The God Who Made You, Made Me Too! (ATP)

Question: Lately God has been showing me that money doesn’t equal blessing even if it makes life easier. In fact it can dull our fire and need for God… just as we are warned in Matthew 19:24. I really saw that in the mission to Africa. We are SO privileged here in America, often times I even feel guilty for it, for how much provision I really have. But when I saw the video of the containers people slept in to attend the conferences and I heard what people had to do to hear God’s word, I realized in our “privilege” many of us have become lazy and it’s so easy to lose our drive and passion to hear God’s word because it’s so easily accessible. The passion and fire these people have to seek God is more valuable than gold. I think it’s so easy that we’ve taken it for granted.  What are your thoughts? 

Although this isn’t a typical question, I definitely see it as something that can be addressed. To be honest I have had many of these same thoughts and I want to share how God helped me.

It’s easy when someone has been on a mission trip or has been laboring for something to get really wrapped up in it. Ask any first time mother. I’ve also seen this as a pastor so many times. You see an issue, legitimate issue, and the thought that comes is, “I/we have to do more!” The truth is, we do need to do more, but we also have to learn balance. And balance is an interesting thing. Too much pull on one side and you fall. Too much on the other, you fall. There is a constant tension in balance that pulls from one side to another, forces working against each other, to keep one upright. It’s no less so here.

When I was preparing to go to Africa, the Lord gave me a scripture that ended up being a theme of sorts to me while I was there. And this helped me greatly. The scripture is Romans 1:11-12 (NASB) and says, “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Here we see such beautiful tension. One was going because they were sent to take care of a need, yet the realization was, there was something there for the one who was sent to receive as well. I find this true in all of God’s ministry. We impart and get imparted to. When I prepare a message for our church and then deliver it, there is a transaction that happens in the spirit that I cannot always explain. I can be equally blessed by the ones I’m ministering to. They minister to me, sometimes without even knowing. 

The key is not to see a need and then get down on ourselves, but to seek the Lord, what is my part in this, what would You have me to do? There is no doubt that living in this country we are automatically blessed. I have seen first hand that there is a kind of privilege that comes with that. However, we have not chosen where we would be born or what abundance we have. We have not chosen the way our government governs or how the economy does. We simply partake of that. The issue arises when we don’t realize that we have been privileged and that privilege has power. We are to use that for God’s glory. 

Not too awful long ago I was in a place that had great need of people to minister. In fact, I’ve seen this in many places all over the world. I started getting overwhelmed with the need and my inability to fulfill it. As I was allowing my anxiety to grow, I felt the Lord show me in my spirit, there is more work to be done than any one person can accomplish. Do what He calls me to. If I will focus on that then I will accomplish exactly what He desires.

It’s so easy to be caught up in all that needs fixed. Again, I do this as much as the next person. But the reason the task is so overwhelming for us is because it’s not our task. God determines where we are born, what we will be raised under, both with its weaknesses and faults, as well as its strengths. When I was in Kenya, I brought back so much from those amazing people. However, in the midst of it, I saw some of the greatest needs. These needs were not what one might think either. See, a truth remains, God is God to the wealthy and to the poor. He’s God to the sick and God to the healthy. God is, He does not change. If our foremost need is always God, then the other circumstances mean little to us. Follow Him, seek after Him, and He will fill us how He chooses.

In conclusion, do not be worked up by what is not getting done, but use opportunities like this to stir you to seek Him. Don’t get distracted by what others fail to do, be distracted by what His Spirit directs you to do. What is God saying to you today. If people everywhere would learn to follow this truth, I believe no work would be left undone. God is working through the lives of believers whose hearts are to fulfill His calling in their lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

Can’t You Hear What He’s Saying? (ATP)  

Matthew 11:14 says, “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So does that mean John was the second coming of Elijah? 

This is a good question and one of those that takes a bit of digging. In fact, this is not one of those surface questions that one is probably going to understand without context. The answer is easy and won’t take long, so in the interest of keeping this interesting, let me use it to express some truths about our life with the Bible.

The Bible is truly an amazing book. It is really a collection of writings of various sorts. Some of it is just historical, some is prophecy, some is poetry, and some, letters to people. With this knowledge, we have to understand that all of these things in life, you read differently. For example, if I write a poem to my wife, it will read very different than a letter to a group of people or a news article on current events. That knowledge is incredibly important. 

The Bible is a very complex book that can teach someone on its simple and surface level but also be a wealth of deep knowledge for an advanced scholar. That understanding should never be thrown out but embraced. Part of embracing that is to realize, if you read it just for a devotional, to get closer to God, there may be things you come across that you will not understand fully. If you desire to understand those things in more depth, you must give yourself to studying.

As always, context matters in understanding this scripture. It’s a context one may not just pick up 2000 years from when it was written. Jesus was speaking to Jews who had a very different understanding of the world around them. Some of us have had some sort of religious upbringing. In that, certainly there are traditions and ideas you might get that others would not if they were brought up differently. This scripture is like that.

In that day, prophecy and prophets were considered to be rare. People had an understanding of old time prophets like Elijah, who looked and acted a certain way. When John came prophesying (like Elijah) in the wilderness about the Kingdom of God, dressed similarly to the way Elijah dressed, eating what Elijah ate, he came “in the spirit” of Elijah. This had been prophesied as well. Malachi 4:5-6 (NASB) says, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” In true Biblical prophetic fashion, it was harkening back to something of old. It wasn’t that God was actually sending Elijah, but He sent one in that spirit, LIKE Elijah. This was a way of making it clear to them, and probably also why so many ran to see him.

We see this theme a lot in scripture actually. As I have been studying Jesus, one thing becomes more and more clear, He wasn’t random in His actions. Many of the things He did either answered Jewish ideas or harkened back to something that had been done or thought before. Once we understand that, it actually makes what He did even that much more incredible! Notice Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear…” This is a common theme as well. Those closed-minded to what God was doing would never understand.

So how should this speak to us today? Basically, don’t put God in the box of what you think He ought to be and do! God is doing wonderful things in and through those who are open to Him. If we allow our religiousness to run us, it will also deceive us. When God is in something, you don’t have to ask if He is, it will be evident. Either by what He has said and done, or with undeniable proof. Trust God first, and through that trust and the study of His word, God will reveal Himself and His plans to you. His Spirit will assure you along the way, that is, if you have ears to hear!

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

What Do You Know?(ATP)  

Why do you think some people “get it” and some don’t?! (Meaning take hold of God’s Word, understand how to use it, how to communicate with Him, etc…).

There are two main reasons for this, and both can be equally difficult to overcome. They are one’s heart and one’s mind. These are things that God has dealt with since man was put in the garden.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NASB) tells us, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” Since the beginning of time, God has fought for the heart of man. Man’s heart, his affections, the things they long for drive them and often it is against God. Why is this you might wonder? It’s because man doesn’t think right.

We have been given a mind to think freely, to make decisions based on our desire. Our minds drive our desires and our desires lead our minds. These things work in tandem and if one is out of balance the other will be too. When I have looked at misinterpretations of the Word, often times it is based on the mind or heart of that person. Now, I am speaking in a generality. There is a truth that there are some scriptures that are very difficult to translate perfectly, however it seems that these things don’t generally affect important doctrine. That is unless someone translates wrong and then makes it a major doctrine, but those types of errors can be easy to point out. 

Look at what 2 Peter 1:20 (NASB) says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” We don’t have the right to take a scripture and take out of it just what we see. To be a Christian, for example, the tenets are basically agreed upon, there is consensus. While different people may vary on some points, generally those aren’t enough to change the whole. Major doctrines include, Jesus, the Son of God, was also God. He is the only way of salvation. God manifests Himself in three parts, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is eternal. These things, all true Christian’s agree on. Then you can get minor doctrines where we vary, this is where denominations are born and these are less important.

I am convinced that we as humans tend to filter things through a lot of things that we shouldn’t but do anyway. We use our background, our culture, our experience, our tastes, our desires and the like to come up with ideas of how we look at God’s Word. Even when we are aware of this and try not to, it can sneak in. How then, can anyone be right? 

Well, to begin with, God takes this all into account. He knows this and I have to believe gets a chuckle out of it. But how should we process this? I believe the only way we can be fully right is to be open about being wrong. Now, I mean this for lesser doctrines, not foundational truths. Once God is established in our hearts, let Him remain there, occupying that place forever. However, we need to understand that there is time and growth at work in us too. This means that as we are open to understanding Him more fully, we may change in how we see Him.

Don’t take me wrong. I am not suggesting a wishy washy faith and a changing God. He is God, He doesn’t change. Our understanding of Him however can, and where scripture isn’t spelled out and clear, we must be willing to adapt some. Now this explains denominations, but what about us as individuals? Well many individuals, even in denominations, don’t agree either. This is probably the reason for the larger problem.

Individuals have desires. They have ideas. One thing I have rarely found is a person with an idea or desire who thought it was bad! This is because, as people, we are extremely biased. For example, if you believe all churches are corrupt, then whenever an offering  is taken you will think it’s self-serving. If you think everyone else is wrong, then everyone else will be when it pushes back against your thought of truth. If you believe the color blue is best, then green or red will never satisfy. You see, opinion and desire can control a whole lot!

The way we approach this with the right heart is with humility and openness. For this, James 1:19-20 (NASB) gives us great advice, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Let that instruction sink in. Somebody rightly said about listening, “If you listen in order to respond you’re wrong. We need to listen to understand.” 

How you understand God’s word, is how you will filter what He says to you. This is because God’s word is the way we discern what the Lord says (Hebrews 4:12). If we have skewed His word then we will skew His words! One of my common prayers is, “Lord, keep me from being deceived, especially from me!” I believe there is wisdom in that, not because I came up with it because I didn’t, but because to not be deceived we must first realize we are apt to be deceived! 

After all of this, we must learn to rely on each other. No one person has the corner market on truth. Let me repeat that with emphasis, NO ONE PERSON HAS THE CORNER MARKET ON TRUTH. However, with that let me say, beware of teaching that exalts man. Even a little! I have heard people quote a man more than scripture. That is a VERY DANGEROUS PLACE to be and you can GUARANTEE deception is not far off! The best of the best as far as humans go (the apostle Paul), always pointed to God never man, even a little. Notice I keep saying even a little. A little error becomes a lot if it is not cleaned up! 

If you are reliant upon yourself, or someone else relies upon themselves, they will be found in error. Human pride is at the front door of deception! This can be in little bits or a lot but the fact that it is so evidently a thing means we should watch out for it. Be open to God and open to perspective, in this place you will find something very beautiful. It’s called His truth.

Romans 12:2 (NASB)

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

To Give Or Not To Give? (ATP)  

I saw this on pinterest and wanted to pass this question along because I wouldn’t know how to answer this correctly. If old testament law does not apply today, then why do people still tithe?

This is a great question, and honestly one that gets asked often. But in answering this question we must first ask another one, does the law apply today? Honestly, I don’t fully know where people come up with this idea other than for possibly two reasons. One, they have heard this over and over and just believe it, or two, they misinterpret scripture. What does the New Testament say about the law? 

1 Timothy 1:8 (NASB) says, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” Then Galatians 5:18 (NASB) says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Some people take that to mean that we don’t have to follow the law. Maybe mixing that with the “idea” that Jesus fulfilled the law (I’ll get back to that in a moment). What Paul was saying to the Galatians is not that the law no longer mattered, but that living in the spirit leads us to fulfill the law. There is a big difference between the two. Now, that does not mean that we have to do everything that the law spells out, but that the Spirit of God living on the inside of us will lead us to righteous living. On top of this, there are many commandments that are repeated in the New Testament, as clear instruction to a believer who wants to be right. 

Now let’s look at what Jesus said. Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB) “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” That Jesus fulfilled the law means that He did all that was required perfectly, not, as He clearly stated, abolished or threw it out. In fact, look again at verse 19. The one who teaches to abolish it will be called least in God’s kingdom! Now that’s a teaching you don’t hear often! 

Next, let’s look at another idea. Biblical tithing actually predates the law. In other words, it was a practice that came around long before God gave any law to do so. This breaks into the bigger question, what is tithing all about anyway? I’ll give you a clue, it’s about man’s heart and gratitude toward God. The reason we use Malachi 3:10 so often is not because it is the only scripture about tithing and giving. It’s because it’s so clear and shows the heart of its purpose. God intended the tithe to supply His house. But the law was not, as I said, the beginning of the tithe.

In Genesis 14:18-20 (NASB) we read, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him (Abram) and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He (Abram) gave him a tenth of all.” This, Abram (later Abraham) did this out of a heart of gratitude for all God had done for him and this brings us to the heart of tithe.

There is a rule of tithe and a heart of tithe and the two are very different. When the whole law of God was made, its purpose was to show man that his heart was wrong. God gave instructions to man to give them boundaries. But as we see in the teachings and life of Jesus, what mattered most to God was man’s heart to do good, not their obedience to the law to do good. The Pharisees prided themselves on obedience to rules but Jesus clearly showed their hearts were not right.

I’m going to say something that may shock you. I do not see a New Testament law to tithe. What I do see however, is a requirement in those who love God to do more. Let me explain. For God it wasn’t about percentages, as I said God cared about the heart. When it comes to tithing and giving we have to understand what it was always about. Because the tithes and the offerings supplied the work of the Lord, this was a good precedent to begin with. A tithe is like the basic level of sacrifice, essentially saying that everyone should strive to at least do their part in providing for the work of the Lord. For some, this is a much greater sacrifice than for others. For instance, for a millionaire to simply tithe isn’t much sacrifice compared to an average working family. Because some Christians can do so much more, really only fulfilling the tithe actually lessons their faithfulness.  See in all of this, it was a way for man to connect his heart to what God wanted to do. Should a Christian tithe and give? Let me ask you, does God still desire to use man to fulfill His plans? The answer of course is yes. We connect to God’s plan when we put our lives into it! And, when our hearts are connected to something, truly, it’s not difficult to give into it. 

People often fight against the concept of giving in the local church and there’s a couple of reasons that make this prominent. One is because of misuse of funds, and another is because of a wrong heart of the one being asked to give. This is why it’s imperative that we first know where God wants us to worship then throw ourselves completely into that. If we believe God put us somewhere and we seek Him on that basis, giving of ourselves to that work, He will bless and we can trust that. God will connect us right, and then we can with full assurance do whatever our part in that will require. 

To understand this further I’d like to say, consider your own community. Taxes are not bothersome when we know they go for good. It’s nice to have police and firefighters and other first responders. It’s great to have roads plowed and public utilities. It’s wonderful to have parks and playgrounds and other things like that. And I’d say, that most people with common sense don’t mind paying for such things. Corruption is never fun and we should endeavor to mitigate that, but that some are corrupt does not mean we throw out a whole system that benefits us. The same goes with the local church. If we don’t take care of it and it’s work financially, it won’t get done. This is part of the work the Lord has clearly given to us.

In closing I’ll add, don’t be in bondage to these things but endeavor to participate in them. My wife and I have been faithful to tithe and give for nearly two decades. We have seen that because we have joined our hearts and finances with God, He has increased our ability to do it even more over the years. It wasn’t overnight, but it did happen and I’ve known this same thing for countless people. I love what a brother in the faith said to me once, “We (him and his wife) don’t give because we have to, but we are blessed that we do. We don’t go to church because we have to, but we are blessed that we do.” I think that is a good heart to have about all God calls us to, don’t you?

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff 

Who Can Even Know? (ATP) 

Concerning Matthew 7:21-23.

This scares me a bit, how do we know this isn’t me or you or someone we thought was following God?

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

I know the feeling. I remember times when looking at these scriptures that I wondered, “Could I be one of these people?” I’m going to put your mind at ease, you’re probably not who this is talking about, and neither am I. Now comes the task of proving this.

I want to ask a question. Do you believe that the purpose of scripture is to scare us? Does God give us knowledge of truth so that we would be afraid? I love the response to fear that you always see in the presence of godly beings. “Do not be afraid!” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NASB) says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” That word timidity can be also translated fear or cowardice. In other words, Gods spirit does not lead us by human fear. It is true, there is a real thing called holy fear, which is what puts someone on their knees in the presence of God or angels. But this is not the crippling or paralyzing fear that torments. This is not our God. He tells us in Romans 8:1, that there is no condemnation in Him.

So how do we know? Context is key in these scriptures. Go back to  verses 15-16. Matthew 7:15-16 (NASB) “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” Jesus tells us who these false people are. They are “godly” people whose motives are wrong, and it’s seen by what they do. These are people who profess to know God and hear from God, but are doing things the scripture clearly warns against. These are “false prophets” who use people for their gain. These are “prophets” who talk about their amazing ability to hear from God, yet don’t really know Him at all.

How, you might question, would we be able to judge this? The answer is easy and is found in Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Jesus said to judge them by their fruit. He was not talking about the size of their ministries or the amount of stuff they have. He was talking about spiritual fruit. Paul defines to the Galatians just what this fruit is. Someone who claims to hear great things from God, yet finds it very difficult to be loving (biblically) toward people, I have to question whether they’ve heard anything at all! God is not telling us what’s important only to have us ignore it. He’s not giving great revelations only to have them fail at the basic foundations of our faith!

Some people try to make these verses in Matthew about those who in modern times operate according to what is referred to as the gifts of the Spirit. Prophesying, laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, casting out demons and the like but we need to look and ask, are they really about this? Sure people who do those things could be the subject but according to these scriptures don’t need to be. 

What Jesus was ultimately talking about is relationship with Him, and those in relationship with Him should look a certain way. As I said, it could refer to those who operate in such gifts, but it doesn’t by definition need to either. We need to ask ourselves, do I have a relationship with God and if so what does it look like? Is it scriptural? Is it love? Or is it selfish and using? I believe this isn’t just about people who are doing things but also for those who do nothing at all! We have a relational God, there’s no way around it. Those who desire that relationship will be by no means cast aside. Those who don’t desire, will never find entrance. 

Following God isn’t about being perfect, or about being used in magnificent ways. It’s about knowing Him. Do you know Him? If you’re not sure, do you care to? Does what He say about Himself matter to you? If you can say yes to any of these I’d say you’re on the right track. How about people? Do people matter to you? They matter to Him! People have motives for doing all kinds of things and I do think it’s important that we always evaluate the why when it comes to what we do. But we can rest in assurance when we have a relationship with our Father. He’s given us His spirit to assure it!

Romans 8:15-16 (NASB)

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

Be Blessed,

Pastor Jeff

Social Media and the Church (ATP)

Question: Do you think social media has made the Christian journey easier or harder? Just curious on your thoughts 

I’ve found that often there are more gray areas than black and white and I believe social media and its consequence falls somewhere in that gray zone. 

Immediately something that comes to my heart is distraction. Now, of course although the Bible doesn’t say anything about social media specifically, it does speak to the idea of distraction. We know the rebuke that Martha received from the Lord because although she had opportunity to sit at His feet and learn from Him, she was distracted by other things, seemingly harmless and even useful things. We see direction in Matthew 6:33 to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but often times the more we have available to us the less we seek Him first. I know many of us have been guilty of opening up our Facebook in the morning before even speaking to or seeking the Lord for our day. Ouch! But it’s true. Scripture after scripture reminds us to set our minds on things above, not on the things of this earth (Colossians 3:2), to meditate on what is pure, noble and acceptable in His sight (Philippians 4:8), and to renew our minds according to the Word (Romans 12:2). Anyone with any social media experience knows full well that not all of it is lovely, pure, or heaven-minded. 

On the flip side of this, we know that many connections have been made through social media. A number of the people that attend our churches faithfully have come to find us through various social media outlets. Our services are freely broadcasted to the world through social media, which is a beautiful opportunity for people to get and stay connected. In many regards social media has made bringing the gospel to the world a lot more effective. Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” I personally believe we haven’t yet tapped into the full potential of social media to reach the world for Jesus. 

Let’s also look at Romans 14:12-14, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Now this in context has to do with eating meat and idolatry which is a topic for another day, but the principle is still relevant here. Often through the outlets of social media we see a lot of inconsiderate behaviors such as this. It’s important that Christians don’t use social media to attack or cause others to stumble. During the pandemic I saw a lot of Christians using social media as a place to show how strong their faith was, without regard to how scared or weak in faith the world was. The brashness (not boldness) of their posts on social media weren’t showing the scared lost world the goodness of God, but quite the opposite. 

Together we could probably sit here and list all the bad that can come out of social media and all the good potential it has. We could do this for days. But as with anything in life more ability and more access means more responsibility. This is why it also requires more maturity. I would never put a blanket statement out there that social media is good for all or good for all Christians, but I also can’t say it’s bad for all or bad for the church at large. I think it was Spider-Man or Winston Churchill or someone that said with great power there is great responsibility. Social media is both very powerful and requires great responsibility. 

Be Blessed,

Pastor Renée