Some Thoughts on Family Reunions

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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

God Takes the Summer Off

En Gedi

A lady in our church recently published this on her Facebook page – it came from the ministry Joni and Friends. I hope it makes you think and reevaluate your priorities this summer.

God Takes The Summer Off

We are sorry to inform you that God will not be available during the summer beginning June 1st. He feels He deserves some time off, so He has canceled His normal duties for the summer.

He has agreed to send the sun and rain occasionally when He happens to be in town, but so far as answering prayers for the needs of your family, please don’t count on Him.

God has let church leaders know that they should not plan any outreach efforts or mission trips during the summer—or at least if they do, they will have to do it without Him because He plans to be gone a lot to see relatives, baseball games and the lake. God has expressed the opinion that we should find someone else to take His place.

Then we reminded Him of His promise, “Surely I will be with you always,” but He said He didn’t realize when He said it that it meant going two or three years without a break. He expressed His sincere regret and hopes that it will not cause anyone any inconvenience.

God may be contacted anytime after September 1st at which time He hopes to get back into the routine. “Please defer all requests until then,” He requested.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t take the summer off? As we approach summer, make it your determination to bring yourself and your family to God’s House on Sunday. He’ll be waiting for us to worship Him.

Does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe you? Sure it’s a ridiculous thought that God would take any time off, let alone an entire summer. And it’s a good thing He doesn’t or we’d be in big trouble.

But why, then do we think we can take time off from church? Can you imagine how Hebrews 10: 25 might sound if some Christians were writing it today?

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, unless it’s too hot, or you
have a family reunion on Sunday, or you have tickets to see your favorite
baseball team play, or you just need a break . . .

You get the idea. We often do what we don’t want God to do.

Hey, I know that there will be times when you can’t be in church this summer but it should be a very short list – sickness, kids sick, vacation, have to work, – hold on I’m still thinking. Well, like I said it should be a very short list.

I hope to see you in church this Sunday!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Better When . . .

Most people are looking for something in life that will make their life better – a better job; a nicer house; more money etc. The basic problem is that too often they’re looking for the wrong things in the wrong places. For the Christian, life is better when you begin looking for the right things (followed by right actions) in the right place. The quality of our lives does not depend on the amount of things that we have (Luke 12:19) but on the way we choose to live our lives.

With that thought in mind, here are 10 ways that you can make your life better.

Life is better when . . .

you live a life of Forgiveness instead of a life of Bitterness (Matthew 6:12 & 14)

you live a life of Giving instead of a life of Miserliness (2 Corinthians 8)

you live a life of Generosity instead of a life of Greed (Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38)

you live a life of Honesty instead of a life of Lies (1 Peter 3:10-12)

you live a life of Purity instead of a life of Immorality (Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians 6:18)

you live a life of Serving instead of a life of Taking (1 Peter 4:11)

you live a life of Sacrifice instead of a life of Selfishness (Romans 12:1)

you live a life of Order instead of a life of Turmoil (1 Corinthians 14:40)

you live a life of Calm instead of a life of Chaos (Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 5:9)

you live a life of Humility instead of a life of Pride (Luke 14:11, James 4:6)

You get the idea. Life is always better when we attempt to live it God’s way whether that makes sense to us or not; whether it’s easy or not; whether it will benefit us or hurt us in the short term; no matter what anyone else is doing.

What would you can add to this list that would make your life better if you began to do things God’s way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve