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News Argus Meditations

February 23, 2024

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro.  Luke 23:43

        The Gospels reveal Jesus was executed between two condemned inmates. These two inmates remained unnamed and anonymous. During the incident, the Gospels say both inmates were ridiculing Jesus. At some point after Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness, something about the prayer turned one of the inmates. In hearing the prayer, one inmate must have seen something in Jesus that awakened recognition. On Jesus’ cross was a sign that read, “King.” Both of the inmates knew Jesus had performed miracles. They were demanding Jesus perform one and bring them down from their suffering. Both inmates also knew Jesus had taught about a kingdom that was not of this world. When one of the inmates heard Jesus offer a prayer of forgiveness, it was enough to awaken him from ridicule to repentance. Was there ever a moment of more radical faith? He faced an executed carpenter from Nazareth and asserted, “Remember me in your kingdom.” Paul will say in Romans that Abraham’s faith in God was reckoned to him as righteousness. The promise that God could bring forth a son from a body as good as dead required radical faith. Paul says this is the level of faith required of everyone who is called to affirm Jesus’ victory on the cross. Consider we stand on the other side of Easter. The death row inmate crucified beside Jesus didn’t have that perspective. All he could see was Jesus dying; yet, he had faith.

     Paul spends much of Romans addressing how Jesus fulfills once and for all the atonement, which reconciles us to God. Through faith in Jesus, the sin which divides us is redeemed, and what was broken is now made whole. The death row inmate was making a midnight-hour confession. There was no time left for him to do anything to make up for the damage he had caused. At that moment, the only prayer he had left was, “Remember me.” The first person who would embrace the work of Jesus on the cross was a death row inmate. While the inmate was praying for Jesus to remember him, one disciple had betrayed Jesus, one had denied Jesus, and the other disciples had forsaken Jesus. Even after the resurrection, the disciples were slow to believe. Thomas, who had followed Jesus for three years, firmly stated that he would not believe without visible proof. Jesus said there is a blessing for those who believe without seeing. This death row inmate was a model of that blessing. When there was every reason not to believe, he staked everything on the one thing he had seen. What about Jesus forgiving enemies from the cross that made a profound impact?

     Even though the death row inmate didn’t see Jesus heal a blind man, cleanse a leper, or bring the dead back to life, the inmate still witnessed a miracle. He noticed the miracle of forgiveness. Remember when Jesus healed a paralytic, critics in the audience got angry. Jesus asked them, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven or take up your mat and walk?’ Of course, everyone in the crowd thought the easier claim was the forgiving of sins. Jesus showed that day other people in history had performed miracles. Both Elijah and Elisha brought people back from the dead. However, only Jesus could perform the miracle of forgiveness because He was the only one qualified to do so. Jesus, as fully God and fully human, bridged a divide that no one else in history could accomplish. Forgiveness is the greatest miracle. On the cross, Jesus was accomplishing the greatest miracle, and the prayer for enemies demonstrated it to the watching inmate. Jesus praying that prayer was equivalent to saying, “Lazarus come forth.” Anyone who could do that was more than an ordinary human. The death row inmate had remarkable faith to believe, and Jesus rewarded that faith with a remarkable promise of paradise. No sin, no matter how severe, will separate us from the love found only in Christ Jesus, for this world and the one to come.

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    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Luke 23:34-38

An Unteachable Spirit

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

 Matthew 23:29-36

When I was in education, it wasn’t uncommon to receive a notice from a student that they had a diagnosed learning disability and would require special accommodations for the class. For ADHD students, they would need assistance with notes. For students with anxiety disorder, they would need additional time for testing. Documentation signed by a physician would accompany the request. In these cases, the student wasn’t opposed to learning; they only needed help with legitimate problems. At the conclusion of Matthew 23, Jesus addresses a hindrance to learning that has nothing to do with ADHD or anxiety disorder. The obstacle Jesus confronts has nothing to do with a person’s ability. In Matthew 23, the capacity for learning is present. Instead, the issue was an unwillingness. There is no greater impediment to learning than an unteachable spirit. Pridefulness operates as if the student knows more than the teacher. Even worse, there is arrogance where the student looks down on the teacher. Remember the diagnosis from Isaiah. “You will hear but not understand, and you will see but not perceive.” The only limitation is self-caused.

  Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ opponents would dismiss Him for various reasons. Isn’t this the Carpenter’s Son? Who gave you authority? From their perspective, Jesus was unqualified to offer them instruction. They would dismiss the signs and wonders as sorcery. Even worse, Jesus observed how His opponents would associate the miracles with the powers of darkness. They would call Jesus’ idea of goodness evil, and what Jesus declared as evil, they would call good. ADHD and anxiety disorders are treatable, but what is resistant to correction is the unwillingness to accept instruction. This is why genuine wisdom begins with humility. The opposite of humility is self-elevation. There is a false form of confidence that comes when pridefulness assumes it already knows everything. Humility is more vulnerable. It is willing to admit insufficiency. Pride puts up defenses and gives a false sense of superiority. You have nothing to teach me because I either know it or what you know isn’t significant enough for me to care. Either way, self-importance closes the mind from receiving what you have to offer. I don’t need it, and it’s not worth knowing.

Remember how Nathaniel, the disciple, learned about the problem of an unreceptive mind? When he first heard about Jesus, Nathaniel’s first reaction was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel nearly dismissed an opportunity even before taking a single step. Philip simply said, “Come and see.” The difference for Nathaniel was that he let his defenses down. When Jesus amazed Nathaniel with a sign and wonder, Nathaniel didn’t respond dismissively. The critics in Matthew 23 operated with an iron wall in their minds. They dismissed Jesus on principle. It didn’t matter what Jesus said or did; they decided in advance that anything and everything Jesus offered wasn’t worthy of them because Jesus was viewed as inferior. Had they approached Jesus as Nathaniel did, they would have been receptive and allowed Jesus to demonstrate credibility. Jesus showed the danger of an unteachable spirit because not only is it unwilling, but it is also defensive. It is a rigid wall to break through. From the get-go, they were closed to anything Jesus said or did. They explained away the miracles. They explained away the teaching. They explained away the impact Jesus had on others. They explained away the lives Jesus changed. Jesus said those dismissing the prophets would also ignore someone who came back from the dead. Seeing miracles isn’t enough. A closed mind is like a form of blindness that refuses to see what is there. Discovering Jesus isn’t complicated or mentally difficult. It only requires a heart open and humbly willing to receive.

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Beneath the Surface

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, Matthew 23:27-28

       One of Jesus’ most profound images of hypocrisy is “Whitewashed Tomb.” Anyone in Jesus’ day would have understood the reference. Tombs in those days were as decorative then as they are now. On the outside, there is an attractive design and extravagant decoration. On the inside, however, is lifeless and decay. In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus describes the religious leaders of the day as whitewashed tombs. They took excellent care in how they appeared in public. These days we call it “virtue signaling.” A person is virtue signaling whenever they speak or act in a way meant to demonstrate their moral correctness in public. Jesus uses the illustration of whitewashed tombs to show how hypocrisy is often overlooked because it is only outwardly beautiful. Like a whitewashed tomb, we are so distracted by the exterior that we never bother to pull back the mask to see what is underneath. We grow accustomed to living on the surface. You don’t look deeply into my life; I won’t look deeply into yours. For Jesus, this isn’t true love, nor is it true goodness. The entire Sermon On the Mount Jesus addresses the importance of what lies beneath the surface in our spiritual lives. Multiple times He uses the phrase, “You’ve heard it said, but I say unto you.” In each case, Jesus declares how the interior of our lives matters. The thoughts, imagination, and desires that no one but God sees determine whether we are righteous by God’s standards.

     The religious leaders of the day looked down on those considered outcasts. Those who were in this category were outwardly unattractive. Whitewashed tombs look appealing on the outside. To look at my exterior, all you see is my outward upstanding reputation in the community. What you do not see are the things that are easier for me to hide. You do not see my greed, lust, envy, pride, bitterness, selfishness, and pettiness; consider how a relationship over time will expose what is beneath the surface. As long as I keep you in at a distance, I can conceal what is beneath the surface.  However, put me in a close relationship, and eventually, these hidden characteristics will surface. Being an ugly hypocrite is impossible because such a thing doesn’t exist. No one will mistake us for a whitewashed tomb if we act crude and rude in public. Instead, our behavior will look more like an open grave. The whitewashed tomb looks attractive as long as it is kept at a distance. The religious leaders had turned spirituality into a formula that was never meant to be. Jesus proclaimed that a connection with God isn’t based on rituals and routines but relationships. Therefore, the interior of our lives matters because it is the core that shapes our ability to love.  Masks give the impression of wellness, but underneath is  perishing.

       Diagnosing a whitewashed tomb isn’t designed as an insult, but a necessary and critical correction Jesus gets beneath the surface like a physician to treat our crucial needs. If we went to an emergency room for an examination, imagine if the on-call attendant was a cosmetologist who gave us a nice makeover to cure our affliction. Would we accept this as our medicine? Why are people inclined to take it as an antidote for spiritual problems? Our temptation is to seek outward appearances to solve internal infirmities. Beautiful masks do not solve greed, anger, bitterness, envy, and lust. Covering guilt with attractive layers to look respectable is equivalent to getting a makeover to treat a massive coronary. Jesus uses His penetrating vision to gaze into our hearts like a CAT Scan, revealing a fatal affliction beneath the attractive veneer. Too often, we measure the quality of our spiritual lives by what receives affirmation on the surface. If this is the standard we follow, then it will be misguided and ultimately fatal. A good doctor will expose the outer layers. Hypocrisy is dangerous because it distracts us with artificial beauty. The healing we need must get behind the mask to offer the cure. 

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Keep the Heart Clean

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, Matthew 23:25-26

We were on vacation and looking for a place to have dinner. We decided to search area restaurants, and one appeared attractive, so we read some customer reviews. One person gave the restaurant a bad rating, and in the comments, the reviewer noted they lost their appetite when they noticed the inside of a cup on their table was filthy. Of course, the outside of the cup the sparkling clean, but the inside had grit in the bottom. Imagine if the manager told them this wasn’t an accident, but it was intentional! This was standard operating procedure. In Matthew 23:25-26 Jesus challenges His audience with a similar image. He observes how religious leaders of the day focused on external appearance. They showed meticulous attention toward their reputation rather than caring more about how their lives stood before God. Jesus noted that despite their excessive care over public presentation, they allowed greed and self-indulgence on the inside. It was no different from cleaning the outside of a cup or bowl while leaving the inside corrupt and impure. Too often, our temptation is to focus on the dramatic sins. If we are not stealing and killing, we conclude we are a step away from sainthood. As long as our names are not in the weekly police blotter, then it’s a signal we are acceptable before God if we are acceptable by our estimation. Only the Great Physician is qualified to offer a diagnosis. We aren’t capable of diagnosing ourselves.
There are only two ways to live in this world. Either we live with a sense of indebtedness before God or a sense of entitlement before God. If our perspective toward life is entitlement, we assume that because we meet our criteria of goodness, we deserve good things. We’ve worked hard. We’ve given above and beyond effort. We’ve earned the merits we’ve achieved. For this reason, if the human world decorates us with awards, God should too. The only problem is that the world’s way of operating is upside down from God’s. Jesus came on the scene and offered blessings for self-giving. He was the one who laid aside heavenly privilege and status, not to be served, but to serve. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day reversed this foundation and made worldly gain the basis of God’s favor. They cared much about their standing in the public eye, but they maintained behaviors internally that were directly opposed to God’s character. Remember the parable Jesus told about two people entering the temple to pray? One was a religious leader who offered prayers of self-congratulation. The other prayer was from a person desperate to receive mercy. While the prayer of the religious leader was clean on the outside, it was stained on the inside. Jesus concluded the parable with a question. Which of the two went home justified? Such spirituality is like cleaning the outside of a cup while leaving the inside unsanitary.
CS Lewis once pointed out that no one needs to tell the drunkard their life is out of alignment when they are staggering down the street and falling into a ditch. However, for those who can hide greed and self-indulgence under a dignified mask, the inside is unhealthy, while the outside appears acceptable. Jesus was more interested in what existed beneath the surface. Could we imagine going to the ER with severe chest pains and the doctors telling us that we only need a good bath? Cleaning the outside and leaving the inside stained does us no favors. We underestimate the areas of life that are not obvious to the public eye. Everyone on the street will see me stagger drunk in the ditch. My self-indulgence and greed are easier to conceal. While I may appear noble to the public, my concern must focus on how my heart appears from God’s perspective. The standard to which we are held accountable is how we measure up to God’s definition of health. May we accept no blemish on the heart’s interior that we would never accept inside a cup.

Order Our Steps

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,
Matthew 23:23-24

Someone has made the wise observation that if the ladder isn’t leaning against the right wall, every step we take gets us to the wrong place faster. This is a vivid image of the problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 23:23-24. The audience Jesus instructs isn’t lost on priorities. They follow priorities with intense attention and focus. There’s only one problem. The priorities they follow are misguided and upside down. It’s impossible to live without priorities. Everyone gives at least one thing in their life the highest place. We were made to worship. It’s not a question of whether we will worship. Instead, the question is what we will worship. Our priorities reveal what we value and what we consider the highest and best in our life. The only way to maintain priorities is that something else, everything else, must take a back seat to what we give our greatest devotion to. Jesus shows the priorities God favors are faithfulness, mercy, and justice. When the temple elites showed up to worship, they had priorities that they believed were important for showing honor. In the process of following rules and regulations, spirituality was turned into a religion rather than a relationship. God called the people not to follow laws merely to conform to commands. The laws were designed to shape people’s hearts. Only after the heart is rightly formed can we love God and others in the way that God first loves His people.
In Matthew 23, Jesus exposes how religion can eventually become more about us than God. With all the rules and regulations, one’s upstanding behavior became a self-made idol. It’s hard for mercy to become a priority if we’re not convinced mercy is something we need as desperately as oxygen to breathe. Justice doesn’t register as a priority if our hearts aren’t aware of how urgently we need deliverance from our poverty. Faithfulness doesn’t register as a priority if one has not identified with what it means to be poor, weak, and needy, thirsting as a deer panting for the stream of God’s mighty intervention. Sometimes our priorities become a way we celebrate our goodness rather than making relentless seeking for what only God can do our priority. The priorities God called His people to were meant to awaken the need for something greater and grander than human ability. No one needs a miracle to follow human rules and regulations. If we express mercy, justice, and faithfulness the way God desires, then we will need a supernatural transformation to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Unfortunately, the kind of priorities Jesus’ audience followed was daily routines that reminded them that they were decent in their abilities. Religion was nothing but their self-celebration.
Jesus tells them that they “Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” They had made spirituality a rigorous exercise in following numerous rules while overlooking what was most important. Yes, they were highly principled. No one could accuse them of leading lives that were undisciplined and irresponsible. They had constructed a ladder with demanding steps that only a few would be qualified to climb. They would climb their self-congratulating ladders and pray, “Thank God we are not like these irresponsible slouches on their hands and knees begging for mercy. We are learning to stand on our own two feet.” Their ladder had priorities, but the steps leaned against the wrong building. They were trying to be good without God. All of their climbing was taking them further from the desired goal. God isn’t seeking people who merely follow duty and practice daily principles. God is seeking people to love the way He loves as we return in worship what God bestows without reserve. Just as mercy, faithfulness, and justice flow abundantly from God to us, we exalt God when praise reflects God’s character. May God order our steps to prioritize what is a priority to Him.

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       Ultimate Authority     

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

 Matthew 23:16-22

     Jesus offers two types of wisdom. On one level, He pronounces what we should do. The Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on The Mount represent this level of wisdom as He shows us characteristics that have His blessing and that we should follow. Matthew 23 is a model of the second level, where He demonstrates characteristics we must avoid if we intend to abide by Him. Last week we saw the first two dealt with preventing people from entering the kingdom. The third of these critical warnings is found in verses 16 through 22. Here Jesus stresses the importance of clarifying what has ultimate authority over our lives. There’s a temptation to place human authority equally with God’s revealed Word. Whenever this occurs, we risk giving supreme place to human definitions. Before long, we follow human teaching as if it were Gospel truth. What eventually happens is the creation of an alternative spirituality. It may possess similar language and have commonalities with the original, but it diverts from resting upon God’s revealed Word and replaces it with human authority. In the modern age, other features such as human reason, human experience, or human tradition are sources of authority granted a status that should be restricted only to the revealed authority of God.

     There are levels of authority in the world we live. It is right and even advised in Scripture to follow sources of human authority when those sources do not disagree with or replace God’s authority. The problem in Jesus’ day, as in ours, is that human sources of authority become established over time and eventually overtake the authority only God should have. When we follow human authorities, we are prone to seek ways that our preferences and desires can be given priority. Scripture speaks of a “Common Temptation.” The common temptation is the basis of all departure from God’s authority. No matter what form it takes, the common temptation is reflected whenever humans attempt to take the place of God. For this to happen, God’s authority is explained away. It is retranslated to mean what we want it to mean. Too often, when we begin with sources such as human reason, human experience, or human tradition, we assume that these things are accurate and worthy to follow. Scripture shows the heart is deceitful above all things. The danger of spiritual seduction is that we follow something believing it is right even though we are misguided. Seduction is dangerous because the one who operates under its spell is never aware that one’s thoughts are misdirected.

