Seek Ye First His Kingom

Personal vs. Social Gospel

American Christianity is in a period of soul searching. While there are many factors involved in this struggle I want to highlight one today. Biblical Christianity is focused on developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that leads to personal transformation in how an individual thinks and acts. This change results in a shared way of Christian belief and life demonstrated throughout history. As such, Christians find themselves believing and living differently from the social norms of whatever culture they live in. Of course this invites tension and conflict.

Much of modern American Christianity is focused on maintaining social relationships amid the diversity of beliefs and lifestyles within our culture and transforming its views of God to reduce the tension and conflict. In other words, “socialized” Christianity seeks to change perceptions of God in order to demonstrate similarity/compatibility with the diversity of belief and lifestyles found in society. For instance, the current debate among Christians about human sexuality and what constitutes a marriage is a clear example of this division. Socialized Christianity and Biblical/Historical Christianity are clearly at odds on these issues. Socialized Christianity focuses on our relationships with others. Some want a faith that does not cause friction in our social relationships. We seek to avoid tension and possible conflict through incorporating diversity of belief and lifestyles under the “umbrella” of Christianity. Biblical/Historical Christianity focuses on our relationship with God. We don’t what to cause friction between Jesus and ourselves. We want to please Jesus more than we want to please others or ourselves. Believing that God created humanity as “male and female”, that God instituted the marriage covenant to be between a “male and female”, that God expects celibacy in singleness, all cause tension and conflict in our diverse cultural environment. How we respond too often depends on which relationships take priority. Listen to the words of Jesus, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”

Oh Lord, How Majestic is Thy Name

My wife and I recently connected with a friends who live in Mississippi. They met us halfway for a meal and visit. We are of similar age with our youth far in the past. Thankfully we are all in good health but the issue of stiffness and inflexibility came up and He commented, “I don’t trouble myself with trying to bend over and pick up any coins on the ground that are less that a quarter anymore.” I agreed. Why bother and risk a fall for something so insignificant as a dime, nickel, or penny? In Psalm 8 the song writer praises God’s majesty by referring to God’s creation of the Heavens. He looks up in the shy and sees the moon and stars and opening askes the question, “What is humanity that You are mindful of us?” Like the “dime, nickel, and penny” broken humanity would seem not worth God’s bother.

We know so much more than the Psalmist did. We know the Heavens are vast, filled with many Galaxies. His question would seem to carry more weight for us for we who live on Earth seem so insignificant in the scope of the Heavens above. Humanities growing ability to see and understand the Heavens is creating some interesting discoveries. One of these is the recent discovery of a very large Asteroid located within the Asteroid belt in orbit of our Sun between Mars and Jupiter. They have named “Psyche 16”. This Asteroid is massive, 124 miles in diameter. And is it round shaped like a small moon. But what really sets it apart is that unlike other asteroids it isn’t made up of rock and ice. It is composed of solid metals including massive quantities of nickel, iron, platinum, and gold. The value of the metals in it are estimated to be 10,000 quadrillion dollars. That’s $10,000,000,000,000,000,000. To put that in perspective all the countries on earth have a combined economic worth of just 75 trillion dollars, that’s $75,000,000,000. To put it in another way, if we could bring those metals to earth and their value distributed to all 7.3 billion of us, then all of us would become billionaires overnight.

What does this have to do with our relationship with God? God doesn’t care about “Psyche 16” and all its monetary value. If it breaks orbit and falls into the Sun or Jupiter God will not lift a finger to pluck it from its destruction. Yet, God values each human being so much that God is willing to come into our tiny, rebellious, insignificant planet and “pluck us from judgment” by dying for our sins on he Cross. Not only that but God is “preparing a place” for us in eternity. Each of us are of GREAT value to God, more than $10,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Human Rights and the Gospel

The concept of “Human Rights” is an issue that every culture defines for itself. For the USA it is our Constitution that defines what we consider “Human Rights”. Even thou our nation’s founding documents claim that “Human Rights” flow from God, such is not the case in most cultures. Some cultures have very restricted or even highly inequitable concepts of “Human Rights” but our nation seeks, through at times great struggles, equal rights for all people. “Human Rights” issues have become a dominate theme in parts of American Christianity. The debates on human sexuality issues such as gay marriage, ordination standards for pastors, and abortion are examples of this. These issues are dividing Christians. Concepts of Biblical authority and church tradition are being challenged by progressive ideas seeking to remake Christianity. These are stressful and confusing times and here is my take on part of what is happening. Progressive Christianity is focused heavily on what it considers “Human Rights” abuses in our nation and blames traditional Christianity. It seeks to change Christianity to become a reflection of social equality and justice. In effect, the Christian faith is viewed as a vehicle used by God to bring social equality and justice. For those of you who have studied different theological perspectives you might recognize the connection Progressive theology has with 20 century “Liberation Theology”. For the rest of us, it means promoting “Human Rights” is a defining element of Progressive Christianity. The following questions help in understanding the difference between Biblical/Historical Christianity and modern Progressive Christianity.

