Pastor's Thoughts - September 2021
A few years ago, my wife and I sailed across the Pacific on a small boat. Getting from point A to point be in the vastness of the Pacific required careful attention to navigation. Fortunately, these days there are a lot of wonderful electronic navigation resources available that take all the work out of the process. You have your mapping program and your autopilot. Set the course and relax. A problem can occur, however, when you encounter drift. With drift, your autopilot may keep you pointed at the correct heading but your actual course may be something entirely different. The result is that any number of people have driven their boats onto reefs because they had not factored drift into their navigation.
In Hebrews 2:1, the author of this letter warns against drift, writing “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” The Greek term translated “drift away” is a nautical term meaning exactly what it sounds like – not reaching the intended destination because of forces pushing us off course.
This is a good reminder for those of us living in today’s crazy world. Christians typically don’t intentionally reject Jesus outright. What happens is usually much subtler and more incremental. People lose focus and become less intentional about their faith. They become less regular in their worship, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. Over time, baby step by baby step, Jesus occupies less and less of their attention until they eventually without ever intending it they have just drifted away.
No one starts out that way. Remember the excitement we felt as new Christians? When Kathy and I first committed our lives to the Lord, first thing we did was go out and buy a leather bound New American Standard Bible. And we devoured that thing. Never missed church; we led the senior high youth group. We took kids to camp in the summer. Our experience wasn’t unusual, that is actually the norm when people are new in the faith. Over time, however, some maintain their passion but for others the fervor slowly dies out; life returns to “normal.” If you ask them they would say “Yes, I am still a Christian,” but their lives are not showing the fruit of God’s presence. They show up at church for Christmas and Easter but not much beyond that. You wonder, what happened. Actually, in many cases nothing big happened. It was just drift.
How do we avoid drift ? First, we need to be intentional about our study of God’s word. This is where he lays out the course our lives should take and details the navigational resources available to us –like the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the counsel of fellow Christians. Second, we need to be attentive to what is happening in our lives, minds, and hearts. As I say, most people who fall away from Christ do so without ever making a conscious decision – they just drift away. And finally, we need to remain in fellowship with a community of believers. In fellowship we can help one another in what Eugene Peterson calls a long obedience in the same direction. This long obedience is most effectively undertaken in the company of fellow travelers.
Pastor's Thoughts - August 2021
Kathy and I worked among an unreached people group in Papua New Guinea for several years. Traditionally this people group was cannibalistic; they had only given that up a few decades before we arrived on the scene. Cannibalism was almost never about food. In most cases the practice was about power. The people among whom we worked believed that by consuming their enemies, they received their spiritual power. Not only would that make them more powerful here on earth, but it would also affect their status in the afterlife.
Concern with the afterlife, and how to achieve it, seems to be an almost universal human trait. Everyone, at least those who accept the existence of a spiritual realm, want to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a positive experience of the afterlife. Most religions are concerned with what steps a person needs to follow and what kind of person one needs to be in order to accomplish that.
This month I am starting a new series on the Book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews was writing to a group of Christians who were facing increasing opposition from the authorities. The purpose of the book was to encourage those Christian to persevere in the face of that opposition.
Much of Hebrews discusses the supremacy and superiority of Jesus. He is greater than the angels, greater than Melchizedek, greater than the priests and the offering he made on the cross is greater and more effective than the sacrifices offered in the temple. Jesus is the image of God and the goal and purpose of God’s progressive revelation.
The point is that there is one, and only one, way to achieve that universal desire for a blissful eternity. That way runs through the cross to Jesus. The author of Hebrews encourages the early Christians to persevere because there is no alternative path. To depart from the path of faith is to fail.
A family member once told me that there are many paths to God and it didn’t really make a difference which one you followed as long as you were sincere. That is a nice thought, but it is a thought completely ungrounded in reality. The reality is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him.
Pastor's Thoughts - July 2021
The past couple of weeks, I have mentioned in my messages the important role that our internal stories play in shaping the way we view and respond to events in our lives. The context was a series of sermons looking at the ways the Israelites tested God in the wilderness. The Israelites created narratives through which they interpreted the journey towards the promised land. In the first narrative, they repeatedly expressed the belief that Moses and God had brought them into the wilderness to kill them (Exodus 14:10-12, 16:2-3, 17:1-3). In spite of all evidence to the contrary, this internal narrative created in them a distrust of God and his purposes and resulted in their turning away from God to worship a golden calf.
The second narrative centered on how good their lives had been in Egypt, specifically in regard to the food that they were provided (Exodus 16:3, Numbers 11:4-6). Compared to the imaginary banquet of wonderful food they had enjoyed in Egypt; the manna God was providing each day was dull and boring. They grew to loathe the manna and grumbled against God and his provision with the result that God struck them with a plague which killed many people.
The lesson to be drawn from these events is our stories have a powerful effect on how we define and respond to the events of our lives. False narratives, that is, narratives that don’t align with reality are dangerous. The sin of the Israelites in those two events was the direct result of the stories they were telling themselves. Because their stories were not grounded in the reality of God’s purposes and provisions and his demonstrated care for them, the people behaved in ways that brought them into conflict with God.
Our stories, those things we tell ourselves about God, Jesus, the church, and ourselves, have powerful effects on our lives. This is why it is so important for us as followers of Jesus to study and understand the Scriptures. In his word, God defines Reality. To the extent that our stories align with God’s Reality, we are equipped to glorify him in our lives. We all need to evaluate the stories we tell ourselves in the light of God’s word. Then, in collaboration with his Holy Spirit, we will be equipped to rewrite those narratives to align with the truth of God’s word.