     In this third warning, Jesus shows we are most at risk when our intentions mean well. Those who are misguided set out to accomplish something they believe is correct. Rather than submit to divine authority for clarification, one’s preferences are followed and made equal with God’s authority. If something feels so right, then how can it be wrong? Rather than starting from the point of view that human reason, human experience, and human tradition are reliable sources outside of the guidance of Scripture, we are to view those sources with caution. We are always prone to follow human self-centeredness. Our fallen nature tends to make excuses and justify innocence. All of us are like sheep who have wandered away. The problem with misguided sheep is that they operate as if they are equally as qualified as the Shepherd. As sheep with reason, experience, and tradition, they can elevate their thoughts to the position of authority with the Shepherd. Eventually, the sheep feel they can manage the fold on their terms, and the Shepherd becomes an afterthought as they celebrate their accomplishments. Jesus shows although it may sound similar, it becomes an alternative religion. To ensure we follow the One True Shepherd, we must confess we’re misguided sheep who need nothing less than His Ultimate Authority.

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       Tearing Down Strongholds     

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  

Matthew 23:14-15

     Wisdom involves two essential dimensions. On one dimension, wisdom offers guidance and shows us the path we are to follow. On another dimension, wisdom offers warning and critical counsel on what to avoid. In the 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jesus proclaims seven warnings. These warnings give insight into what we must resist if we want a relationship with Jesus. We place barriers between our hearts and His if we fail to acknowledge these seven warnings. There is enormous risk that can lead to fatal spiritual consequences. The first two of seven is in Matthew 23:14-15. Jesus warns us not to prevent people from entering the kingdom of God. This warning reinforces a similar point Jesus stressed five chapters earlier in Matthew 18:6. “If anyone causes one of these little ones, those who believe in me, to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” The severity of Jesus’ words is undeniable. Consider the incident in all four Gospels when Jesus clears the temple with a whipcord. What provoked Jesus and made Him so angry that He acted with righteous indignation? It wasn’t merely that merchants were selling items in the temple. Jesus’ anger wasn’t because the church became a market.

     Jesus was angry because sacrifices people needed for atonement were sold for prices higher than what people could afford. There was a gross incident of price gouging. Merchants saw an angle they could exploit. They knew people who needed forgiveness and healing were desperate and vulnerable. It was the ripe moment to elevate prices and take advantage of people passionately seeking redemption. Seekers who were pursuing God found themselves priced out of affordability. All of this ultimately reflected on God. Jesus was angered a system that should have presented the open arms of God had become an iron wall preventing people from encountering steadfast love. Some years ago, a story in the news about a hospital in Dallas, Texas, created a stir by turning away a woman in labor because she didn’t have insurance. How could an institution that had sworn an oath to help those in harm’s way make renewal and recovery impossible? The New Testament will issue a calling that, as God’s appointed witnesses, we are to seek ways to remove strongholds, not build them. There is a significant difference between remaining neutral and becoming a hindrance. If I refuse to witness for Jesus, I might adopt a neutral standpoint. I may not assist you into the kingdom, but I won’t prevent you from entering it either. Not doing anything to help a person into the kingdom is bad enough but preventing them resists God’s will. In Matthew 23:14, Jesus addresses behaviors that fail to help people enter the kingdom, serve as a stronghold, and make their entrance barricaded.

     These warnings are referred to as “Woes.” In other words, Jesus uses the strongest description of what we are not to do. Through the centuries, some commentators have taken Jesus’ words about the millstone around the neck and associated the “causing the little ones to stumble” with child abuse. Indeed, physical harm is one behavior that would damage a person’s spiritual outlook, but Jesus has in mind much more than this. How about harm to their mind? Imagine the damage to spiritual thinking when false teaching confuses and darkens their perspective toward God. We can make the entrance into God’s kingdom harder or impossible by misrepresenting God’s character and desires. Jesus came to make a straight path to God. His work is designed to clear the strongholds so that God’s embrace is received. The wisdom of Jesus, at times, may sound severe because the urgency of His love is too great a thing to take lightly. May His grace convict and urgently correct us of anything hindering and not enabling His Kingdom’s purposes.

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The Attentive Life     

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

  Proverbs 2:2-5, Heb 2;1

        Matthew and Luke capture the first Christmas story in vivid terms. On the one hand, the birth occurs in a lowly cattle stall with only a few eyewitnesses. On the other hand, the text describes how the city was crowded to the point where the inn had no room. How did something occur that defined history, yet so many missed it? Jesus will grow up to become a man, and one of the dominant parables He will present deals with the problem of attention. Remember the profound word about the maidens who neglected to acquire oil for their lamps? Their moment arrived, and they were exposed as distracted. These days we often hear of attention deficit. It can be a severe drawback for young students who miss the mark not because of a lack of talent but a lack of focus. In the same way, there is such a thing as spiritual attention deficit disorder. Even before Jesus made it central in His teaching, it is a dominant theme throughout Scripture. Proverbs 2 includes it in the wisdom literature and shows how attaining knowledge must begin with a fierce commitment to staying attentive. The message receives extreme urgency in the letter of Hebrews. Bear in mind the author is writing to an audience getting ready to face difficulties in the surrounding culture. How will they maintain their faithfulness and remain honorable to God? They must resolve to keep a steadfast perspective that is continually mindful.

     Over the three years that Christ offered ministry and performed astounding works of miracles, there is a repeated observation concerning how some miss what is right in front of their eyes. Jesus didn’t attempt to conceal His work, but we can hinder ourselves from seeing it by remaining distracted. Consider the moments even the disciples missed because of the problem of inattention. The Garden of Gethsemane is one incident in particular where Jesus invited them to accompany Him in prayer. Imagine how remarkable it would have been to share this experience. They missed it not because Jesus withheld it but because they lacked focus. The moment came and went. The parables of Jesus, like the one about the maidens, are meant to startle us out of our complacency. Remember how the parable concludes with the unsettling words, “And the door was shut.” Jesus clarifies that it’s possible to miss a defining moment just as a person would miss a boat launching forth on a grand voyage. There’s a risk of making Christmas grace a license that removes us from responsibility. This isn’t consistent with the teaching of Scripture. Grace is designed to ignite our attention so we live with both eyes open. “Awake O sleeper” and remain poised when the opportunity of a lifetime shows up.

     Two words in Luke 2 are quickly passed over but are crucial to who was alert for the first Christmas. Shepherds were in their fields but didn’t fail to notice; they were “Keeping watch.” Imagine if they had the habit of sleeping on the job. They were in an occupation known for little excitement, and no one would blame them if the temptation to doze off were common. It’s no coincidence those who were ready when the first Christmas arrived were locked in keeping watch. The New Testament will proclaim a second Christmas, and those promises outnumber the promises of the first Christmas by a ratio of 8 to 1. In other words, of all the promises Jesus fulfilled when He appeared in a lowly cattle stall, the promises of Him coming again outnumber the Old Testament prophecies multiplied by 8. There’s no surprise the urgency of attentiveness is stressed. Only a few, such as Simeon and Anna, showed they were focused when the promises were fulfilled. God reserves highest rewards for those fixed in their gaze. As we prepare to start a New Year, we need the gift of remaining on high alert.. Let’s ask for the grace to keep a fierce focus on the plans and purposes we can only see if we’re attentive.

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2023 Advent Argus Series A New And Glorious Morn: How Christmas Makes All Things New

December 22, 2023

Sufficient in our Insufficiency     

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

II Corinthians 12:9-10

      From the time we are born, we are taught the goal is to become “self-sufficient.” When a person ages, our worth is measured by how we can maintain our “independence.” If we are not sufficient under our own power or independent to manage our own life, we are looked upon with pity. This mentality is deeply ingrained in every level of culture. It’s only natural to carry over the mindset to our spiritual lives. Jesus arrived on the scene and showed in His Christmas entrance that self-sufficiency and independence were not His mission. From birth, He demonstrated the “Not my will but yours be done” approach. Whenever Paul writes multiple letters to a church, it’s clear some issues need critical attention. Although the Corinthians were attempting to grow in the faith, they mistook natural assumptions for virtues. Jesus nowhere taught or demonstrated that we are to strive to lift ourselves by our bootstraps. And yet, the inclination to live self-sufficiently and independently as if we are above asking for help is unintentionally presented as a Christian badge of honor. The old saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” Paul’s favorite Christmas message to the Corinthians is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. If we could help ourselves, then we wouldn’t have needed Christmas. The arrival of Jesus is a clear signal that we’re helpless on our own. We’re all lost sheep who live as if we know the way.

      Paul testifies to the Corinthians that he had pleaded with God to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” Nowhere in Scripture does it clarify precisely this area of disturbance.  Perhaps this is no coincidence. Now all of us can relate to Paul whenever we have anything that makes us feel less sufficient and less independent. The answer Paul received is that through Christ, an abundance of grace enables us to become sufficient in our insufficiency. Notice how Paul shows the Corinthians that what defines us at the core of our lives matters. From preschool through doctorate programs, the rewards we receive are achievement marks. How we advance, and the worth bestowed on accomplishments is based on what we have earned by work. To the Corinthians, Paul shows Christmas establishes our identity not on merit but upon mercy. Our hope that does not disappoint isn’t found through what I can attain by qualification. The secret to a well-lived life is measured by how we learn to keep our eyes fixed on who God is. To live without God is equivalent to attempting to live without breathing. We’re not free in our independence. We’re free in our constant, unceasing dependence on Him.

      The world considers self-sufficiency harmless and is also presented as an honorable way of life. Whenever we have vulnerabilities, we attempt to conceal them, deny them, and do everything we can to pretend they are not there. If we’ve gone through episodes of weakness, we erase it from our biography. If we tell our story, the parts dealing with insufficiency and dependence are conveniently omitted, as if it happened to someone else. Because of Christmas, Paul proclaims to the Corinthians that our vulnerabilities become a source of glory for God. It’s the only thing we are permitted to boast. In our weakness, we show with honor how our strength is in our dependence on God. All the things in life that make me feel incapable are not a sign of God’s disfavor, but it’s a gracious reminder we are not in control. Our perspective turns from our insufficiency to God’s supreme sufficiency. Many disqualify themselves from the power Christ delivered at Christmas, and they sometimes spend years unable to figure out why.  We live as if self-sufficiency is our purpose.  A life that strives toward independence and sufficiency is the opposite of everything Christ represented at Christmas. To enjoy the delight of His Christmas gift, we must find our honor becoming sufficient in our insufficiency.

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December 15, 2023

Hoping Against All Hope

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

 Hebrews 12:3

        There’s a famous saying, “It’s the hope that kills you.” What the phrase means is simple. There is pain when something doesn’t turn out well, but what compounds the disappointment is hoping for the desirable. If we don’t hope for it, then when it doesn’t happen, we can at least minimize the sadness, and perhaps avoid it entirely. Go through life with the smallest expectations possible. People may classify behaviors such as lying, stealing, and murder as departures from God’s will, but despair? Is it really harmful if I keep my despair to myself? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to keep despair personal and private. How we see the world impacts our motivation for living into the plans and purposes God has called us to. It’s why we are commanded, “Do not weary in well doing.” Consider this as clear and definite as “Do not kill.” Only a glance at the Christmas story reveals that almost all the primary characters were not at risk of breaking any of the Ten Commandments, but were at risk of falling into despair. Hebrews defines faith as those who desire God must pursue Him with the expectation that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The New Testament describes our commanded position as “Hoping against all hope.” We are to live with confidence that God will follow through on extravagant promises, no matter how improbable they may seem. The reward is reserved for those who hope daringly.

     To live with minimal hope may seem harmless, but God’s people are warned how hopelessness drains the heart and renders us ineffective in fulfilling our calling. Without expectation, it is impossible to obey God or to please God. The plans and purposes of God are intended to be larger than what human reason can comprehend or live into. Nothing short of reckless hope can expect to embrace the promises. If we limit ourselves to the three-dimensional world, then we disqualify ourselves before we begin stepping into the higher dimensions God intends as the starting point. This is not restricted to the head of the class or the advanced disciple. God doesn’t take hopelessness lightly. Zachariah expressed minimal expectation when he received the promise of a son even though he was well beyond child-producing years. As a priest, he was called to proclaim a hoping-against-hope outlook. Because of all the years of disappointment, he had adopted the “hope is what kills you” outlook. After so many letdowns, protecting himself from further grief was easier. God’s reaction demonstrated that despair is not a minor spiritual ailment but can potentially unravel us.

     There is a misconception that to be spiritual is to follow some daily principles and adhere to some spiritual disciplines. If this is the extent, the church could be filled with primarily hopeless people who go through the motions. The promises of God are designed to lift us from our confining earthly dimensions into a level beyond what we can ask, think, comprehend, or imagine. To hope against hope involves stepping from the lower into the higher. God receives glory when His people embrace the impossible. The first Christmas’s characters set the tone for the standard of hope. Zachariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon, Anna, every character would experience the promise as a reality only by hoping against hope. The same standard applied when Jesus became a man and issued His call. There is no avoiding the expectation of hope. Either we live in a world where hope is fulfilled, or it is denied. There is no third option. For those who choose the hopeless option, faith is still involved. Whether we follow the way of hopefulness or hopelessness, each involves faith. To take the path of hopelessness means we have more faith in human reason than in God’s promises. If we desire to know God, all of us are required to embrace the daring path.  We must accept hope as our only option and our pathway to discovery.


December 8, 2023

      Going Without Knowing    

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

 Isaiah 42:16, Philippians 2:6-7

       What is amazing about the Christmas story is how everyone encountering Jesus must take a journey. There is a launching forth with a willingness to embrace the unfamiliar before arriving at the destination. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to when seekers would travel from darkness to light. I will lead the blind in ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths; I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth (Isaiah 42;16).  Notice how the first steps of the journey begin in darkness. The child who will become a man sets the terms for how He is discovered. With only two words, Jesus established the standard. “Follow me.” Some observed Jesus from a distance. They desired to achieve clarity by avoiding risk. This is what we are not able to do. Those who attempt to do an end around the element of risk never gain the desired clarity. It is impossible to avoid the element of trust. One of the most provocative parables Jesus told was about three stewards. Two stewards embrace risk. They are willing to travel down ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths. The path may begin in the darkness, but it escalates into brightness. Their journey may start on rough paths, but the rugged way is eventually made smooth. Notice in the story the third steward desires the results without the investment. In his avoidance of risk, he disqualifies himself from rewards of faith. 

     Perhaps the most essential element in the story is how none of the three characters are without gifts. Before the master asks them to take a single step, they are equipped with the giftedness that will enable them to have the potential. Their journey requires trust, but it is not a blind leap. No one travels without the master’s help along the way.  What does the third steward do? He treats the gifts of the master as if it is irrelevant. At the conclusion of the story, the third steward complains that the master expects his followers to accept risk. The first two stewards are complimented as they embrace the risk because they trust the master’s goodness. Even if their first steps were in unfamiliar territory, the master wasn’t hanging them out to dry. For the third steward, the gifts of the master were of value only to the extent that they were acted upon. By acting upon the knowledge they already possessed, they achieved greater recognition with each step. Their adventure was a journey of faith. Over the three years that Jesus called followers, many excuses were confronted. People demanded the awards without taking the journey. Why didn’t God make the first Christmas so easy that no one had to travel anywhere? Just remain on your couch and enjoy the benefits. What is the ultimate prize of Christmas? Philippians 2 announces that we are to let the mind of Christ be in us. What kind of mind did Jesus have that we are told to make our core identity?

     Jesus took the ultimate journey by laying aside the safety of His exalted position and launching forth into dark territory. Even before the first characters of the first Christmas arrive at Jesus’s feet, their journey’s reward is already established by their first steps. The promise is that as we begin the voyage in the darkness, the light will dawn before them as they journey forth. In Jesus’ parable, the master grieves the third steward’s unwillingness to take the first step. That steward may have viewed avoiding risk as small, but the master showed it was fatal. Jesus left the position of His privileged place, and we cannot discover or relate to His gift unless we take a journey that identifies with His movement to us. It becomes clear throughout Jesus’ life that the opposite of faith isn’t fear but the familiar. Jesus showed in His acceptance of risk that He found the joy set before Him worthy to embrace the journey on our behalf. Let us take our first steps with the confidence that whatever risk we take isn’t worthy to compare to the rewards that await us.

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December 1, 2023

Seeing Beyond the Surface

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19

Jesus came to us in glory, not glamour. The problem with glamour is that it aims to appear as glory, but only on the thin surface. Once we get beneath the surface, the glamour offers nothing to support what the heart needs. When Jesus became a man, He provided an instructive parable on why people miss kingdom glory. How is it that Jesus arrived in glory on the first Christmas, and many missed it then as many miss it now? Matthew 13 and Mark 4 offer a profound diagnosis. The term glamour only appears in two places in Scripture, and both occur in the same parable. A master sows potential with the expectation to establish abundance. With all the potential secured, what prevents it from arising? The superficial glamour of the world chokes the seed. Usually, when we think of spiritual threats, our minds imagine the dangerous extremes. The conclusion is that if we can avoid the extremes, we are close to becoming a saint. What separated Jesus from everyone who came before Him was how He showed the dangers of things most of us overlook, excuse, and consider harmless. As long as we’re not stealing or killing, what is the hazard of enjoying the superficial glamour of the world? For Jesus, glamour keeps us from receiving greater glory. It’s threatening because the risk is underestimated.