For Progressive Christianity the question is, “How can achieve for ourselves and help others gain the human rights God intends for them to have in this world?” The focus is upon humanity. For Biblical Christianity the question is, “Is there a human right I possess or think I should possess that I am unwilling to give up in my service to Jesus?”. The focus is on God. Biblical Christianity promotes the redemption of sinners and the transformation of sinners into disciples of Jesus whose lives reflect God’s creative will and not a human culture’s will. American Christianity is indeed divided by incompatible concepts of what God’s nature and will is for redeeming humanity. “Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful.”

Methodist Distinctives

In the midst of great divisions within American Christianity, the United Methodist Church has clarified it’s connection with historical Christianity and devotion to the Holy Scriptures as the final authority concerning Christian belief and practice. Clarity in the conflict between historically traditional “Methodism” and culturally progressive “Methodism” opens the door for faithful Methodists to once again focus on what makes us truly “Methodist”. Here are some distinctives of Methodists throughout history. “Grace” is the operative word. I hope this will give you a better understanding of what historical “Methodism” represents.

  1. Salvation is offered to all. We call this “Prevenient Grace” or the “Grace which goes before”. It is God who first seeks sinners not sinners who seek God. God seeks out sinners, all sinners, to be recipients of God’s saving work.

  2. Salvation can be received by all. We call this “Justifying Grace”. Christ’s sacrificial and atoning death is sufficient for everyone’s sins. Also, it is God’s will for all to choose to accept God’s gracious provision in Christ.

  3. Salvation transforms all of human life. We call this “Sanctifying Grace”. The ultimate goal of God’s salvation plan is the restoration of humanity to God’s original creative intent. Every aspect of God’s saving work in Jesus works for this end. His Crucifixion (to deal with the guilt of sin), His Resurrection (to deal with the penalty of sin), and His sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (to deal with the power of sin) accomplishes this purpose. The goal of the Holy Spirit’s work is to remake us so that we truly reflect the Great Commandment’s goal of “loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind” and “loving our neighbor as ourselves”.

  4. The Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives is cultivated by tools God has given us. We call these “Means of Grace”. In study of the Scriptures, prayer, Worship, Sacraments, Christian service, and Christian Fellowship doors are opened to help us encounter the life changing power of the Holy Spirit. True “Methodism” is to follow the “Method” by which God seeks to redeem and transform our lives for holy devotion and service to our Holy God.

  5. The Holy Spirit equips us to serve Christ beyond our natural capabilities. Through gracious “Callings”, “Gifts”, and “Fruits” the Holy Spirit’s power transforms believers lives so that we serve Christ by representing and furthering His Kingdom in this broken world. Methodists believe these works of the Holy Spirit can impact all human life regardless of race or gender.

  6. The Holy Spirit incorporates believers into one Body, one universal Church under the Lordship of Christ. We acknowledge the professions of faith and baptisms of people from other Christian communities when they join us. We celebrate Holy Communion as an open table to all who are seeking a closer walk with Christ regardless of whether or not they are Methodist affiliated.

The Church Universal

In the Apostle’s Creed we state that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church. Some people get confused by the word “Catholic” which does not refer to the Roman Catholic denomination but literally means “Universal”. The affirmation of a “Universal Church” proclaims that there are faithful followers of Jesus Christ across denominational boundaries, across cultural boundaries, and across generational boundaries. Christians today are apart of a great host of believers, many of which have gone before us. This is possible because the Christian faith is the same faith from generation to generation, made possible by our common bond to the Scriptures as the Word of God. We may worship in different kinds of buildings, sing different songs, have different forms of church government, etc., but we have the same appreciation and devotion to the Scriptural revelation of God’s saving work through His Son Jesus Christ. Across history whenever cultural pressures have sought to sidetrack Christians from the common bond Christians have through the Scriptures, it is the Church Universal that calls us back to faithfulness.

The United Methodist Church recently held a specially called General Conference to address the division within the American part of our denomination over issues of defining marriage and God’s will for human sexual expression. Many denominations who have little or no connection to Christians outside the U.S. have already given in to intense cultural pressures. United Methodist delegates from diverse cultures within Russia, Indonesia, and Africa helped our denomination say no to those who wanted to replace our historical and Biblical stances with cultural ones that reflect the sexual revolution happening in our nation. Because of the Global nature of our denomination the Universal Church held us accountable. Even as our denomination heads towards a split here in America, I am so grateful to be apart of a united global Methodist community. I am excited about how this stand will translate into recommitment and revival within the American branch of the UMC. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love!”

"I knew you before you were born"

In Jeremiah 1:5 the prophet tells us of God’s call for him to become a prophet. He records God telling him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God’s call to me was much simpler. In a time of great stress and indecision I told God I’d do whatever He wanted me to. The reply came clearly to me within my mind, “Be a pastor”. The point is this. God has a plan for each human life. Because of the misuse of human free will and the brokenness of our relationship with God that plan may not be known to us until circumstances force us to listen to God. Because of the rebellion within human nature, in which we seek to worship things of this broken world or simply ourselves, some may never open themselves to God’s salvation and purpose for their lives. The secular voices in our world define the unborn as non-humans who have no right to life unless granted to them by someone else. For Christians the ongoing and escalating moral debate over terminating the life of the unborn must include the revelation that God knows us individually and has a plan for our lives before we are born. I have no doubt in my soul that if a doctor told me I had a choice between saving my wife or the baby within her I would choose my wife who I have made covenant with in marriage. I also know that if she told the doctor to save the baby first I would defer to her and if she died I would raise that child to know she loved that child more than her own life. And that she was a supreme example of the love of God who gave His only Son for our salvation. People disagree about when a fetus becomes a human being whose life should be protected except when complications put the mother’s life at risk. But the latest developments coming out of the New York legislature and governor’s office reveal what the “end game” to the secular aspect of the “Pro Choice” movement is. It has always been about giving women the choice to terminate at any time for any reason. The secular world doesn’t care what God’s plans are for any human being because God is taken out of the mix entirely. What is coming out of NY is what happens when there is no respect of or fear of God left in the human soul. God help us if we are becoming a society so individually self-absorbed that such horrors are excepted as “human rights”. God help us if we, who make up the Church, remain silent about such horrors.

Happy New Year!

I have no idea what 2019 will bring to each of us. I suspect as these 365 days are added to our lives there will be a mixture of happiness and sadness. In fact, I have no guarantee that I will be in this world to see 2020. Happiness isn’t brought to us by a “New Year” but it is brought to us through faith in Jesus. Here are some Scriptures to keep in mind as you travel these 365 days of 2019.

John 3:16-17 - “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

John 5:24 - “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

1 John 1:7 - “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Whatever 2019 has in store let us resolve to live these days focused on Christ, on what He has accomplished for us and on how we can honor Him. True happiness comes from our relationship with God, not worldly circumstances. God bless you and yours in this New Year.

Pastor David Kassos

“Merry Christmas”, oops, was I supposed to say “Happy Holidays”?

My favorite Scripture is Philippians 2:6-11. It’s my favorite for two reasons.

First, the format in which it is written highlights that these are not words created by the writer Paul. He is quoting what he has heard. Many English translations set these passages apart in a format that highlights this. The format suggests these passages are something first century, first generation, Christians had formed and recited like we do the “Apostle’s Creed”. That would mean these passages are used in their worship and affirmation of Jesus Christ. Whenever I read them I feel I am transported back in time and am apart of the first generation’s affirmations of Jesus. Emotionally, I feel connected to them, as if I was with them as the Church was forming.

Secondly, the content of these passages affirm core truths about Jesus. It is easy to see them being used not only in worship but also as teaching tools to help new converts understand who Jesus is. They speak of two aspects of Jesus’ saving work toward humanity. Verses 6-8 speak of Jesus’ first visit to humanity. Verse 6 tells us Jesus’ choice to humble Himself and give up His rights as God in order to serve and save humanity. Verse 7 speaks of his taking the human form we celebrate every Christmas. Verse 8 speaks of his servant mission to die on the Cross for our sins. All of this speaks of Jesus’ obedience to His Father’s will to do what was necessary to open the door for human salvation. Verses 9-11 speak of Jesus’ second visit to humanity. Verse 9 speaks of God the Father’s lifting (resurrecting) Jesus back to His rightful place, the highest place. Verse 10 speaks of the acknowledgment of everyone, humans and angels, falling to their knees before Jesus acknowledging the “highest place” He now occupies. Verse 11 speaks of everyone acknowledging that this exalted Jesus is Lord of all. Obviously, these passages speak of what Scripture proclaims as the “Second Coming” of Jesus. This earliest of Christian affirmations of Jesus celebrate both His first and second comings to earth. He came as the “Lamb of God” who takes away our sins and He will return as the “Lion of Judah” whose roar will send all humanity to its knees. “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy Eternity”, oops, was I supposed to say “Happy New Year”?

Pastor David Kassos

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua 24:14-15

“Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods of your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Abraham was called by God to leave his home “beyond the Euphrates River”. He was called to toss aside the Mesopotamian gods of his birth culture and embrace a new God whom he would follow and serve. Moses was called by God to lead Abraham’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt. He was called to introduce them to the God of Abraham so that they would toss aside the Egyptian gods they worshiped in their captivity. Joshua was called by God to lead a new generation of Hebrews into the land promised to Abraham’s descendants. At the end of his life he challenges them to follow and serve the same God of Abraham and Moses instead of the gods of the Canaanites. Throughout history cultural concepts of “god” have sought to supersede and replace worship of the one God who called Abraham, Moses, Joshua; and who came personally in Jesus Christ to fulfill His promises to Abraham. Joshua’s call “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. For me, my house, and my church, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”