Think of What to Do, Not What Not to Do

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Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’re aware of the racial tensions that culminated in a recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. (You can read about it here and here.) Granted, there are a number of arguments and angles presenting themselves since the event transpired. Yet, regardless of what is true and false, there is something that we all can be healthily reminded of: We may face intimidation in various ways during our journey on earth, but it’s what we do that proves our convictions. But the important thing is to face intimidation with a focus on obligation. We are obligated to love God (Matthew 22:34-38) and to love our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). If we are focusing on what we should do (namely, love God and our neighbors), then we won’t be intimidated by what we shouldn’t do.

Blessings,

Joe

Are We Losing Our Convictions?

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Have you sensed a shift in Christian convictions? It seems to be happening widely across the moral scale. On the one hand, we have President Trump supporters who, in their fervor to be pro-American, have accepted language from the president that they themselves would never tolerate if it were being aimed at one of their family members. On the other hand, we have author and The Message’s translator, Eugene Peterson, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, saying that his position (that of Biblical-Traditional Christianity) has shifted, so that now he finds them acceptable. To me, it almost looks as if the tolerance worldview, popularized by secular society, has crept into the Church’s worldview, and basically amounted to Christians who have convictions only on agreeable topics and issues. I’m certain that this isn’t how convictions are supposed to work!

Today, convictions are almost entirely unpopular, inconvenient, and frowned upon. Why? Because we (and when I say we, I’m speaking to those of us who claim the name of Christ) are told to be loving, accepting, receiving, just as Jesus was and is. True, Jesus was all of those things, if by loving you mean that He loved God’s truth (John 17:17); and by accepting you mean that he accepted God’s judgment (John 5:30); and by receiving you mean that He was willing to receive severe punishment for sin that He didn’t own (John 12:24). There is an entire aspect to Christ’s Person that gets ignored sometimes by those who are proponents of convictions that accept everything without distinction. (In truth, they accept everything but those who don’t accept it!) I think that is unwise and unbiblical.


Our preferences should play no part in our convictions.


This sliding moral scale can even be seen in church leadership. It’s honorable and praiseworthy that many pastors and Christians want to reach as many people as possible. Amen! We all should. But what isn’t praiseworthy is how they leave convictions to do it. (Tragically, it may be these leaders Christ is referring to when He says that apparent ministry successful doesn’t imply personal knowledge [Matthew 7:21-23].) Our preferences should play no part in our convictions. When Jesus ministered to people, He never did so by abolishing what the Law taught (Matthew 5:17). Instead, He met people with convictions, convictions that included love. That is what gave Him the ground on which to say, “Go in peace and sin no more” (Luke 7:50; John 8:11). The “go and sin no more” motif has almost entirely lost its place, because what used to be considered sin is, today, considered acceptable with the “understanding” that Jesus’ culture was different from ours. It is, after all, 2017…they say. Today, the great sin, according to those of this position, is that we are unloving and unaccepting, so they say. True, we should love, accept, and receive people for Jesus. But if these words imply a complete disregard for change, growth, and conviction, the discipleship, worship and glory that is due to Him, then we’ve lost what it means to repent, believe, and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In a word, we’ve lost the identity of Christianity.

At this point, some may argue that these stricter positions are motivated by an absence of love. Let’s be clear: Convictions don’t imply the absence of love. On the contrary, to love ought to be a primary conviction for every Christian (John 13:35; Romans 12:9). But in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13, for example, we don’t read of love being ignorant or accepting or tolerant. On the contrary, love “refuses to rejoice at wrongdoing” and instead “rejoices with the truth.” Yes, we should love and be loving. But love demands convictions, as the boundary in which it finds its meaning and purpose and motivation.


Convictions don’t imply the absence of love…to love ought to be a primary conviction.


To close, I’d like to encourage you to find your convictions in God’s Word, to grow in your understanding and comprehension of them, and to consider how you can respectfully discuss differences with others, without degrading them. Our greatest conviction should be to lovingly communicate the Gospel to the lost and Christians alike.

Blessings,

Joe

 

 

Balance vs Seasons

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Today, William Vanderbloemen, writing for Forbes.com, put out an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.” I felt vindicated. I felt satisfied. This is something that I’ve been proposing for a long, long time. In fact, I share the thought fairly regularly at New City Church, where I pastor. Whereas balance is based on an Eastern mysticism type of thinking, seasons, on the other hand, are biblical and an experiential reality. (Just read Ecclesiastes 3:1). There will inevitably be times in our lives when we’re working more (or less), when we’re playing more (or less), when we’re saving more (or less), when we’re spending more (or less), but these facts don’t necessarily mean we’re individuals who are out of balance. We are, in truth, just experiencing different seasons in our lives. There are a number of things that can lead to changes in season: marriage, parenthood, a career change, an injury or illness, even spiritual growth! The important this is this: in each and every season, God has a purpose for us…and it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

Anyway, I wanted to share the above article with you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

PS–Care to share what season you’re in???

Blessings,
Joe

Don’t Make Resolutions. Set Goals.

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For 2017, I’m suggesting that you forget about the resolutions and, instead, set goals. Why? Well, I have 5 reasons goals are better than resolutions.

  1. Goals are specific. Resolutions tend to be general, with direction but no particulars. Goals are specific. For example, if you want to improve your health this year, don’t make the resolution to get fit. Set the goal of going to the gym 3 times per week. Want to read the Bible? Set the goal of reading John’s Gospel. (You can break it up into 3 7’s since it’s 21 chapters.)
  2. Goals are measurable. Whenever you set a goal, you’re setting a measurable thing, because you’re moving toward a definite end. So, if you want to gain 5 pounds of muscle, or if you want to read the Bible by December, you can track and measure your progress. That’s important to keep you moving forward toward your goal. Small victories are important!
  3. Goals are reasonable. Oftentimes, resolutions are just too abstract. Goals are simple: if you can’t attain them, then they’re not reasonable. The goals that you set shouldn’t sabotage your potential for progress. If you’re not a reader, for instance, don’t set the goal of reading the Bible in a weekend!
  4. Goals are God-glorifying. Whatever goal you set should aim at making you a better person, a better Christian. If not, then why set it? Jim Rohn once said, “Set the kind of goals that will make something of you to achieve them.” Check out 1 Corinthians 10:31Romans 14:23, and 2 Corinthians 8:21.
  5. Goals are reviewable. This last point is important, because we need to be able to review our goals while we progress…to know whether or not we’re on course, need an adjustment, or are doing poorly. Write down your goals, place them in your closet door, on your bathroom mirror, or your car’s dashboard, and review them regularly.

I hope this helps you achieve great goals in 2017.

Pastor Joe

A Plea for Loving Unity and Theological Respect Within the SBC

I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, believe certain theological positions, in order to be considered a Southern Baptist. What does that even mean anymore? Case in point, an article was recently written by Bob Allen for BaptistGlobalNews.com, in which he cites a well-known Baptist pastor arguing that Calvinism is a, and I quote, “trojan horse.” It pains me to see such rhetoric used on men and women within the SBC who have no greater joy that to see the Sovereign King glorified in the saving of the lost in the great name of Jesus Christ. In response, therefore, I have 3 thoughts that I’d like those involved to consider.

First, there should be room for theological diversity in our convention. Granted, I’m not here suggesting that liberalism be tolerated or encouraged, but I am saying that conservative Arminians and Calvinists (and all those in between) shouldn’t be made to feel like their status within the convention is questionable or unappreciated because they’re supralapsarian instead of infralapsarian.

Second, if a church, whether bent toward Arminian or Reformed theology, is an SBC church, then they’ve presumably put their tithe money where their theological mouth is. In other words, our support suggests that, although we may differ on “Ordo Salutis,” our goal is common—to reach people for Christ, nationally and internationally, to build and support our seminaries, and to plant more Gospel churches.

Finally, if the chapels in our seminaries are going to tolerate manipulative talk, then I’d like to know what exactly is being facilitated in the classes? We chastise the liberal public universities for teaching a single agenda, which incidentally leads away from traditional conservatism, but do we now have to be concerned with whether or not our seminaries are going to follow suit theologically, in teaching what they presumably prefer (Arminianism) over what is, dare I say, plausible (Calvinism)? Too often, I find the opponents of Calvinism guilty of the very thing they claim to bemoan in its adherents, namely, rudeness, lovelessness, and a calloused handling of the facts.

Obviously there are various nuances to this argument that should be addressed, but the main points are clear and undeniable. This kind of divisive language is wrong. I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look, dress, and think a certain way in order to be accepted in the SBC. Perhaps we need to reconsider who we have speak at our chapels, teach in our seminaries, or lead our conventions. Just as error can spring from either the Arminian or Calvinist camps, so can the Truth spoken in love. We should be aiming at the latter. We may not all look the same or think the same, but one thing is certain—the same One King rules over us all. We should speak accordingly.

Joe Mira
New City Church

Christians for Kingdom and Country

How do we, as Christians, exist in the twofold status that we are afforded as both the adopted children of God through faith in Christ and simultaneously citizens of the United States of America? To put it simply, it’s not always easy. On the one hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship seemingly get along. On the other hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship couldn’t be made to be more aliens to each other. Nevertheless, the Bible has a word for us, and, in view of the recent election(s), it seems high time to address it, specifically from Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2. They teach us 2 simple principles that we are to abide by as Kingdom citizens.

We Are to Respect Authority
First, according to Romans 13:1-7, we are to respect authority, regardless of whether or not we completely and entirely agree with their policies and positions. Case in point, President Barak Obama. I may or may not be in agreement with him and the direction in which he’s been leading our country, but that isn’t the question that God is asking me in Romans 13. God commands me to respect authority (of course, as long as it isn’t in direct contravention with His Word), and therefore that’s what I’m supposed to do. From time to time, we can find it hard to respect our parents’ authority, our teachers’ authority, our employer’s authority, or even Obama as a president, but we can still respect the positions they hold and respect them as people made in God’s image. In the president’s case, we can respect him as one who holds the highest office in our country. (This would apply to President-elect Trump, too.)

One issue that I have with his point, Respect Authority, is the link that the Apostle Paul associates with those in authority and God Himself; thus, eventually all authority leads us back to God’s authority. With that said, the point is simple: if we can’t respect authority that we do see, how can we claim to respect the authority that we can’t see?

We Are to Pray for Authority
The second and perhaps more important point at this time in our country is, We Are to Pray for Authority. It’s clearly taught in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, but it’s easier to talk about than it is to actually do, Why? Well, if you’re anything like me, you err in 1 of 2 ways. You either:

  1. don’t pray for those in authority because you already agree with them (so why pray?); or
  2. don’t pray for those in authority because you don’t agree with them (so why pray?).

But what we learn from 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is something grander than our own personal policy preferences. We learn that God has a desire for “all” to be saved, not just those with whom we may agree. Therefore, we should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We are Christians before we are anything else, and intercession for others is paramount to our daily practice and faith.

Ultimately, we can’t control what those in authority will or will not do, but what we can control is our own behavior and our representation of our Kingdom citizenship (Philippians 3:20). We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to speak our minds, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to vote, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right to congregate, meet, and protest, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. After all, we should beware that we do not emphasize our rights as citizens of the US  while neglecting our foremost obligations as citizens of the Kingdom. Christ’s command was clear:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Blessings,

Joe

Trump vs Clinton: My Thoughts After Monday’s Debate

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While sitting at the dinner table last night with my family, we discussed a number of things, the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being among them. Now, I don’t mean to brag (I couldn’t anyway…my kids get their smarts from their mother!), but my kids, at a mere 12 and 10, have a better understanding and perspective on these two politicians than most of the adults I discuss these issues with. And, what’s more, they convey these ideas with less emotional hype than many adults, too.

So, as a pastor, I wanted to give us 4 reminders during this politically-charged season. In essence, here are 4 things that I think we can observe after Monday night’s debate.

  1. The Church isn’t making a great enough impact in our country. As Stephen Mansfield argues in his new book Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity from Our Presidential Candidates, religious beliefs should be spoken loudly and clearly by candidates. I personally believe that, if we were making the positive influence that we should be, then the question of faith (or it’s lack), and its impact on decision making, would have to be a major topic in any debate. We deserve to know either way.
  2. Politicians will always behave like politicians. I’m always surprised by some fellow Christians who place so much weight and expectation on people whose singular job revolves around popularity. Politicians will always behave like politicians, which means in one moment they may be for you, but, if convenient, they will be against in the next. Remember, regardless of the candidate or party, they are merely politicians. This leads to the next point.
  3. We cannot–and must not–rely upon a manmade government to issue godly policy. As Christians, we can vote our consciences, but that’s not the method of reformation that God provides for us in the New Testament. On the contrary, the New Testament provides a guide for saving souls, not governments. Let’s not forget that. Souls don’t get saved through governments but through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Repentance. Conversion. Transformation. These are Gospel-centered themes, not policies written and approved by any arm of the government.
  4. Finally, we can affect people more successfully than we can affect policy. Regardless of what your view on government is (large or small; conservative, liberatian, or progressive), one thing is certain: what Christians can do through discipleship has always and will always be a greater means of positively impacting people than any policy every has or ever will. The Church is God’s means to good on earth.

Being involved is our civic duty and responsibility. We need to vote. But let’s not fool ourselves: our citizenship is to a Kingdom that exists not because of the government but in spite of it. “Seek first his kingdom…” (Matthew 6:33).

Blessings,

Joe