Big Mac or Filet Mignon?

Big-Mac

Have you ever noticed that we’re always in a rush? I’m talking about those of us who live in the U.S. This isn’t always the case with people from different cultures, but it is often true of Americans. Patience is not one of our virtues. We rush from event to event. We want everything now not later. Fast food is no longer good enough we want instant food. The last time I pulled into the drive through at a fast food establishment it took them more than 60 seconds to take my order. I wasn’t happy. We have become a society of the instantaneous and anything less is unacceptable.

But life doesn’t always happen instantly. Some things only occur gradually. I’m reminded that many things in life happen over a period of time – step by step. Plants grow slowly, diets take time (!), education is a process, and relationships are built one day at a time. In fact many things in life are not only step by step but two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step . . . .

And that’s the way of the Christian life. You won’t (can’t) become a spiritual person overnight. It’s a step by step process. Or a better description is it’s a two-step forward, one step backward process. The theological description that we use is progressive sanctification. That means that becoming like Christ (being sanctified) is a process not a sudden event.

And that’s where the frustration comes in. We want to be godly NOW. And that’s a good thing, but the reality is that because we battle the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), sin (Romans 7:14—20) and the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18), godliness is always going to be a process. It’s always going to be two steps forward and one step backward. The key to becoming like Christ from a human perspective is that you never give up. No matter how slow your progress, no matter how frustrating it becomes – you don’t give up.

The Biblical term is perseverance. It’s a word that means to endure, not give up, don’t quit. The Apostle Peter links perseverance directly to godliness when he writes, Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness (2 Peter 1:6). It is through that step by step, agonizingly slow, tedious process that godliness will grow in your life.

We all like instantaneous. As a society we’ve become addicted to it. But some things are so much better when you devote time to them. Think of it this way – you can have a Big Mac for supper or you can have filet mignon. You can have one in 90 seconds at the drive through window or you can sit down in a fine restaurant with linen tablecloths and fine china and wait for the chef to cook your steak to perfection. One is fast the other is best.

God is in the business of changing your life for the best. He’s in no hurry. He’ll take as long as necessary for you to grow into someone who reflects His Son. He’s doing His part (2 Corinthians 3:18), your part is to cooperate with God’s work in your life and never give up simply because you don’t think it’s happening fast enough. There is no fast food in the spiritual life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Have Value!

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One of the things that people often struggle with is their personal worth. I’m not talking about your monetary worth but your value as a person. Each of us has a certain value. Unfortunately many people have allowed their value to be determined by other people who use their own personal standards to determine how much you’re worth. Many times people value us, not for who we are, but for what we can do for them. They might value you on how well you do your job, or on what they can get from you or on how you benefit them in some way, instead of valuing you for your worth as an individual created in the image of God.

How other people value us also determines how we value ourselves. Just because we are human, we see our own significance in light of other people’s opinions of us. If we sense that other people approve of us our self-esteem is high, but if people don’t value us our self-esteem suffers. We tend to judge ourselves by how other people judge us.

We also judge ourselves by how well we perform. If we do something well (our job, raising kids, singing, etc) we have a good sense of self-worth, but if we don’t perform well, we begin to doubt our personal value. Judging ourselves by how well we perform is also tied into how we perceive other people are looking at us. We want to perform in order to gain other people’s approval and recognition.

As Christians we need to make sure that we see our value, not in the approval of people or in how well we perform, but in how God looks at our life. God does not value you for what He can get from you nor in how well you perform (even for Him). God values you simply because He delights to do so. Matthew 6:26 says Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And the answer is yes, you are worth more to God than anything else in His creation and it is God’s delight simply to value you for who you are: a unique individual created in His image.

God also values you because you are one of His children (1 John 3:1). In the same way (and to an even greater degree) that a human father values his children, God values His children. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13). God places great value on you (shown by His compassion) simply because you belong to Him.

Don’t let someone else’s opinions determine your value. The only opinion that really counts is God’s. That’s the essence of Romans chapter fourteen. Life is to be lived for God alone (Romans 14:7-8), and it is to God alone that you will give an answer for your life (Romans 14:10-11). Make sure that what He thinks about you is more important than what people think about you.

And remember, you have great value to God, not because you perform well, but simply because He loves you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Sometimes You Might Need Some Duct Tape!

Duct Tape

Some of the most valuable lessons in life are learned in the school of hard knocks. There are life-lessons that will never be picked up through formal education or in books. Many things are only learned through experience. I’ve (sometimes unfortunately) had to learn many lessons that way. I’ve also learned many great lessons through experience, such as, you can fix almost anything with WD-40 and duct tape!

Popular Mechanics online lists 15 useful things you can do with duct tape, including,

• waterproofing your shoes
• removing pet hair from your furniture
• as a make-shift pest strip
• covering power cords in a high traffic area
• repairing holes in a sleeping bag, beach ball or snow pants

My all time favorite use of duct tape was the pilot in Alaska whose small plane was ripped apart by a bear who smelled fresh bait left in the plane. After surveying the damage the pilot radioed for a plane to drop him three cases of duct tape which he used to wrap his plane and then he flew home!

Another creative use of duct tape happened this past weekend in the NBA playoffs. The coach of the Dallas Mavericks had previously been fined $25,000 for criticizing the refs. In the post game interview, rather than risking another hefty fine, he tapped his mouth shut. Not a bad idea! Words can get you in trouble.

The Bible talks a lot about the power of words. For example,

Proverbs 12:18
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Matthew 12:35
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things

James 1:26
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless

One of the hardest things for any of us to do is to control our words. David, the Psalmist, recognized just how difficult it is and prayed; Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth (Psalm 141:3). If this is an area that you struggle with, maybe that’s how you should pray.

Asking God to guard your mouth, however, does not relieve you of responsibility. We are still accountable for our words. That means we have to stop make excuses for the way we talk to other people.

So here are six truthful statements to ponder:

• No, you don’t have the right to say anything you want to say

• Yes, you are responsible for every word you speak

• No, there’s no excuse that is acceptable for ungodly, unkind words

• Yes, your words have great power

• No, you are NOT a good person if your words are not good words

• Yes, your words tell everyone what is in your heart

One final thought – Sometimes you might need to use some duct tape.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Have We Forgotten Who We Are?

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One of the hot-button issues in our culture (the United States) is the debate on immigration. The failure of our government to tackle a comprehensive policy on immigration has only served to intensify the problem. Ignoring problems only makes them worse. Let’s be fair to our current crop of politicians: this is not a new issue – it is one that has been ignored for a very long time by people of every political persuasion.

The Immigration debate has, however, raised an interesting question: Have we forgotten who we are? We tend to divide the population between immigrants and non-immigrants. But that’s a false division. We are a nation of immigrants. Even those we call Native Americans were from someplace else. The only difference is one of time – when did your ancestors arrive on these shores? Being a fifth generation American does not make you any different from a first generation American.

From early in our history the world recognized our unique status as a nation of immigrants. Imprinted on the pedestal of Lady Liberty is the famous poem by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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Why Can’t We Get Along?

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Our world seems to thrive on adversity and disagreement. I just checked one of the largest on-line news agencies – every article on world events was about disagreements, people not getting along. That’s the world we live in.

But forget about the world, we can’t change it. What about people? People like us, just ordinary people. Why can’t we get along with other ordinary people? Especially, why can’t Christians get along with other Christians? Admit it, we don’t always.

I want to offer four observations that I believe have the potential to eliminate most disagreements between Christians and help us get along with each other. We may not be able to change the world but we can change our behavior.

1. Give other people the benefit of the doubt.

Have you ever noticed how we often tend to assume the worst of other people? When someone says something we don’t like we immediately assume that they were trying to hurt us. Maybe they didn’t mean what they said the way you heard what they said. Maybe there’s more to the story than you know that precipitated their actions. Maybe it’s really YOUR problem and not theirs. Many times a situation can be diffused simply by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The phrase believes all things means to see the best in others, not to automatically think the worst of them. Christ-like love is always ready to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

2. Treat people with respect.

It sounds easy but we don’t always do it. If we would learn to treat other people with respect it would diffuse so many difficult situations and avoid so many conflicts. Marriages fall apart because couples never learn to treat each other with respect. Churches split because people never learn to treat other people with respect. Politicians are at loggerheads (a state of quarrelsome disagreement) because they never learn to treat other people with respect.

Matthew 7:12 says whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Except for a few oddballs we all want to be treated with respect. Notice that the burden is placed back on us – how we treat others is the point not how they treat us. If we train ourselves to treat other people with respect we’ll find that we will get along with them much better.

3. Refrain from being a Crusader.

By this I mean that we don’t always have to correct everyone. Sometimes we just need to let them be wrong – in the long run it probably won’t make that much difference. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. After college I took a job working for a large Christian organization. One day I was given contradictory instructions by two of the leaders. Convinced that one of them was wrong I took it upon myself to straighten out the situation by going to the other leader, hoping that he would put this man in his place. It wasn’t that I was wrong in my analysis – but I was wrong in how I attempted to handle the situation. I remember to this day, forty-one years later, exactly where I was when that man said to me, Steve, don’t always be a crusader. His words have stuck with me all these years. Not that I’ve always succeeded in following his advice, but he was right. We don’t always have to correct everyone and make sure that they know they’re wrong. By the way, I have great respect for that man even though his words stung.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, Let no man, then, set his own advantage as his objective, but rather the good of his neighbor. When the good of the other person is our real objective rather than straightening them out, we’ll handle the situation differently.

4. Throw out the record.

So many times we don’t get along with other people because we remember that at some point in time they offended us. Remember the proverbial little black book with all the girls’ phone numbers in it? Many Christians keep their own little black book in the back of their minds filled with every slight that has ever been committed against them, real or perceived.

1 Corinthians 13:4 says Love thinks no evil. The idea is that when you are living in Jesus love you don’t keep an account of the evil things people have done to you. Some translations put it this way: Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Throw out the record and see if it doesn’t help.

Getting along with other people, especially with Christians should be a priority for us. Not getting along isn’t an option.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Lessons From Haiti

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It’s been awhile since I blogged – six weeks to be exact. During that time I was preparing for and engaged in ministry in Haiti. I’m finally back in my routine and able to reflect on things that happened during the time I was in Haiti.

On this trip I had the opportunity to teach a course to 40 pastors on Angelology and Demonology; preach in three churches; preach five evangelistic meetings; take our music team to four different venues to give concerts (they also sang each night of the meetings); visit four different ministries in Haiti to see how God is using them; and meet with two groups to discuss ministry in Haiti.

As I’ve had an opportunity to look back at all that took place I would say that it was a mixed bag – some blessings, some discouragements. Some things went right and some didn’t. Some expectations were fulfilled and some weren’t. Sometimes I was frustrated and sometimes I wasn’t. That’s often how it is in ministry.

Not that it makes it any easier to deal with. I’m just the kind of person who, in the words of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader The A-Team in the 1980s television show of the same name, loves it when a plan comes together. But even our best conceived plans don’t always come together the way we envision them – especially in Haiti.

Since my return I’ve been reminded of two passages in Proverbs – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Haitians often say man proposes but God disposes – not a bad translation of Proverbs 16:9). The other passage is Proverbs 19:21 – There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. In the end we have to surrender all of our plans, ideas, hopes and dreams to a sovereign God.

Why? Why can’t it be OUR plans? Why does it always have to be HIS plan? There are two simple reasons: 1) He knows what He wants to accomplish. Ministry isn’t about us, it’s about Him. Whenever we insist on our plans we make ministry about us; we put ourselves in the center instead of Christ. 2) His plan is best. This is a direct consequence of reason #1. If God knows what He wants to accomplish then it stands to reason that His plan is always going to be better than my plan.

So whatever was accomplished in Haiti through our rather ineffective efforts was accomplished because God had a plan. A plan that was certainly different from my plan. But a plan that was far superior to my plan. And so I leave the results to Him, praying that in some small way our team made an eternal difference in the lives of a few people.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What the World Needs Now is . . .

Compassion

Back in 1965 (some of you can remember that far back) a song was released called What the World Needs Now is Love. It was destined to reach number 7 on the charts that year. If I remember right it was later used to sell soft drinks.

The message of the song was summarized in the words, what the world needs now is love, sweet love it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. No argument that the world lacks a lot of love. I think however that there’s something else missing in our world that is just as important as love and that is compassion. I know it doesn’t sing as well but it’s still true. We don’t live in a very compassionate world.

I’m not saying that our society is totally bankrupt when it comes to compassion. I just think that we’re very selective in our application of it. We show compassion to the person fighting cancer. We show compassion to the family who just lost everything in a fire. But in other areas we feel justified in withholding our compassion.

There’s little if any compassion for people who come illegally to our country to find a better way of life for their families. There’s often little to no compassion for the drug addict who wastes all of his/her money to support a bad habit. Or the prisoner who is serving time because they committed a crime. When it comes to issues like these our fallback position is that we are a country of laws. But do laws preempt compassion? Yes, they might have broken our laws but that doesn’t mean we can throw compassion out the window.

We often read in the New Testament that Jesus had compassion on people. He was moved by their sickness, hunger, and poverty – things over which they had little control. And we understand that kind of compassion and even agree with it. But there’s one story in the New Testament that puts an entirely different slant on the issue. It’s the parable of the Lost Son, or more commonly called the parable of Prodigal Son.

We don’t need to retell the entire story because you’re probably familiar with it. It might be a good idea, however, for you to read it again. You’ll find it in Luke chapter 15. Here’s where the story intersects with compassion. The prodigal son made all of the wrong choices. He rebelled against his father; rejected his father’s home, standards and love; and lived a wanton and wasteful life. Not unlike many people today.

But when he returned to his father, the Bible says that his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him (Luke 15:20). He didn’t lecture the son on his violation of the law. He didn’t make him serve a probationary period before he could return to the family. He didn’t make him grovel. The father related to his son, not on the basis of the law, but on the basis of compassion.

Isn’t that how God relates to us? Before Christ we were worse than illegal immigrants, drug addicts or criminals. In fact in God’s eyes we lived in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3). In other words we did what we wanted to do. It was all about us. And God, just like the father in the story, had compassion on us.

I’m not advocating that we ignore our laws. They are important. Without them we would live in anarchy. But for the Christian laws never preempt compassion. In fact for the Christian you could make the argument that compassion always trumps law.

Somehow we need to figure out how to implement compassion even in the most difficult situations because What the World Needs Now is Compassion. And if they don’t see it in Christians they won’t see it anywhere.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve