God’s Love

Is Tradition Bad?

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Are church traditions inherently bad? Does a traditional worship service indicate that a church is Spiritually dead? Does a contemporary service indicate Spiritual life?

Or is it the opposite? Does a traditional service demonstrate a commitment to the Word, while a contemporary service indicates a willingness to compromise truth?

To pose these questions is to ignore the one thing that God actually assesses, the condition of the human heart.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” In all we do, God examines our heart.

We can be the most religious, most progressive, most forward thinking, or most moral people in the world, but if our heart is not right toward God, none of it matters. If our heart is far removed from God, we are at odds with Him regardless of our actions.

No place is this better illustrated than in Mark 7:1-23, where Jesus is confronted over the fact that His disciples do not participate in ritual hand-washing before eating.

In His rebuttal to their criticisms, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for disregarding the commandment of God in favor of the traditions of men (Luke 7:8). This verse, combined with the restlessness of Christians anxious to see change in their churches, has led to many using Mark 7 to attack ALL traditions in church.

Those who see tradition as the problem use Mark 7 to criticize the use of hymnals in church, the presence of pews and not chairs in the sanctuary, the lack of audio/visual aids to the sermon, and even the way others dress themselves. Such criticisms, however, miss the basis for the Lord’s contempt for the traditions of the Pharisees.

In Mark 7:6, Jesus said, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

The issue was not that the Pharisees had traditions. The issue ran deeper than the fact that the Pharisees elevated their traditions to the same level as scripture. The real issue was that the Pharisees’ hearts were far from God, yet they portrayed an aura of righteousness by hiding behind their traditions.

In learning from the mistakes of the Pharisees, we see that we must evaluate the condition of our hearts. To do this, we’ll apply three tests:

  1. If we are more focused on our own traditions than the Word of God, we have a heart problem.
  2. If our traditions lead us away from the commandment of God, we have a heart problem.
  3. If we express anger, bitterness, illicit lust, or other forms of darkness, we have a heart problem.

Our heart is the problem if we are more focused on our traditions than what the Bible teaches. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had the entire Old Testament, with its numerous passages teaching God’s love, grace and redemption. Yet, if you attended a Bible class taught by a Pharisee, you would be more likely to hear a lecture on proper hand-washing technique than you would about repentance and faith.

If our churches are spending more time teaching their viewpoints on Bible translations, politics, financial management or social justice, rather than the Gospel as revealed in scripture, then we are more focused on tradition than God’s word. If that’s the case, we have a heart problem.

Our heart is the problem if our traditions lead us away from the commandment of God. That brings up the question, “What is the commandment of God?”

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus said the greatest commandments of God are to love God, and to love your neighbor. Basically, the commandment of God is love.

The Pharisees abandoned the idea of loving one another when they challenged who was actually one’s neighbor, and when their tradition of Corban allowed them to neglect their aging parents. The Pharisees failed to follow God’s commandment to love, and this was expressed in how they observed their traditions. But make no mistake, their heart was the problem.

If our traditions hinder our love toward God, or our love to others, we have a heart problem. If we see people as the problem, different groups as opponents, or disdain those who don’t meet our expectations, we have a heart problem.

Finally, if we express darkness in our lives, it’s an indication that we have darkness in our hearts. Jesus explained that our problems have more to do with what’s going on inside us, rather than what happens around us. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus said:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

If we find ourselves focused on evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications (sexual immorality), then we have darkness in our hearts. If we hate someone to the point that we’d like to kill them, if we desire to steal, or if we desire others’ possessions, we have darkness in our hearts. If we rebel against God, we have darkness in our hearts.

That darkness within our heart is the problem. That’s what separates us from God. How we treat our traditions are merely the symptom.

Once we learn to examine our hearts, we can correct our thinking to return us to where God wants us. God wants us to learn from His Word, love others, and express the righteousness He has placed within our hearts. When we follow this plan, we’ll be too busy glorifying Him and reaching others to be concerned with what color the carpet in the sanctuary is. That will be a beautiful day.

Relax, Jesus Loves You

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If the only gift God gave us was salvation, He went above in beyond in demonstrating His love toward us. But God loves us beyond salvation.

God’s love for us did not end when Jesus went to the cross, it was just beginning. Christ went to the cross to purchase our salvation, then He rose again to give us eternal life in His Kingdom.

This act of salvation was not a momentary act of mercy where God merely offered an escape hatch from His wrath. It was an act of redemption, whereby Christ saved us and began an eternal relationship with us.

The love of Christ goes beyond the cross. His compassion toward us extends in all of life. Scripture says in Hebrews 4 that He was in all points tempted like as we are, meaning Christ has experienced every human trial and temptation that we do. He empathizes and understands.

That being the case, He works in our lives to alleviate our struggles and provide for our needs.

In the message posted below, Pastor Leland Acker discusses how the compassion of Christ prompted Him to give His disciples rest, and likewise He gives us rest.

Where’s the Love? (Mark 6:1-13)

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In Mark 5, multitudes of people are following Jesus. They come to Him for healing and deliverance. A crowd had met Jesus in Capernaum when Jairus came to beg Him to heal His daughter. A woman with an issue of blood came to Him to be healed. Crowds listened to Jesus teach and preach as the One who authored the scriptures they had spent their lives learning.

Yet, in His hometown of Nazareth, the people were unimpressed. In Mark 6:1-13, Jesus returned to His hometown synagogue, and began to teach. His ministry and teaching had stirred up controversy, and the people began to question His authority.

They said things like, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Aren’t all His brothers and sisters here? Where did He get this wisdom, and how is He doing these great works?”

Basically, their reaction was, “Who does Jesus think He is? He ain’t no better than the rest of us!”

The people of Nazareth had a front row seat to the arrival of Christ. They watched Him grow. They were told of His virgin birth. They were among the first to hear Him preach, and to see Him work miracles.

Yet, their advantage in seeing Jesus grow up was also their stumbling block. Having seen Him grow up among them, and being home to His carpentry shop, Jesus had become too familiar to them. As a result, they took Him for granted and overlooked His divinity. So, they reacted to His ministry with incredulity.

Jesus was familiar to them. Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt breeds rejection.

This is a real danger to us today. It is possible for us to become too caught up in the day to day activities of life, and the weekly activities of church, that we forget Who our Lord is.

We can fall into a routine of religious habits, begin living by our works rather than the grace of God, and start thinking that we have somehow elevated ourselves to a place where we have earned God’s favor.

We can get caught up in trying to build a church, expand a ministry, and improve our lot in life that we forget about our Lord, who should be the center of it all.

We can continue this trend until our Lord finds Himself on the outside of the church, and on the outside of our lives, knocking on the door in hopes that we’ll open up, and let Him in. We can forget our first love. (Incidentally, this was the same sin committed by the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, and the Lord threatened to take their candlestick.)

When we do that, we commit the same sin as the synagogue in Nazareth.

We must never forget God’s love, and we must never discount the effect His love has had upon us. We most never forget how His love redeemed us and transformed us, and we must never forget that His love is our primary motivation in life.

In Mark 6, Jesus goes on to send the apostles out two-by-two. They went through the villages, preaching the Gospel, calling the people to repentance, and ministering to their needs by healing them and casting out devils. Likewise, we understand that the Lord has sent us into this world to spread the Gospel of His death, burial and resurrection for our redemption from sin.

It’s a mighty calling, and one God has blessed us with. Our primary purpose as Christians, and as a church, is to publish and preach that Gospel wherever we have opportunity, as the Lord commanded us to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we are not motivated by God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for others, our preaching will be in vain. Furthermore, if love is not our motivation, then our message will stray.

All too often, church social media pages, Web sites and blogs will contain more information about why the church is different, or better, than other churches. Many churches have replaced the message of the Gospel with the message of themselves. In this regard, many church Web pages, social media accounts and blogs don’t differ that much from the local car dealership, furniture store and insurance office. It becomes about branding, and not carrying forth God’s message.

The same holds true for Christian Web sites which debate issues within Christianity (pews vs. chairs, powerpoint vs. hymnals, to politic or not, etc). We spend so much time talking among ourselves and promoting ourselves that we fail to do what God told us to do… to preach the Gospel to every creature. This happens when we forget our first love, Christ becomes a mere theological concept, and we become like the synagogue in Nazareth.

As we wrap up our exploration through Mark 6:1-13, we see the apostles anoint the sick with oil. This is how they applied medicine. The olive oil they used had medicinal qualities, and proper medicine was all but non-existent. The people who came to the apostles were in agony, and the apostles did what they could to alleviate that pain as they preached the Gospel.

These actions reflected the love of Christ. You see, Christ is not only concerned with our Spiritual well-being, He is interested in our physical well-being also. Christ does not merely sympathize with our pain, He empathizes with us.

You see, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was in all points tempted like as we are. This means that as He lived the human experience on earth, He experienced all the same problems we do. Financial problems. Family problems (His brothers initially rejected the idea that He was Messiah). Social problems (many rejected Him). Rejection. Betrayal. Persecution. Hunger. You name it.

He knows what you’re going through, and He knows by experience.

After experiencing the worst that society had to offer, He gave Himself over to the Pharisees, who gave Him to the Romans, who crucified Him. As He hung on that cross, He endured the wrath of God for the sins of the world so that we can all be spared, if you repent and believe.

The Lord loves you immensely. Not only that, but He is concerned for your well-being also. When the apostles ministered to the physical needs of the people as they preached their Spiritual needs, they reflected the love of Christ.

Jesus loves us. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He also told us to love each other as He loved us. May we never lose sight of His love.

Ashamed

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In Romans 1:16, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” That statement not only framed the rest of the book of Romans, but also much of the New Testament.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is how Jesus died for our sins, according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. Romans 5:8 tells us that the Gospel was the ultimate demonstration of God’s love toward us, because God loved us enough to send Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners. John 3:16 openly declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.

God’s love for us is both unmerited and inexplicable. There was nothing we did, no inherent value within us that would warrant God giving His only begotten Son for us. Disagree? Romans 5:6-7 points out that none of us would die for a righteous man, or even a good ole boy. We don’t even see each other as worthy to die for. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present God see that value in us? It’s inexplicable!

That’s what the Bible calls, “grace.” God loves us. God loves you. That love is so strong and so deep that He gave everything He had to redeem you from sin, condemnation, death and degradation.

Once you understand the love that God has for you, that He openly demonstrated in the Gospel, you will never be ashamed of that Gospel.

That word, “ashamed” is an interesting word. In modern times, we understand “ashamed” to mean “embarrassed” or “humiliated.” However, the scriptural use of the word “ashamed” really means “disappointed.” In other words, you put your faith into something that didn’t pan out. You were left with the short end of the stick. You were left holding the bag.

Think of the man who has worked 10 years for one company, loyally paying his dues in hopes of being promoted to partner, only to be passed over for the promotion in favor of the boss’s friend. That man feels that the past 10 years of his life has been wasted. He has to go home and tell his family he didn’t get the promotion. His friends will all know he came up short. He is “ashamed.”

However, the Apostle Paul says that he “is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” He is not left disappointed in the Gospel. He has not come up with the short end of the stick. He has not been left holding the bag, and he hasn’t been passed over or forgotten. He is not ashamed.

Paul said “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ” because he understood the love God had toward him. The Apostle Paul understood that no matter what happened to him in this life, God loved him, and God’s hand was upon His life.

Therefore, Paul understood how to “abound and be abased,” how to be full and hungry (Philippians 4:12). When times were good, Paul celebrated and praised God for His abundance. When times were bad, Paul praised God for leading him through the challenges. Even in the worst of times, Paul knew God was with him, so he was at peace. He understood God’s love for Him. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.

Therefore, Paul was able to write in Romans 8:35-37:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

Regardless of how bad things got, Paul knew that He could not be separated from God’s love. Therefore, he felt peace, and he felt victorious, no matter the circumstance. Because after all, the Christian life has less to do with our current circumstances, and more to do with our eternal destination. Paul also understood that, and he knew that eternity in God’s kingdom would more than outweigh any suffering he endured in this life.

Hence, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18.

Therefore, no matter what happened, Paul was not left high and dry, he was not left destitute or hopeless, because he knew God’s love, and trusted the promises God had made.

Paul was not ashamed.

If you know Jesus Christ as your savior, remember that God is with you through the good times and bad. Remember that He will care for you and meet your needs. Most of all, remember that your eternal destination in His Kingdom will be far greater than anything you can imagine here.

If you are not a Christian, know that God loves you, and gave His only begotten Son to redeem you. Rejecting Christ will bring God’s wrath and judgment. However, turning from sin and trusting the Lord to save you will bring you the same blessing and peace Paul had. You will not be left high and dry. You will not be ashamed of the Gospel. Will you consider repenting and trusting the Lord for salvation?

To share your story of salvation, or to ask for more information, contact us below. Pastor Leland Acker will follow up with a response.

God Is Good To You, And That’s All That Matters

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God loves you.

It may  not seem like it, but He does.

Christian singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once discussed how he once discounted God’s love because God loves everyone. If God loves everyone, what’s so special about me?

The flaw in this way of thinking is that it takes the focus away from how good God is to you, and it compares God’s goodness to you to how good He is to everyone else. When we think this way, there is nothing God can do to please us.

If God loves us and blesses us the same as everyone else, then we are unhappy because we are not special to God. If God blesses others more than us, God is not being fair to us. If God loves and blesses us more than everyone else, then we wonder why? We either accuse God of being partial and unfair, or we believe we deserved the blessing and harbor resentment for others who didn’t earn God’s blessing.

Lost in all this is how good God is to us. We forget how much He loves us. We forget how He blessed us. As Mullins mentioned in the above-linked video, the issue is not how our blessings stack up to others’. The issue is what God has actually done in our lives.

God loves us, even though we’re unlovable. God gave His only begotten Son for us, sent Jesus to die to pay our debt, so that we could be redeemed and live eternally in His presence. God took the refuse and brokenness of our lives, transformed us, and has healed us. He did all of this, knowing that we can never repay Him.

The issue is not what God has done for others. The issue is what God has done for me. And as long as I continue to compare myself to others, and as long as I continue to compare God’s goodness to me to His goodness to others, I will never fully realize the blessings He has poured out on me.

In Genesis 29:31-35, we see the story of Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Leah’s story is a sad story. She wasn’t considered attractive in her day, no one wanted to marry her, and the only way she was married to Jacob was because her father tricked Jacob into marrying her.

Soon after her marriage to Jacob, he married her sister, and favored her sister. Her sister, Rachel, was considered very beautiful and desirable. All of her life, Leah lived in Rachel’s shadow, despite the fact that Rachel was the younger sister. Now, her sister had stolen her husband.

Jacob disregarded Leah. He favored Rachel. There was no worse form of betrayal than what Leah felt. Yet, Jacob still had relations with Leah, because in Genesis 29, Leah began having children.

Her first son was named Reuben, meaning “See, a son!” Her reasoning was that God had seen her affliction, and now that she had given Jacob a son, he would love her. He didn’t.

She named her second son Simeon, meaning “heard.” Her reasoning was that God had heard she was hated, and gave her another son.

Her third son was named Levi, meaning “joined,” because after three sons, surely her husband would be joined to her now. Wrong.

Her fourth son was named Judah (celebrated), because now she will praise the Lord.

Notice the progression. She transitions from being preoccupied with how Jacob feels about her, and ultimately comes to a place where she can just praise God for how good He is being to her. She stays in that place of blessing and praise until she notices that Jacob is having children with Rachel’s handmaid. So, Leah provides her handmaid, and you can tell by the naming that her praise to the Lord has waned.

The point is, the more Leah was focused on what God was doing for her, the happier she was, regardless of how Jacob treated her. The more she focused on what Jacob was doing, the less happy she was.

So, the lesson we learn from this is this: Yes, life is unfair. Yes, things happen that shouldn’t. Yes, your pain is legit and real. Nonetheless, God still loves us and blesses us in our despair. Don’t discard that love, and don’t miss those blessings because you are focused on what God is doing elsewhere. Don’t miss God’s grace because you are focused on what is wrong. Look to the Lord, trust Him, recognize those blessings, enjoy them, and praise Him for it.

Yes, God loves you. Yes, God loves everyone else, too. That’s not the point. God loves you, and that’s all that matters.