Where Do You Get Your News?

If you watch the news for any length of time you’ll be tempted to ask is there any GOOD news? We’re inundated with one unsavory story after another that cause us to live in fear, disgust and/or hopelessness. It seems like evil has overrun our world.

As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised. God’s Word tells us that in the days just before the return of Christ, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We’re there.

But back to the question is there any GOOD news? The answer is YES! Yes there is good news, especially for the Christian. It’s all about where you look. Most people get their news from sources like as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or various internet sites and if you keep looking there, you’ll probably continue to get bad news and it will be discouraging. However, if you get your news from God’s Word there is plenty of good news. Here’s just a sample of the good news that God has for you as a Christian:

God is still in control. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

You are on God’s heart. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. Psalm 34:15

We have peace. Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

We have hope. Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

You don’t have to pay for your sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

The problems of today are nothing compared to what is coming. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

A better day is coming. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

You are loved. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:14

Think about all of the good news that’s available to us if we just look in the right place. I’m sure that you can add to this list. Don’t be jaded by the news that you get from the television, newspaper or internet – the news from the world isn’t so good, but the news from God’s Word is great!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Don’t Give Up! (or Keep On Pestering God)

One of my favorite parables in the New Testament is found in Luke 18:1-8. It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Widow and the Judge or the Parable of the Persistent Widow. As with most of the parables Jesus told, it’s not all that complicated.

There are just two characters, a judge who didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people said about him and a widow who had been treated unfairly (we’re not given the details). The widow went to the judge expecting justice, and apparently went more than one or two times – she went persistently until the judge agreed to hear her case.

In the end the judge ruled in the widow’s favor, not because it was the right thing to do (although the implication is that she had been wronged) but because she was becoming a pain in the neck.

The text is explicit that Jesus told this parable to teach us that we shouldn’t become discouraged in prayer even when the answer isn’t readily apparent.

That in itself is a lesson. God knows that we are prone to give up easily. O we of little faith.

The part of the parable that always challenges me is the application Jesus made in verse eight: When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

That is, when Jesus returns will he find people who have enough faith that they are willing to pray, and pray, and keep on praying without giving up even though they haven’t seen an answer to their prayer?

It takes a deep faith to keep on praying when heaven is silent.

The implication to His question is that when Jesus comes that kind of faith will be rare. There won’t be many Christians who will have enough faith to keep on trusting. Trusting that prayer is the right way to handle the situation. Trusting that prayer really works. Trusting that God actually hears prayer. Trusting that God still answers prayer.

In a recent study on prayer I came across an interesting thought. The writer asked the question, How do we know which prayer God answers? Does He answer your first prayer? Or will it be your one hundredth prayer? Or will be the culmination of all of your prayers?

The answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know how God works, especially in the area of prayer.

So we keep on praying.

We don’t give up. We’re persistent. We keep knocking on the door of heaven. We keep pestering God (from our perspective, not His).

We keep exercising faith.

Don’t be like the judge whose actions were dictated by his earthly, self-centered view of life. Be like the widow and refuse to quit on God even when you can’t see the answer.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Amazing (Grace) Mercy How Sweet the Sound

With apologies to John Newton, God’s mercy is as amazing as His grace! Where would we be today without the mercy of God?

Mercy is often associated with pity or compassion and is sometimes translated by those words. Both concepts are certainly part of God’s mercy but it is so much more. It’s more in any way you look at it. It’s more in intensity; it’s more in duration; it’s more in substance; it’s more in quality; it’s more in quantity – it’s just more than we can describe.

Over the years theologians, and others, have offered definitions to explain God’s grace and mercy, but none of their definitions get it completely right. One favorite way to explain grace and mercy is that God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve (His love, forgiveness etc) while His mercy is not giving us what we do deserve (judgment). Again, it’s true but there is so much more.

Simply put, and this is admittedly too simplistic, both mercy and grace are aspects of God’s love. Mercy is God’s love given to those who need it the most – the blind man (John 9), the cripple (John 5), the leper (Matthew 8) were all recipients of His mercy.

Grace is different. Grace is God’s love given to those who deserve it the least – people who are not just physically damaged but especially to people who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:8). None of us deserves to be forgiven.

Not perfect definitions but they’ve helped me understand the distinctions a little better.

As much as we talk and sing about God’s grace it is His mercy that stands behind His grace. Grace is motivated by mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Without God’s mercy there would be no salvation. Without His mercy there would be no healing. Without His mercy there would be no forgiveness for our daily sin. Without His mercy there would be no escaping judgment. Without his mercy there would be no hope for eternity.

Without mercy, grace would just not be the same.

Yes, grace is essential and we need to give it the importance it deserves. But so is mercy.

Think what your life would be like without the mercy of God. Think what eternity would be like without the mercy of God.

The old hymn says, O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be. We’re also immensely in debt to mercy.

Thank God for His grace – but also thank Him for His mercy.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Spirituality by Osmosis

We all know it’s not possible. You can’t become spiritual by osmosis – the process of unconsciously assimilating something while you sleep. You won’t wake up one morning more spiritual than you went to bed the night before.

It just doesn’t work that way – but we act like it does.

Growing in spirituality is a process. But it’s more than simply a process – it’s an intentional process. You have to choose to be godly and then take the proper steps to move in that direction.

And that’s where so many Christians today come up short. They want to be more godly but they don’t want to do what it takes to be more godly. There is a spiritual neglect evident in the church today. Call it spiritual laziness.

Some people blame it on our culture. We live in a culture that wants instant access to everything. So we have fast food. We have same day delivery. We have apps that eliminate the need to wait for a cab, a date, a table at your favorite restaurant or the latest movie.

When was the last time you were upset with your computer because it didn’t load fast enough?

And we want our spirituality to be served up the same way. Easy and fast.

But blaming the culture is too easy. And it eliminates personal responsibility. Your responsibility for your own godliness.

Yes, it’s true that without God’s work in our lives none of us would ever be spiritual (Psalm 127:1, John 15:4-5, Philippians 2:13, 4:13). But every command of scripture tells us that we also have a part in God’s plan and a responsibility to grow in grace (Ephesians 4:15, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 2:1-2, 2 Peter 3:18). You have a responsibility for the level of your spirituality. It won’t happen by osmosis.

Here’s how scripture describes it.

Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Pursue peace with all people, and [pursue] holiness; without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

From a human perspective it’s up to you.

Fortunately God has provided the means to godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). God has given us everything we need to become spiritual people. The old theologians called them the spiritual disciplines. They were talking about things found in the Bible that, if practiced on a consistent basis, would promote holiness of life. Included among the spiritual disciplines are bible reading and study, prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, and service. There are others and depending on who you read the lists will verily slightly. The point is that there are specific things that you can do – that you need to do to promote holiness in your life.

Practiced on a consistent basis with a humble heart, the result of the spiritual disciplines will be spiritual growth. Ignore them consistently and you will be a spiritual pygmy. Or as scripture says, a spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-13).

If you would like to know more about the spiritual disciplines we’re teaching on them in our Adult Bible Fellowship at SVBC or you can read Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, published by NavPress.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Who Are You Thankful For?

It’s been a run of ugliness – much of it coming out of Hollywood. There have always been whispers about the dark side of the movie industry but now details are coming into the light and they are even uglier than we expected.

It hasn’t been limited to Hollywood. Now there are similar accusations coming from women on the U.S.A. Olympic team.

I anticipate that this is just the beginning of revelations. There is more to come. And possibly from areas of society that will surprise us.

Who can women trust? Who can any of us trust?

That made me stop and think about the people in my life. People who did not break my trust. People I’m thankful for. People who made my life richer than it would have been had we not crossed paths. And there have been many of them.

But a few stand out.

Heading the list is my wife who has had an enormous impact in my life. She deserves more credit than most people realize. Proverbs 31:10-12.

My parents who raised me in a godly family are on the list. As are my children.

Then there were seminary professors who saw me as more than a student and imparted not just academic knowledge to me, but their own lives.

Along the line there have been some special friends who have been there when I needed them. They fulfilled 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in my life.

Included in the list have been people who have stood outside that ring of intimate friendship, but who in some simple way made a lasting impact.

There have been a few people who, although our contacts were relatively limited, nevertheless spoke words of truth (sometimes hard to hear) that influenced my life.

There have been others.

I’m thankful for each of these people who made me better and those who are continuing to have an impact on me. Their lives have rubbed off on my life. They are the Proverbs 27:17 people for me.

In this day of ugly news about people we need to remember the people who have been positive, godly influences in our lives. We need them.

If all you do is fill your mind with the ugliness of man’s sin, you’ll soon despair. If you fill your mind with those good people who have touched your life you’ll find hope.

Who are you thankful for?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Christian Response

Las Vegas, Nevada – 58/500+
Sutherland Springs, Texas – 26/20

That’s how many people were killed and wounded at two terrible shootings in our country between October 1 and November 5. In 36 days.

84/520+.

I’ll leave the political debate to others. My concern is from another perspective. Since the vast majority of my audience is made up of Evangelical Christians, the issue for us, most of who are far removed from either Nevada or Texas, is how do we respond?

How should Christians respond to horrific events in our culture?

After the shooting in Las Vegas I suggested five Christian responses in a blog published on October 2. You can read it here.

The five responses I gave following the Las Vegas shooting were:

-Hate is Wrong
-Sinful Anger is Not an Option
-Revenge is Out of the Question
-Prayer is Always Good
-Self Inspection is Appropriate
-Forgiveness is Always Right

Those are still good points. Let me add three more.

Recognize the Awfulness of Sin

This is a bottom line issue and the bottom line is that men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and sinners do terrible things. Sure not all sinners do such extremely bad things, but we are all capable of the most horrific actions. It’s time that we faced the reality of the awfulness of sin (James 1:15). There’s nothing good about it. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your life until there is nothing left. The sin that was committed in Sutherland Springs should cause us to take swift and fierce action against any sin in our own lives.

Recognize Your Own Deadly Potential

The problem is that we downplay sin. It’s not so bad. At least my sin isn’t so bad. So we keep it and it lives in the deep recesses of our lives. And all the while it’s worse than we can even imagine. The step from lust to adultery, from anger to hatred, from hatred to murder is much smaller than we think. The deadly potential for unspeakable sin lies deep in all of us – just ask King David (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51). We are not as far from Devin Kelley as we would like to think.

Rejoice in the Grace of God

But then there’s grace. Praise God for grace! It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from committing more horrific sins than we do. It was grace that took a sworn enemy of Christianity like Paul and turned him into the greatest missionary of the church. It was grace that took a slave trader like John Newton and changed his heart so that he wrote one of the most enduring hymns of Christendom. And it’s only the grace of God that will help us cope with the terrible sins in our culture. And in that grace we can and should rejoice.

As you grapple with the awfulness of sin and your own potential for sin and the wonderful grace of God, remember to pray for the people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Have Been Called to Give Up

Every Christian has been called to give up for Jesus. So the question for each of us is simple, What are you willing to give up? What is God asking you to sacrifice for the good of His kingdom?

It’s not a comfortable question but every Christian has been called to make sacrifices for the Kingdom of God.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably read a missionary biography (if not, you should) or heard a missionary speak about the sacrifices they had to make for Christ. But the idea of sacrificing is not just for missionaries. The Bible teaches a theology of sacrifice that touches every Christian.

-We’re to give ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

-We’re to offer spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:4).

-We’re to give the sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

-Our lives are to reflect the sacrifice of Christ (Ephesians 5:2).

-In the Communion we celebrate sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

-We’re taught to take up our cross to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).

-We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).

Sacrifice is an integral part of the Christian life.

So, What are you will to give up? What are you willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?

Here’s the catch – it’s only a sacrifice when it’s something you really love; something that you want to hang on to; something that hurts. Otherwise it’s not.

I teach each year at a small Bible school in Haiti. This coming year will be my thirteenth year. It’s something I really love. Some people think that I’m making a sacrifice. Are you kidding?!! I remember Harry Bollback, the co-founder of Word of Life and my wife’s former boss, say something like, To serve God is not a sacrifice, it’s a privilege. He was right.

I love having the opportunity to train pastors. I love being with my Haitian friends. I love working with the missionaries. I love the fact that God lets me do this. I love teaching theology; I love preaching in the Haitian churches; I love the diversity this gives me in ministry; I love the Haitian people. I love authentic Haitian food – boy do I love Haitian food! In fact I love everything about this part of my life and eagerly look forward to it each year.

Recently God has given my wife and me the opportunity to help a young graduate of our Bible school continue working on his Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) at another school in Haiti. Eventually he would like to teach at our school. We need good, qualified, Haitian men to teach.

As we’ve worked through this process it has dawned on me that God has a plan going on here and I’m wondering what it is. I’ve even thought that this young man might be the one who takes my place and teaches my classes.

Not that I want to end this part of my ministry. In fact my plan is to teach as long as I have good health and the necessary funds to travel. If I’m still doing it when I’m 85 I’ll be a happy camper. I’m not being facetious. But what if that’s not God’s plan? What if He asks me to give it up because there is someone better qualified to teach?

I’ve been reading in 1 Samuel recently about Saul and David. It was no secret in Israel that God had chosen David to be Saul’s replacement instead of his son, Jonathan. That really rankled Saul (1 Samuel 20:30-31). His plan was for Jonathan to assume the throne (figure of speech – not sure Saul had a throne). God’s plan was for David to be the next king in Israel. Saul had a choice – to submit to God’s plan which meant sacrificing his goals, ambitions, and legacy, or not to submit. To sacrifice or not to sacrifice. To give up or not to give up something for the good of the kingdom.

When the time comes for me to step aside I don’t want to be like Saul. It won’t be easy but I want to be willing to give up this thing I love for the Kingdom of God. I want to make the right choice. I want to be willing to make the sacrifice.

We have been called to give up, to make the sacrifice for the good of His Kingdom.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve