Finding Answers

Lately, I’ve been asking a lot of questions.  Our current sermon series asks a number of questions that have proven to be obstacles to faith for many people.  The past couple of website articles (like this one) have posed questions, as well – sometimes introspective, sometimes relating to our world.  And I’ve even invited folks at church to ask questions of God and to let me know what those questions are.  Thanks to those of you who have taken up that challenge – it’s been quite illuminating for me to hear from you!

With all of these questions, you might start to wonder if and when we’ll find any answers.  So today I’d like to take a few moments to describe where I find answers to big questions of faith, and perhaps this can be useful for you, too.

Scripture.  As disciples of Christ, our first and most important source of answers is the God-inspired book which introduces us to Christ.  Whenever any issue arises, whether it involves relationships at home, management of time and resources, the meaning of life, or anything else, our first course of action is to look to the Bible to glean from its harvest of wisdom.  This does not mean, however, that we simply find one or two verses to support the position we already feel is true.  On the contrary, we read scripture holistically, from cover to cover, so that we can discover God’s real intention for our lives and his real answers to our questions.

Tradition.  In the two thousand years since the New Testament was written – and more since the Old Testament was written – many, many people of faith have lived, died, and struggled with real-life issues in between.  We do ourselves a great disservice when we imagine that we’re the first people to struggle with specific questions of faith.  Are we struggling to make ends meet and afraid that our resources will soon run out?  Let’s see what St. Francis of Assisi believed about material possessions.  Are we concerned about the existence of evil in the world?  Let’s read recent authors such as C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and let’s read ancient writers like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.  We have much to learn from how those who came before us handled the issues we face today.

Reason.  The answers to our deepest questions must, in the end, make sense to us.  One complaint I’ve heard from people outside the faith is that in order to be a good Christian, you have to “check your brain at the door.”  To some extent, I see what they mean:  it’s awfully difficult to believe in a God who is one and yet three, to believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, to believe that one man’s public execution 2,000 years ago has any bearing whatsoever on our eternal destiny.  Yet these and all other issues of faith must be filtered through the brains God gave us.  Our questions must find answers that involve our abilities to reason and make sense of the world around us.

Experience.  As we search for answers to our deepest questions, we do so as people who have already experienced God’s grace in our lives on many occasions.  Are you wondering if God really loves you right now?  Think back, if you can, to a moment when you were sure that he did love you.  Are you struggling through a difficult situation and unsure how it will be resolved?  Think back, if you can, to another difficult period in your life, and remember how God helped to bring you through it.  Our experiences can be rich resources for realizing how involved in our lives the Lord truly is.  Our experiences can confirm the truths and answers we find in scripture.

May the Lord continue to bless us as we continue to wrestle with questions of faith.  Rest assured that there are answers, that God determines those answers, and that he has given us plenty of tools to discover those answers – even though they may take a lifetime to find.

–Pastor David

Why is evil in the world?

The parable of the weeds, which Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-30 and explained in Matthew 13:36-43, raises many questions.  With murders and bombings taking place all over the world, we ask many of those questions:  How can such evil take place in the world?  Why does God allow suffering, if he is good and powerful?  Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s reflection on this parable, its explanation, its promise for a harvest, and its implications for today.

Listen now!

Murder in Midland?

As you may have heard in the local news, a man was murdered outside the Burger King near the Midland Mall this week.  Is this an anomaly, or is this to be expected in today’s world?  Are we comfortable thinking this kind of thing happens in Saginaw but not in Midland?  Should we avoid that restaurant for the time being for our own safety, or should we continue going about our everyday lives?

It surely is tragic when one person takes another person’s life.  The ramifications of such an action are very broad, affecting more than just the two people involved.  In this case, there are two school-aged children who will grow up with their mother in prison.  The Burger King employees who were present at the time will remember this event forever.  Lives are changed tremendously when one person kills another.

What should our response be as Christians who live in this community?  I believe situations like this are opportunities for us to serve as community leaders who bring order, meaning, comfort, and peace to those affected by tragedy.  As ambassadors for Christ, we can share the blessings of a relationship with the Lord with those who are hurting.  In the next few weeks, if you find yourself near the Midland Mall around lunchtime or dinnertime, I encourage you to eat at the Burger King and say something encouraging or compassionate to the people who are working there.  If you hear someone talking about this story in the grocery store, strike up a conversation and be an agent of peace and reconciliation.

Remember that most murders involve people who know each other; random acts of violence are much less common.  We do not need to fear other people in our town because a murder has taken place in a public location.  On the contrary, this event is more reason for us to be involved in community, to bring the message of forgiveness and salvation and healing through Christ to a world that is desperately in need.

Friends, remember that we belong to the Lord and that this life is fleeting – especially when compared to the eternal relationship with the Lord which is promised to us who believe in him.  Do not be afraid; use every opportunity to draw closer to the Lord and to help others to do the same.

–Pastor David

How is it with your soul?

Many Christians and many churches are good about asking other people to turn to Christ, to express faith in him, to be redeemed and reborn.  However, our task as followers of Christ goes beyond that: we must constantly be involved in the work of discipleship, maturing in the faith and becoming more like the Lord.

I was reminded of this while reading Dr. Gil Stafford’s new book “Signals at the Crossroads,” which is a compilation of his two earlier “Crossroads” books with some new material he was writing at the time of his death.  In this book, Stafford mentions the preachers in the Methodist movement, which began in the early 1800s.  These preachers were very concerned not just with a person’s conversion to Christ but a person’s maturity in Christ.  One of the questions they asked frequently of their congregations was this:  “How is it with your soul?”

Often we are content – or we imagine we would be content – with pews filled with warm bodies.  Is that our goal?  Are we pleased with numerical church growth?  I think we should strive for that, yes!  We should continually reach out to our community so that more sheep might be brought into the Lord’s flock.  We certainly are called to make more disciples.

But of course the work does not stop there.  We are called to make better disciples, as well.  Once a person commits to Christ and begins attending church, the process of growth has begun.  That process, rightly understood, is never fully completed; each of us should continue to grow in Christ month after month, year after year.  Personal challenges must be overcome.  Our impulses and desires must be brought under control in the name of Christ.  Our relationships must be transformed to reflect the love of Christ to each other and to the world.

Each of us is on this journey of growth toward maturity.  None of us has arrived, because none of us is completely like Christ yet.  Part of our work as the church is to spur each other on to greater heights of discipleship.  We walk together and support one another as one body while we draw closer to the Lord.

So, fellow believer, consider this question prayerfully today:  How is it with your soul?  And the follow-up is this:  with whom will you share your answer to that question?

–Pastor David

Where is Good Soil?

At Mt. Haley we have begun a new series of sermons which will follow the gospel of Matthew and will raise some difficult questions of faith.  This Sunday, Pastor David preached from Matthew 13:1-23, the Parable of the Sower, a passage which raises several questions:  Where is good soil?  Why don’t all churches grow quickly?  Are some people simply designed not to accept the seed of the message of Christ?  Click the link below to hear this sermon.

Listen now!

Jesus and the Legal System

Yesterday came the long-awaited and somewhat startling news: Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter, Caylee Anthony.  For weeks and months, our media have been obsessed with this story, and now hopefully that obsession will begin to subside.  I think it’s unhealthy for a society to focus so intently on the outcome of one murder trial when we can’t do anything to affect its outcome.  Instead, society should focus on things that we can influence, such as preventing future murders by teaching children the value of life, teaching adults how to resolve conflicts peacefully, providing medication for those who need it, and so forth.

To be honest, I have avoided the bulk of the media attention around this case.  Once the verdict was announced, however, I watched a little more carefully, especially to the groundswell of emotional reactions that came from the American public through social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.  The most frequently voiced opinions, by far, were along these lines:  Casey Anthony should have been found guilty; the evidence was overwhelming against her; justice was not served; little Caylee deserves justice; some day Casey will have to answer to God for her crime.

That final opinion is what really struck me.  To be sure, our scriptures teach that each of us will eventually have to give an account of our lives to God (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1 Peter 4:3-5).  However, by applying this to the Casey Anthony situation, are we short-circuiting our own legal system by stepping in as judge and jury ourselves?  If we are, then the task of filling an impartial jury must be incredibly difficult.  Even worse, are we suggesting that our system of justice functions as an arm of God’s system of justice?  If we are, then we have taken the dangerous step of forming God after our own image.  Finally, are we claiming that there is no possibility for forgiveness and redemption between a sinner and the Lord?  If we are, then we have strayed from the message of Christ altogether.

The story that keeps coming to my mind is that of the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees as a trap for the Lord (John 7:53-8:11).  This story is very complicated, at the very least because its origin is questionable – your Bible probably includes a note about this passage not appearing in the earliest or oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel.  And the story can be misconstrued to suggest that Jesus doesn’t care about adultery or that there will be no condemnation for sin; the rest of scripture says otherwise to each of those suggestions.  In the end, this story is one of grace:  in the heat of the moment, Jesus spares the life of a guilty woman – and he challenges her to “go now and leave [her] life of sin” (NIV).  (Of course, the story is also about how Jesus once again avoids a trap by the Pharisees!)

I think the reason Casey Anthony’s trial keeps bringing this story to my mind is simple:  God’s system of justice is not the same as the American system of justice.  Our system is punitive, punishing the guilty; God’s system is gracious, forgiving the repentant.  Our system is myopic, focusing on one person or one crime at a time; God’s system applies equally to all people, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).  Our legal system is based purely on our actions, motives, and evidence; God’s justice is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ:  our sins are covered and washed away by his blood.

Church, remember this:  we are citizens of the United States, but our greater allegiance is to the kingdom of God.  We should constantly strive to see the world as the Lord sees it; we should interact with others on behalf of Christ and out of gratitude for our own relationship with him.  Be encouraged: a relationship with Jesus is worth infinitely more than any “not guilty” verdict from a human courtroom!  Shouldn’t we joyfully share that relationship with everyone around us?

–Pastor David

Stress-Full Growth

In the early days of the Christian movement, the church grew very quickly – but often under stressful conditions. As we study Acts 4:1-12, in which Peter and John are called before the authorities, we can learn something significant about how salvation in Christ works: salvation is an experience that has both spiritual and physical implications. Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on this passage. (Please excuse the audio difficulties; our microphones were acting up this Sunday!)

Listen now!