Consider the one instance in the entire Gospels when the Scripture says, “Jesus looked upon him with love.” Of course, Jesus showed love to numerous people throughout the Gospels, but the specific statement that tells us so is only in one instance. Where is the episode where it occurred? It happened when a rich, young ruler came to Jesus and asked how he could live into the glorious kingdom Jesus had proclaimed. Jesus looked upon the rich, young ruler with love and answered. What is fascinating about the conversation is how the man tells Jesus that he has followed moral guidelines rigorously since he was a young boy. Here was a person that avoided stealing and killing and everything in between. There was only one glaring problem the young man had overlooked. He was choosing glamour over glory. Until he let go of his dependence on superficial attachments, there was not enough room in the heart to receive the more enriching gifts Jesus desires us to possess. On the first Christmas, Jesus was largely unrecognized, not because of all the stealing and killing that was going on, but because superficial attachments prevent us from seeing the deeper realities Christmas intended to reveal. In the Matthew and Mark parables, Jesus uses strong language. Something with potential is getting “strangled.” That is a stunning image. Anyone hearing it would know to strangle something is to squeeze out the life slowly and gradually. It happens so quietly that it is overlooked. The potential for glory, which was there, is not even recognized.

Not only are we commanded not to lie to others, but there is also the warning not to lie to ourselves or to God. In the two parables, Jesus says it is the “deceitfulness” of superficial glamour we allow into our lives. It’s no coincidence that we are told in the strongest terms to “Guard the heart.” We are told to “Take every thought captive.” If we are not taking fierce control of what we allow into our lives, then we are susceptible to anything and everything. The danger of a deceived life is that we are distracted and don’t know it. If we did know it, then we wouldn’t be deceived. Those deceived live with a sense of false pleasure, but only for a season. Jesus will caution us to beware. When we build a life around superficial glamour, it won’t take long for the storms of life to expose the thin veneer and send it crashing down like a house of cards in the wind. Though it may seem harmless, it is a fatal threat we must guard against. Christmas comes that we might be partakers of Christ’s glory. We only receive the greater when the heart lets go of the lesser.

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November 24, 2023    

A Relentless Pursuit of Rest     

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Psalm 95:1-11, Hebrews 4:11

     There is a beauty in Scripture that no human could ever create. Only through divine inspiration do we find what seems to be direct opposites brought together in unity. A vivid example is Hebrews 4:11, where God’s people are commanded to “Strive to enter God’s rest.” Typically, when we think of rest, we imagine the opposite of striving. It’s impossible to understand the meaning of this passage unless we refer to the passage in the Old Testament it is pointing to. Rewind to Psalm 95, and here is a meditation from King David that looks back to an incident when David’s ancestors tested God in the wilderness. They hardened their hearts at Meribah when they were thirsty, and they grumbled against God. In the Psalm, David reminds his generation, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my way. So I declared an oath that they shall never enter my rest (95:10-11).” As the writer of Hebrews proclaims to a new generation over a thousand years after King David, the message is the same. If we intend to enter God’s rest, then we must strive to remain obedient. We must strive to stay faithful. We must strive to remain trusting. In this instance, striving does not refer to our work. Instead, it involves how we accept God’s promises. David’s ancestors were punished not because they didn’t work hard enough but because they refused to trust God no matter what God offered.

     When the letter of Hebrews was written, it was during a time of great uncertainty. Roman emperors persecuted the believers, and the early church was threatened. The temptation is to focus more on surrounding circumstances than on the promises of God. We are assured that God will never leave, forsake, or abandon us. God told His people if they stepped into the waters, the waves would not engulf them, and if they stepped into the fire, the flames would not burn them. Notice the running thread in this promise? There is the assurance of God’s presence and the awareness of His mighty delivering hand. God will accomplish that, but what is the human side of the equation? We are to step out in faith. When we step into the waters and the fires, through our faith and obedience, we demonstrate confidence God will keep His word. There is no false advertisement in Scripture. We live in a world where floods and fire surround us. David’s ancestors chose to grumble about the challenges and turn their anger toward God for putting them in difficult circumstances. Throughout their history, God had made clear the rains fall on the just and the unjust. What the just possess that the unjust do not possess is a reliance on God’s unceasing presence and the assurance He’ll get us to completion.

     In a world where we have established the phrase “Unfriending,” people are used to getting written off for anything. It doesn’t take much for a person to shun you, forget you, write you off, and treat you as dead. The mistake we make is to suspect God operates the way people do, that he’s just as fickle and temperamental. God endures and forbears for His people. Chronic grumbling and disobedience produce a fatal outcome to our spiritual lives. Psalm 95 clarifies the problem as the “Hardening of the heart.” When the heart is hardened, there comes a moment where it doesn’t matter how much is done; one’s expectations are never satisfied. Good things are received with ungrateful hearts, and challenge is viewed with hostile resentment. The forty years of wandering were meant to be an act of mercy. God disciplines those whom He loves. There are consequences to our chronic distrust and the hardening of the heart. God has promised us a triumphant finish. He will see it through to the end. If we’re going to enjoy the rest God provides, we must strive against a world of challenge with unwavering trust. Rest is a privilege, not a right, reserved only for the ones who strive.

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November 17, 2023

      Brought to Fullness   

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Psalm 34:8-10, Colossians 2:6-7, 9-10

       Scripture presents the human condition as having hearts with missing pieces. God has created us with a void that only He intends to complete. Anything and everything we attempt to fill that void will only produce restlessness. As St. Augustine wisely observed, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Although this is a beautiful turn of phrase, Augustine was not an original in this diagnosis. David wrote Psalm 34 while running from King Saul and hiding among the Philistines. This was a period of life when David was vividly aware of displacement. He was away from home, from family, from everything familiar. Dislocation had produced feelings of separation in every sense of the word. In this place of fracture, David discovered an unexpected gift. “Blessed are those who take refuge in God.” As a student of history, David was aware of God’s people wandering in the wilderness during the time of Moses. There are moments in life when it seems we are uprooted from our routine and pushed into abnormal circumstances. Instead of allowing his grief to define him, David sought the Lord. Like the people in the wilderness who discovered God’s sheltering wings, David realizes the gift of completion visits us when life reveals our insufficiency. The instant we are born, we enter the world with an identity that must find completion in nothing else but God. It is grace that will not allow us to find satisfaction in anything but God.

     Paul echoes this idea in the New Testament. Unlike David’s wilderness loneliness, Paul was never thrust into the desert, but Paul did spend a considerable amount of time in prison. Most of Paul’s letters were written from prison cells where he was alone. From the confines of cramped cages, Paul learned the same truth. He proclaims his discovery in the second chapter of Colossians. The phrase is stated in three words. In Christ, we are “Brought to Fullness.” Before our connection to Christ, we are deficient, lacking, and insufficient in every way imaginable. Both David and Paul will see the other side of the spectrum. David would eventually come out of the wilderness and inherit a kingly palace. Before Paul’s days in prison cells, he knew prestige as a high-ranking Pharisee. David and Paul knew the best of times and the worst of times. In the best of times, they were as deeply aware of their insufficiency as they were in the wilderness and prison. Many people are inclined to use worldly comforts and conveniences as artificial remedies to cure their incomplete heart. These earthly attractions only manage to keep us constantly distracted. It offers no cure, and the need for titillation is unceasing. Someone wise has noted the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. Every waking hour we seek a remedy to cure our nagging sense of incompletion. Try as we might, God will never permit our false forms of happiness.

     David lived during a time that could only look forward to the arrival of Jesus. All the Old Testament could offer was the principle of “Do this and live.” David found nourishment in the ways of God that did provide a measure of healing. However, even David could only anticipate greater things to come. The letter of Colossians reminds us that it is only in Christ that we are ultimately “Brought to Fullness.” The promise of completion is the inspiration for why we witness. Someone may ask, “Why do we need to testify about Christ to people following other ways of life?” The simple answer is that only in Christ do we find the fullness missing in everything else in the world. Through the centuries, missionaries have taken grave risks and made enormous sacrifices to proclaim the one who comes to offer us life more abundantly. Even to the point of jeopardizing life itself, Paul shows the gift of completion in Christ must be proclaimed. Jesus is the only one who can heal brokenness and complete us in this world and in the world to come.

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November 10, 2023

The Feet That Bring Good News

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Isaiah 52:6-10

     One book that has provoked conversation in recent years is “When Helping Hurts.” The author of this publication exposed an angle often overlooked in Christian circles. He encouraged us to see something that can be a blind spot for many of us in modern culture. We live during a time when we operate under the false promise, “You can have it all.” Scripture teaches the opposite of this concept. Jesus was clear that if we intend to live in His kingdom, it means laying aside the deceptive attractions of this world. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop us from trying. Unfortunately, the author shows that those of us who live trying to have it all; are put in a position where we take advantage of others. Spouses who try to have it all take advantage of their partners. Children who try to have it all take advantage of their parents. Church members who try to have it all take advantage of other church members. What results is referred to as the 20-80 rule, which captures the dynamic when 20% of a community ends up carrying 80% of the load while numerous others attempt to lead a false life of “having it all” The author’s point is that those of us who carry the load, whether it be for spouses, children church members or anyone else, we do neither them nor ourselves any favors. Why? No one benefits when we are complicit in reinforcing something untrue. It isn’t love to keep people operating in their delusions. When I help you in a way where the result is a deeper deception, I’ve hardly helped you at all, hence, “When Helping Hurts.”

     Isaiah 52:6-10 shows where the heavenly reward is found. Blessed are the feet that bring good news. Blessed is the one who lives into the plans and purposes God intends for us to embrace. Our calling is to accept our role as God’s ambassadors and serve as witnesses to draw others to discover the gifts God inspires for their kingdom work. These days we are mesmerized by the false Gospel, “God wants you happy.” Prosperity ministers make a career telling people what they want to hear. Nothing in Scripture affirms this, and everything in sacred teaching challenges it at every turn. The Good News of Scripture is that the only true fulfillment is achieved when we accept the plans and purposes God had for us before the creation of the world. These plans are not reachable when we attempt to have it all. Such a mindset always keeps us one step removed. Unfortunately, we can operate for years in the delusion that it is possible because we ride someone else’s coattails. In psychological terms, it’s referred to as “enabling.” One doesn’t have to be an addict to function on the receiving end of enabling. Anything that reinforces false ideas and keeps us deceived is a form of enabling. What are the feet that bring Good News? It’s the feet telling us, “Repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

     It’s undoubtedly not a coincidence the first sermon John the Baptist preaches captures Isaiah’s promise of feet bringing Good News. He announces, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Once Jesus arrives on the scene, does He proclaim something different? Jesus reiterates the exact words. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We don’t live into plans and purposes by trying to have it all. Such a mindset only deceives us into thinking we are something when we are not. Though we may continue with false beliefs for a season, eventually, there comes an awakening. Spouses can’t carry the burden forever. Parents can’t continue to shoulder the weight of obligation indefinitely. At some point, we confront the lie of trying to have it all. The house of cards will tumble into a heap. There are only two options for life. Either we live into the plans and purposes of God and become the people God intends us to be: or we spend years thinking false ideas are possible. Receive God’s Good News. Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand.

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November 3, 2023

An All-Consuming Love

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

      When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in a Nazi prison during World War II, he proclaimed that he found comfort from an unexpected source in Scripture, Song of Solomon. When people read this letter these days, they might wonder why. It seems filled with mysterious love poetry. Rather than read these passages as a reference to romantic love between a man and woman, commentators are convinced these passages are profound images of God’s love for us. In chapter 8 of the letter, there is the image of all-consuming love. One of the pitfalls of the modern world is how we seek to fulfill our need for love by pursuing human-centered affections. No human is capable of fulfilling these demands. Our need for love is unlimited, and every human is severely limited. We need someone to love us infinitely, eternally, and prevailingly without end. There is within the human heart a desperate longing to know that our lives count, that we matter; in the grand scheme of things, in a world of over seven billion people, someone can love us as if we were the only one to love. This is precisely the level of love God bestows upon us. He loves each of us as if there were only one of us. It’s not enough to claim God loves the world. Such thoughts are abstract and don’t touch us deeply enough. Yes, God loves every person who has lived, is living, or will live, but this is not a generic affection. It’s profoundly specific and meets us all heart-to-heart.

     Throughout Scripture, God is praised for a “Steadfast love that endures forever.” Only God’s love is strong enough and capable enough to love us in those moments when we don’t love ourselves. The love that is panted for in Song of Solomon, like a deer chasing the stream, is the desire to be possessed. There’s a misconception many operate under that love should set us free, make no demands, and have no strings attached. While we may assume this is true because it is popular, our hearts reveal a need that our heads would prefer to deny. There’s a passionate thirst that someone will desire us as their heart’s most valuable treasure. We don’t merely desire affection; we want an all-consuming affection. Anything less doesn’t provide our identity the significance and worth the soul is aching to receive. In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lost things. Notice two similarities in the parables. First, it’s not lost things that are longing to be found. Instead, it is the seeker that is longing to retrieve the lost. Second, it’s not the loss that throws a party after it is found. Instead, it is the finder who celebrates that what was cone disconnected has now been reclaimed and claimed as one’s own.

     Song of Solomon expresses the desire for someone to chase us with a relentless passion. It’s a love that knows no limits. It will stop at nothing to claim the treasure of affection. In Luke 15, the Shepherd will stop at nothing to reclaim the lost sheep. The woman will turn the entire house upside down to recover the lost coin. The father will stand moment by moment, gazing tirelessly at the horizon. This is love that will not quit, will not rest, and will not diminish. The fall in Genesis shows that after sin entered, humans concealed themselves and attempted to hide from God. However, we’re like children who are hiding, but we desire someone to find us. The heart aches that someone will show by the chase that our lives are worthy of the pursuit. Scripture reminds us of the joy set before Him Jesus endured. He didn’t accept sacrifice out of duty, obligation, or necessity. He chases His beloved for the sheer pleasure of returning what belongs to Him. Say what we will about how freedom involves letting us run free; no one in their heart of hearts really wants this. There is no replacement for all-consuming love. We cannot love ourselves this way; no other human being can love us this way. We need nothing less than an infinite, eternal, and triumphant love. It’s available without limits only from Jesus.

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October 27, 2023

    A Voice Above the Noise  

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

Isaiah 30:21, 47:13-15

           Isaiah 30:21 and 47:13-15 represent two ways of life. In Isaiah 30:21, God reveals heaven’s desire to serve as a source of guidance in our life. Our journey through this world will not be left to our own devices, but a voice over our shoulder will say, “This is the way. Walk in it.” Notice God reveals the path, but we are required to willingly and obediently walk in it. When we obey God’s course, we move toward abundance and well-being. If we are untrue to the path, we move toward scarcity and ultimate hardship. Over the period of Isaiah’s ministry, there was not much success.  Isaiah’s ministry took place during one of the lowest points in the history of God’s people. These prophecies occur right before the Babylonian invasion and the people getting carried into exile for nearly the next 70 years. Some would never return home again. We get a glimpse of what led to this downfall in Isaiah 47. Rather than heed the Lord’s voice which declares, “This is the way walk in it,” they decide to follow the inferior voices of other humans. The people called to represent God were more concerned about fitting in with the world, so they followed the sorely misguided counsel. This wrong direction would lead them astray.  They found conflict instead of peace, frustration instead of joy and constant fear instead of hope.

     Our lives are defined by the voices we choose to follow. From the moment we are born, voices are clamoring for our attention and loyalty. It’s not a matter of forging our own path through life. Everyone follows some form of counsel. It’s a matter of whether the counsel is of the Lord or the world. The times we occupy are not so different from the times Isaiah witnessed. Then, and now, is the temptation to be liked, to be affirmed, to be popular, to gain advantage, to acquire comfort, to seek benefit. The things of the world are like the vapor and are destined to fade away. Only the Lord can provide prosperity that endures through time in all conditions and situations. God had proven in the days of Moses how even in the wilderness, God could bring blessing. The voice of the Lord can lead us to refreshment and renewal even in places where everything seems contrary. Though we are surrounded by barrenness on every side, if we heed the voice over our shoulder and walk in it, we are led to places of satisfaction. In Isaiah 47, the people chose voices they thought were easy and convenient. With worldly voices, we operate as if we can get what we want while nothing is asked of us. This is false and is nothing more than a mirage in the desert. It may look enticing from a distance, but when we attempt to drink from it, we find nothing but emptiness and chronic dissatisfaction. False voices make extravagant promises but fail to deliver any results.

      Rewind to Genesis, and this was the result of the fall. One voice provided counsel that there is enjoyment if God’s ways are honored. When we are given the path of the Lord and obediently walk in it, there will be pleasures forevermore. The other voice insists we can take what we want, how we want, in any way we want. Serve as your own master. Operate as if you are captain of your own destiny. Function as if your preferences determine the future. Competing voices. One is true, and one is false. One asks for commitment, and the other advertises unbounded self-derived freedom. There is no such thing in this world as self-derived freedom. Everyone serves something; the only question is what voice calls the shots in our life. Isaiah 30 shows the voice over our shoulder is the voice of a tyrant or a stern commander. This is the voice of a friend, a Shepherd who desires nothing but the highest good for our lives. Everyone in this world follows a voice. The voice we follow will define our life. There are only two choices. Life isn’t as complicated as we make it. Beware if the voice we follow doesn’t ask anything of us, it doesn’t offer anything either.

October 20, 2023

Bound by Love’s Strong Cord  

Jeremiah 13:11, Matt 11:29

      There was a spiritual retreat held recently in North Carolina. People from several denominations were in attendance. One of the activities at the retreat was an obstacle course challenge. This obstacle course was unique because it involved two people cooperating, bound together with a rope. It was a profound reminder that we don’t travel as mavericks in church life. We are bound together by covenant. How we travel will depend on how we take one another into consideration. Although this is a creative activity to teach this lesson, it certainly isn’t unique to the 21st century. The line “Bound by Love’s Strong Cord” was composed in 1886 by Russell Carter from his hymn, “Standing on the Promises.” He was an instructor at a military academy. Instilled within the soldier’s mind is the mentality of mutuality and dependence. No one thrives independently and in isolation. Russell Carter’s exposure to military training brought to mind our supreme reliance on binding ourselves to Christ. We do not travel through this world alone. Any chance we have to survive and thrive requires the confidence to walk through life with one who is qualified and competent to lead us where we need to go. A strong, loving cord binds us. The image of love’s cord assures us that Jesus will never leave us, forsake us, or abandon us.

