What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Being Committed to Peace

Mt of Beatitudes

In the Adult Bible Fellowship class that I teach on Sundays at our church we’re in a series of lessons titled Walking Like Jesus Walked. The idea is that as Christians, if we’re really going to claim the name we need to walk the walk.

As I was preparing my lessons it dawned on me that before we can walk like Jesus walked we have to think like Jesus thought. Our actions come out of our thought processes. What we do is birthed in a thought – no matter how fleeting or inadvertent the thought is.

The section of scripture that I am teaching is Matthew chapters 5-7 or what we normally refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. While this section is undoubtedly Jewish in nature and an argument can be made that it relates specifically to the Millennial Kingdom time period, it seems reasonable to argue that if Jesus expected these characteristics (poor in spirit, meek etc) of His followers at any time period in history then He expects them for all of His followers at every time period in history. And if we are going to walk like Jesus walked this is how to do it.

But what about thinking like Jesus thought? The more I reflected on it, the more it became apparent that this same passage gives us some great insights into the thought patterns of the Son of God. We can discover how Jesus thought by studying His teachings and the Sermon on the Mount is one of the great sources for His teaching.

Let me give you one example. When Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9), He is showing us just how important the concept of peace is in the mind of God. Too often this statement is used in the context of war; equivalent to pacifist. But its primary application is not to nations but to people and how we are to live our lives every day. We are to be people who make peace.

The word for peacemakers is only used here in the New Testament. It has the idea of action, doing something (making peace), even of committing our lives to something (peace). God wants His people to commit their lives to living in peace. Peace in their life. Peace in their home. Peace in their relationships. Peace in how they think. Peace in how they speak. Even peace in how they drive! Peace is to be a dominate attribute in our lives because it is dominate in the heart of God. Five times in the New Testament God is referred to as the God of peace. That’s just who He is and it’s who He wants us to be. The words Christian and peacemaker are to be synonymous.

One last thought. Living in peace sometimes depends on other people. That is, it is possible for someone to rob you of your peace. God saw that coming so He told us how to handle it. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). God is not going to hold you accountable when someone else destroys your peace. You just have to do everything you can to make peace. You have to be committed to peace.

When our thoughts and actions are dominated by peace so that people know us as people of peace then we will be known as sons and daughters of God.

Now the God of peace be with you all. (Romans 15:33).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians and the Ice Bucket Challenge

En Gedi

A phenomenon is sweeping social media sites like Facebook. Known as the Ice Bucket Challenge it is an ingenuous attempt to raise both awareness and funds for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) research.

According to the ALS website here’s how it works. The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.

Among my limited number of Facebook friends there have literally been dozens of videos posted showing people dumping ice water over their heads. I do wonder how many people who have participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge have also sent in a donation or do most people interpret this as an either/or situation? Either I douse myself with ice water or I send in a donation. I would love to hear from those who completed the challenge if they also made a donation. Just curious. Some apparently have – keep reading.

Has it worked? According to one website as of Tuesday (Aug. 19), the ALS Association has received $22.9 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.9 million during the same time period last year. The association has seen 453,210 new donors.

I would have to say it has been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I only wish that I had thought of it!

I do have one concern, however, that centers around the policy of the ALS Association as it relates to the use of embryonic stem cells. In reading their website it appears to me that they have no moral objection to using embryonic stem cells in their research. While they admit that using stem cells derived from fertilized embryos less than a week old raises ethical issues, they nowhere reject the use of these stem cells. If this is true then Christians who believe that life begins at conception should have a major issue with the ALS Association and by extension the Ice Bucket Challenge.

While this marketing strategy has been so successful, success does not equal right. If the taking of an innocent life is biblically wrong then it is always wrong regardless of the good it might do.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s question in Romans 6, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? That is, should we sin in order that good might be accomplished? In Paul’s case the good was God’s grace. In the Ice Bucket Challenge the good is the potential medical breakthrough that will save lives. But the answer to both situations must be the same for the Christian – Absolutely not! In the Christian life it is never right to sin in order to achieve right.

There is some indication that a donor to the ALS Association can ask that their donations not be used for research involving embryonic stem cells – and for some people that may be a way to handle this ethical/moral dilemma. However that’s simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. When you choose that option you allow the organization to use your funds to free up other funds for the same research. It doesn’t work, it just makes you feel better.

I suggest that until the ALS Association has a clear policy and rejects the use of research using embryonic stem cells that Christians send their donations elsewhere. There are many worthy causes that do not force you into an ethical/moral dilemma.

The scriptural instruction to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16) is still good advice.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Family Reunions

DSCF0261

It’s that time of year. The end of summer is quickly approaching and the beginning of another school year is almost here (mothers you can listen to the Hallelujah Chorus here). It’s also the time of year when many families get together for their annual family reunion. Many of my Facebook friends have been posting pictures of their extended families enjoying picnics, games, and sitting in the shade catching up with Aunt Matilda.

I always loved family reunions. Unfortunately growing up our family often lived too far away to join in the festivities. I do remember, however, in my early primary school days that my father’s family would get together, sometimes in a park across the street from our church. The “religious” members of the family would join our church service while the rest would wait for us in the park then we would all join together for a great afternoon of food, games, food, fun, food. I always loved that as a little guy and I’ve missed it as an adult.

That made me think about the greatest of all family reunions, when God’s family finally gets together. The Apostle Paul refers to us as children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8: 16). The Apostle John described this family as coming from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). It will be a family, not connected by physical blood, but by something much stronger, the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you who have had the opportunity of going on a missions trip to another country have already had a taste of what it will be like.

Think about it – for thousands of years this family has been growing and it will continue to grow until Jesus comes. It’s just getting bigger and bigger. If you are a Christian you have brothers and sisters that you have never met and they are part of this great family.

While much of the family of God around the world is doing well part of your family is meeting in secret house churches in China to avoid being arrested. Part of your family is on a mountaintop in Iraq fleeing for their lives (even though the news media uses the term Christian rather loosely here to include everyone who is not Muslim, still there is a good chance that some of those people know Christ). Some of your family is being persecuted in places like Pakistan, Sudan, and Nigeria. Many in your family will go to bed tonight with empty stomachs. Things are not good for everyone in your family.

That’s why God has encouraged us to take care of each other – therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10). It is the responsibility of those who can to take care of those who lack.

What have you done recently to show that you care for your family? To show that they are important to you? To show that you care as much about them as God does? The Apostle Paul reminds us that if one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26). Suffering in the family is everyone’s business. It affects all of us.

This family thing can’t just be theoretical. It has to be practical. It has to mean something to us or it means nothing at all. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to stand in front of my family someday knowing that I could have done something but having done nothing and have them ask me where I was when they needed my help.

So if you minister to the family who is suffering – thank you! If not, they’re waiting for you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Promoting Patriotism in the Church

After that headline I need to begin with a disclaimer: I love my country. I think that it is good to be patriotic. I’m thankful that God put me here. I don’t want you to jump to the wrong conclusion by what follows.

Here’s my concern. I am concerned that the evangelical church (not individuals here but churches) has become so involved in flag waving that people, especially those from other faiths, cannot see the difference between what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Christian. And if this is true, even to the smallest degree, haven’t we in some way hindered the gospel?

I’m not talking about our country or government promoting democracy and freedom around the world. My concern is with the Church of Jesus Christ. To what extent does the Church get involved in promoting either democracy or America? To what extent do we mix faith and patriotism?

I realize that there are some evangelical churches and even complete Christian denominations that shy away from getting involved in anything remotely political, even to the extent of not displaying the American flag in their church. But they seem to be in the minority, at least in my experience.

So what about the gospel? Have we made accepting the gospel equivalent to accepting democracy? Or at least accepting America? The crucial answer to this question is not your answer – it is the answer of the Muslim in Iran or the Hindu in India or the Buddhist or the Jew. It is their perception of what we are doing that matters, not ours. And if what they see in our actions is not the gospel and only the gospel then we have failed.

As Americans we need to wrestle with this issue. For generations our churches have displayed the American flag, held patriotic services, said the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the National Anthem, and endorsed God and Country rallies. For most of us it would be un-American not to do all of this and more. But as Christians what we do in our churches is not about being a patriotic American it’s about being a Christian. It’s a spiritual question not a patriotic question.

We need to engage on a range of issues that will impact where we finally land on this topic:

Is it the function of the church to promote the country in which it exists (for example to hold God and Country services)?

What does it mean that our citizenship is in heaven as opposed to this earth (Philippians 3:20) and how does that impact our actions?

What does it mean that we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11)?

In what way is Abraham who waited for the city . . . whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10) our example?

Is our promotion of democracy and/or America hindering people in other countries from listening to the gospel?

Remember our primary responsibility is the gospel – not democracy or even America, as great as she is.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Be an Encourager

En Gedi

I think it’s safe to say that one thing we would all like is some encouragement – just a kind word from our spouse, an “attaboy” from our boss, a nice note from a friend. Who couldn’t use a little encouragement from time to time? In each of my churches I’ve had many people who have encouraged me, but there have been a few who made it their ministry to build encouragement into my life on a regular basis and believe me there were days that I wouldn’t have gotten through without them. I thank God for those godly encouragers.

In the New Testament the idea of encouragement is related to the idea of comfort. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica comfort one another (4:18) and comfort yourselves together (5:11). The same word is used for encouragement. The concept of comfort gets to the heart of encouragement. When we encourage someone we bring comfort into their lives.

This word is also used in the book of Hebrews when the writer says that in these final days of human history we are to be busy exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day (of Christ’s return) approaching (10:25). Some translations (the NIV for example) use the phrase encouraging one another in place of exhorting one another. While both translations are viable, sometimes those of us who tend to be more in-your-face (guilty as charged) like the idea of exhorting people instead of encouraging them which has a gentler, kinder connotation. We might consider whether we would get farther with people if we encouraged more than we exhorted.

The point is that Christians are to be encouragers. Part of what we are to do is to encourage other followers of Christ who are down. We are to bless them, refresh their spirits and help them on their journey.

The secret to encouragement is not to wait until it arrives at your door but to give it away. Sure we all need to be encouraged but so does everyone else and if we’re all waiting then no one is giving.

So go out and encourage someone today – even if you don’t feel like it. You don’t need to find out if they’re discouraged or down, just pick someone out and find a way to encourage them. Practice a random act of encouragement. Your turn will come. Someday encouragement will show up at your door unannounced and you will be blest. But you will be doubly blest if while you’re waiting you’ve been busy encouraging others.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

En Gedi

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve