Is it Really Possible to Have Peace?

I was drawn to this statement in the Bible; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15). We live in a world of conflict and turmoil, not only on a mega scale but more importantly for us, on a personal level. Let’s admit it – our lives are more often chaotic than peaceful.

Yet as Christians we are told, not just to have God’s peace, not just to live in God’s peace but to let God’s peace rule our lives. That means that God’s peace is to direct our lives, to control our lives. This particular word also has the idea of being the umpire in our lives. When we are faced with circumstances that have the potential to send us into an emotional, spiritual tailspin, we are to let God’s peace act as the umpire; to say yes or no; to determine our actions. There’s no question how it (He) will rule every time.

But that’s the theoretical/theological. What about the practical? What do we need to do so that God’s peace is the directing force in our lives, especially in times of personal conflict? The context gives us some guidance.

First we need to understand that as Christians we have to handle life in a radically different way. Verses 8-9 tell us how we are not to respond to life – with anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language and lying, while verses 12-14 tell us how we are to respond: put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love. Wow! How hard is that going to be? Very.

Handling life with mercy, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness won’t be easy and we will often fail. That’s why God included this encouragement in the Bible. If we always responded to life this way or if it was an easy thing to do, we wouldn’t need to be reminded. It’s precisely because we are prone to fail that God encourages us to try harder.

I can hear the objections already – so-and-so won’t let up, they continue to make my life miserable. That’s where Romans 12:18 comes into play; if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. You won’t answer for how they handle life – only for how you handle it. You do the right thing no matter what they do. That’s all God expects.

Back to Colossians 2. My second observation is this: Having the peace of God in our lives is a choice. Notice the text; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts. It’s a command. Whenever the Bible gives us a command we have the option of either doing it or not doing it. It’s our choice. You choose when you decide to live in verses 12-14 instead of verses 8-9.

That brings me to my final observation. It’s the Word of God that the Spirit of God uses in our lives to help us live in a way that results in peace. Verse 16 brings this out when it says; let the Word of Christ dwell in you abundantly in all wisdom. It’s not a matter of picking up the Bible whenever we face conflict and reading a chapter or two (although that’s not a bad idea). It’s being so immersed in the Word of God that when conflict arises we respond in a Godly way even if it takes us awhile to get there. When you do that you know that you are responding in all wisdom.

Is it really possible to have peace in life? The answer is Yes – but we have to approach life God’s way. Will it be easy? No. Will it require hard work? Yes. Will it mean that we have to reorient the way we think? Probably. Will it be worth it? You decide.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Engaging Our Culture

For the past few Sundays I have been teaching an adult class at our church on the subject of Changing Our World. Our takeoff point has been Ephesians 5:15-16. Here it is from the NIV translation:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

We discussed how to walk circumspectly (NJKV wording) in our world; how to live as wise people; and how to make the most of every opportunity or, as the NJKV reads, how to redeem the times. As Christians that’s why we’re here.

I want to make several observations about changing our world (redeeming the times) in the context of engaging our culture, because in many, if not most instances where we are going to make a real difference we will have to go into the culture rather than have the culture come to us. There are several reasons for this. One is that a great percentage of people in our culture don’t even know that we as evangelical Christians exist. They’ve never met anyone like us. Another reason is that even if they do know that we’re on the planet, they don’t think that we are relevant. To their way of thinking we don’t have anything that they either want or need. So they aren’t going to come looking for us – we’re going to have to go looking for them.

So what will that look like? What can we expect if we begin to engage our culture?

1. It’s bound to be messy. By that I mean we might end up in places we wouldn’t normally go. We might hear things that we would rather not hear. We might rub shoulders with people we’d never see in church. There’s going to be a messy quality to our engagement.

2. It will probably make most of us feel uncomfortable. As we’re in the culture the things we see and hear will make many of us feel uncomfortable. It’s not just a matter of what we see and hear – it’s the world views, the philosophies, the mind-sets, and the attitudes that we’ll encounter. They definitely won’t be Christian and we will probably feel like a fish out of water. This is especially true of the Baby Boomers. The younger generation of Christians won’t be affected as much, although this may hold true to some degree for them as well.

3. We won’t be loved. We spend most of our time with people who, if they don’t love us as least approve of us. But that won’t be true when we go into the culture. Christ went into the culture of His day and was criticized and mocked. He was even accused of being demon possessed. If it’s love that you want you won’t find it in the culture. Not if you live like Christ – that is, counter-culturally.

4. It will be a risk. The risk is that when you engage the culture, no one will listen. No one will care. So you have to ask yourself is what you have to offer worth the risk? Is the gospel story worth running headlong into the messiness and the opposition that is our culture today? As with anything worthwhile, it will involve a risk.

What we have to remember as we engage our culture is that we have the right story. We have what our culture needs whether anyone acknowledges it or not. Our goal is not to avoid the mess; not to be comfortable; not to be loved; not to live without risk. Our goal is to change our culture one person at a time; to make the most of every opportunity wherever God puts us; to redeem the times.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Getting Ready to Leave

The days immediately leading up to a missions trip are always hectic days. Supplies to purchase, bins to pack, and teaching notes to review for the last time. Do we have enough? Can we get everything in our bins and be under the weight limit? So much to do, so little time to do it. It’s always a busy time but I admit that I love it.

In eleven days my wife and I will be leaving for Haiti to teach a week-long Couples Seminar to sixty pastors and their wives. At the end of the week she’ll be returning home and I’ll stay for eight nights of evangelistic meetings. We do some variation of this every March and it’s one of the highlights of my year. It’s the preparation that is exhausting, the ministry refreshes my soul. I’ve never kept track of how many hours go into preparation but it’s a lot.

That caused me to begin thinking about the concept of preparation. So much of our lives are spent simply preparing for something yet to come. We prepare to go to work every morning; we prepare meals; we prepare to meet with clients; we prepare for tests at school; we prepare for vacations; we prepare for meetings; we prepare to go out to dinner; we prepare for shopping trips; we prepare to play basketball games; we prepare to watch basketball games; we prepare to go to the doctors, the dentist or the hairdressers. Just think about how much of your life is spent preparing to do something else. For most people it’s considerable.

But how much time do we spend as Christians preparing for the biggest event of our lives? How much time do we spend preparing to meet God? I’m not talking only about salvation – that’s just the first step in the preparation process. There is so much more.

Just before His ascension Jesus told the disciples that He was going back to the Father. Borrowing from the language of the Jewish wedding He said, I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). After a young Jewish man and girl were promised (betrothal – a legal step in the marriage process) to each other, he would go back home and spend up to a year preparing a place for the two of them to live in his father’s house. During that same time, the bride would be busy preparing herself because she never knew the day or the hour when her husband would come to take her to their new home. However long it took, she wasn’t idle. It was a time of preparation for her new life – emotionally, materially, spiritually and relationally.

The New Testament often uses the same marital language to show the relationship of Christ to His Church. As the church we are the bride of Christ. Like the Jewish husband, Jesus is preparing a place for us. Just like the Jewish bride we don’t know when Jesus will come to take us to the Father’s house. It could be anytime.

As His Bride we’re to be busy preparing for His coming. But too often we are so busy with “life” that we don’t have time to get ready for the biggest day of our lives.

If you knew that in eleven days you would stand before God, how would you prepare? Would you pray more? Read your Bible more? Share the gospel with more people? Spend more time confessing sin? Love someone more? Help someone more? Be kinder? How would you prepare if you knew that you were soon to leave?

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. Matthew 25:13

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians and Civil Discourse

One of the areas that Christians seem to shy away from discussing is Christians and Civil Discourse. Put simply, civil discourse has to do with how we verbally (in person, in writing, on Facebook or Twitter etc) engage people with different opinions (often held passionately) in a kind and courteous manner.

As I began to look at the information available online several things stood out. The first thing that I noticed was that there are a number of organizations who make the concept of civil discourse a major aspect of their focus. The Nation Institute for Civil Discourse, the Project Civil Discourse, the Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy, and Citizens for Civil Discourse (whose primary goal seems to be to stop politicians from making robocalls! – I think they may be onto something!) are just a few that I found.

The second thing that I quickly noticed in my brief survey was that I only found one Christian organization that addressed this issue. There may be more, and probably are, but I didn’t find them. That shouldn’t be. As Christians we should be at the forefront of the discussion. After all, our faith directly addresses this issue.

I recognize that the issue of civil discourse can be used to intimidate people into silence by their opponents. The minute something is said that disagrees with their position the label of intolerant is hung on them and they are accused of violating the laws of civil discourse. Christians can run up against this in the areas of same sex relationships and abortion. That in itself, however, should not stop us from addressing those who disagree with us in a Biblical, i.e. civil manner.

Several passages are worth noting here. In Colossians 4:6 the Apostle Paul writes: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. The each one is defined in the preceding verse as those who are outside, that is, unbelievers. As Christians we are to speak to those who disagree with us with grace and in a way that is purifying to the culture around us. Too often we have equated purifying speech with confrontational speech, but God equates it with graceful speech.

Another passage, and there are more, that applies here is Ephesians 4:29-32:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

While this was directed to believers interacting with other believers, do you think that God has one standard for how we talk to each other and another standard for how we talk to those outside the faith? Our speech is ALWAYS to impart grace to the hearers. There is NEVER to be a time when what we say can be characterized by bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor or malice. Unfortunately Christians are often the ones accused of ignoring civil discourse, and sometimes it’s true.

I’m not advocating silence. Christians need to speak up on the cultural issues of the day. But we need to do it in a way that is consistent with the Word of God. After all, true civil discourse is simply Godly discourse. In this area we need to be known as people who practice speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Lover or Prostitute?

Occasionally I read something that is worth passing along. The following article was written by Dr. David Ryser and published on the website Viral Christ. You can find it at under the category Christian Growth/Love. I don’t know anything about Dr. Ryser apart from this article. He does, however, bring a different – and uncomfortable perspective to an important issue in the Christian life.

Here it is under the title: “Lover or Prostitute?” The Question that Changed My Life. I hope it changes yours.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a school of ministry. My students were hungry for God, and I was constantly searching for ways to challenge them to fall more in love with Jesus and to become voices for revival in the Church. I came across a quote attributed most often to Rev. Sam Pascoe. It is a short version of the history of Christianity, and it goes like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.

Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old–barely out of diapers–and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, “An enterprise. That’s a business.” After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha’s raised hand, “Yes, Martha.” She asked such a simple question, “A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?” I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, “Yes.” She continued, “But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?”

The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that.” I didn’t dare express that thought aloud. God had taken over the class.

Martha’s question changed my life. For six months, I thought about her question at least once every day. “When a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?” There is only one answer to her question. The answer is “Yes.” The American Church, tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don’t even know Him; and I mean really know Him.

What do I mean when I say “really know Him?” Our understanding of knowing and knowledge stems from our western culture (which is based in ancient Greek philosophical thought). We believe we have knowledge (and, by extension, wisdom) when we have collected information. A collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge, especially in the culture of the Bible (which is an eastern, non-Greek, culture). In the eastern culture, all knowledge is experiential. In western/Greek culture, we argue from premise to conclusion without regard for experience–or so we think.

An example might be helpful here. Let us suppose a question based upon the following two premises: First, that wheat does not grow in a cold climate and second, that England has a cold climate. The question: Does wheat grow in England? The vast majority of people from the western/Greek culture would answer, “No. If wheat does not grow in a cold climate and if England has a cold climate, then it follows that wheat does not grow in England.” In the eastern culture, the answer to the same question, based on the same premises, most likely would be, “I don’t know. I’ve never been to England.” We laugh at this thinking, but when I posed the same question to my friends from England, their answer was, “Yes, of course wheat grows in England. We’re from there, and we know wheat grows there.” They overcame their cultural way of thinking because of their life experience. Experience trumps information when it comes to knowledge.

A similar problem exists with our concept of belief. We say we believe something (or someone) apart from personal experience. This definition of belief is not extended to our stockbroker, however. Again, allow me to explain. Suppose my stockbroker phones me and says, “I have a hot tip on a stock that is going to triple in price within the next week. I want your permission to transfer $10,000 from your cash account and buy this stock.” That’s a lot of money for me, so I ask, “Do you really believe this stock will triple in price, and so quickly?” He/she answers, I sure do.” I say, “That sounds great! How exciting! So how much of your own money have you invested in this stock?” He/she answers, “None.” Does my stockbroker believe? Truly believe? I don’t think so, and suddenly I don’t believe, either. How can we be so discerning in the things of this world, especially when they involve money, and so indiscriminate when it comes to spiritual things? The fact is, we do not know or believe apart from experience. The Bible was written to people who would not understand the concepts of knowledge, belief, and faith apart from experience. I suspect God thinks this way also.

So I stand by my statement that most American Christians do not know God–much less love Him. The root of this condition originates in how we came to God. Most of us came to Him because of what we were told He would do for us. We were promised that He would bless us in life and take us to heaven after death. We married Him for His money, and we don’t care if He lives or dies as long as we can get His stuff. We have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be. We are commanded to love God, and are called to be the Bride of Christ–that’s pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don’t even know? And even if we do know someone, is that a guarantee that we truly love them? Are we lovers or prostitutes?

I was pondering Martha’s question again one day, and considered the question, “What’s the difference between a lover and a prostitute?” I realized that both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, “What would happen if God stopped paying me?”

For the next several months, I allowed God to search me to uncover my motives for loving and serving Him. Was I really a true lover of God? What would happen if He stopped blessing me? What if He never did another thing for me? Would I still love Him? Please understand, I believe in the promises and blessings of God. The issue here is not whether God blesses His children; the issue is the condition of my heart. Why do I serve Him? Are His blessings in my life the gifts of a loving Father, or are they a wage that I have earned or a bribe/payment to love Him? Do I love God without any conditions? It took several months to work through these questions. Even now I wonder if my desire to love God is always matched by my attitude and behavior. I still catch myself being disappointed with God and angry that He has not met some perceived need in my life. I suspect this is something which is never fully resolved, but I want more than anything else to be a true lover of God.

So what is it going to be? Which are we, lover or prostitute? There are no prostitutes in heaven, or in the Kingdom of God for that matter, but there are plenty of former prostitutes in both places. Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for unconditional, intimate relationship with God. And I mean there is no palatable substitute available to us (take another look at Matthew 7:21-23 sometime). We must choose.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When Actions Matter

All of us have gone through those disappointing moments when hope seems to vanish into thin air and dreams are crushed by the burdens of life. When we are literally sucked dry of the joy of life, often by the thoughtless actions of someone only interested in how the events of life affect them without a thought for anyone else.

How you react as a Christian to those moments says volumes about your spiritual life. More significantly how you react to those people who destroy your hope says volumes about your spiritual life. A good test of your character is how you respond to people in your lowest moments.

When Christ was asked to name the greatest commandment of the law (read Matthew 22:34-40 for the full account) He didn’t stop with just one – He gave the first (love God with everything you have) and the second (love others as much as you love yourself). There was a reason: these two commands are inseparably linked together. In fact Christ elevated the second commandment to the level of the first when He said and the second is like it (IE, the second command to love others is as important as the first command to love God).

On a spiritual level the way we treat other people, especially in our darkest moments tells us more about our relationship with God than almost anything else we do. That was what Christ was trying to get across to His followers – your relationship with God is determined by how you treat other people. You cannot love God the way you should unless you love other people the way you should. And how you love other people is evident by how you treat them.

Following a devastating lose in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning was asked for his autograph. Understand that Manning has lived his professional career with the accusation that he can’t win the “big game”. That he chokes when it matters the most. That he will never be considered as one of the elite quarterbacks of all time without more Super Bowl wins on his resume – and time is running out for him. Sunday’s loss may easily have been the lowest point of his professional career. And the last thing he wanted to do was to sign his name for the joy it would bring to someone he didn’t even know.

But even when he could have been excused for taking time just for himself – to get over the emotions that were tearing him apart; when he would have been excused for engaging in some well-deserved self-pity, he took the time to touch the lives of people he would never see again. One headline read: In lowest of moments Manning’s character tested. From a human perspective he passed the test.

Sportswriter Dan Wetzel made this observation: At some point, though, at some level, what really matters about a man is how he treats people who hold no leverage over him, let alone how he treats those people in moments of tumult when it would be quite understandable if he just ignored the request. You can read his entire article here.

It’s an imperfect illustration but I think it gets the point across. He understood that this moment in time wasn’t just about him – there were other people involved. And while his actions may not rise to the level of love as ours should, he demonstrated a quality of character that is greatly lacking in our society today.

If someone who has just lost a football game can act with grace and humility in the moment when his dreams have been crushed, then we as Christ-followers; people who have been forgiven much; people who have the greatest example to follow; people who understand even more the need to put others ahead of ourselves, certainly should be able to follow the words of Christ: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Our actions always matter – but they say volumes about us when our actions flow out of a godly heart in the darkest moments in life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Problem With Faith

Every year at our church we choose a theme – something that will guide our thoughts and lives during the year in a Biblical direction. Several times throughout the year we come back and review the theme to see how we’re doing. This year our theme is Everything by Faith. The idea is that faith for the Christian is not just expressed at the point of salvation but it is one of the ruling characteristic of our lives. Everything we do in life is to be guided by faith. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please [God]. The emphasis of the entire 11th chapter is on how followers of God lived out their faith on a day-by-day basis.

But there’s a problem with faith – or more specifically, there’s a problem with how we as Christians often attempt to exercise faith. I received an email after yesterday’s sermon from one of our members. The issue that they raised illustrates the problem that many Christians have in understanding faith. Here’s a brief quote: Where does living by faith come in when you had faith that a loved one would be safe but they were killed? . . . do human reactions and responses like this [IE being upset if our prayer isn’t answered] diminish our faith or somehow indicate to us that our faith wasn’t strong enough? We’ve all been there. We’ve all had these same thoughts and struggles.

Here’s the problem as it relates to faith. What that individual was describing was faith in faith, not faith in God. And that’s often how we exercise our faith. We equate faith with how strongly we believe or how hard we pray. If we pray but our prayer isn’t answered in the way we prayed – in this case the prayer was for safety but the individual was killed, we immediately assume that the problem was with our faith. In fact the outcome may have had nothing to do with our faith.

The measure of our faith is not in the quality of our beliefs or prayers, it is in the quality of the One in whom we believe. In other words it is the object of our faith that is the critical issue. The object of our faith as Christians is not in a strong faith (although that is certainly something we should desire). The object of our faith is the Eternal God who never changes; who is always faithful; who always does what is right; who always does what is best for His kingdom and for our good; and who loves us with an eternal, undying, unequaled love.

Faith in faith is simply faith in ourselves; in our ability to believe harder. That’s dangerous and weak territory in which to live. With a loving, all-powerful God as the object of our faith we can pray for someone’s safety knowing that if they run into danger God had something better in His eternal plan. That’s living by faith.

Will there be times of doubt, tears and disappointment? Sure – that’s part of our humanness and God understands (Psalm 103:14) but we keep on trusting, not because we have such strong faith but because we have such a powerful God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve