowering of women because Jesus was empowering of women. Feminists bash the Bible because they read that women should be submissive. Yes, it says that, and, yes, we believe that. However, what the feminists don’t read on and see is that men have a higher calling that results in this submission. We are called to love our wives the way Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He went all out for it to the point of offering up his life so that we would be reconciled to God. We are to love our wives this way. How can a woman not submit to a husband that loves her this way? By implication too, we, men, should create an environment for all Christian women that they know that we will put our life on the line for them, that we will create an environment where they feel safe and can flourish. As men, we should empower women to become all they can be just as Jesus did. He gave them value. We should give them value. If they have talents that can benefit and further the church we should celebrate it and foster it not condemn it and hinder it. Women. Women. Women. They are God’s gift to us. Let us treat them that way. Let us help them become all they can be in God’s plan.

Romans 15:23-33 — This passage today is about provision. The work of the church is about provision. Providing for missions, providing for other Christians in need, providing through prayer. As Christians, we are part of a team. We are not just self-contained units dotting the landscape. We are all joined together in Christ. Our fellow Christians are not out of sight, out of mind. Like the human body is interconnected and interdependent so to are all Christians in the body of Christ.

As Christians, we must provide for missions. We do so not out of obligation but we do so because the message must be sent. There are those who are sent and there are those who support those who are sent. My friend, Tim Lyda, felt the burden and the passion to plant a church in spiritually hard soil known as New England, specifically Manchester, CT. We did not force him to go there. He followed God’s leading him there. It is our job as the church from which he was sent to support him. This man, along with Jason Edwards have made sacrifices. They have moved their families 16 hours away from those who love them. They are strangers in a strange land who are making it there home, developing relationships day by day. They are faces struggles daily as they toil in the hard spiritual soil of New England. We must support them with our financial gifts. If you are a member of the LifeSong mother church here in Lyman, SC, we need to provide for Tim, Jason and their families. They are doing needed work. The gospel must be spread. People dying without knowing Christ as their Savior should, should, SHOULD burden our souls. We should care that New England is a spiritually dead place and that many souls there will be separated from God for eternity in hell for having rejected Christ. We must, must, must be there in the persons of Tim, Jason and their families. We must, must, must support them financially. We must make a way for them. The church at Rome was apparently ready and willing to support Paul’s journey to Spain. It is not just LifeSong Church as a whole that must support Manchester, we as individual LifeSongers must support them. They are doing tough work in a tough place and their need our financial resources to do the work that needs doing — spreading the gospel in ways that connect to the culture up there.

As Christians, we also have responsibility for our fellow Christ followers who are in need. In your life, would you allow a family member to be in need and not help them. If your brother, sister, or child were in desperate need would you not help them. We are part of the family of Christ so we too also have an obligation to help fellow Christ followers who are in need. Just as ancient Christ followers helped the Christians in Jerusalem when they were in need, we should be concerned about our fellow Christians here at home and abroad who are in need. We should be moved to tears by the persecution of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, China, North Korea and other places that happen on a daily basis. We should be concerned too when Christians are in need right here at home as well. We have a responsibility to both, not one or the other. We must as Christians think of the welfare of others before our own. The thing that gets in the way of us supporting other Christians in real and direct ways is the American Dream. We have bought so into the fact that we are to have the newest cars, the finest houses, a cell phone for everyone in our house including our toddlers, the finest appliances, the newest, etc. The most expensive is better. We have so bought into that we cannot do what we are called to do. We are slaves to our finances and Satan just smiles. Christians awake. Shed yourself of debt. We are called to support fellow Christians. Is it not better to live on less. Does the new BMW become more important than supporting those that fight against the killing of Christians in Syria. The BMW seems pale by comparison. Is your manicured lawn worth more than helping those who spread the gospel in China? Is your boat worth more than supporting the soup kitchen right down the road from your house?

Finally, we, as Christians, must support each other with our prayers. Do you know how much Tim, Jason and their families value our prayers? Do you know how much missionaries in the Muslim world, or in North Korea, China and elsewhere value our prayers? They beg for our prayers. In committing to pray for those who are on the front lines of the battle to spread the gospel, we participate in their ministry. When we pray (and I mean more than just those prayers that we say at the dinner table….real prayer is what I mean), we are urged by the spirit to learn more about the people we pray for and their situations. When we pray for them, we are committed to find out what exactly they need prayer for. Through prayer we become involved. Through prayer, we can move mighty mountains. For example, the LifeSong Manchester team needs our prayers for a place for Sunday worship. The work of Satan has prevented them from using a city gym. When you pray, you want learn more of the needs of those on the front lines. Commit to pray for the Manchester to find a new place to worship on Sundays. Get to know about the missionaries in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran and elsewhere. Pray for them. The work they do in all the spiritually hard places is long and hard. They deserve our prayers. Not just supper table prayers, the real prayers that we usually reserve for when things have gone wrong. Pray with desperation for our front line missionaries!

Father, help us to set our priorities straight financially so that we can financially support our fellow Christians who are in need, our fellow Christians who are missionaries. Help to remember the difference between those things that are temporary trappings of this life and those things that have eternal weight. Help us to pray for those who are doing the work that needs doing and in so doing we become so moved that we become desperate to help our church grow more so than making our list of things we own grow. Help us to support the church in all ways in which our common body of Christ needs. Help us to set our priorities straight so that we can. Amen.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.

Romans 15:1-13 — To give God glory and to understand God’s glory. Giving God glory is our aim or should be in everything we do. Knowing Scripture helps us understand God’s glory.

Giving God glory is the dominating theme of this passage. First, our actions should be to give God glory in everything we do. Paul is telling us that we give God glory through how we treat one another. For Paul, it was the Jew vs. non-Jew, slave vs. free, rich vs. poor. By implication, we must be majoring on our similarities as Christians not on our differences. Satan wants us to be fractured. Satan wants us to be pointing fingers at one another. The fractures within the church as whole, all the different ways we have split ourselves up (Catholic vs. Protestant, and within Protestantism — Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) makes us less effective as a whole. Fractures within our local bodies make us less effective. Satan loves discord in the church. Discord within our local bodies and the church at large gets us focused on ourselves and not our primary mission. Our primary mission is to give God glory.

How to we give God glory within our body of Christ, by remembering that Christ did not come to earth to simply please Himself. He came to give God glory by His words, actions, and deeds. He gave God glory by teaching of God’s love. He gave God glory by encouraging all who were seeking God. Jesus gave God glory by offering God’s love to all who would listen to Him. He gave God glory by being obedient to the Father to the point of dying on the cross for our sins. He did not seek His own glory but rather to give glory to the Father.

How then do we put this into practice in our local church body? We seek not to glorify ourselves or those who are just like us. We give God glory by our own humility. We give God glory by not being territorial over our functions within the church. What does it matter who gets credit for something positive the church does as long as the job gets done? What does it matter as long as God is glorified? When our motivation is to glorify God, then, our egos do not need to be stroked. When ego comes into play, we find division and divisiveness within the body. Is this the kind of glory to God that we want to present to the lost soul. Do we want to present to them a group of petty people who are more concerned about the trees we have marked as our territory than we sharing the love of Christ? When we get it, that it is not about us, but rather about giving God glory by drawing all nations and all tongues unto Christ, then, and only then can we be effective tools. Let us seek unity with one another. Let us recognize and respect each other’s differences but let us seek unity in that we all are forgiven sinners. That is our common bond. Jesus is the source of our unity. Our unity comes from knowing that and expressing that and living that. Jesus is my Jesus and He is yours. We are both sinners covered in grace no matter if I am white guy and you are black, no matter if I am a man and you are a woman, not matter if I am educated and you are not, no matter if I am rich and you are poor, no matter if I am young and you are old. We are God’s kids. Our unity in that fact, that we are all kids of the King. That’s what people should see in us — that despite our differences we have unity in Christ. Our unity gives God glory and draws others to Him through our unity in a world of discord.

Paul tells us to that God is a God to be glorified because He has been faithful to His people. We can have confidence in that. How do we have confidence in that? By knowing Scripture. The more we know about what God did in the past, the greater the confidence we have about what He will do in the days ahead. The Bible gives us confidence in God’s glory. We have example after example in the Bible that God is faithful to those who seek Him and give Him glory. Knowing Scripture helps us to be less likely to see our own glory. Knowing Scripture helps us to not try to control things ourselves. Knowing Scripture is to know God’s glory. We don’t have to worry when we place our faith and control of our lives into God’s hand. We know from Scripture that He is faithful. When we live in this confidence, it helps us let go of our ego, our need to be in control. We know from Scripture that God’s got this. In our bold confidence in the Lord, we can more easily seek unity among our brethren. We are not scared for our future because we know what God has done in the past. Therefore, we seek God’s way and not our own because we know Scripture. When we all are trying to align ourselves with God’s unity results. In our unity, God is glorified. Without knowledge of Scripture, we give our opinions and our values greater rein and discord results. Each of us together reading Scripture daily under the influence of the Holy Spirit leads to unity. It is through Scripture that we are led to be more Christ-like. By being more Christ-like, we give God glory. By being more Christ-like we become unified.

Father, help us as Christians to encourage one another because we are all children of God. Help us to seek to build each other up. Help us to see what we have in common in Christ rather than majoring on our differences. Help us in so doing bring others to knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Through our unity and love for one another despite the ways that we are different, help us to draw people unto you because our unity makes us so different from the world of discord in which we live. Help us to be confident in all these things through understanding Scripture. Help us to see how faithful that you are so that we have great confidence in your faithfulness. Help us to have faith that you are the God of Scripture. In this confidence, we no longer have to worry. Without worry, we can be unified in giving you glory and demonstrating your faithfulness to your people in a world where anarchy and lies reign. Amen.

Romans 14:1-23 — In this chapter, we might think that Paul is saying anything and everything is OK. Is he supporting an anything goes type of Christianity? I think though we must look at little closer to understand what Paul is saying here.

If we dig a little deeper here, Paul is saying that each of us is accountable to Christ and not to the opinions of others. We must as Christians be uncompromising in our stand against activities that are expressly forbidden by Scripture (adultery, murder, theft, among others things that Scripture says that are an abomination to God). We are not to create additional rules that we play off as scripturally based when they are not and give them equal standing with God’s Word. Many times we base our moral judgments on opinion, personal dislikes or cultural bias. For example, many traditional church enthusiasts cast dispersion upon the current trend of worship that features modern music. This is personal preference not Scripture. Likewise, those who attend modern worship style churches should not automatically think that old-school churches are out of touch and not think that such churches are dead to Christ. Paul is basically saying here that “there are hills to die on” for Christians and then there are hills that are not worth dying on. Matters of personal preference such as worship styles are not worth dying on. However, all Christians regardless of what type of church we go to must be uncompromising on those things that Bible forbids us to do. We have our hills to die on and we must be uncompromising there. If a brother is participating in an act that is expressly forbidden by God’s Word, we must lovingly correct them. In the end though, we must all give account for our lives before the Lord. He will be the judge not us. We should live our lives with this fact in mind. We should be living our lives to please our Father in Heaven not to win popularity contests with other Christians.

What those areas of God’s Word where it seems to be open for interpretation. For example, the Bible seems to have a prohibition against tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 seems to say this on the surface. But upon deeper examination of the historical context of Leviticus. When we understand the background of Leviticus, we However, there are problems with that interpretation. Leviticus 19:25-31 contains a series of laws that prohibit various pagan worship practices. The Israelites were constantly tempted to lapse into the pagan practices of other ancient peoples (Exodus 32:1-6, Numbers 25:1-3, etc.), so they were forbidden to do anything that had even the appearance of a pagan ritual. Other cultures at the time often mutilated their own bodies or put ink on their bodies as a ritual reverence at the death of a family member. Thus, the specific prohibition of modern day tattoos that are not associated with a death ritual of pagans is unclear. There are other such examples in Scripture such as eating food that is offered to idols but yet you did not know that it was. And, there are other examples as well. If the Bible is unclear, we should not condemn others for what I feel my interpretation is. For example, we should not condemn those who chose to have tattoos if it is our preference to honor God by not having tattoos. Since the Bible is unclear, we should not condemn one another for a personal preference.The only thing that I would offer here is that if a tattoo is of a nature that it celebrates things that are not of Scripture such as adultery, drunkenness, violence against others, degrading to women, and so on that are blatantly opposite of biblical principles then we should consider it an issue. Those who do have tattoos should not see those who do not as being old-school and uncompromising. We should not cause each other to stumble and cause division over areas where the Bible is unclear as to its application in today’s historical context. These are not hills to die on.

What about areas where the Bible is silent? What if there are aspects of modern life where the Bible is silent. It is in these areas that we should not be tempted to create scripture. Sometimes, we have a danger of thinking that if Beth Moore says it that it is Scripture. Sometimes we think if Francis Chan says it then it must be Scripture. Although I have great respect for Beth and Francis as Christ-followers and the talents that God gave them in writing and leading others, we cannot take what they say in their books as Scripture. Everything that popular Christian writers say must be examined against God’s Word. That which is consistent can be accepted and that which is inconsistent must be rejected.

So, we do not create Scripture. What about when we look to the Bible and it is silent? I know that we do not create Scripture but what do we do? According to Charles Stanley, he says, “When the Word of God does not address a question directly, we must look to its principles to guide us. The apostle Paul wrote that believers should “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). The phrase “be careful” means to scope things out, think them through, and examine from every angle. It is all-encompassing. Believers are to demonstrate caution in relationships, finances, decision making, business transactions, family matters—everything. Wise men and women make the most of time.” This is where we must look at a situation from the Bible as a whole. Is my response to the situation consistent with the themes and tenor of the Bible. It’s one of those situations we must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. If it feels wrong or seems inconsistent with Scripture in some way, this may be the Holy Spirit telling us that this situation is not right and we should not participate. Be wise. It it seems stupid, don’t do it. If is seems as though it would lead you to temptations to violate that which the Bible directly speaks against, don’t do it. However, in areas where the Bible is silent, and a fellow Christian chooses a different path of reaction to a situation, we should not condemn them for not choosing the same path we chose. Our advice to others in areas where the Bible is silent is to advise them, “hey my reaction to this situation is this….and my reason is that it might make me stumble in to actions that are specifically prohibited by the Bible. You may be stronger in resisting that temptation so it’s up to you.”

Father, help to hold each other up. Help us to encourage each other. Help us to hold each other accountable for the “hills that we should die on”. Help us to understand Scripture in its original historical and cultural contexts so that we can rightly apply its text and its spirit to our modern day world. Help us to dig deep to understand how apply the Bible to modern day life. Help us to understand the difference between my personal preferences and Scripture. Help us to understand that we are to seek unity whenever possible. Help us to know the Scripture well enough to know when to stand firm against certain behaviors and actions. Help us to hold each other accountable in these areas and do so with restoration in mind. Help us to know to seek Holy Spirit guidance for our own actions where the Bible is unclear or where it is silent. Help us to understand your Word well enough to be apply to apply its general principles to every situation. Help us to know what hills we need to die on. Amen.

Romans 12:11-14 — Great college football teams don’t become great by just showing up on Saturdays. Great football teams do all the hard work during the week. The coaches put together a game plan. The players work hard in the weight room, they study film with the coaches, they practice the game plan over and over and over again. The results are based on how well the players prepare. It is the same for us as Christ followers.

We must put in the hard work. We must renew our minds. We must first prepare ourselves by changing our mindset. We must begin with the weightlifting of the Christian life. We must stay in God’s Word. How can we begin changing our thought patterns if we do not read the Bible daily. We must do more than read the words. We must read them and think about them. We must meditate on what we read. We must pray about what we have read. We must let what we have read occupy our mind. Without God’s Word, we are sitting ducks for the evil desires of heart to take center stage. Like a championship team member who daily lifts weights to give him greater strength and greater endurance, we must be in the Word daily to give us a different mindset. Great championship teams do all the hard work that makes them champions when no one is looking. Champions are made during the week. They don’t just show up on Saturday. Similarly, we Christians become mature and have greater resistance to giving into our evil desires not just by showing up at worship services on Sundays. We are less likely to give into the amazing pull of evil in our lives by doing the hard work during the week. We must study God’s Word and meditate on it and apply it to our lives. Just as a football player is less likely to get pushed around on the field if he puts in his daily time in the weight room, so a Christian must lift his “biblical weights” daily to help prevent being pushed towards evil desires.

We must avoid evil whenever we can. A recovering drug addict or alcoholic must avoid situations where he will be tempted to take drugs or a drink again. They are told to change their playgrounds and their playmates. Of course drugs and alcohol are prevalent in our world today and those who are recovering cannot avoid these temptations altogether. However, the recovering addict just doesn’t tempt themselves beforehand by going to a bar or go to the same old hangouts where drugs or alcohol are available. A recovering alcoholic cannot go to restaurant and order a beer and think it won’t lead him right back to where he was. A drug addict can’t sniff a line of cocaine and think it won’t have him destroyed again. The same is true of any particularly high weakness area that we have in life. We cannot get close to the flame without expecting to get burned as the old saying goes. We cannot allow sins to fester in our minds and we certainly cannot put ourselves in positions where we can act out those sins that we have been playing with in our minds. We cannot create the conditions in the real world that would allow us to execute our sinful desires.

We must seek out someone who will hold us accountable. In recent years, you have seen leaders of large non-denominational churches get taken down by some sin they have allowed to fester whether it be pride, arrogance, lust, adultery, you name it. In each case, there was no accountability for the top guy. Even great leaders must have someone in their life that tells them the truth about what they are doing. We must institutionalize ways to hold ourselves accountable. For non-denominational mega-church senior pastors, it is often having a board of trustees, or an advisory council that they place the purse strings of their job in. It may be a circle of other megachurch pastors that they meet with regularly. For you and me as everyday Christians, we need the same thing. We need a mentor and we need an accountability partner. We need mentors, those whose Christian walks are more mature than ours (even if it is only slightly more mature). They can show us how it is done. They can show us where their pitfalls were. We need a partner too. One who is equal to us in maturity. We need that one true friend that will have no fear in telling us that we are full of crap. This way we make ourselves accountable. These are the people that can notice subtle changes in us that are signs that we are indulging sins in our minds. These are the people that know or sin weaknesses and will slap us into reality when they tell us not to put ourselves in positions that will allow us to execute our pet sins.

Being a part of a championship football team takes dedication and hard work. It requires do a lot of hard work that people don’t see during the week. They do all this hard work when no one is looking so that they can win the prize. Those college teams that stand on the stage in January with the trophy won their championship starting back in August in the sweaty steamy days of summer. They did the two-a-days. They lifted weights. They ran til their legs felt like logs. They lifted weights til their arms and legs were aching. They won games because they prepared harder and longer. They studied film. They studied their playbooks. Champions just work harder. Any coach will tell you that you can have the most talented team in the world but if they don’t put in the hard work, they will never be champions. The same is true for us as Christians. Being Christian is hard work. We have sin nature. We must work hard every day to keep ourselves from allowing our sinful desires to take full rein our lives. Sin is always out there lurking. We must put on the armor of preparation daily and create an environment in our lives that we help us stay away from our weaknesses. It does not always work. Sometimes, we allow our minds to be deceived by our desires. That is why this is a daily battle for which we must be prepared. Like players who just show up for the football game and are not prepared, they will lose the game. We must put in the hard work daily to renew our minds. We can’t just be at church for an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday and think that’s enough. We must put in the hard work, the work that no one sees. Daily submission to Jesus. Bible study. Avoid our sin playgrounds. Accountability partners and mentors. Man, its tough work. But, let’s keep an eye on our prize. The heavenly championship!

Romans 13:8-10 — There was once a song by The Beatles called, “All You Need Is Love.” Love is all you need. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law, Paul tells us. The bottom line is love. Everything else that we are as Christians stands on this foundation.

Today is music day in my mind I guess. The song that comes to mind now is “The Proof of Your Love” by the Christian contemporary group, For God & Country. The song begins with the lyrics that say if I sing but don’t have love, I waste my breath with every word I sing. Everything that we do as Christ followers is meaningless without love. Paul repeats this idea in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He says, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1-2). Love is the basis of who we are as Christ followers. Love is our motive. If we do not have love as our motive for the things we do to reach the world around us, we are just another help agency. If you participate in church-wide community events just to be seen doing it or to check off what you think will get you into heaven, you’ve got it all wrong. Love is our motive. We are to show the world genuine love. We are to show them love without expectation of payback. We should love the world around us without an attitude of what’s in it for me.

Why do we love others without payback? We do this because we are in debt to Christ for the lavish love has poured out on us. The only way we can begin to repay Him is by fulfilling our command to love others in turn. We should be overflowing with love. We have been saved from our eternal damnation in hell by the love of a God who sent His Son to be the perfect sin sacrifice. Jesus paid the penalty for sin that we deserved. Because of His love for us, He substituted Himself for us. How can you not love the world and want to serve it so that you can tell the world about what Jesus Christ has done. The basis of what Christ did on the cross was love for us. Love that we must share with others. We show our love for others so that they can come to see Jesus in us. We love ourselves enough to make sure that we have food, shelter, clothing. We should do no less for our neighbors. Loving others means actively working to make sure that their needs are met. Our love for others, coming from the love that we have received in Christ, should lead us to fight against social injustice. Love should motivate us to do more than the law requires. Love should motivate us to do more than have a payroll deduction to United Way. Love should motivate us to do more than put our extra money in the plate on Sunday. Love should motivate us to be in the real world with our neighbors who are suffering. Love should motivate us to fight the fights that need fighting not just sit behind the fence of our homes and complain that the world is going to crap. Love should motivate us to be more than armchair Christians.

There is a saying that goes like this, “Love can cover up many sins.” It is usually in reference to couples whose relationship is young and new and that they are so in love that they cannot see the faults of their lover. But in today’s context, let’s look at it from the perspective that love can cover many sins, the sins that we want to commit. We are fulfilling God’s law by loving others, Paul says. Think about it. The absence of love for our neighbor can lead us to commit many of the prohibited actions of God’s law. Not loving our neighbor can be in our own households. Not loving your spouse can often lead them to find it elsewhere in the sin of adultery. Unresolved anger (not loving) can lead to murder. Not loving can lead us not to respect that which belongs to another and we steal. Not loving can lead us to jealousy and covetousness. All of the God’s law is prohibitions against making our ownselves God and having the “it’s all about me attitude”. Love, real love, is about caring more about the needs of others than you care about your own. Love is a new set of glasses that allows us to see the world from other people’s perspective. Love allows me to go beyond myself and truly care for other people. I mean really care. When we were in the process of winning our spouse’s love, we lavished them with praise, attention, gifts, and just generally showing them that they are the most important thing in the world to us. We showed them the best of us. Should not we love our neighbors in this way all the time? Love can prevent us from seeking retribution. Love seeks reconciliation. Love involves building others up and not tearing them down. Love. Love. Love. All ya need is love. love. Love is all ya need. Love is all ya need. Nothing else matters.

There is a song from the best music decade EVER, the 80’s, called “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I use it here as a question rather than a discussion of the song’s lyrics. What’s love got to do with it? The answer is everything. Without love, everything is meaningless. Without love, there is no hope. Without love, we would not have had Jesus. John 3:16 tells us that our God loves us so much that He sent His Son to save us from our own self-inflicted damnation. Without His love for us, He would not have provided us a way to be reconciled to Him. If God did not love us so immensely, He would not have sent Jesus. We live in a world that has no love and is hellbent on self-destruction. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.