     Though this hymn captures the thought, it too is not unique. Rewind to Jeremiah 13:11. God gives the people this picture of God binding Himself to the people with a strong cord. God desired to love the people with an unbreakable connection. They were assured that through dependence on God’s expectations, they would align themselves with a leader who would see them through to completion. It was the strongest guarantee God could provide that they would never be steered in the wrong direction. When we arrive at the New Testament, how does Jesus describe relationships? He describes it with love’s strong cord. The invitation is for His people to take upon them a loving yoke whereby Jesus is given the authority to accompany us along life’s way. We are bound to Him so that where He goes, we go. It’s not a matter of simply following Jesus as He stays ahead of us, and we’re staggering along, attempting to remain close. For Jesus, He desires that we bind ourselves inseparably with Him. Throughout Scripture, there are warnings given about grieving the Spirit. Whenever we attempt to conduct our lives as if we are independent and have a right to operate by self-preference, love’s strong cord reminds us that Jesus is in control. We are not independent but dependent.

     Peace does not come by attempting to lead a no-strings-attached life. The modern world would have us believe the best way to live is to cast off whatever constrains us. No one should bind us to anything. To live this way is to lead a life without covenant. It’s to operate as if we never make promises or vows to anyone. Nothing binds us or constrains us. How is such a mentality associated with love, much less God’s love? God has no intention of loving us by casting off all that binds. This isn’t asking for more, but much less. Peace does not come from leading an unattached life. Traveling as if we’re our own master and captain of our destiny is not where serenity of heart and mind emerges. Jesus combined peace of mind with tying ourselves to Him with His strong cord. The blessing of restfulness doesn’t come to those living as mavericks. Restfulness results from knowing we are bound to a friend who refuses to let us go. It is not us pulling Jesus along, but we are walking in alignment with Him. Jesus said we would love Him when we obey Him. As we stay in step with Jesus, we are assured He leads us to a place where His promises are fulfilled. Jesus said it’s His desire to lead us to the place where our joy is made complete. Put on His strong cord of love, and He will give us rest. His peace comes no other way.

Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, NC

October 13, 2023

Letting the Shepherd Lead


Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, Psalm 23


In one of the counseling courses I had in seminary, the professor gave us a simple but revealing semester project. Over 14 weeks we would keep a daily calendar record of our emotions. It was during that experience I discovered how our emotions fluctuate like a roller coaster. This is true for any person but especially one who is attempting to move forward with recovery. An essential perspective to establish at the onset is to prepare for a path of highs and lows. Too often our temptation is to measure the success of recovery based on inner feelings. If we feel good, then we consider our progress a success. If we feel bad, then we believe our progress a failure. Following feelings as a barometer will give one the impression there are two steps backward for every step forward. Consider how the tendency toward discouragement is one of the underlying causes which leads to false solutions that started the hang-ups we are attempting to move beyond in the first place. In this instance, the remedy becomes part of the problem, and one’s depression from seeing recovery as a failure will lead behavior back into prisons we are trying to escape.
Psalm 23 provides the cure. There are 150 Psalms in Scripture, but it’s Psalm 23 that has emerged through the centuries as the Psalm of all Psalms. Is there a single passage which has provided more uplift and encouragement in times of distress and loss? Perhaps the element which speaks whether we are conscious of it or not is the way Psalm 23 represents life in all circumstances. There are moments we are by still waters. There are moments we are in dark valleys. There are moments we are in green pastures. There are moments we are dining at tables in the presence of our enemies. What the Psalm advocates is a shift in mindset. We are not to take our clues of progress from our circumstances nor are we to find them in our inner states based on our circumstances. It was Oswald Chambers who wisely noted the two biggest spiritual distractions we face in our journey is success and failure. When I’m in green pastures, and by still streams I tend to focus more on the attractions and forget the Shepherd who leads. When I’m in dark valleys, and in the presence of my enemies I tend to focus on grief and forget the Shepherd who leads.
The realization of Psalm 23 is that the one praying these words has committed to trust the Shepherd rather than feelings. Life offers its share of green pasture moments, and it offers its share of dark valley moments. If we depend on feelings, life will fluctuate erratically like the swinging pendulum of a clock. In this Psalm, the decision is that whether it’s desirable circumstances or undesirable circumstances, pleasant feelings or unpleasant feelings, we will trust the unseen hand that leads rather than where we are at any given time. More important than where we are is who is traveling with us. Notice the Shepherd accomplishes all the action verbs of this Psalm: He makes, He leads, He comforts, He prepares, He anoints. It’s His object to direct, and it’s our object to respond accordingly. Genuine progress isn’t determined by whether we have more pleasant and desirable days than unpleasant and undesirable days. What measures progress is a person who can rise above one’s circumstances and feelings and trust the unseen hand which is always present. There is a love that is strong enough to take control if we allow it to. If we can look at our emotional calendar record and notice how we are learning to entrust well being to our Good Shepherd, we can be sure whether we’re in light or in the darkness; we are always striding forward. Put your hand in the hand of the Good Shepherd and trust Him fully to take the lead.

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October 6, 2023

The Driving Force  

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

  Song of Solomon 3:1-4, II Cor 5:14-15

             Paul announces to the Corinthians an urgent message of compelling love. For Paul, it’s not a matter of whether something drives us. The question is, what drives us, and what is the destination? One of the most overlooked letters in all Scripture is the obscure letter, “Song of Solomon.” It’s unfortunate this letter is ignored because in this letter are some of the most profound images of compelling love in the Bible. In the 3rd chapter, we get a picture of compelling love as it drives a person to search relentlessly for a wayward companion in the midnight hour. This is evidence of compelling love. It creates a desire to reach beyond yourselves. We sacrifice ourselves for a goal of love that is worthy. What was the problem of the Corinthians who needed to hear a message of compelling love? Did they mistake self-serving behavior for love? If they did, they wouldn’t be the first, and they wouldn’t be the last. This is a human problem. We give in to our compulsions that are nothing more than self-serving actions and justify it by calling it love. Paul speaks of the way Jesus first gives Himself for us. Jesus is the source of our love. His sacrifice on our behalf is what inspires us to show gratitude. The love of Christ compels us. We are not performing any act of sacrifice that Christ did not perform first. Anything we offer is return for the favor first bestowed as gift. Our response shows we recognize the value of what we received.

     The lover in Song of Solomon commentators believe is not an image of us but is an image of God pursuing His beloved. The Shepherd is leaving the ninety-nine to recklessly and relentlessly pursue the wayward one. This passionate Shepherd will stop at nothing. For the joy set before Him, this Shepherd will accept the strain because of the driving force to obtain the heart of His beloved. The chase is the gift. The investment is a visible sign of the heart’s devotion. In Song of Solomon, the one doing the chasing encounters a night watchman. There is no desire on the part of the pursuer to contain emotions. This is not a person attempting to remain calm, cool, and collected. They wear their heart on their sleeve. What will the neighbors think seeing me scour the highways and hedges at midnight? Why all this commotion? If we set out to love only if we can remain dignified, then we’d better avoid love altogether. Song of Solomon shows love compels us to do uncomfortable and inconvenient things. It produces urges within us to lay aside our preferences, personal desires, individual wants, and self-serving wishes, all for the higher good of bestowing honor upon another. The chase demonstrates the worthiness and supreme value of love.  True affection doesn’t exempt us from sacrifice., but empowers it.

     Modern culture has it all distorted. We speak of love as if it inspires a “no strings attached” mentality. If you love me, you will leave me alone, let me do whatever I want, and affirm whatever I find preferable. Love isn’t the absence of sacrifice. Love isn’t the absence of laying aside self-serving behavior for something greater and higher than one’s own elevation. When love compels us, there is a drive to enable the betterment of another by accepting that their remedy comes at the expense of our self-giving. Philippians 2 announces Jesus didn’t consider His secure position within heaven as something to grasp for His own advantage. He laid aside personal advantage. Like the lover in Song of Solomon, He made Himself vulnerable by launching forth into the darkness. He exposed Himself. The pursuit of the beloved requires nothing less. Once the wayward is found, what is the only proper response for the one who has been relentlessly pursued? The passion it took to pursue them should inspire a comparable passion of gratitude in return. The love that compelled you to chase me now compels me to show thanks.  Only the compelled show by actions they really understand love’s gifts.

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September 29, 2023

Cut To The Heart  

    Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  

John 16:8, Acts 2:37, Hebrews 4;12

      Imagine we need a critical life-saving procedure. Once we arrive in the surgical room, we demand the physician operate without making any incisions. If this is our expectation, then by rejecting the cut, we also reject the cure. Even in the medical realm, there is no healing until the necessary incision begins the renewal process. Consider the profound statement in Acts 2:37. It occurs after the crowd has heard Peter preaching a stirring sermon. The passage says the audience was “Cut to the heart.” After they were cut to the heart, they asked, “What must we do to be saved?” Scripture has a name for this cutting of the heart. The necessary incision is called “Conviction.” When we experience conviction, we undergo what is described by Hebrews 4:12. Like Peter’s sermon the crowd heard that day, the Word of God has a capability like a two-edged knife cutting us to the heart. Perhaps for the first time, we see ourselves as God sees us. In all its stark corruption compared to God, our sin is exposed and laid bare. To receive the remedy, we must first become aware of the extent of our crisis. We have a fatal condition that only open-heart surgery can correct. This isn’t a problem that minor treatment can restore. Nothing less than critical attention is required. Conviction cuts us to the heart, and we are inspired to accept the cutting that precedes the total work of renewal. We look beyond the short-term to the higher goal of ultimate well-being.

     Would we find a physician loving if they refused to perform an incision because the cutting caused us discomfort and even pain? Any physician worth their salt realizes the greater good is devoted to our ultimate recovery. The short-term wounds produced from the cutting are viewed as the necessary and irremovable component of creating restoration. By avoiding the cutting, we are left with a fatal condition that if not corrected, will lead to perishing. The wise physician will look past our uninformed and immature protests. You will thank me later, even if you presently lack the understanding to comprehend the bigger picture. To those who are unaware, the Gospel is deemed an offense. It must first lay our hearts bare, delivering the bad news of our terminal condition before it gets to the good news of what restoration provides. Good news is viewed as no news if we don’t think we have a terminal condition. We don’t need it and therefore don’t care about it. The diagnosis is viewed as a necessity only for the person aware of their helplessness and hopelessness outside of treatment. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t what I desired to hear. It wasn’t what I preferred to hear. Nevertheless, it was what I needed to hear. My highest interest is to embrace the way of life and to avoid the way of death. The physician must do whatever is necessary for healing. Maturity loves us by seeing beyond what we are now to what we can become.

     Modern culture lacks big-picture understanding. We prefer immediate gratification. Tell me how to experience comfort and avoid anything unpleasant that will reduce my delight in the here and now. Conviction is that which loves us too much to allow our immaturity to settle for less, not more. True love must accept the kicking and screaming from the uninformed. Any parent who has cut the heart of a child realizes immaturity can’t set the standard. Immediate gratification can define the terms. Short-sighted temporary pleasures that disappear like vapor can’t be what represent the foundation of our lives. If it is, then we are building on sand destined to collapse. Recovery is attractive, and everyone desires renewal on the other side of a surgical procedure. What is not desired is the necessary and unavoidable incision that is the first step toward restoration. There is no healing until we are cut to the heart first. Open heart surgeries that give new life are received only by those who know they need it. We embrace cuts that produce our ultimate cure.

September 22, 2023

September 15, 2023

September 8, 2023

A Love that Commands

September 1, 2023

August 18, 2023

     Surpassing All Understanding  

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, NC

John 14:27

     Scripture makes a sharp distinction between true peace and false peace. Why is there urgent warning over speaking peace where there is no peace? Sometimes it’s easy to mistake false peace for true peace because we base peace on the absence of problems. Consider the seven churches of Revelation. The churches which were proclaiming false peace were enjoying the absence of conflict. The church, which was proclaiming true peace, was experiencing challenges. Those who were compromising beliefs had the wrong impression since they were avoiding difficulty; it must be a sign of God’s pleasure. They concluded incorrectly. Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:27 the peace He came to provide doesn’t resemble the world’s peace. The peace of Jesus surpasses the understanding. This doesn’t mean, however, that the peace of Jesus is left as an unknowable mystery. He told His disciples we would experience His fullness when we abide with His words and His words abide in us. Therefore, the peace of Jesus must align with His authority. We can test whether we are living in true peace by how closely our lives align with Scripture’s teachings. When Jesus confronts the seven churches of Revelation, He measures them by how closely they are in step with His commandments. Peace is an indirect result of obedience. We don’t seek peace, but we seek compliance with Jesus’ expectations. When that is our highest priority, then peace is a by-product. If peace is the ultimate goal rather than obedience, then compromise is easier, and we get neither.

     How does the peace of Jesus surpass the understanding? The only peace found in the world is dependent on conditions. When everything around us is comfortable, then we are comfortable. If everything turns uncomfortable, then we are uncomfortable. All the world can provide is tied to circumstances, but not for Jesus. He can provide peace when everything around us is contrary to peace. The churches in Revelation living in compromise believed wrongly that God was pleased because their circumstances were comfortable. What they were experiencing was false peace. They were lulled into complacency and were in danger of losing the light of their lamp. As for the church that was experiencing challenge, they enjoyed true peace and gave witness to something higher than what the world provides. The world didn’t give this peace and can’t take it away. Only the peace of Christ flows on even when everything around us is the opposite of peace. We don’t measure peace by our circumstances, and we don’t measure peace by our feelings. Our only accurate measure for true peace is how closely our lives abide by Jesus’s desires. There is never true peace if our highest priority is less than giving the highest glory to Jesus above pursuing worldly comforts.  We can gain all that and lose our soul.

     If false peace weren’t a severe problem, then Scripture wouldn’t go out of its way to warn us. It is easy to mistake our circumstances, and it is easy to make conclusions based on feelings. These can be mistaken and often misinterpreted, leading us down misguided paths. Frequently in the history of God’s people, they mistook the absence of conflict as the pleasure of God. Despite the continued proclamations of the prophets, the people would insist on making decisions based on surrounding circumstances or inner feelings. God told them false peace has an expiration date. We’ll know we only possess peace the world provides when we find how easily it fades away. Circumstances and feelings are fickle and change often. What doesn’t change is the promise that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Since we have been given an unshakable salvation, we worship God with reverence and honor. Only when we aim to honor God with obedience will we enjoy the unshakable peace passing all understanding.

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August 11, 2023

Be Of Good Cheer
Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro
John 16:33


The four Gospels capture Jesus performing about three dozen miracles. John’s Gospel reminds us Jesus performed much more than what is recorded. When we think of a miracle, we typically have a standard idea in mind. However, one of the forgotten miracles made available to us is in John 16:33 when Jesus commands His followers, “Be of good cheer.” No miracle is needed to show cheer in favorable situations. Jesus stated firmly that in this world are unfavorable conditions, but “Be of good cheer.” When Jesus impresses upon us something we should do, it is also something we could do. If it isn’t something we could do, then it would make sense for Jesus to command His followers to fly. A command is only legitimate to the extent that the command is capable of application. When we say it must be something we could do, it doesn’t suggest our power qualifies us. Jesus knows if left to ourselves, we can’t maintain cheer even in the best circumstances. We get bored. We get distracted. We get fickle. He enables something entirely different and something we cannot do without supernatural inspiration. Jesus made no false promotion. He doesn’t offer an unrealistic evaluation of the world. The present realm isn’t our destiny, nor is our current situation God’s ultimate plan and purpose. We are awaiting the fulfillment of a new heaven and earth. While it’s true the kingdom is among us, Jesus is also seeing us through to His completion.


Jesus can command His followers to be of good cheer because Jesus enables us to live in the awareness that He has overcome the world. Because Jesus has overcome the world, He empowers us to live as more than conquerors. Just as Jesus told Lazarus to come forth from a tomb, we can rise from the spiritual despair and death that harsh conditions produce. Unpleasant and undesirable conditions provoke us to draw upon capacities beyond human ability. There is nothing within our nature qualified to express uncontainable cheer. Anyone can roll stones uphill. That doesn’t require a miracle. On the one side are people who are cheerful in comfortable situations. On the other side are people who are gritting their teeth in conditions they resent. Despite their resentment, they muster on going through the spiritual motions. Neither of these expressions demonstrates the power of Christ. The forgotten miracle is presented in Scripture just as impressive as Lazarus coming forth from a tomb. We are brought forth from places of darkness and defeat. Through Christ, we express authentic joy in the face of circumstances that would prove crushing otherwise.

How ironic that we live in a culture where unbelief is escalating. As secular outlooks increase, another characteristic is on the rise at the same time, addictions. This is no coincidence. Even as we say we don’t believe with our minds, we cannot repress the longing to believe with our hearts. Addiction confirms how desperate the heart is to pursue something this world cannot fulfill. Addictions of whatever variety represent the attempt to escape from the world when conditions are undesirable. For a moment, we can experience an ecstasy that provides false solace. Unfortunately, it can’t last. Though we may try to hide, reality will always find us. Jesus declares that what we most need isn’t escape from this world but an encounter with His world. This realm is not a true home. We are pilgrims and wanderers in search of an appointed destiny. Signs and wonders empowered the witness of the disciples. Right alongside these signs and wonders was the ability to become the miracle. Every time a follower of Christ shows good cheer in the face of unfavorable circumstances, we give witness to what only intervention makes possible. Jesus intends His people to live out the power of rising from the spiritual dead. Come forth from confining places of darkness and despair and step into otherworldly cheer only Christ can enable.

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July 28, 2023

Vessels of Victory  

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

 II Corinthians 5:11-21

One of the greatly underestimated temptations is to go through life viewing oneself as a victim. To carry a victim mentality is to operate under the mindset that we have been cheated. The Psalmist proclaimed, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (16:5-6).” Not so for the person who believes they have been dealt an inferior hand. Wasn’t this the issue of the third steward in Jesus’ parable when the steward converses with the master? The steward accused the master of reaping where he didn’t so. It’s hard to live the fullness of the Christian life with an underlying suspicion God has short-sold us. Compare that mentality with Paul’s message in II Corinthians 5. We have been reconciled with God to become vessels of reconciliation for others. If something can pour forth from me onto others, then I need to view the gifts of my life as worthy of overflowing. That’s impossible to do if I’m comparing my life with others and estimating the measure of my life as inferior. Rather than operate as a vessel for good things, I will carry a silent sense of envy, jealousy, and resentment for having less when others have more. Jesus showed to maintain this mentality might seem harmless, but it is potentially fatal, and it certainly reduces the good things God would supply if we renounced the victim mentality. We must ask ourselves what defines us, our experience, or God’s reconciling mercy?

The all-sufficiency of God’s reconciling work enables us to move past whatever baggage our past involves. Maybe we did have unfair things that happened to us, but once we are reconciled to God, we have a new identity. Whenever the memory of the past is stirred, we must focus on God’s power to make all things new. It’s possible to sabotage the future by refusing to let go of the past. God’s reconciling power is to renovate whatever life has left fractured. If we continue to live as jaded people, then we allow the past to dictate the future, even if we profess we believe in the power of reconciliation. A clear signal of whether we are living into the new identity God has given us will show itself through our desire to see others reconciled to God. If we continue to resent others, and harbor jealousy in our hearts for what our neighbor has that we lack, then we have failed to view rightly the riches God places in our lives. Once we receive the gift of reconciliation, we will overflow as vessels of victory. That which was once fractured is now made whole. This is not to say no memories of past hurts remain, but we can view them differently.

For many of us, the primary reason joy proves elusive is that we approach spirituality too self-centered. Blessings aren’t meant to be restricted to ourselves but poured forth. We are blessed to become a blessing. We are reconciled to God to become vessels of reconciliation. As we pour forth onto others what God has poured into us, we will notice the identity of reconciliation hold. Those open to becoming vessels of victory can release the chains the past once held. This in no way excuses whatever happened to us. Believers aren’t people who shrug their shoulders at abuse. However, we also do not allow the past to dictate the future. Bad things have occurred that we didn’t deserve, but those bad things we weren’t responsible for can become worse things we are responsible for based on how we respond. We are not to allow the sun to set on our anger. The pain you caused me was your responsibility. My resentment that I stoke and refuse to release is not on you but on me. God’s miracle of reconciliation is to take a fractured life and make it whole. Those who experience this blessing don’t attempt to hoard it for themselves but pour it forth even upon those who did them wrong. We will indeed know we are living into the triumphant life God has prepared for us when we are vessels of His victory.

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July 21, 2023

Strength In Simplicity
Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Luke 12:16-21
The modern mindset operates under the assumption “more is better.” Such a way of viewing life isn’t new but reflects the human condition. Jesus shows that the desire for more isn’t a characteristic of strength but severe weakness. Consider the parable Jesus told in Luke 12. The lead character looks over his holdings in this story and decides to go bigger. His current possessions are inadequate as he thinks about the future. Here is an expression of anxiety rather than security. It’s no wonder his heart fails even before the night is over. There is no rest in accumulation. No matter how much is acquired, it is never enough. Do you wonder how Jesus’ audience heard this teaching? In that part of the world, drought and famine weren’t uncommon. Throughout Scripture, God’s people dealt with incidents of scarcity on numerous occasions. Isn’t this character only thinking responsibly? Most of the time, greed and self-centeredness never strike the heart as obvious wrongs. We excuse the behavior as “staying prepared.” The only problem is that our understanding of proper preparation easily justifies getting larger and larger. Justification is made for excess, which we don’t need and will never use. Compounding the compulsion is a society that keeps us agitated by making us think our wants are needs. Billions spent on advertising have escalated the standard of living to the point that what’s considered only middle class would have been regarded as exuberant wealth in Jesus’ day. No one rich ever admits it, nor believes their holdings are more than average, at best.
Jesus uses a strong word in diagnosing the mentality of this character, “foolish.” Nowhere in the parable is there a motivation to acquire things he doesn’t think he needs. The rationale is to expand his possessions for what he thinks are only urgently pressing necessities. From the perspective of God, these so-called urgent necessities are far more than genuine contentment. It doesn’t produce legitimate satisfaction or lead to authentic quietness of heart and mind. The soul is in a chronic state of unrest. Whatever he possesses, it’s never enough. He can’t enjoy his possessions because he fears losing them. Or, he looks into the future and believes whatever he has will prove inadequate later. For Jesus, there is an inseparable connection between simplicity and strength. When life is driven by the need to acquire more and more, strength is the last thing we discover. Instead, the heart is preoccupied with what it views as insufficiency and can fixate on nothing else. It’s the first thought upon awakening, and it is the last thought before a night of restlessness. It’s no coincidence the character is alone throughout the parable. The conversation is only with oneself. Even in the presence of others, the preoccupied person is never genuinely relational. One’s mind is too consumed with insecurity to be present with anyone. Our thoughts are dominated by what we have that we might lose and over what we don’t have that will leave us desperate.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus with a sense of agitation. Something was elusive in his life, no matter how much he acquired. Jesus counseled the restless soul that genuine strength is found only through downsizing. The young man departed with grief. He could not cast off the chains of dependence that had him shackled. Nothing more in Scripture is mentioned about what became of the rich young ruler. Jesus provides hope when He tells the disciples how hard it is for the rich to find the kingdom because they are compulsively addicted to possessions, even at the expense of their health. The good news is that through God, all things are possible. We may attempt to surround ourselves with acquisitions, but through grace, God will not allow it to offer us genuine peace. In those moments when pain grips our chest, and bigger gets exposed, heaven sends a message to surrender the false and embrace what’s true.

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July 14, 2023

A Peculiar People  

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  Titus 2:14, I Peter 2:9

When my daughter was in kindergarten, we took a trip to one of the North Carolina aquariums. We encountered an Amish family as we made our way through the exhibits. All of them were dressed in standard attire, which was noticeable in the crowd. My daughter, who was only five then, asked, “Why are they different?” From the beginning, God’s people were called to represent a community that was set apart to stand apart. There was no false advertising on the part of the New Testament. Paul proclaims to young Timothy, “Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from worldly passions and to purify for Himself a people of His own possession.” Peter will capture it this way. “The Lord has chosen you to be a peculiar people unto Himself.” Just as that Amish family stood out because of their attire, God’s people are to stand out from the rest of the world by the uniqueness of their values and conduct. There is much which falls under the category of “worldly passions” that is legal and acceptable from the natural point of view. However, for a people empowered to set apart to stand apart, what is legal and acceptable may not always align with God’s desires. Believers are told in no uncertain terms a simple way to measure whether we are following God’s ways. Do we look strange to the unbelieving world? Our public behavior and conduct as Christ’s disciples provoke those to ask, “Why are they different?”  We are to witness to a  pleasure higher than the world’s.

One of the great hindrances for many is the fear of appearing odd to others. While a person may have an attraction to following Christ, they are only willing to remain committed up to a point. Once looking weird to others is a possibility, there is a tendency to go in one of two directions. The first option is to align with the unbelieving world and arrange our behavior and conduct with the priority of pleasing the world. The second option is to claim belief but maintain our relationship with Christ in secret. Keeping our light under a bushel isn’t an alternative. Jesus was firm that a servant isn’t above the master. If they opposed and rejected Jesus, we can’t expect to possess a faith isolated from negative attention. At some point, faith is tested, and a decision of loyalty is required. The New Testament views loyalty to Jesus as our highest source of joy and fulfillment. When we make compromises, we settle for less and disqualify ourselves from God’s blessings for the faithful. If comfort and convenience are the goal, peace and satisfaction will remain out of reach. Both Paul and Peter view the possibility of rejection as something honorable to endure. For those unwilling to maintain convictions in the face of opposition, we must ask ourselves if God is truly our highest love and source of joy

If our values are not viewed as bafflingly out of step with the mainstream, those who claim belief need to reevaluate. When we align our lives with God, we will move from the category of ordinary to the category of extraordinary. To be a “peculiar” people for God means to appear odd, strange, bizarre, even weird, from the world’s point of view. Our temptation is to aim for our belief cake and to eat it too. We want all the benefits from faith in Christ: assurance, peace, well-being, and empowering sense of hope. On the other hand, we want to maintain a public identity in our school, workplace, community, and nation, which looks no different from the mainstream. This is equivalent to taking a torch in the darkness and putting a blanket over it. Jesus calls us to represent light in a world engulfed in spiritual darkness and blindness. Until a witness reveals something different, how is Christianity perceived as superior? Believers give witness to enjoyments higher and greater than worldly passions. Those afraid to stand apart must ask, “Have we truly experienced the joy only Jesus can give?” If we have experienced that joy our witness will overflow with an uncontainable fullness.

July 7, 2023

    Present Yourself As One Approved   

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro  

John 5:44

If we’re not careful, we tend to divide life into two categories: the harmful and the harmless. Sometimes actions get grouped in the harmless category that Jesus estimated very differently. One of these actions is the validation we seek from humans. Here’s something which doesn’t seem threatening to our faith as does lying, cheating, or stealing. What’s so wrong with desiring approval? For Jesus, it’s not only potentially harmful, but it strikes at the very heart of our belief. A warning which doesn’t get the attention it deserves is found in John 5:44. In this passage, Jesus confronts a group of people who have trouble believing in Him. Jesus provides a profound diagnosis concerning the hindrance to their faith. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes only from God?‘ When we seek human approval, Jesus reveals how it expresses what we truly believe, regardless of what we profess with words. I may claim belief in God, but if my actions seek validation from humans, Jesus exposes the inconsistency. “How can you believe?” is a sharp and piercing question. Genuine belief in God is not only difficult, but it is impossible as long as we seek attention, approval, or affirmation from anyone than God alone.  It’s fatal because we quickly excuse it.

Scripture calls us this: “Present ourselves as one approved.” We are to live where our spiritual life’s dignity, honor, and confidence speak for themselves. Of course, we should not intentionally attempt to provoke people or instigate their hostility. On the other hand, by remaining faithful to God alone, Jesus was clear that if they rejected Him, they would reject followers who look like Him. We are tempted to have our spiritual cake and eat it too. There is self-assurance in living with the conviction God’s blessing is upon us. At the same time, we’d also like to maintain the popularity and prestige which come with high estimation from our peers. It’s human nature to like to be liked and love to be loved. Jesus clarified the danger of seeking approval because genuine faithfulness requires us to make choices. We cannot expect to do an end around the loyalty question. In this world, we cannot have it both ways. “How can you believe?” exposes how glory from humans and glory from God are not the same. There are moments when we must make a choice. Otherwise, spirituality gets compromised, and we deceive ourselves that God is pleased when only humans are pleased. Not all incidents of human pleasure are compatible with God’s pleasure. Examine the context of John 5, and we see the approval this audience received was from the religious community. Jesus showed how dangerous it is to our spirit when we mistake human approval for God’s approval.  The religious community of the day was misguided, and in the end, no matter how sincere they were, it was wrong. 

Ultimately, our witness is to stand firm on faith. Our only concern and singular motive is to present ourselves as approved by God alone. Sometimes rejection from the world is the highest compliment we can receive. Likewise, approval from the world is the highest contradiction to genuine belief. If our beliefs receive more approval and affirmation than Jesus’, we should pause and reevaluate. Jesus didn’t seek rejection, nor did He instigate hostility to make people angry. Instead, He was consistent with the truth. In the end, Jesus said only the truth would set us free. There is nothing more slavishly binding than the dependence on approval from others. It will consume us, blind us, and ultimately deceive us. No matter what other virtues we possess, this will eventually darken our understanding and prove fatal to our relationship with God. Jesus used strong words and was piercingly direct when it mattered. Belief is tied to approval and dilemmas are impossible to avoid.  We must decide what approval matters more to us humans or God’s alone.

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June 30, 2023

For Every Action There’s A Reaction

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, James 1:3-4, Hebrews 12:15

Isaac Newton’s famous observation was one of the principles we learned in science during high school. “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Long before Newton recognized this principle at work in physics, it was presented in Scripture as foundational for spiritual maturity and growth. Many believers are blindsided and frustrated when unexpected challenges arise. The unavoidable question emerges, if Christianity brings difference, then why do believers have the same problems as unbelievers? Jesus promised that as believers, we have access to His “Counselor” Spirit and are “Sanctified in Truth.” Our identity isn’t shaped or determined by what happens to us. Instead, we are shaped by our reactions to what happens to us. Hebrews cautions us to allow no bitterness to overtake us. When the letter of James promises wisdom, there is no false advertising. It is assumed from the beginning rains will fall on the just and the unjust. In a fallen world, difficulties and hardships will occur. However, we don’t have to become bitter; we can become better. Hearts can become deeper. Love can become sweeter. Devotion can become purer. We are commanded to let “perseverance finish its work so that you be complete, not lacking anything.”

In my life, I prefer maturity and growth without challenge. I want the deeper heart, the sweeter love, and the purer devotion, but without anything which would stretch or strain me to new heights. James reminds us the testing place is the resting place. The alternative is a life tossed about like the waves of the sea. We are riddled with anxiety, wondering what difficulty we might face next. To receive anything from the Lord means we approach God with the confidence that He desires to provide every good and perfect gift. Our focus isn’t on the possible trauma but on the guaranteed treasure. “Do not let bitterness overtake you” isn’t proclaimed as an option. This is a command. How we respond to the things that happen to us is the source of our identity. We wouldn’t have a command if it weren’t a crucial priority and one that we must cautiously heed. The person who avoids double-mindedness is the person who enjoys the fruits of stability. In this instance, stability is a blessing that comes with conditions. How we pray and seek God before, during, and after a challenge arises makes all the difference. To be “sanctified in the truth” is to pray wisely for the insight and ability to “let perseverance do its work.” Entrusting our lives to God and believing His mighty hand is at work enables us to live confidently that coincidental forces and blind whim do not drive us.

We are assured He who began a good work within us will see us through to completion. If we are going to possess a life that gives honor to God, then we are to embrace through faithfulness those things which make us more like Jesus. For the one who “endured for the joy set before Him,” we can draw from His wisdom. How we view our challenges is the same way Jesus viewed His challenges. He was not thrown off course, nor did He function under the weight of despair. His Spirit enables us to overcome with a perspective that sees beyond the present moment. There is a larger, ultimate joy moving us to the higher and the greater. With each step, those sanctified in truth are aware moment by moment of how our reactions matter. The emotions we allow into our daily thoughts have significant implications. Nothing is underestimated. The bitterness which threatens to overtake us never starts large but begins with the easily excused and overlooked. May the Lord inspire within us a watchful wisdom that remains aware of the seeds which are getting planted. There is joy passing all understanding reserved for those united with His Spirit and ready to endure all for His glory.

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June 23, 2023

Fighting To Stay Awake    

 Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

I Thessalonians 5:1-11

We have this phrase in modern culture, “Fighting to stay awake.” It’s often used about children who resist sleep when there’s something they don’t want to miss. Paul can claim to be the first to utilize this image as he brings two unlikely themes together in the fifth chapter of I Thessalonians, wakefulness and fighting. Notice the teaching Paul provides to the church in Thessalonica as they are advised to remain on alert for silent threats of evil. Most of the time, when we think of evil, we tend to associate it with something loud, obvious, and easy to identify. For Paul, although some forms of evil might strike this way, the most dangerous varieties are a quiet assault. It ambushes us from behind, and we hardly even know it’s happened. As “children of the day,” Paul counsels believers to remain aware of the hazards of false security. Observe the message the Thessalonians were hearing. “There is peace and security!” Rewind to Jeremiah’s message in the Old Testament, and it’s very similar. The prophet denounces those who speak peace, where there is no peace. For both Paul and Jeremiah, we don’t establish security merely by avoiding problems. Our only real security is found through a heart rightly related to God. Sometimes a person may have immediate consequence from unrighteous action, but not always. A person doesn’t determine right and wrong by immediate consequences, but by God’s revealed truth, even when trouble is absent.

Paul is convinced that a person may not experience the shattering fallout of unrighteousness for years. The temptation is to conclude because there are no direct correlating problems with my behavior at this moment, that’s a sign it’s acceptable. If I feel good about it and my society feels good about it, then that’s enough to make it consistent with God’s expectations. Thessalonica was a beautiful city that attracted numerous tourists and Roman visitors. It was a diverse place with beliefs and behaviors across the vast spectrum. Paul knew the Thessalonians would hear contradictory messages, different strokes for different folks, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, just live and let live. Unfortunately, with all these points of view, the mindset approaches life as if all truth claims are inherently equal. Paul was clear that the believer’s message was unique and required uncompromising faith and a warrior’s conviction to maintain. It’s at this point where Paul compares the seductions with getting lulled into a spiritual sleep. False messengers insist we should view ideas contrary to pure doctrine as harmless and even beneficial. For a believer to live as a child of the light won’t come easy, and it won’t come naturally. Wakefulness requires resistance. There is a determination involved, and the only images Paul finds fitting are military images. Those who intend to stay on the alert must put on the breastplate of faith and a helmet of hopeful salvation.

The message is vivid. If our spiritual wakefulness does not strike as a relentless battle, then we need to reevaluate. One of the most curious and unexpected images of God in the New Testament is a thief. It’s a term that reoccurs in numerous places. Paul shows accountability is assured. Those who are wise will prepare. When problems are absent, one can falsely conclude that outward security correlates with inward security. If we adopt this mindset, then we are at risk of drifting into a spiritual sleep. God’s desire is that all obtain salvation and enjoy eternal enrichment. The privileges which are associated with this relationship require unwavering loyalty and uncompromising honor. Our risk isn’t giving in to pressures that are loud and obvious. People don’t drift into sleep when cannonballs are firing. Sleep is a risk when things are seductively quiet and giving the false impression everything is harmless. The only real security is a heart rightly aligned with God.  To remain in this condition requires a mindset ready to fight to stay on the alert.

June 16, 2023

   Filling The Mind With Good Things    

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Philippians 4:8

Think about the word “information.” This term is a picture of combined words “In” and “Formed.” What we expose our minds to doesn’t remain neutral. We are shaped by what we permit entrance into our thoughts. When Paul offers the Philippians counseling and advises them not to be anxious over anything, there is a practical action they must take. It isn’t complicated. They are to “fill the mind with good things.” Some people consider themselves “news junkies.” The news plays in the background throughout the entire day. On the surface, something like the daily news seems harmless, but not for Paul. Christians are to guard everything we allow into the mind. Consider how there are children who know more about television characters than Bible characters. What outcome can we expect when that which goes in is less than wholesome? Paul proclaims to the Philippians that numerous voices surround our lives. Marketing analysts speak of the thousands of advertisements we encounter. Voices are continually promoting something that we need to make our lives complete. Behind all information is a worldview. Is the worldview of the information shaping us to become more Christlike, devoted to His kingdom, consumed with pleasing Him in all things, and striving for things that don’t fade but last forever?  

One hour of church each week is insufficient to resist the voices we confront. Paul shows that we must be intentional in nurturing our thoughts on wholesome, pure, noble, and excellent things. This isn’t something that happens naturally or automatically. It must become a daily discipline. The consequences of failing in this practice are too high. Many of the spiritual problems we face, according to Paul, are the result of in-forming the mind with unhealthy exposure. It doesn’t have to be blatantly evil ideas. Anything that falls short of what is wholesome, pure, noble, and excellent is less than the highest and best Christ has for us. The spiritual realm has parallels to the physical realm. When we fill our bodies with less than wholesome things, our overall health is impacted. The accumulation of junk will produce consequences. Paul shows it is equally valid for our spiritual development. Too much TV watching, lousy reading, and inappropriate conversation all reach into our clay-like minds, shaping us, molding us, “in” “forming” us. Symptoms eventually surface, and we’ll wonder where our doubts have come from, where our discouragement comes from, and where depression comes from. It doesn’t just happen but is the result of habitual practices.

The fruits of the Spirit and the virtues Christ intends to develop in our lives don’t arise spontaneously. A farmer doesn’t wake up one morning to an abundant harvest that wasn’t planted and cultivated. What comes out is the result of what first goes in. Productive gardens must be weeded and cleaned. In the same way, our minds are like sponges absorbing all the ideas that saturate our waking moments. How would it look if we were to take an honest inventory of our daily exposure? Are we receiving 50% of worldly noise and 50% wholesome nourishing? When we are most truthful with ourselves, we’d know even equal distribution is an overstatement. We depend too much on too little. As spiritual disciplines decrease, worldly influence is on the increase. This is why Scripture is often interpreted through the lenses of worldly values rather than the other way around. When we are informed by wholesome, pure, noble, and excellent things, our outlook will change accordingly. A river can only rise as high as its source. If we are exposing ourselves only to the slow trickles of good things, we can’t expect the excellence Christ desires to take hold. We need nothing less than strong steady flow.  The good things of God never happen by accident. God’s best requires us to honor Him by filling our minds with good things.

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June 9, 2023

Building Bridges and Walls

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, NC

II Corinthians 6:14-18

There’s a saying popular these days in Christian circles that we are “To Build Bridges, Not Walls.” Quite simply, this means that as believers, we are only called to give witness through winsome appeals of the Gospel. Such a mentality is not Scriptural. Anyone can go to extremes. We can build bridges, or we can build walls. One doesn’t need to believe in the power of Christ to do one or the other. What we are unable to do is accomplish both simultaneously. Scripture doesn’t describe our witness as either bridges or walls. Instead, our witness is to build both bridges and walls. How is this possible? While it is true that believers are to extend acts of graciousness and compassion, at the same time, we are to honor what it means to represent God’s holy character. There is nothing new in the 21st century. When Paul wrote the Corinthians, the issues Paul addresses in the sixth chapter of the second letter demonstrate how we build bridges and walls. Observe how Paul goes to great lengths in describing how believers are not to become unequally yoked to unbelievers. Further, we are to “come out from among them.” A severe misunderstanding describes God’s grace as unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. While it is all of these things, a fourth term sneaks in uninvited. That fourth term is “unconditional.” According to II Corinthians 6, there are expectations which make relationship with God conditional on holiness.

 Once Paul proclaims to the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked and to come out from those who are unholy, the crucial hinge on which everything turns is conditional. Only after the Corinthians honor what it means to become distinguishable from the unholy will God unite with us in Fatherly intimacy. “Cone out from them and be separate. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters.” Paul says there is no commonality between light and darkness. There is no commonality between those who are devoted to God and those who are devoted to idols. Much in our culture these days communicates Biblical differences in terms of “Agree to disagree.” There’s this suggestion that we can approach moral issues on different sides of a spectrum and remain on the same spectrum. Paul shows there is no room for disagreement regarding the honor of God. There are vividly revealed guidelines. Reverence and respect for God’s expectations are not options. Too often, we hear that standards of uncleanliness don’t apply to the New Testament but only to the Old Testament. That is false. “Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you.” The Corinthians struggled with compromise and wanted a grace without expectation and without conditions.

While it is the case that God’s grace meets us where we are, God’s grace has no intention of leaving us as we are. Jesus does not come to our world to affirm our character but to transform us into His. If we are going to relate to God as children to Father, it will mean receiving a gift that is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved, but it is not unconditional. In our witness, we most certainly build bridges as we live out how God has given us the gift of transforming love, not affirming love. True love does not exist without holiness, and true holiness does not exist without love. Only God’s character can hold both together at the same time. Even as we give witness by extending the gift of unearned, unmerited, and undeserved grace, we hold tenaciously to the standards God has revealed. It does people no favors to communicate a compromised Gospel. Paul will declare such an approach uses the exact words but lacks power. If we intend to build bridges with power that will make a genuine impact, then it will require that we build walls at the same time. The only Gospel that can heal us is the Gospel that loves us and makes us holy, not one or the other, but both together.

June 2, 2023

Blessed To Be A Blessing

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

 II Corinthians 9:8-15

       The great church reformer Martin Luther of the 16th century had a profound image of the problem of sin. He described sin as the “heart turned in on itself..” This is the ultimate picture of the self-enclosed, self-focused life. Everything about it is contrary to the nature of God. Scripture presents God as three in one. God the Father gives us Jesus the Son. In Jesus the Son, we receive the gift of His sacrifice. God the Father and Jesus the Son give us the person of the Holy Spirit. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, we receive the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. Notice how all three persons of the one supreme God share a unity of self-giving. This isn’t a heart turned in on itself, but a heart turned outward and poured outward in fullness. No fruit of the Spirit or gift of the Spirit produces self-focus or self-enclosure. A life turned inward on itself is evidence not of a Christ-controlled heart but a heart in need of transformation. We live in a culture that endorses spirituality as personal, private, and inward. What a person believes is one’s business. The nature of God isn’t withdrawn or isolated. Preoccupation with self is contrary to the nature of who God is. For Martin Luther, the self-enclosed life is the basis from which all other sins unfold. A self-enclosed heart gives rise to greed, gluttony, and lust. The self-enclosed life is consumed with increasing self-interest at the expense of everyone else.

In the heart of God is the outward reach. When we are at one with God, we open the self-enclosed heart and move in the outward direction. The work of the Spirit is designed to heal us and transform us at the core. Too often, we focus on the symptoms of the problem rather than curing the cause of the problem. Paul’s message to the Corinthians isn’t to offer them a sermon on correcting symptoms such as greed, gluttony, and lust. The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. Until the self-enclosed heart is delivered from itself and set free to flow outward, no amount of guilt-inducing sermons about what we’re not doing will make a difference. To tell a person, “You should be more generous.” “You should be more giving.” “You should be more charitable with your possessions.” This is equivalent to telling a person, “You should flap your arms and attempt to fly.” The self-enclosed heart is incapable of outward expressions. When the self-enclosed heart attempts generosity, it may go through the motions, but it will feel more like a cold duty. We try to do the right thing, but with gritted teeth, as if we’re rolling giant stones uphill. Jesus poured Himself out “For the joy set before Him.” The giving that proceeds from the heart of the Trinity isn’t an obligation. God was not required to do anything for the sin of humanity. What God provides is a gift of sheer mercy. When we receive the gift of the third person of the Trinity in the form of the Holy Spirit, the heart that beats in God now beats through us. We are made one with Jesus, just as He and the Father are one. Our formerly self=enclosed and turned inward heart is now refocused and oriented outward. Sin has a way of falsely justifying what is wrong and turning it into a virtue. Instead of calling it greed, we make excuses and call our selfishness “preparing for our future.” Instead of calling it gluttony, we make excuses and call our indulgence “the rewards of our hard work.” The self-enclosed heart is also the self-justifying heart. When we live in that condition, we operate as our masters. This is opposed to the heart of God that is abundantly poured out in self-giving love. The simple test of whether we are participating in the heart of God is measured by the degree that our heart is turned outward. If we find ourselves concerned with the needs and interests of others, we can be sure we have identified with the heartbeat of God.  No other measure is needed to determine if we know God’s love.

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May 26, 2023

  Become The Miracle    

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro

 Acts 7:54-60

      Although people refer to me as “Steve,” my actual name is “Stephen.'”

Take notice this is with a “ph” and not a “v.” By the time I was of an age capable of understanding, I was told my name was inspired by a character in the Bible. Stephen means “One who will wear a crown.” It sounded like an inspiring name until I discovered the character I was named after was executed for preaching a sermon people didn’t like. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate this character and what it means in Scripture to “wear a crown.” Revelation makes the promise that those who will enjoy the crown are the ones who have lived as “more than conquerors.” They are the ones who are faithful even unto death. Stephen could have avoided the trouble he faced by compromising his faithfulness. He wasn’t interested in obtaining earthly crowns. At least in this life, the crown he wore was a crown of martyrdom. These days there’s a temptation to compromise the Christian message to attract attention from the culture at large. Stephen realized it does people no favors to deliver a watered down message. A weak Christian message isn’t strong enough to give us what we need. Nothing less than a faithful demonstration can produce faithful deliverance. The person who witnessed this demonstration was none other than Saul, the one who would become Paul. Of course, Stephen didn’t know it at the time, but his faithfulness would carry an impact that would far outlast his lifetime. Faithfulness looks past the immediate moment to the larger purpose of God’s story.

It’s at the moment of Stephen’s execution that something profound occurs. Stephen has a vision of Jesus rising from the throne and standing. Not only does Stephen recognize God’s glory, but even better, Stephen radiates God’s glory. Amid this evil, Stephen offers a prayer much like Jesus prayed on the cross. Stephen intercedes on their behalf. The prayer was needed because Paul supported what took place at the time. Long before Paul would have an encounter on the Damascus Road, Paul would have an encounter with the character of Jesus through Stephen. Before Paul saw the wonder of Jesus, he would encounter the witness of Jesus. No one can deny that Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road was an intense defining moment. However, the encounter Paul had with the witness of Stephen is no less dramatic. It would serve as a reminder for Paul never to underestimate a witness. Nowadays, it’s easy to conceal our faith over the concern that someone could reject us, so why bother? Why give witness to those who are aggressively resistant? Stephen had every reason to withhold words to that hostile crowd, but he offered a prayer on their behalf. Paul overheard the prayer and later showed the fruits which would arise from those seeds. Our witness changes things.

Stephen encountered a glimpse of glory because he concerned himself with faithfulness and left outcomes in God’s hands. Too often, we attempt to predict whether something is worthy based on our expectations of success. If it thrives, we will do it. If it appears hopeless, then we will avoid it. Stephen was faithful, come what may. God brought forth something marvelous in conditions that looked entirely contrary and utterly useless. We talk about taking a stand for Jesus. In this passage, we see Jesus taking a stand for us. Those who are faithful gain the honor of our Lord and provoke His pleasure. There’s an interest people have in experiencing an encounter with God’s glory. “If I could only see into heaven, then I would believe.” In this story, we see that more than an encounter of glory, there is an expression of glory. Instead of merely observing a miracle, we become vessels of God’s miracle. There were two miracles when Stephen died, one was the miracle of Jesus appearing to Stephen and the other was Jesus appearing through Stephen.

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May 19, 2023

Stand Before Kings   

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Acts 24, 25, and 26

Jesus promised His disciples they would stand before kings. What Jesus didn’t tell them is that they were likely to do this when it was most inconvenient. If I’m going to appear before kings, at least let me put on my best suit first. In Acts 24, 25, and 26, Paul appears before three dignitaries: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. Not only does Paul stand before them when they are at their best, but it is at a moment when Paul is at his worst. Paul stands before them, wearing chains as a prison inmate. How many opportunities do we miss because we wait for what we desire as the perfect moment? The picture of Paul standing before majesty in prison shackles gives new meaning to his words in I Corinthians 2. Paul announces he did not come with eloquence or human testimony, but he came in weakness with fear and trembling. His message was not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power. As Paul stands before important figures, Paul appears without dignity. There is nothing for Paul to rely upon except the promise and power of God. Paul stands in their chambers. The temptation is to squelch the conversation before it starts. They will deny me. They will dismiss me. They will demean me.

Instead, Paul delivers a message as if he is the one speaking from the superior position. At that moment, Paul was inspired with the ability to see through their facade of false appearances. No matter how glamorous the masks they wear, they are still disguises attempting to conceal the truth about themselves. Felix, Festus, and Agrippa surrounded themselves with things that moth and dust corrupt. These earthly rulers couldn’t see the expiration date stamped upon their lives. Spiritual blindness attempts to live as if we are exempt from death and destruction. Sin operates as if we are masters of our well-being and guardians of our future destiny. Paul gave witness that despite their earthly position, God is ultimately Lord. If there was ever a moment Paul would have been tempted to compromise the message, it was then. Paul speaks no differently to the three statesmen than any other audience throughout the letter of Acts. The message is the same. We are sinners who need redemption, which is found in Christ alone. Christ is our Savior and the one through whom all things live, move, and have their being. In the end, it is not earthly powers that will deliver us, nor can earthly powers remove us from the account we must all give to Jesus, our one true King of all kings.

Felix doesn’t accept Paul’s message. One would suspect that the message would have been adapted to appear more attractive by the time Paul arrived to Festus. Paul is rejected by Festus. After going 0-2, Paul would feel pressured to conform to the world to appeal to Agrippa. At the end of the three conversations, Paul went 0-3. Scripture doesn’t reveal what happened to the three beyond what is in these three chapters. What mattered to Paul was that he was faithful to the witness and left the results to God. Paul didn’t wait for ideal conditions before embracing the promise. Jesus assured the disciples not to worry because they would possess the wisdom when the moment arose. If Paul’s life is any indication, we can expect those moments to occur when it is the least desirable on our end. We must learn from the wisdom Paul discovered that standing before kings isn’t about us but God. We are not the ones who end up glorified. In our weakness, God will express heavenly strength. Even though we claim no earthly advantage and seem beset by every earthly disadvantage, this is not a coincidence. The point is not to demonstrate or showcase our human abilities. We will stand before kings and not seek advantage because God intends to show power doesn’t rest on our human ability but upon God’s

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May 12, 2023

The Inner Defender   

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Luke 12:11-12

We were gathered for a denominational meeting when a dispute arose over a hot-button issue. A person rose and stated a challenge, calling a Scriptural point into question. Suddenly, the crowd grew quiet at first, and then, a person motions to respond. What followed was a passionate defense of Scripture. All of it was unprepared and delivered at the moment. After the response concluded, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause. The person who offered the successful response was congratulated for their stirring presentation after the meeting. I was one of several who gave affirmation for their willingness to capture what needed to be said at precisely the right time. Rather than accept compliments for the outcome, they offered this profound point. “If I had to restate the same thing, I don’t think I could repeat it. I had this sense of words pouring through me.” We were first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ promise in Luke 12:11-12. When the moment comes, we won’t have to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit will give us inspiration and inspired wisdom. Jesus emphasizes not to worry about defending ourselves but that we will possess an inner defender who will make a stand through us. At the moment, we become vessels of God’s presence and authority.  We say and do what Jesus Himself would say and do.

When Jesus gave the promise to the disciples, it was before Peter and John failed to live up to courage.  On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter and John would desert Jesus. Even after the resurrection, Peter and John are sealed behind locked doors despite seeing Jesus striding forth from death’s grave on multiple occasions. Fast forward to Acts, and we see a different Peter and John. Now they are giving testimony, and the listening crowd of accusers is stunned. Peter and John are untrained and unqualified to speak with compelling boldness. The disciples who once abandoned Jesus and hid behind bolted doors are living into the promise. Jesus assured them they would possess an inner defender who would inspire heavenly wisdom. Such wisdom does not remove from us the responsibility of preparation. Let us not conclude that failing to study God’s word or maintain daily devotions will be compensated with inspiration in the crisis. The Spirit Jesus provides will bring to mind the sacred texts that saturate our thoughts. What Jesus intends is not merely for us to read His word, study His word, or recite His word but to embody His word. Our proclamation ushers forth His living word.

Too often, people will use the excuse that they don’t witness because they never know what to say. Jesus told the disciples not to allow that fear to prevent them from blessing. By the time we arrive in Acts, the disciples are enjoying the fruits of God’s abundance due to their bold witness. Acts 4 shows how their testimony lifted the entire community. All the believers asked God to possess the same courage to stand for the truth. Following these prayers, it says the foundations beneath their feet were shaken, and God’s mighty hand was on display. The willingness to give witness is no small thing. Jesus connects our faithfulness to His word with the miraculous results that happen as a result. For those communities dealing with stagnation and decay, we might evaluate our congregation alongside Acts 4. How faithful are we to Christ’s promise? He has called us to represent His presence. Peter and John had less education and preparation in their day than almost anyone living in modern America. Those who fail to enjoy mighty divine power are not because God withholds blessing. We fail to experience the display of signs and wonders because we lack the faith that positions us for signs and wonders. Unfaithfulness disqualifies us as quickly as outright sin. Until we accept Christ’s promise that His spirit will empower us, we deprive ourselves of what we would have otherwise received. When we honor Him with His word, He will honor us with His wonders.

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May 5, 2023

The Eternal Now

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,

Luke 10:25-37

When people are asked why they don’t share their faith, one of the highest excuses offered is, “I don’t have the time.” In the  parable known as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus shows how we often fail to do the right thing, not for bad excuses but for what we think are good excuses. Notice in this story how the priest and the Levite aren’t doing anything evil in the story. They are on their way to important, high priority work. There are responsibilities for the church they must meet. Ironically, because of these church-related responsibilities, they overlooked their higher calling. Somehow they miss the forest for the trees. How do we end up following responsibilities in such a way that make us ultimately irresponsible? At least one way these two characters were misguided is that they made a mistake in how they approached life. Too often, our perspective is toward the moment by moment. We count the seconds on the clock. Our daily planner is packed to the hilt. Scheduling becomes the dominant way we evaluate whether we use our day productively. No one can fault the priest or the Levite for treating time apathetically. These two honored their appointments and kept their schedules to the second. Punctuality for them was not an option but was mandatory.

Jesus taught His followers that even though we live in the moment-by-moment world with clocks and calendars, there’s another realm we occupy simultaneously. This second realm is eternity. From God’s perspective, time doesn’t apply to God. We make our decisions within the confines of seconds, minutes, and hours. For God, everything, past, present, and future, exists as an eternal now. God is beyond time, so we don’t speak of God as past, present, or future. To live in the eternal now means we adjust our decisions to what will endure. Sometimes people say it’s possible to be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good. In the case of the priest and Levite, they were too earthly-minded to be of any heavenly good. They were so consumed with their moment-by-moment responsibilities that they forgot what these responsibilities were meant to establish in our lives. It is to train us to think about eternity, not to confine us to earthly clocks and calendars. The priest had books to read and papers to write. The Levite had worship services to plan and sanctuaries to decorate. These aren’t bad things. Unfortunately, the parable demonstrates that what stands in our way of the best things aren’t bad things but good things that are less than the best. When we forget that we exist moment by moment within the shadow of eternity, we live entrapped by the immediate here and now, and lose sight of the permanent heavenly kingdom.

If our lives are too busy to witness, we must ask ourselves if we’ve become so earthly-minded that we’re of no heavenly good. The priest and the Levite operated under the mindset that since they didn’t cause the problem that put the man in the ditch, this is where their responsibility started and ended. They broke no laws, and they dishonored no command. However, for Jesus, we are to live by something higher and greater than refraining from causing harm. The question is, in what way are our lives giving witness to the eternal kingdom Jesus came to build? We are commissioned as His partners. Jesus promises to enable His followers to become the hands and feet of what Jesus would do if He were still on earth. Jesus is at work on earth in the form of His Holy Spirit, which empowers His followers to reflect the character of Jesus. The man in the ditch was praying for God to help. As the priest and Levite walked by, the man in the ditch had the impression God ignored the prayers. By failing to live as if they occupied eternity, they failed to express the eternal kingdom. Responsibility is meant to build relationships, not replace them.  When it does, we’ve made it an idol.

April 28, 2023

Gifted For His Glory   

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, NC

Matthew 28:16-20

When most people hear the word “commandment” referred to in Scripture, they immediately associate the word with the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments represent guidelines for navigating through the sins of “commission.” This refers to things we do that we shouldn’t have done. We told a lie, and we shouldn’t have lied. We stole, and we shouldn’t have stolen. However, Scripture also includes other commands, and one of the most famous is “The Great Commission.” Matthew 28:16-20 is not only a Great Commission but also a Great Commandment. Commands such as this help us to navigate through sins of “omission.” This refers to things we didn’t do that we should have done. Notice in Jesus’ words that there is no qualification to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Often, when people are asked why they do not give witness to the faith, they respond with what sounds like a good excuse. “Witnessing isn’t my gift.” “I don’t have a talent for sharing my beliefs.” While that may sound like a good excuse, no excuse is a legitimate excuse. Jesus offered a command, but the command didn’t come before the promise. “All authority on heaven and earth is given to Jesus.” We are not required to give witness based on our abilities. Jesus doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies the called. Jesus provides access to His authority precisely so that we can give witness to Him.

In Acts 1, Jesus will build on the Great Commission and go one step further. For anyone who feels insecure having to witness from their inadequate skills, Jesus promises power. The Greek word for power is “Dunamis,” our root word for “Dynamite.” Do most people associate heavenly power with witness? How frequently do we hear sermons or teaching about receiving the power of God? We don’t hear as frequently that the power Jesus enables is given for a specific calling and purpose. All disciples are promised access to explosive ability. Just like dynamite, His people will have the ability to power through obstacles. Whatever obstructions we confront will prove ineffective against the heavenly-ignited capacities Jesus assures His followers will possess. Sins of commission do things that we shouldn’t have done. Sins of omission fail to do things we should have done. By failing to accept Jesus’ promise, we show distrust that He will follow through on His guarantee. We give more credit to the obstructions and less to the Words Jesus offers that He says will not return void. Failing to give witness is not a statement that we lack ability, but it is a statement that we believe Jesus lacks ability. Those who needed to see His explosive power are deprived of the presence Jesus would have shown had His followers embraced faithful obedience. The chance to showcase glory is lost, and Jesus’ presence is hidden. We put our light under a bushel.

Not only are God’s people promised dynamite power, but more specifically, we are assured inspired gifts. These gifts aren’t given for one’s self-centered benefit. The gift only thrives when it is expressed through witness. The gifts of inspiration aren’t intended to remain in isolation. Could it be that we see so little of the spiritual gifts concerning gifts of prophecy and healing because there is unwillingness to express faithful obedience in witness, which prevents these gifts from flourishing? The spiritual gifts can only thrive through the response of faithful obedience to the Great Commission, the Great Commandment. Jesus laid the discovery of His identity in the hands of Disciples, who would express the presence of Jesus. We are assured no one ever needs to worry about what they will say. Inspiration will come at the moment it is required. No disciple is left to rely on human qualifications. We will possess not only dynamite power but inspired abilities. If we desire the gifts from God, we must first desire the faithful obedience to God for His glory.

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April 21, 2023

Appointed To Bear Fruit   

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  John 15:16

“All we are called to do is be faithful.” Here is a saying which has the sound of Scriptural correctness. Unfortunately, it is a saying contrary to Scripture and makes excuses for low-impact living. Faithfulness and fruitfulness are not opposites but two sides of the same coin. Those who are faithful will produce fruit. Jesus doesn’t call disciples to remain faithful but turn out lives that are barren and empty. In John 15:16, Jesus assures the disciples that they have been “appointed to bear fruit.” On the front end of their calling, Jesus promises if they remain faithful to Him, their lives will yield enrichment. Read through Acts, and there is no case of faithfulness that produces only barrenness. Had the early church relied on faithfulness without fruitfulness, the new community of Christ would have never gotten off the ground. Fruitfulness is evidence of faithfulness. The words of Jesus in John 15 are meant to serve as the visible confirmation of faithfulness. This is good news because Jesus intends to supply tangible evidence of faithfulness. There is no groping in the dark with Jesus. He doesn’t intend for His people to follow Him faithfully and have nothing in our lives to show the difference. If there is low-impact living, it motivates us to examine our lives and consider if we are faithful in the way Christ intends. Too often, we think of faithfulness as private and invisible. For Jesus, it is both public and visible.

One of the popular positions of the modern world is “spiritual but not religious.” This refers to personally held beliefs that are held deep by the person who follows them, but they don’t have to reveal anything to the world. Keep your views to yourself to avoid undesirable conversations. Don’t bring up spiritual things in mixed company. The entire letter of Acts showcases the disciples as they engage a highly secular society in the Roman Empire. Nothing about their behavior is private and invisible. It’s impossible not to show our deepest cares and attachments. What we love will show in all of our actions. If we are devoted to Jesus, then the joy, peace, love, and goodness of serving Him will display itself in every detail of life. The most convincing witness to the reality of Jesus is when we allow our lives to do the talking. We hold firm to our convictions. There is no compromise or accommodation when it comes to moral decisions. Demonstrating love to others isn’t a burden because followers of Jesus are convinced that He first loved us even though we were sinners. Therefore, we can show love to others we first received from Jesus. What we give is only an overflow from Jesus.

The best supervisor in ministry I ever had gave a speech to all the ministers in his district at the start of a new year. He proclaimed in the presentation that our temptation at the end of the year would be to excuse fruitless ministry by turning vices into a virtue. “Well, at least we were faithful even if we weren’t fruitful.” I produced no disciples. No one is spiritually motivated in my congregation. There is no sign of life. Worship and service are scarce, but at least I was faithful. He exclaimed, “Let no one mistake such claims for Scriptural truth. Let no one convince themselves this is what Jesus teaches.” For Jesus, He doesn’t leave His followers a faith with no confirmation. The power of Christ’s work is uncontainable. Despite contrary conditions, the Word of God is unchained. It will never return void. Easter broke forth under conditions when there was every reason to fail, yet success happened anyway. If I only had a better church property. If I only had a newer building. If I only had younger people. If I only had a better location. Our superintendent reminded us not to use faithfulness but no fruitfulness as an excuse. That is turning a vice into a virtue.  We may not have the best property, location, or congregational age, but if we take Jesus at His word, our faithfulness to Him will show through bountiful results.

April 14, 2023

A Life Worthy Of The Gospel

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, NC

 Philippians 1:27-30

A story appeared in the news about a student who received a $200,000 scholarship from the United States Navy. It was the top award given to the best and brightest students with the highest potential. Imagine this student and another student working three jobs to attend college. When each student has failing grades at the end of the semester, which of the two would most people find astonishing and disappointing? Of course, the one who received the privilege. How could the person who possessed so much advantage squander it all away? When Paul writes to the Philippians, he reminds them in the letter’s first chapter to “lead a life worthy of the Gospel.” Not long ago, a prominent Christian magazine produced a report comparing Christians and non-Christians concerning areas of addictions and unhealthy habits. What the survey revealed was a striking similarity between the two groups. Those who profess Christianity had the same compulsions and were driven by similar behaviors that were contrary to their well-being. Paul stresses how the Gospel promises elevating privileges which equip us with potential we wouldn’t have otherwise. We often hear people claim that they are spiritual but not religious. They mean that they can maintain their spiritual beliefs personally and privately. They insist it’s possible to practice their beliefs without attracting any publicity to themselves.

Paul reminds the Philippians that everyone leads a public life. Everything about our daily choices and decisions reveals to the watching world not only what we say we believe but, more importantly, to what degree those beliefs make any difference in our everyday lives. After the first Easter, Jesus promised the disciples they would be His “witnesses.” In the time that followed, those who became followers of “The Way” did so not because they saw the resurrected Jesus in the flesh. But, because they saw His followers who displayed the character of Jesus no differently than if they had seen Jesus in the flesh. This was the extravagant assurance Jesus offered the disciples when He promised they would do “Greater things than these.” All of the privileges Jesus possessed He would make available. The same miracle which brought Jesus forth from a tomb is offered to anyone who receives Jesus by faith. Now, all of the enrichment expressed in Jesus is expressed through those who submit to Jesus in trust. Those who bear the name “Christian” are called to display Christ’s identity. Whoever we are and wherever we are becomes, for the people around us, an empty tomb experience. By leading lives worthy of the Gospel, all of the riches that make the Gospel “Good News” flow from our character with uncontainable fullness. This is how we are His representatives of the heavenly kingdom.

To show Christ to the world doesn’t depend on what we do in our strength. Instead, it depends on what we allow Christ to do through us in His strength. It’s not a matter of whether we will give witness to something. Everyone, by virtue of living, gives witness to something. Our choices and decisions demonstrate what we love, what we care about, what we believe matters, and what we believe will ultimately count. To profess we are Christian and lead un-Christian lives is like receiving an extravagant scholarship and flunking. When Jesus calls His people to be His witnesses, He is staking the demonstration of Easter on our testimony. Worrying over it assumes we have more on the line than Jesus does. We are assured everything we need to succeed is provided. Nothing is withheld from those Jesus loves. From the moment of the first Easter, Jesus showed His followers that God’s plan all along was for us to become living miracles. Now it’s our high calling to show the reality of Easter just as Jesus showed it then, right here and now. 

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March 31, 2023

“Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground” was a command spoken to Moses at the burning bush. Stephen repeats it in his sermon preached in Acts 7. Throughout Scripture, there were specific places God ordained as sacred territory. What immediately comes to mind is the inner sanctum of the temple. Only the priest was appointed to enter into this designated dimension. Even then, the priest wore bells on their feet so those standing outside could hear whether the priest was still alive. If the bells stopped ringing, it was confirmed the priest had done something unholy in the most sacred place. Attendants had a long crook with which they reached behind the curtain and then pulled the deceased priest from the room. The stunning turn throughout the New Testament is that God’s people are now embodied temples. We are the desired place God intends to dwell. Our hearts become the inner sanctum where glory resides. The temptation is to make too much division between law and grace. Some will say, now that Christ has come, we no longer need to worry about the sacred. Jesus fulfills it, and we stand before God on Christ’s merit rather than our own. While Jesus fulfills our redemption, this does not exempt us from the call to live in Christ’s power and become holy just as He is.

Paul had a unique task placed upon him by God to minister to Roman pagans. If Jews found the message of holiness radical, imagine thoroughly secular people who had no exposure to the moral expectations of Leviticus. Paul proclaims to the Thessalonians God calls us to nothing less than “Entire Sanctification.” Observe the word sanctification is the expanded version of “sanctity.” Something sacred is set apart for God’s pleasure and purpose. Things set apart as sacred were treated with the highest respect. Imprinted upon the devout Jewish mind was a keen awareness of sacred space. The temple was viewed as set apart. Paul’s message is that God’s ultimate intention wasn’t to dwell in houses built with stone. Now, we are the embodied temples God intends to make a residence. Our hearts will be His established dominion. Therefore, we will align our lives with the same level of sensitive awareness to conduct ourselves according to God’s expectations. The completed work of the cross does not exempt us from the sacred. Instead, it empowers us for the sacred. The temptation is to approach life as a balance sheet. On one side, we have debits, and on the other, we have credits. We hope that when the calculation is complete, we have more good things in our favor than bad things. Like a weighted scale, we envision our lives tilted toward the side, which counts for reward. As long as 51% counts for good, we can call it success.

Paul is clear our lives are not defined by a scale but by the cross. Jesus’ gift of self-giving does not remove us from the sacred but it inspires and equips us to align our lives with sanctity. Ultimately, we don’t calculate our actions and draw the line at 99.99%. We are to aim for nothing less than total sanctity, complete sacredness. Much of the secular world is all about seeking loopholes wherever they are found. When tax season rolls around, we seek the expert who will enable us to scour the law for the ways we can exploit the advantage. Help us follow the letter of the law, but bend it as far as we can without breaking. The call of entire sanctity demonstrates the extent of God’s love. There is no area of life overlooked, minimized, or underappreciated. God desires the totality for His pleasure and purpose. When Jews read through the expectations of Leviticus, God showed concern over the most meticulous details. As Paul proclaims to thoroughly secular mindsets, his message lifts high the privilege of living as a kingdom of witnesses. Our sanctity testifies to the amazing love of God. We are promised heaven as our eternal home, but God makes His home the sacred human heart.

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March 24, 2023

Nothing Less Than Everything

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, stevewellman09@gmail.com

I Peter 1:13-25

When people hear the word “holy,” they associate it with purity. While it is partly correct, it is not entirely descriptive. In both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, the word holy is better understood in our language with the holiness we spell with a “w,” “whole-li-ness.” In this instance, we’d know it is referring to something whole, complete, and lacking nothing. For something holy in the Scriptural sense means to possess fullness, not 99.99%, but nothing less than completion. We have a saying, “Don’t be halfhearted!” To call some halfhearted might be an overestimate. When we’re honest, do we confess we get life even 50% close to God’s calling to excellence? I Peter proclaims how God’s expectation defines our ultimate identity: “Be holy as I am holy.” Aim for a fullness that lacks nothing and possess the completion of all good things. How does God model holiness, whole-li-ness? It is presented to us in the example of Christ, who spared nothing to give Himself for our redemption. In His gift of self-sacrifice, He demonstrates the willingness to go to the uttermost on our behalf. The things of this world are the very definition of incomplete. Like grass, even the most extreme pleasures of this world are destined to wither and disappear. Only the fullness of God is guaranteed to endure. If we desire to prevail with the God who endures, we must pursue a life nothing less than complete.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was famous for proclaiming the excellence of God’s “holy love.” Wesley said humans tend to gravitate to extremes. Some will try and express holiness without love. Unfortunately, the result is cold, rigid, and unappealing dogmatism. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum are those who attempt to show affection without holiness. This extreme leads to license and moral chaos. Only in God do we find the perfect unity held inseparably together. God is holy because He is loving, and God loves because He is holy. Those who attempt to show affection without holiness aren’t asking for more but settling for too little. We think if people let us do whatever we want, we can call that love. Often in my daughter’s formative years, it wasn’t uncommon for her to say to me, “If you don’t let me, you don’t love me.” In her protest of immaturity, she lacked the experience and maturity to understand that what she wanted the parent to let her do was reckless, self-destructive, and contrary to her well-being. True love intervenes and prevents such defiant behavior. True love is big enough to take the criticism of immature accusations, “You don’t love me.” God calls people to holiness, but the reaction on our side is that God must not love, or we’d be allowed to do whatever we desire. God, in His complete love, sees things from the eternal view. True satisfaction isn’t based on vapor.

The holy love of God revealed through Jesus demonstrates what will endure. Jesus described Himself as the Living Word of God. We must not conform to things that are passing away. In this world, we live as aliens only passing through. This is not our true home. We are pilgrims bound for places of permanence. Because perishable things did not redeem us, we can’t stake our lives upon perishable things. We are to be complete just as God is complete. The model of completion is demonstrated for us in the Holy Love of Jesus. Anyone can gravitate to human extremes. We can try to be dogmatic without affection. We can try to show affection without morality. Only God can enable us to possess holy love. When we devote ourselves to His unblemished, enduring truth, our life advances by degrees. Will we reach perfection in this world? No human will achieve perfection in this world, but we catch excellence by chasing perfection. With minds alert and fully sober, we will set our hopes only on that which endures forever by God’s holy love.

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March 17, 2023

Proclaiming His Excellence

Pastor Steve Wellman,

New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, stevewellman09@gmail.com,  I Peter 2:9

Outside Christianity, the word “Consecration” is rarely, if ever, used. What does the word mean? When something is consecrated, it means “set aside for sacred use.” Throughout the history of God’s people, things are set aside for sacred use. Take, for instance, “The Ark of the Covenant.” Remember the story of King David transferring the ark from the Philistines to its rightful home in Jerusalem? When the cart tilted, Uzzah tried to steady the ark with his hand in direct violation of divine law, and he immediately fell dead. The ark was consecrated as sacred to the Lord. It was set apart and distinguished. In the ark was a visible sign of an invisible presence. One’s highest respect was due. There is the command in Joshua, “Consecrate yourselves, and I will do wonders among you.” From the beginning, God’s people were trained to recognize a distinction in what was set apart for God’s pleasure. Anything consecrated represented excellence at the highest level. When someone disregarded the consecrated possessions of God, it was an act of irreverence. King Belshazzar in Daniel 5 held a great feast and decided to drink from the sacred objects taken from the Jerusalem temple. At that moment, the king saw the handwriting on the wall informing of divine judgment for the king’s irreverence and disregard for the sacred things of God. Was there anything valuable in the cups themselves? No, they were valuable in so far that God declared them a special possession set apart for God’s pleasure and to serve as a sign of God’s excellence.

In the first letter of Peter, the audience receiving this letter is dealing with persecution and facing resistance. What is the remedy people most need who are in dire circumstances? Their lives are under assault and even physically threatened. For Peter, their source of comfort is found through embracing their identity as a consecrated people. They are set apart for God’s pleasure and to bring God glory. Just as Belshazzar abused the things of God and eventually reaped what he sowed, Peter promises the people justice will come in due time. Meanwhile, God’s people will remain faithful and courageous, knowing that everything in their life belongs to God. They are God’s prized possession. Once they were not a people, but now they are a people called to “proclaim the excellence of God.” How can they hold firm even in the face of opposition? We assume courage is found when we avoid hazardous conditions and seek to protect ourselves as the highest priority. If this is our mentality, we will not find courage but fear. Jesus commanded His followers to find one’s life; one must be willing to surrender it to a higher calling. The opposite of living a consecrated, set apart life is a mentality that seeks to cling tightly, as if God is not the rightful possessor; we are. Instead of living as if we are God’s possession, set apart for His pleasure, we treat our life as if we are the supreme owners.

Once God consecrates a possession, it is under the authority and declaration of God. What becomes of that possession is entirely dependent on God’s established purposes. The promise Peter upholds is that only consecrated people can live with the assurance their future is in God’s hands. Their well-being and ultimate destiny are established by God and not one’s limited human abilities. Living for God’s pleasure releases all the fear and anxiety that occur when people live as if self-possessed. The modern world would like us to believe we are self-possessed. Conduct your affairs as if everything depended only upon your demands for your rights. This is a false narrative that doesn’t produce the well-being it promises. In a world where everything is frail, security is found through an unexpected remedy.  Our lasting peace is found living as people set apart for God’s glory as we proclaim His excellence.

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Seriousness Of Surrender  

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro, stevewellman09@gmail.com  Matthew 7:21-23

When we hear the word “evil,” what comes to mind are terrorists and serial killers. It should give us pause that Jesus refers to evil in Matthew 7 as the description of those who do not surrender to God. Toward the conclusion of the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus proclaims even a person who performs miracles; such a person is evil if they fail to surrender to the will of the Father in heaven. Clarifying how we understand the definitions of good and evil is a vital priority for the disciple. Culture has its assumptions about the meaning of what represents a “good” person. The assumed definition begins with essential qualities that have little or nothing to do with God. Jesus shows we can avoid doing people harm, and we can accomplish noble deeds. However, this isn’t the ultimate standard by which good and evil are determined. If God created us, redeemed us, and has eternal plans for us, then it’s also true the primary purpose of life is to acknowledge this Being with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The story of redemption presents a God who not only endured a broken heart over sin but entered into our world to bring reversal and transformation. To arrange our lives as if God is irrelevant isn’t merely disappointing; Jesus describes it with the word we reserve for the profoundly wicked.

Why would Jesus place the lack of surrender in the same group as monstrous things? The opposite of surrender is self-sufficiency. When a person is self-sufficient, there is no need for God. For the self-sufficient, we live as if we are gods unto ourselves. Jesus shows a person refusing to acknowledge God might still be capable of accomplishing impressive noble deeds. Such a person might even contribute things to society that are beneficial. In the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus is correcting common misunderstandings that were held then and are still today. How frequently the question arises, “Isn’t it enough for a person to be decent? Why is it necessary to tell people about God if they are already well behaved?” Jesus proclaims that our ultimate purpose in this world is to acknowledge why we exist in the first place. None of us would have lived if God wasn’t the designer. Every breath we take is a gift of grace. Someone might ask, “If God is so loving, why would He send a decent person to eternal judgment?” CS Lewis noted hell is a door locked from the inside. The decisions and choices we make in this life establish whether we prefer a life abiding with God or being alienated from God. The standard of goodness is measured by God’s character and how we align our lives with the one who has created us for His pleasure. To disregard that is more than a mild offense. It strikes at the heart of life itself. To reject God loudly or quietly is incidental. Rejection, in the end, is still a rejection.  There are no “good” reasons for living as if God is irrelevant to our joy.

True goodness recognizes that what we often call decency is just another name for pride. There is no good that does not begin with God as the reference point. Too often, we start with the human reference point and then define what God is based on our position. God is the supreme position from which any standard of goodness flows. The origin of sin began with, “You shall be as gods unto yourselves.” We must confess that our natural tendency, without God’s help, is to start with ourselves as the standard. There is no common decency that treats surrender to God as irrelevant. Jesus takes surrender seriously because understanding the order of life is essential. The Sermon On The Mount concludes with how there are only two kinds of people. Either we build on false foundations, or we build on fortified foundations. Truth is determined by the one in whom there is no darkness at all. To miss out on the greatest love the universe will ever know is more than a minor error or a slight mistake.  For Jesus, it’s nothing less than the worst of possible evils.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

In Search Of Desire 

    Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  Matthew 6:19-21

Dave Ramsey is known for his superb instruction series, “Financial Peace.” One of the most unique pieces of advice he offers is for people to carry cash rather than pay for everything with cards. He emphasizes how paying with cash makes us more aware of our spending. When we operate with a budget and carry only a particular amount of money, we are more cautious as we process the difference between wants and needs. A great danger to financial peace is compulsive shopping. This occurs when we buy seeking peace but find the opposite. What we acquire doesn’t lead to contentment or lasting joy. We fulfill only a quick fix, but the craving arises for something new, and the cycle begins again. Jesus knew one of the fastest ways to lose our sense of spiritual security is to allow ourselves to become distracted by material possessions. It’s easy to mistake wants for needs, and we justify excess because we live in a culture immersed in shopping. We have more possessions than we could ever hope to use. Our closets aren’t large enough to store the things we already have. The things we seek for fulfillment express our search for satisfaction. Jesus teaches in Matthew 6 how our desires can be misplaced and misdirected. We search desperately for wrong things.

In Jesus’ day, there weren’t many options for people who wanted to amass things. These days we have basements, attics, garages, and backyard sheds. If that wasn’t enough, we can rent storage space to collect even more. There is a vast market in the modern world for security systems. All this is designed to amass more than we need, build larger storage to house it, and security systems to protect it. A popular reality show, “Hoarders,” captures the psychological drive of amassing things. Before this show explored the behavior, Jesus taught how our tendency to seek satisfaction through shopping reveals a misguided desire of the heart. It is tragically ironic how much of our pursuit of happiness is the greatest hindrance to discovering true happiness. How we seek determines what we ultimately find. The desperate quest for things to bring peace results in the opposite of peace. To cure the anxiety, we acquire greater storage space and security systems. Notice how the cure becomes another part of the problem. Rather than positioning ourselves only to reinforce misguided desires, Jesus provides a remedy for purifying our desires. Only He can empower the heart so that we can turn our energy toward pursuing what will bring lasting peace. We don’t need to keep doing things that are  counter productive to our joy.

Finding fulfillment in finite things is impossible when we are made for eternity. Our hearts are not designed for attachment to this world. The relentless cycle of acquiring reveals the impossibility of ever reaching a point of contentment. Spending our money, time, and energy on frivolous things never leads to the satisfaction we seek. All we can expect from these pursuits is chronic compulsion. Free time becomes a ritual of shopping. Now that we have the convenience of doing it online, it is much easier to fall into the trap of misguided chasing. The drive is equivalent to running after the vapor. Once we have it in our grasp, it disappears. Jesus urges us to look beneath our desires. What goal are we attempting to secure? By looking beneath the surface, we discover a deeper need whereby material things serve as an inferior substitute. Rather than seeking a cheap substitute, the heart’s true treasure is within reach. It is futile to continue the drive after inferior substitutes once we are aware of the real things that truly satisfy us. Our healing is found by uncovering the surface desire to reveal what lies deeper. The drive isn’t for an endless supply of material things that leave us discontent. For those who are made for more than the world offers, we aren’t content with anything less than what never passes away.

February 10, 2023

The Heights of Humility 

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  Matthew 20:24-28

Someone wise has noted that envy is a sign you are being overtaken. This is a vivid way of putting it, but Jesus diagnosed the problem 2000 years before. In Matthew 20, the mother of James and John comes to Jesus and requests that her sons sit on the right and left of Jesus’ throne. The other ten disciples were filled with resentment over the request. Here’s a case of ten disciples who weren’t angry that James and John might get declined. Their disgust was over the possibility the two might receive the request and outrank the other ten. Most people don’t think they have any difficulty identifying with someone’s disappointments. You lose your job, and I’ll let you cry on my shoulder. However, you win the lottery and come to my door sharing your joy, and I may have to fake excitement as I grit my teeth. This problem is compounded if we have experienced setbacks while someone else experiences good fortune. It’s bad enough that our lives are in decline, but we’re expected to show excitement when someone receives good fortune to an even greater degree than our bad fortune? I lose $10,000 and you win $1,000,000! Envy over another’s success can divide relationships and can sour friendships. Depending on how severe the envy takes hold, it can erode the health of an entire community.

Jesus had called the 12 disciples and appointed them to become His witnesses. Even at the end, as Jesus is assigning Peter a critical task, the first question Peter asks Jesus while pointing at John is, “What about him?” I can serve you and devote myself to your purpose until I suspect someone like John has better privileges. Jesus knew how fatal the sin of envy could be. The problem of envy slips into our lives and is excused because it doesn’t seem as threatening as other vices. Nevertheless, Jesus knew how envy could distract from our purpose and reduce our energy for service. It’s impossible to focus on the task before us when we are gazing to the left and right, sizing up the privileges someone else enjoys that we lack. Jesus provides the cure, which is not an easy medicine to accept. His remedy is humility. This is a virtue impossible to fake. We might pretend we’re many things in life but pretending we’re humble isn’t within reach. Only the indwelling Spirit of Jesus can empower authentic humility. How do we know we possess humility? We’ll know the humble presence of Jesus is at work in our life when we’re able to view the success of others with genuine concern. If we resent the success of others, then it says more about us than it does about the person who is resented. It reveals a mindset that decides God has treated us as inferior. Humility is the power to realize that we’re not as important as we often think we are, but we’re also not as unappreciated in God’s eyes as we feel we are. God has limitless care and love for our ultimate well-being.

Philippians 2 declares Jesus laid aside heavenly privilege and took on the identity of lowliness. We are to let the mind of Jesus take root in our lives. In doing so, we view ourselves through the lens of heaven. Comparisons are laid aside as we embrace the divine favor at work in our circumstances with honor. Rather than dwelling on the things we think we lack, our focus is turned toward the abundance which surrounds us that we tend to ignore and overlook. None of the disciples could ever live into the fullness Jesus designed for them if they were preoccupied with comparisons. We might think we can grieve with others, but if we can’t also celebrate the success of others, then we aren’t genuinely grieving with others either. Most of us might not think humility is a healing remedy, but this is precisely how Jesus viewed this virtue. No different than the words, “Take up your mat and walk,” the gift of humility empowers us to rise above the envy that paralyzes our spirit.  With humility, we can now rise and walk with a newfound joy.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,  Acts 1:6-8

      There’s a mentality that it’s not enough to get rich. We need to get rich and quick. The mindset carries over to the spiritual life as the temptation to get rich quick was an assumption when Jesus spoke of His kingdom. His disciples continued to ask the question during the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Acts 1 captures the last conversation before Jesus ascended. Once again, for good measure, the disciples asked the question with urgency. “Is this the time you will establish your kingdom?” Like the child in the back seat who continually asks, “Are we there yet?” the disciples were often unaware of the present moment and were blind with impatience. It was CS Lewis who offered a beautiful image of our spiritual journey. “What saves a person is to take a step and then another step.” With Jesus, the journey is the destination. There are no get-rich-quick schemes in His kingdom. While Jesus did not promise a get-rich-quick scheme, He did offer something better. “You will receive power to become My witnesses all over the world.” The enrichment Jesus provides makes us one with His mission of salvation in the world. We are partners in His purpose. True wealth is to live for something bigger than ourselves. Rather than demand a quick arrival, we celebrate the daily steps of traveling with Him. What saves a person is to take one step and then another. There is joy in the journey. There is delight in who travels with us each step of the way.

     Like, the disciples, I’m tempted to wonder, “Who will sit on your left and your right?” “Who is most important?” “Do I get the best seat at the table?” We often hear of “The American Dream.” Unfortunately, we often associate the dream of instant arrival with Jesus’ call to discipleship. Wasn’t this the entire point of the parable of the workers in the vineyard? A master calls workers early in the morning, some other workers in the afternoon, some other workers later in the afternoon, and then some workers right before the close of the day. At the conclusion, all the workers were paid an identical reward. The reaction to the parable reveals our get-rich mentality. We take exception that the earlier workers weren’t paid more. There is grumbling by the early workers that they didn’t receive a better reward for their contribution. Instead of the early workers looking at the later workers with envy, what if they looked at them with a sense of empathy? How we wished you had the opportunity to work as long beside the Master as we did. You missed out on the privilege for which there is no measure. It’s impossible to put a decimal point on a reward beyond our wildest calculation. 

     The disciples were looking for get rich quick opportunities. Jesus was looking for people who saw the reward for working alongside the Master in the vineyard and accomplishing purposes together. In this sense, the journey is the destination. What brings honor to Jesus is when we embrace the part we play in traveling along life’s road with Him. Becoming kingdom people isn’t accomplished in an instant. What transforms us is to take a step and then another step. Sadly, a repeated phrase through the Gospels is, “And many followed Him no more.” Jesus had no trouble attracting curious seekers. The challenge was in sustaining their fellowship. Many started the journey, but they lost interest when the reward wasn’t instant. What if it was possible for those early partners in the parable to not merely toil away in the noonday sun living with one eye on the clock? Are we there yet? What if there was a power working inside our lives that would enable us to live by a compass rather than a clock? Rather than preoccupy ourselves with arrival, we find amazement in the voyage. The wonder of sharing in the journey with the master is our reward beyond calculation.  The kingdom isn’t primarily a place but a person.  Wherever we are, the kingdom has arrived as long as Jesus is present.