Preview: How to be Perfect

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus set forth some pretty high expectations for our behavior as his followers.  Turn the other cheek…go the extra mile…love your enemies…  What kind of lifestyle is this?  And then – we have to be perfect while we do it?  Come worship with us on Sunday as we investigate this passage together.

–Pastor David

Focus 40

The season of Lent, which leads up to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is nearly upon us.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 9.  Traditionally, this is a season of preparation, introspection, and repentance for Christians around the world.  This year, the Church of God is observing Lent in a unique way:  it’s called “Focus 40.”

For the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, the entire Church of God movement is being encouraged to spend time in prayer and fasting for the sake of seeking the Lord’s direction for our movement and for our congregations.  This is an exciting opportunity for us to participate in a unifying event with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  To date, over 400 congregations in the United States and around the world have signed up to participate – including us!

Now, I’m not calling for any of us to spend the entirety of these forty days in prayer and fasting.  In fact, it’s not a good idea to go on a forty-day fast without your doctor’s permission, because that’s a long time to go without food.  But perhaps you would consider fasting for a day or for a meal, once or twice or three times during the 40-day period.  And certainly I hope you will consider praying consistently for Mt. Haley Church of God, for our sister churches in the area, and for the Church of God as a whole.

Prayer is a no-brainer for most of us.  But why fast?  Historically, prayer and fasting have been the means by which God’s people have expressed their deep desire to be in relationship with him.  Fasting occurred in the Old Testament during times of distress, confession, repentance, and seeking God’s will (Ezra 8:23; Nehemiah 1:4; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3).  In the New Testament, prayer and fasting went together as a means of determining the will of the Lord in selecting missionaries and church leaders (Acts 13:1-3 and Acts 14:23).

When we abstain from eating food for a certain length of time, we are reminding ourselves of our weakness and our dependence on God.  Hunger pains remind us that we depend on God for life itself and for our daily bread; with that in mind, we can also remember that we depend on God for guidance, health, safety, leadership, and answers to prayer.  Fasting is a method of practicing deep spirituality that has stood the tests of time.

We also have the opportunity to practice our unity with fellow believers through a shared program of daily devotionals.  Each day during this 40-day season, we will share in a devotional thought written by someone in our movement to help us unite our thoughts and prayers around a specific request or idea.  These devotionals will be available on our church website and on Facebook in early March, and paper copies will be made available soon as well.

I invite you to join me and thousands of other Christian brothers and sisters as we ask the Lord to move mightily through our congregation, community, nation, and movement in the upcoming season of Lent.

–Pastor David

High Stakes

In Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus expanded on the Old Testament laws “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery.”  He was calling his disciples to avoid not just those actions but also the thoughts and attitudes that lie behind them.  But are the stakes really as high as he suggested – that we should poke out our eyes and cut off our hands rather than be thrown into hell?  Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on this passage.

Listen now!

Preview: High Stakes

When Jesus taught his disciples about the true requirements for God-pleasing choices, he went beyond the simple commandments “do not murder” and “do not commit adultery.”  But he seemed to raise the stakes to an incredibly high level.  Are we really in danger of the fire of hell for calling someone a name or for “looking” at someone with desire?  Come worship with us on Sunday morning as we tackle this important passage:  Matthew 5:21-30.

–Pastor David

The Privilege of Scripture

How many versions of the Bible do you have in your home?  I hope you have at least one – if not, let me know and we’ll fix that ASAP!  It’s likely, though, that you have a few different translations of the Bible available to you, whether they are in your home or at church or somewhere else.  Do you realize how fortunate we are?

I didn’t choose to learn English when I was a child, but I am sure glad that I did.  There are dozens and dozens of translations of the Bible available to us English speakers, and they cover a wide variety of uses.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, because no translation perfectly captures the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.  When we study the Bible, it is good for us to compare several translations so that we might gain better insight into what the Lord is saying to us.

People who speak other certain languages are not as fortunate as we are.  Bible translation is still an active field of study all around the world.  Through organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators and World Missionary Press (to name only two), the Word of God is being translated into more and more languages and is being placed in the hands of people who claim those languages as their own.

One fact has been proven true time and time again through this process:  people with limited access to the scriptures have a tremendous desire to read them.  People will travel for hours and stand in long lines to receive their first New Testament – and you should see how they eat it up!  Just as startling is the inverse truth:  people (like us) with scriptures coming out of our ears tend to take the Bible lightly.  We read it when we feel like it, until we’re tired of it, and then we move on to something more interesting.  Friends, this should not be!

We truly are privileged to have so many different English translations of the Bible.  I challenge you with this thought:  the next time you see a Bible sitting on your shelf, desk, or nightstand, give thanks to God that his word is so accessible to us.  Then open it up and read it!

–Pastor David

Preview: Bright and Salty

“You are the salt of the earth.”  “You are the light of the world.”  Are these familiar words to you?  What did Jesus have in mind when he called his followers to be bright and salty?  And what does this have to do with his claim that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it?  Come worship with us on Sunday morning as we investigate Matthew 5:13-20 together!

–Pastor David

Rest for your souls

Have you ever stopped to wonder – in the sense of being amazed – at how the Lord provides rest for his people in all circumstances?  Surely our life situations are not always restful, and we might expect Christians enduring persecution in various parts of the world to wish for a little more rest every now and then.  But I truly believe that the experience of spiritual rest is crucial for our health as followers of Christ.

In one of Jesus’s well-known teachings, he said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

These three verses fit into a larger context of teachings in which Jesus is challenging the status quo of “normal” religion.  The people wanted to see signs and wonders, but they were unwilling to hear the message of repentance and kingdom citizenship.  The Pharisees wanted to require church attendance and obedience to the law, but they were unwilling to understand how grace is more important than legalism.  And in the middle of all this, Jesus calls his disciples to come to him and find rest for their souls.  How amazing indeed!

I wonder – in the sense of being curious – how many people in today’s world are wishing for a little rest for their souls.  And I wonder how many of them are unwilling to darken the doorstep of any church because they feel it won’t provide them with the space to find that rest.  Brothers and sisters, our work as disciples of Christ should be oriented toward providing rest and refreshment to the weary, offering opportunities to encounter the Lord, making a safe place available for people to hear God’s truth.  Jesus did so without compromising his radical message:  that true forgiveness, healing, and eternal life are available only through believing in him.  We can do the same!

Notice, though, that this rest is for our souls, not for our bodies.  We find spiritual rest in the Lord, and we reach out to others to bring them into this rest.  But we cannot stop there; there is much work to be done!  This is, I believe, the truth of Jesus’s teaching: we can find rest for our souls in any circumstance, even the most challenging, even the most stressful.  Many believers throughout the centuries have endured physical persecution while maintaining an incredible spiritual calmness.  Today, the church grows the fastest where the message of Christ is dangerous and prohibited.  Rest for our souls is the internal foundation from which we perform the work of the gospel.

I pray that you will find rest in all of life’s circumstances.  And I pray that you will share that rest with those around you who are in similar (or even worse) circumstances.  In a prophetic passage denouncing the Israelites for their unbelief, Jeremiah wrote these words:

This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Jeremiah 6:16a, NIV)

May your journey follow a similar path this week, and in the weeks to come!

–Pastor David