3 Ways to Treat Others Equally

God never ceases to surprise me, especially in the way that Scripture seems to open our eyes to the world around us. For weeks, I prepared a sermon on the letter of James entitled “The Treatment Test.” The sermon revolves around the question of how we treat others, especially the poor and struggling, and what that says about our faith. Sometimes, our behavior reveals our beliefs, even when we’re unaware that our faith is being tested.  James tells us to avoid favoritism based on outward appearance and treat all people as beloved children of God. Listen to the May 20 sermon, “The Treatment Test.”

I usually try to keep my eyes open for opportunities to serve others. I feel like this practice goes beyond being a pastor and really is just a way of living out my Christian walk. The funny thing is, though, in the two weeks before I preached this sermon, I found myself in way more situations where I was able to help someone out or at least offer a word of kindness.

For example, in February our young adult group assembled “blessing bags” for all of our members to keep in the car to hand out to anyone we saw begging on the roadside. These bags contain some basic necessities (bottled water, snacks, hygiene items) and encourage giving when folks aren’t used to carrying cash. I started to get frustrated because after doing a significant amount of driving for two months, I had only given out a few bags. Then as I was preparing this sermon, I gave out my five remaining blessing bags in only a matter of days.

I have to wonder: was there really a lack of opportunities to help before? Or did my study of Scripture help me see more clearly the opportunities that were already there? That’s why it’s so important that we read the Bible regularly. God’s word helps us see with the eyes of Christ. And when we can see people as beloved children of God, we find opportunities to serve all around us. Christ is calling the church to heal a hurting world. The question is… how will we respond?

We must face the treatment test as individuals as well as parts of the greater whole, our society and our church.

Here are 3 ways you can treat others equally:

  1. Love mercy: Because we have received mercy from God, we are called to show mercy to everyone we meet. When we see our neighbor with the eyes of Christ, we are called to meet her physical, emotional and spiritual needs. If our neighbor is a Christian, then we accept him because Christ lives in him. If our neighbor is not a Christian, we can receive him because Christ died for him. James teaches us not to judge one another by our past but by our potential. Christ is the link of love in all our relationships and his mercy is the reason we work for the good of all people in all places.
  2. Work for justice: Justice means going beyond meeting the needs of our neighbors and then making sure they never have those needs again. Justice is a love that transforms people, and it’s available to all. When the church works for justice, the poor get a hand up instead of a handout, and the rich learn not to find value in their riches.James teaches us to love our neighbors by first being a neighbor. It’s not a question of geography but opportunity. So just as we welcome Christ into our presence on Sunday mornings, we recognize Christ’s presence out in the world among the least, the last and the lost. And I can’t contain my excitement about the justice work of our church. Through the mission work of programs like Care by Community and our Bike Ministry, we meet people’s needs but then also transform their lives in the powerful love of Christ.
  3. Walk humbly with God: We must remember that our faith is constantly tested, and so we will always have the opportunity to fall more deeply in love with God and to grow in loving service to our neighbors. We’re called to remain open to instruction, no matter how rich or poor, young or old, James is asking us to look past divisions and into the heart of God. I’m reminded of the first few times I came and witnessed the work our church does at Fresh Food Wednesdays. Many of the folks who serve were once guests who depended on the church’s generosity. So if you pause and take a step back, sometimes it’s hard to discern who are the servants and who is being served. This is what James is talking about when he says let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up and the rich in being brought low.

Pastor Matt Potter

2 Ways to Control Your Tongue

The Epistle of James is one of the most practical and helpful sections of the Bible.  James deals with all kinds of issues, including how we use our words.   James reminds us that one way our faith is tested is through our word choice and tone of voice.  He acknowledges that when it comes to controlling our tongue, we all stumble sometimes.  But James also reminds us that we should work hard to keep a tight rein on our tongue. Listen to the May 13 sermon, The Tongue Test.

Here are 2 helpful ways to control our tongue:

  1. Regularly examine our heart.  Jesus reminds us that our words are simply a reflection of what is going on in our heart: our attitudes, desires, and values (Luke 6:45).  We often wish we could better control our mouth, but maybe the place to start is with the heart.  When our heart is right with God and others, when our attitude is one of kindness and care, when our desire is to be an instrument of love, then our words will naturally follow.
  2. Intentionally thank, compliment and encourage other people.  To be very intentional about blessing people with our words, not in a fake or phony way, but to be sincere in using words to build up other people and express gratitude to and for others.  Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”  A good question to ask is this: am I using my words to bring life or death to the people around me?  Let us be known as a people who speak life, blessing, encouragement and gratitude into our lives, our relationships, and our circumstances.  It’s one of the best ways to practice “mouth management.

Pastor Mark Miller

How to Deal with Conflict the Biblical Way

Conflict is a part of life.  People have different personalities, different preferences, different backgrounds and experiences.  When you put us all together on one planet, one neighborhood, or in one house, there will be conflict.   That’s true whether you are a Christian or not.  What matters most for the Christian is not that we have conflict, but rather how we choose to conduct ourselves in the midst of conflict, how we express ourselves, and how we treat those with whom we might disagree.  Listen to the May 6 sermon, “The Temper Test.”

In the Epistle of James, we are given a great prescription for dealing with conflict.  James 1:19-20 states the prescription in a simple and straightforward manner: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

  • What does it mean to be quick to listen and slow to speak?  It means we work really hard to truly listen and try to understand the viewpoint of others, especially viewpoints that we don’t share.  It has been said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.  It’s always a good idea when we encounter a conflict with someone, to go into discovery mode rather than attack mode.  That requires being quick to listen and slow to speak.
  • What does it mean to be slow to become angry?  It means that manage our emotions in such a way that we can remain calm and courteous in the midst of conflict.  Two disciplines to help us are deep breathing and prayer.  When our physical body begins to feel anger, deep breathing helps to relax the body and reduce the stress hormones running through our veins.  Deep breathing also sends more oxygen to our brain, so that we can think clearly rather than react foolishly.  Prayer helps us stay focused on the presence of the Holy Spirit, and our desire to demonstrate the love of Jesus even when it is difficult to do so.  I’ve experienced times when I’ve been in a difficult conversation or a difficult church meeting, where I could feel the anger and tension level rising in myself and others.  By pausing for a deep breath and offering up a prayer, I have experienced the Holy Spirit bringing peace and calm into my heart and into the situation.

There’s an old expression: “To live above with those we love, oh that will be the glory.  But to live here below with those we know, well that’s a different story.”   There’s a lot of truth to that.  But we get a little closer to heaven and we bring heaven a little closer to earth when we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

Pastor Mark Miller

3 Keys to Perseverance

Nothing truly significant in our lives gets accomplished without perseverance.  The ability to be tenacious, steadfast, and work through challenges without giving up is an important quality to develop and an essential quality for building our Christian character.  The challenge is that everyone needs and wants the quality of perseverance, but nobody enjoys going through the struggles and trials required to build perseverance into our lives.   James 1:2-4 tells us to consider it “joy” when we encounter trials because this is a testing of our faith designed to produce perseverance in us.  James goes on to say that perseverance must complete its work in us so that we might become mature.  Listen to the April 22 sermon, “The Perseverance Test.”

Let me offer three keys to perseverance: 

  1. First, remember that there will be storms and struggles in life.  We often fail to persevere because we have unrealistic expectations that life should be easy or relatively trouble free.  Jesus tells us just the opposite, “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  Accepting that life will be difficult and that there will be struggles helps us prepare to persevere.  Paul tells Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).  We don’t have to be pessimistic, but we should be realistic about the storms and struggles of life.
  2. A second key is to remember that the purpose of life is to grow mature in our faith and character.  Perseverance helps us with that (James 1:2-4).  God is more interested in our maturity level than our comfort level, so there will be periods of our lives where we will need to deal with uncomfortable circumstances and challenges.  God intends to work it all for good (Romans 8:28), but we must remember that the purpose of life is growth, and growth requires struggle, and struggle requires perseverance.
  3. A final key is to remain confident in God’s power. Ultimately, we do not persevere on our own, we persevere through the power of Christ at work within us (Philippians 4:13).  We can and should be confident that the Lord who began a good work in us will bring it to completion and we will be witnesses of His power and goodness in our lives (Philippians 1:6).

Pastor Mark Miller

Finding Joy When Life is Hard

During our 40-Day Joy Challenge this Lent, we had the most involvement of any church-wide study we have done in the past few years. “The Joy group has been an amazing outlet for me to communicate with other parents and share stories about things we are experiencing with our children. Being able to read the devotional and then apply it to my life has been life changing for me.” — Kristin Sheely. “40 Days not only gives us Paul’s recipe for the Joyful Life that Christ promises to all of us but the author, Tommy Newberry, provides us with the roadmap for “training our brains” to take on a more heavenly perspective in every aspect of our lives and, particularly, difficult and challenging times. Each lesson has brought meaningful discussion in our class about God’s joyful plan for all of us. We have literally run out of time each week as we delve into this more God-centered way of thinking.” – Aldersgate Class

Highlights include:

  • 475 Joy devotional books distributed
  • 2916 Joy page views on the website; 968 are from new folks (more than any other pages on our website other than homepage)
  • 834 visits to the Joy series Sermon Weekly Guide on the Mobile App (one mobile app user is in the Caribbean, and one is in China!)
  • 7 new Joy Small Groups (some of these are unique formations such as: a mom and her 3 adult daughters, a facebook group, visitors from Maryland who are listening to the sermons and watching the videos with their family)
  • Many new folks joined existing Life Groups and Sunday School classes to participate in the Joy Group discussion questions (one Sunday School class has had 8 new folks in 2 weeks; the High School Joy Group had 22 in attendance one Sunday)
  • 3 of the Joy Groups are continuing to meet and are now discussing the James sermon series!

 

Most families will agree that today there is a bigger emphasis on running around and getting things done than there is on making time to connect with others. Thanks to our recent church-wide study based on Tommy Newberry’s 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, some in our church family are working to change that situation. Several members opted to participate individually in the study while others chose to organize a group to share the experience. One such group is the one that Rebecca and Karl Boggs were a part of. Sometimes feeling that their spiritual journeys were like solo endeavors, Rebecca acknowledged that they “needed something more, another outlet with more consistency and more accountability.”

Most of the group members already knew each other before the class began, and Rebecca adds that it was “nice to be part of a team whose members were in the same phase of life or stage of parenting.” In other words, they were searching for the energy of relationships to provide inspiration and motivation. Rebecca liked the format of the class: read, discuss, and then watch the video to usher in the next week’s discussion. She also praised the church staff for encouraging everyone to get involved and the pastors for providing continuity between the lessons and their sermons.

As the 40-day study drew to a close, participants agreed that they had benefited from the course and wanted to continue on their spiritual journey together. Now they meet on Sunday evenings when their youngsters are in Crew meetings. However, they have made one small addition: a little fellowship time at the beginning of the meeting to compare notes on how their life journeys are unfolding.    

Dee Swanson