The Beauty of the Body

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It’s Valentine’s Day and some of you are wondering where I’m going with that title! It’s true that God created the physical body as a thing of wonder and beauty, but that’s not the body I’m referring to.

I’m talking about the Body of Christ.

Just as God created the physical body as a thing of beauty, so He created the Body of Christ to be beautiful. Not just in our local churches but worldwide.

I’ve been exposed to the Body of Christ in both Haiti and the Philippines over the past 27 years and I have been blessed beyond anything I had anticipated.

My purpose in traveling to both of these countries was to teach in Bible Schools and preach in churches but I have learned far more from the Body in those places than I have given them.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from the extended Body of Christ. I hope they encourage you to look at the Body differently.

1. I’ve seen what it means to be Satisfied.

I just returned from Haiti where our team visited eight churches in four days that were in the path of Hurricane Matthew. In each church 80-100% of the people lost the roofs on their homes. Many had family members die.

One thing that I’ve learned in Haiti (it’s also true in the Philippines) is that the Christians are satisfied. Would they like better living conditions? Sure they would. But they have learned to trust God and to be satisfied with what He has given them.

Check Philippians 4:11-13.

2. I’ve seen what Relationships look like.

I tend to enjoy solitude. Being relational doesn’t come naturally for me. But I’ve learned the importance (and the need) of relationships.

Both Haitians and Filipinos are by nature relational. In fact life for them is about relationships.

If I understand 1 Corinthians 12 correctly, the Body of Christ is also about relationships. We can’t survive without each other – at least not in a spiritually healthy way.

Because of the example of the Christians in Haiti and the Philippines, I’ve come to enjoy relationships and even to desire them.

See 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.

3. I’ve seen what it means to be Hospitable.

If Haitians and Filipinos are anything, they are hospitable. They will share their meager meal with you even if it’s all they have.

They can help you in any way they can.

They are generous and giving people – just like the Body of Christ is supposed to be.

Check James 2:14-17.

4. I’ve learned to be more about Jesus.

We talk a lot about Jesus in the church. We sing about Him. We teach about Him. We preach about Him.

But Living Jesus is another thing.

Depending on Him for everything is something that we in the Western church don’t need to do. We have a lot of material possessions. We don’t know what it means to suffer.

Our brothers and sisters have learned through their suffering to make life all about Jesus, not about things.

We can learn from their example.

See Philippians 1:21.

5. I’ve learned to listen more and talk less.

When you are in another culture, especially if you don’t speak the language, you are forced to listen more and talk less.

That’s a good thing. We learn more that way.

And by listening we begin to understand the needs, the heartaches, the joys, the hopes, and the hearts of another part of the Body.

James 1:19 applies here.

6. I’ve learned to value people.

Other cultures value people more than we do in the West. They will go out of their way not to hurt someone intentionally. It goes back to the relationships. When you have relationships that really matter to you, you value those people.

It also goes back to material possessions. When you have a lot you want to protect the things you have. Eventually things take the place of people.

Things are not important. People are. Christ never told us to value things, but He did tell us to value people.

Don’t value things. Value people. Value the Body of Christ.

Check Matthew 22:37-40.

7. I’ve learned about the importance of prayer.

Haiti was never a land without suffering but the suffering has multiplied 10-fold in the past four months. First there was Hurricane Matthew. Then the Hundred-Year flood. Now there’s a drought. There was no food in the gardens when we visited.

The physical needs are overwhelming. Yet not one person asked us to give them money or food. Their only request was for us to pray for them.

Prayer is their only hope.

And it is our only hope. Prayer is important to the Body of Christ.

Check Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6-7

The Body of Christ is Beautiful beyond anything we can imagine. God made it that way. We need to see it that way.

We need to value the Body. We need to take care of the Body.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Word of Caution to the Church

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There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God Cares – But Sometimes It’s Hard to See

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I’ve been talking a lot lately to groups in our church about caring. We want to be known as a church that cares for each other (we do a good job here) and for our communities (we need to do better here).

The question that arises is Why? Why should we care, especially for people outside of the walls of our church?

There are several answers to that question. One is that we are taught to care in passages like Galatians 6:10, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men. That’s clear. Not just to other Christians – the passage goes on to talk about that – but to all men. Everyone.

Even if they’re not part of our “group” (IE church). Even if they don’t believe like us. Even if they don’t look like us. Even if they don’t like us! All. Men.

But the primary reasons that we are to care is because God cares.

Passages that actually talk about God caring are limited to just a few.

Psalm 27:10
When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.

1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

You get a more complete picture of God’s care when you look into the areas of His love and His faithfulness.

Most Christians understand God’s care from an intellectual perspective, but sometimes struggle with it from an experiential perspective.

It’s hard to really believe that God cares when you can’t see His care or feel His care. When His care isn’t evident in ways that you expect you begin to wonder if He really does care about your problems.

