Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Joy in Suffering

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” – James 1:2a

Let’s be honest. Have you ever read one of God’s commands in Scripture and found yourself saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me! God, what were you thinking?”

Here’s an example. In James 1:2-4, the Bible tells us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

There’s no way around it. That sounds like crazy talk. Are you kidding me, God? When I get a pink slip from my boss, I’m supposed to consider it pure joy? When my doctor says, “The cancer is back,” I’m supposed to consider it pure joy? When my car breaks down on the side of the road, or my marriage is on the rocks or my dog bites me in the leg, I’m supposed to consider it pure joy?

Yes, you are. But how is that possible? I’m so glad you asked. Today I’d like to share with you two ways that you and I can experience joy in the midst of the trials and suffering of this life.

The first thing you and I must do if we are going to experience lasting joy in this life is this: Remain in Christ’s presence. In John 15, Christ told his disciples,“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my JOY may be in you and that your JOY may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

I don’t know about you, but complete joy sounds really good to me. I don’t want just a sliver of joy. I don’t want a polluted mixture of joy and something else. After all, who wants a mixture of joy and lousiness? But the fact is, one of the reasons so many Christians struggle with sadness and depression is because they live their daily lives apart from Christ. Sure, we believe in him. Yes, we worship him on Sunday mornings. But we don’t remain in his love throughout the week. We can’t just open our Bibles for 30 to 40 minutes on a Sunday morning and call it quits till next week.

To remain in Christ’s love, we need to remain in his teaching and remain in prayer. But interestingly, Jesus doesn’t mention either of these two depression-busters in this John 15 passage. He simply says that if we desire to remain in his love, we must obey his commands—especially his command to love each other. So if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, ask yourself: "Have I disconnected myself from Christ’s joy by failing to obey his command to love others?” You see, when we get depressed, too often it’s because we’re too caught up in our own little world. Are you bummed out because you’re living paycheck to paycheck? Well, join the club. Take the little bit you do have and be a blessing to someone who has even less. Your health isn’t great? Well, I guarantee there are plenty of others whose health is even worse. Be a blessing to them—show them Christ’s love. There is great joy in the presence of the Lord. Remain in his love, and you’ll discover that peace and joy aren’t nearly as elusive as they used to be.

God’s second piece of advice for bringing more joy into your life may surprise you: Spend more time in heaven. What does that mean? No, I’m not trying to send you off to push up daisies before your time. Instead, live out Colossians 3:1-4: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Isn’t that good? You’ve probably heard people say, “Get your head out of the clouds!” But God’s word says, “No! Put your head in the clouds! What you need is to get your head out of the dirt! You’re not an ostrich! You’re not a prairie dog! You’re not a gopher! Your heart needs to rise above the dirt of this world and beat for heavenly things. And your mind needs to rise above the dirt of this world and think about heavenly things.”

Paul says it there in Colossians 3:1: “You have been raised with Christ.” On that first Easter morning, the stone was rolled away and the light of dawn came rushing into that tomb. And when you became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, his light came rushing into your sorry tomb as well. If you’re a Christian, you’re not hopelessly surrounded by dirt anymore. You’re not a prisoner of complete darkness anymore. Your body has already been set free from the grave. Your heart and your mind have already been released from the prison of this world.

So, get up out of the dirt and soar into the clouds. Set your heart and mind on things above. If you do, no matter what trials this dirty old world sends your way, you’ll be able to count it all joy.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Unlike Solomon, Finish Well!

 “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  
1 Kings 11:4

There was a certain military leader in the Revolutionary War who impressed General Washington so much that he nicknamed him the “fighting general.” George Washington’s fighting general successfully attacked and captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775. In 1776, this general led a successful campaign to keep the British from invading the colonies through the Lake Champlain region. And his greatest victory was at Saratoga in 1777, which led to the French coming into the war as America’s most important allies.

What was this hero’s name? Benedict Arnold. Yes, Benedict Arnold was a brilliant general during the early years of the Revolutionary War, but on September 25, 1780, he defected to the British side. And ever since that day Benedict Arnold’s name has been synonymous with being a traitor. Although Benedict Arnold did some marvelous things for our country, they will always be overshadowed by his treachery. Sadly, Benedict Arnold ended his military career very, very poorly. Simply put: He didn’t finish well.

The same could be said of King Solomon. The first ten chapters of 1 Kings are, for the most part, very encouraging. Solomon was a man blessed by God with incredible wisdom and wealth. He was a gifted leader, an impressive orator, andmost  importantly—a faithful follower of God. But as he came down the homestretch of his life, he failed miserably. Although he had the IQ of two Einsteins, the riches of four Donald Trumps and the wisdom of ten Zig Ziglars, 1 Kings 11 reveals that Solomon finished his life very poorly. In the words of Bible commentator Dale Ralph Davis: “Chapter 11 is the dull thud after the high hopes of chapters 1-10.”

Instead of ending on a high note, Solomon’s life ended with a “dull thud.” And the biggest reason for this was his divided loyalty. You see, Solomon’s forty-year reign began and ended with love. Unfortunately, during those forty years his love shifted. At the start of his reign we read these encouraging words: “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David” (1 Kings 3:3).

Yet by the time we get to the end of Solomon’s reign, we read that Solomon “loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods’” (1 Kings 11:1-2). We are then told in verse 3 that Solomon had 700 foreign wives in addition to his 300 concubines, and they pulled his heart away from the Lord and toward their pagan gods.

Solomon still loved God with part of his heart. But tragically, he divvied up the rest of his heart into 700 pieces that he distributed among his idol-worshiping wives. According to Jesus, the greatest command in the Old Testament is: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Without a doubt, as time passed Solomon drifted from his first love. He no longer loved God with “all” his heart, “all” his soul, “all” his mind or “all” his strength.

In our melting pot culture, some might ask, “What’s the big deal?” Well, consider this. We read in 1 Kings 11 that on a hill east of Jerusalem (most likely the Mount of Olives) Solomon set up worship centers to Ashtoreth, Molech and Chemosh. Ashtoreth worship traditionally involved orgies with male and female prostitutes. Molech worship involved child sacrifice, and Chemosh worship also involved forms of human sacrifice. Although Solomon probably didn’t participate in these more heinous “worship” activities, they were an integral part of the religion back in his wives’ homeland. And regardless of what labels we affix to ritual prostitution and child sacrifice, they are, at their heart, demonic.

On the very same hill east of Jerusalem where Jesus would one day sweat drops of blood and pray, “Not my will but yours be done,” Solomon was building shrines to bloodthirsty demons. On the same hill where Jesus would receive a kiss of betrayal from one of his friends, King Solomon himself was betraying his first love. On the same hill where Jesus would be bound and led away to sacrifice his own life for you and me, Solomon was worshiping murderous demons who required parents to sacrifice their own innocent children in a sacrificial fire. Was Solomon’s idol worship a big deal? You better believe it was!

And even though God rebuked Solomon and warned him that judgment was coming, Solomon didn’t respond with humility, sorrow or repentance. There is no indication that Solomon ever repented from his idol worship or tore down the pagan altars. He finished his life surrounded by hundreds of beautiful women, untold riches and every type of pleasure that a person could ever desire. But he died a shell of man—empty, hopeless and full of regret. Like Benedict Arnold, although he was a man of great potential who started his adult years so well, Solomon finished his life so poorly. When our loved ones look back on our final years here on earth, will they say the same of you and me? I hope not. Let’s finish well!

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for our worship service Sundays at 10 a.m.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Didn't God Stop It?

“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Matthew 5:45

Nearly two weeks after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, our nation is still reeling. We are still in shock, still dumbfounded by the massacre, and still grasping for answers. Why did this happen? Where was God, and why didn’t He stop it? And what can we do?

Why did it happen? The answer to the first question lies in the first book of the Bible. Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world, free from crime, adultery, lust, fear, guilt and shame. Their world in the Garden of Eden was a literal paradise. And in Genesis 2, God gave Adam and Eve only one “Thou Shalt Not”: Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But one chapter later, they did just that. When that first sin entered the world, it brought a curse to this world. It took only one sin to make it a paradise no longer.

Sin ushered in all of the things that make this world miserable, from hurricanes to massacres to cancer. The tragedy in Las Vegas happened because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. Adam and Eve’s sin started the process of turning God’s perfect paradise into a moral sewer—but you and I would have done the same thing. God’s word tells us in Romans 3:23 that every single one of us has sinned and has fallen short of the glory of God. Suffering is one of the sad consequences of life in this sin-cursed world.

But where was God, and why didn’t He stop it? The truth is, He was right there in Las Vegas that night even though—honestly—one second before the first shot rang out, most people on the Strip didn’t want Him there. God has given us the gift of free choice. It’s a gift that allows us to love, but it’s also a gift that allows us to hate. It’s a gift that allows us to save lives, but it’s also a gift that allows us to take lives. And usually God allows us to suffer the consequences of our choices. In this sin-cursed world, bad choices affect both the righteous and the unrighteous. Accidents and tragedies happen to good and evil people alike.

In this fallen, sin-cursed world we live in, bad things happen to all of us. And good things happen to all of us. Now, I do believe that the Bible teaches that, in general, more good things come our way if we follow Christ and obey His commands. But God doesn’t guarantee us iron-clad protection against the pain and tragedy that may come our way—just as He did not spare His own son the agony of the cross.

The truth is, we will drive ourselves crazy if we don’t move past the “why” questions. We’ll likely never know why certain tragedies happen. When we’re feeling powerless in the aftermath of such events, we need to ask ourselves: “Do you believe your God is big enough and strong enough and merciful enough to redeem the tragedy—and somehow work all things together for good—even the violent things, the heart-wrenching things, the most tragic things?” Then, as soon as humanly possible, we need to move on to the final question: What should we do next?

First, we need to focus not on WHY this tragic event happened, but instead on HOW God can be glorified in the aftermath. In the days following the shooting, we’ve seen instances of God working in people and through people to redeem this horrible tragedy. We’ve heard stories of heroism at ground zero of the massacre: men lying on top of women to shield them from the gunfire; off-duty police officers leading people to safety, then turning around and heading back into the fire zone to help others; hundreds of people standing in line for hours to donate blood; thousands of people gathering for a prayer service the following Wednesday night at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas—and 185,000 more people watching that service online.

Next, we need to remember that life is fragile. We have no time to waste. Therefore, we must repent and get right with God. I hope and pray that no one reading this dies because of gunshot wounds from a madman. But the hard truth of living in this fallen, sin-cursed world is that people die tragically every single day—because of cancer, because of drunk drivers, because of heart attacks, because of natural disasters, because of stray bullets. You and I are not guaranteed tomorrow, so it’s important to get right with God today. Believe in Him. Turn away from your sin. And start following Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Finally, we need to faithfully pray for the victims’ families, for our military and first responders, and for revival in America. When we’re flooded with emotions like disgust, anger, anxiety and fear, I believe these emotions should help fuel our prayers. Romans 12:12 tells us, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” And that chapter concludes with these words in verse 21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Not-So-Great Social Experiment

Those who practice these things "will not inherit the kingdom of God."
– 1 Corinthians 6:10

Maybe you’ve already noticed, but we are living in the day of the great social experiment. For several thousand years marriage was defined as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. But in recent decades, we’ve been trying to redefine marriage. Maybe we could replace it with cohabitation. Or maybe we could regard it as something temporary. Or it could even be a legal long-term relationship between “two people” regardless of gender.

Last week we looked at one of the alternatives to replace traditional marriage, cohabitation. Today I’m going to talk about two other alternatives: serial monogamy and gay marriage.

Serial monogamy is the practice of engaging in a series of monogamous sexual relationships. Most people probably wouldn’t refer to it by its formal name, but here’s how it goes: date, have sex, break up, repeat. Date, have sex, break up, repeat … you get the idea. Serial monogamy is the alternative to marriage that is most glamorized by Hollywood. But while Hollywood is obsessed with serial monogamy, it’s safe to say that God isn’t crazy about it, since the Bible makes it clear that sex is meant to come only after marriage.

So, let’s focus on one specific kind of serial monogamy: serial monogamy in marriage. The pattern is pretty much the same, with minor modifications: fall in love, get married, get divorced, repeat. Fall in love, get married, get divorced, repeat. But in Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus makes his views on marital serial monogamy clear: divorce and remarriage was never part of God’s plan either. He explains that the law of Moses allowed for divorce only because of the hardness of our hearts. But if you’re divorcing your spouse for any reason other than adultery, when you marry someone else, you’re committing adultery with that person!

That drives a nail in serial monogamy’s coffin. Because the New Testament makes it clear that adultery—if it continues without repentance—will keep us out of heaven: “Do not be deceived: Neither the fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9b-10). So, these verses state that both premarital sex and adultery are sins that will keep us out of God’s kingdom.

And, you will note, homosexuality is another sin that will keep us out of God’s kingdom. That’s a point to remember as we turn to one more alternative to traditional marriage: gay marriage. This is an alternative that’s gained in popularity and acceptance in recent years. Less than nine years ago, here in one of the most socially liberal states in America, Californians voted to approve Prop 8, which defined marriage in our state as being “between one man and one woman.” But it was shot down in the courts. Then, just over 2 years ago came the Supreme Court ruling that state bans on homosexual marriage were unconstitutional, which—in effect—legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2001, 35 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. In the 16 years since then, the level of support has almost doubled: 62 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. So, what does God say? Oh, I’m so glad you asked. God created marriage in Genesis 2:18-25, forming the first human relationship—between one man and one woman, Adam and Eve. And if we take that great passage together with Paul’s description of marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33, here is a biblical definition of marriage: a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman for the purpose of companionship, bearing children and learning to love as Christ loves.

So, regardless of what an American court calls it when two men or two women enter a contractual relationship with each other, to God … it’s not marriage. Period! And as we read in 1 Corinthians 6:9, God considers homosexual sex of any kind to be in the category of sexual sin along with heterosexual premarital sex and adultery. Just as with premarital sex and adultery, homosexuality, if it is not followed with repentance, will keep someone out of God’s kingdom. Whether or not someone in a homosexual relationship has a marriage license, to God it’s sin. Sex is only to be practiced in a married relationship between one man and one woman.

Regardless of whom you are attracted to, every one of us has to overcome sexual temptation. God urges us to resist temptation and pursue holy relationships that are set apart from the world and in line with His word. So, God’s answer to sexual temptation is biblical marriage. God’s answer to our deep longing for companionship and acceptance and love is—you guessed it—biblical marriage.

It bears repeating: Marriage is a lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman for the purpose of companionship, bearing children and learning to love as Christ loves. And what could be better than that?

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Don’t Kick the Tires!

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.– Matthew 19:4b

Marriage has never been easy. But explaining it used to be pretty simple. Not anymore! I think we all know what marriage “used to” be: the lifelong legal union between one man and one woman. But in recent years our culture has wrestled with the questions: Can we broaden the definition of marriage? Are there alternatives to traditional marriage that could be just as fulfilling, or even more so? Should we give marriage a 21st century update?

There are a number of alternatives to traditional marriage that have begun to grow in popularity. And since God is the creator of marriage, I think it’s only right that we look at the way these alternatives stack up against God’s word. For the sake of time and column space, this week I’m going to focus on just one of them: cohabitation.

First, to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s a quick definition of cohabitation: two unmarried people of the opposite sex living together with long-term or permanent intentions. These days, even within the church, you’ll find a lot of folks who think cohabitation is a good idea. Here are three of the most common reasons people give:

#1: The financial reason. “It’s cheaper!” Most couples who make this argument haven’t really crunched the numbers. Research demonstrates that while couples may move in together with the theory of sharing the bills 50-50, it tends to be more like 60-40—usually with the ladies picking up the heavier end of the tab.

#2: The “kick the tires” reason. People say it all the time: “You’d never buy a used car without kicking the tires first. So, you should never marry someone you haven’t lived with first to see if you’re compatible.” Surprise! Couples who live together before marriage have a 33 percent higher divorce rate. Not only that, but infidelity is twice as common in couples living together. There is also a greater likelihood of alcohol abuse, depression and physical abuse among couples living together compared to couples who are married.

#3: The “stronger marriage” reason. Today most adults believe that living together before getting married improves your chances of a successful marriage. Uh, no. See the higher divorce rate mentioned above. Besides that, most cohabiting couples don’t even get there. University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock writes, “Only about one-sixth of live-ins last at least three years, and only one-tenth lasts five years or more.”

So if you’re hoping for a marriage that’s strong and healthy and doesn’t end in divorce, the research is pretty clear: living together before your wedding is a terrible idea. Marriage is hard enough when we do it God’s way. You don’t need to increase your likelihood of unhappiness and failure by doing it the world’s way.

Now, let’s look at God’s way. In Genesis 2, God created marriage—the very first human relationship, between the first man and the first woman. This relationship serves as the prototype for every other marriage from that point forward. In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” That word “helper,” by the way, is translated from a Hebrew word that is used many times to refer to God Himself in the Old Testament. It doesn’t refer to someone who is underneath another. It speaks of being face-to-face and perfectly complimenting each other so that the two together are stronger than the one by himself. God created Eve as a partner to Adam—not a slave.

And Genesis 2:24 makes it clear that the leaving of our pre-marriage home and starting a new home together is not to take place until a man and woman are husband and wife: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Bible does not condone cohabitation. It’s a sin. Period.

So, cohabitation may be wildly popular in America, but both the scientific research and God’s word agree: It’s a lousy alternative to marriage. And it’s even a terrible warm-up to marriage. Simply put, God’s answer to cohabitation is, “Stop it!” Save yourself sexually for your wedding night. And wait to live together until you both have rings on your fingers and a marriage certificate signed in the sight of God and human witnesses. God’s order is this: Get married. Move in together and have sex. Have children.

As in so many things, society hasn’t improved on God’s word. The old ways are the right ways when it comes to marriage. And when two people enter their life together according to God’s plan, their union is blessed in a way it never could be otherwise.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.