When we care for people we show our care in tangible ways; ways that they can relate to. We are conditioned to equate care with verbal and physical gestures. We tell people how much we care for them. We give them hugs. We try to take away the hurt and “fix” whatever is wrong. That’s how we care.

But God’s not always like that. Sometimes He is – but not always. May not even normally.

The statement quoted above (1 Peter 5:7) was said to people who were suffering persecution. God didn’t eliminate their persecution – which is what I would have done so that they knew I cared. In fact they were suffering because it was God’s will for them to suffer (1 Peter 4:19).

The truth that we fail to grasp is that God’s will for them to suffer did not negate God’s care for them.

It is possible for a human parent to inflict or allow suffering in the lives of their children and yet still care for them profoundly.

How much more is it possible for God to bring (allow if you like) suffering into our lives for any number of reasons and yet care for us with a love that comes from the deepest recesses of His heart.

His care is not dependent on our seeing it nor on our feeling it. It is not even dependent on our understanding it.

It is enough that we know His care in the person of Jesus and that we have His impeccable word on the matter.

Never doubt His care, whatever comes into your life.

Your suffering may have a greater purpose than you will ever know.

His Care will never fail you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Know God?

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Christians are people who believe that they know God. They have a relationship with God. The deeper the knowledge the deeper the relationship. Or so we like to think.

In the Christianity where I live (and the same is true for most of you reading this) – i.e. evangelical, biblically oriented, non-charismatic, evangelistic, mission-minded – we equate knowing God with gaining knowledge of God. In our minds the more knowledge the more we know God. And we’re sincere.

But is that the biblical understanding of knowing God?

Is that what the Apostle meant when he wrote, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10)?

If anyone knew about God it was the Apostle Paul. He had been personally taught by God Himself (Galatians 1:12), a claim none of us can make. But there was still a longing in his heart to know God. Wasn’t his knowledge enough?

Apparently not.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love learning about God. I spend hours every week as a pastor studying the Word of God. It’s my favorite thing to do.

But knowing God has to be more than a knowledge-gathering pursuit.

I read a statement several years ago that said a collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge.

In other words you can know a lot about God without knowing God. James says that even the demons know about God (James 2:19). That’s not very good company of knowledge gatherers.

Knowing God – really knowing God in a biblical sense – goes much deeper than the gathering of information. It is something that touches the soul and changes your life.

Without life transformation on some level you can’t say that you know God.

I’m not talking about an I’m saved and going to heaven instead of hell transformation.

I’m talking about an, I’m saved so I hate the sin that corrupts and destroys my life transformation.

An, I’m saved so I’ll sacrifice my own happiness and comfort for someone else transformation.

An, I’ll do anything to be more like Jesus transformation.

An, I’ll give it all up for Jesus if that’s what He wants transformation.

The same author I quoted earlier said most American Christians do not know God – much less love Him.

That’s a serious indictment.

Could it be true that while we claim to love God we don’t even know Him?

So how do we go from a knowledge-as-information-gathering to knowledge-as-life-transformation? And show that we not only know God but that we love Him.

Here are three easy things you can do,

1. As you read the Bible ask God, What do you want to change in my life today?

2. As you go to church ask God, What do you want to teach me through the sermon this week?

3. As you meditate on the Word of God ask God, What is it in my life that you want to transform into Your image?

It’s more than knowing more. It’s knowing more with the ultimate goal of life-transforming change.

It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about the change.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Where is Your Journey Taking You?

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I love missionaries. Missionaries are the people on the front line for God.

As a result I get a lot of newsletters, both electronic and the old fashion variety, from missionaries around the world. This week I received a letter from missionary friends, Jim and Marilou Long. Jim normally shares their news around a theme – this time the theme was Trips and Journeys. Since their previous letter their ministry has taken them to California, Delhi, India, and Kathmandu, Nepal. I have to admit to a certain amount of envy.

At the end of the letter was this challenge: “Where is God taking you? What kind of JOURNEY are you on right now? Remember that God is always with you and leading you—even in new journeys and in uncharted territories. When the children of Israel were ready to cross the Jordan River and were probably quite apprehensive about it, God said to them through Joshua, “Then you will know the way to go since you have not been this way before,” Joshua 3:4. We take great comfort and encouragement in knowing that He is going before us in these new ventures.”

In the past few months I started a couple of those journeys into uncharted territories, so this got my attention.

But the reality is that for the Christian, all of life is a journey or perhaps a series of journeys.

You might not realize that you are on a journey – but you are. Your life is not a series of unrelated, random events. Things just don’t happen to you.

Your life is not even made up of decisions that you make from day to day.

Somehow God takes all of it – the daily events of life; the decisions you make and molds all of it into His sovereign will for you.

The writer of Proverbs had that in mind when he wrote:

The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1).

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).

So where is God taking you on your spiritual journey?

God has you on a journey that is unique just to you. No one else has your journey. Even your spouse is on a different journey. While there will be obvious similarities in your journeys, there will also be some significant differences.

So how should you approach this idea of a journey?

There are several basic things that you should do.

1. Recognize that you are on a journey but ultimately you’re not in charge of this journey. This is a journey (a life) directed by God for His purpose, for His glory.

2. Ask God to show you the way forward on your journey. He might make your journey as clear as crystal (the Israelites were following the ark). He may not. Just keep following the ark (IE, Bible reading & study, prayer, church – all of the great spiritual disciplines).

3. Commit to the journey. Don’t bail out when you can’t figure it out. Be committed.

4. Decide that even if the way isn’t clear you’ll keep following (see #2) one day at a time.

You probably won’t always know where your journey is taking you but you do know the final destination.

And as the old song says, it will be worth it all when we get there.

Happy Journey.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

god-is-good

Last week’s blog, Life is Hard, hit a nerve. There was good feedback from a number of readers. But I don’t want to leave it there because that’s only half of the Truth.

The other half of the Truth is God is Good!

Psalm 136:1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Whenever we emphasize half of the Truth to the neglect of the other half we’re headed down a self-defeating path. Half of the Truth is never the Truth. You need it all. And what we need to balance the difficulties of life is the Goodness of God.

Which gives us some insight into why we question God when we don’t like the way life is going. It’s because we’re not focusing on all of the Truth.

There is even truth in the realization that at times God in His Goodness makes our lives hard. From the beginning Adam was expected to work (Genesis 2:15). Granted we don’t know all that entailed, and it was certainly different from the work he did after the fall (Genesis 3:17-19) but it was still work. He didn’t sit around all day sipping Mint Juleps. God expected Adam to work.

The idea of God displaying His Goodness through the Hard Times in life is even more evident after the Fall. Perhaps the clearest statement is Joseph’s explanation to his guilt-ridden brothers late in his life. After all of the hardships of life that he went through because of the hatred of his brothers, he could say God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). That clearly implicates God in the hardships. But it was because He is Good and He was doing Good.

Even when He brings hardship into your life He is still Good.

And you can count on Him always being Good because His Goodness is based on His Character, not on your circumstances.

God can’t help being Good. It’s Who. He. Is.

That means that God always acts toward us in Goodness. It doesn’t always appear that way to us; we don’t always understand it; we don’t always like it, but it’s still true.

When someone is fundamentally Good you know that you can Trust them. You know that you can Rely on them. You know that they will Treat you Right. You know that they have your best interest at heart.

That’s God.

His Goodness, even in the Hard Times, is for your Good.

Yes, Life is Hard. YES, God is Good.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Hard

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Sometimes when I look out over my congregation of really great people I can’t help but wonder how they’re making it. In fact I marvel that they’re making it.

One of the privileges, and at the same time burdens, of being a pastor is that you know things about people. They tell you things. You know their hardships. You know who’s crying on the inside.

That one is unemployed. Another one over there is too. Over there is a wife that just left her husband of 50 years in the Alzheimer Unit. There and there and there are people dealing with life-changing health issues. People struggling with their marriages – and divorce. Families are crying out to God for their prodigals. On that side a mother who just buried her son. Behind her a husband sitting alone because his dear wife is struggling with depression. Every month the family in the back drives two hours to visit a son in the state prison – they’ll do it for at least 10 years. Several more struggling with various kinds of cancer. Old age is slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, creeping up on our seniors. Broken relationships. Too many bills and not enough money. Sick children.

I’m not making this stuff up.

There’s more. A lot more.

I marvel at these people.

But life is Hard. It is for everyone. Not to the same extent. Not in the same way. But Hard.

The trap that we have to avoid is thinking that we have it hard while other people have it easy. That leads to questioning and even doubting God. Why should I suffer while other people enjoy the good life?

The reality isn’t that some people have an easy life and others have a hard life. The reality is that some people have learned how to handle the hard life without letting it destroy them while others are still searching.

If you’re still trying to figure it out here are 3 things to remember.

Even when life is hard, God still loves you. Don’t gauge His love by the relative ease of your life. He loves you just as much in the Hard Times. Maybe more (if that’s even possible).

Someone else is suffering more than you. I know that sounds like a lousy reason to look up, but it’s still true. The writer of Hebrews used this argument in Hebrews 12 when he said that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus who suffered death. Not keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to discouragement. Then he blasts us with this: You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin (vs 4). His point: Jesus suffered more than you so don’t give up yet.

You might have it bad but there are plenty of people in the world who are hungrier, who are hurting more, who have been beaten and raped and tortured. Keep it all in perspective. Don’t lose heart. It’s just a light affliction.

Not my words. Paul’s (you need to read this. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t you hate it when he’s right!

You’ll make it. We’ll all make it. You might arrive bruised and bleeding, but you’ll make it. God will see to that.

It might not be clear to you now but He’s got your life under control and He’s leading you even in the darkness. Sometimes on the mountain. Sometimes through the valley. But He knows the way and You’ll. Make. It.

He’s never lost anyone yet.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve