It’s Just Not that Easy

We are all familiar with the Great Commandment – Love God, love your neighbor. If you need a refresher, see Matthew 22:35-40. According to Jesus, our entire moral duty is summarized in these two, twin acts. All that God wants from us is to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind – i.e. with our entire being, and love other people as much as we love ourselves. If we do both of those things, everything else in life will fall into line with what God expects.

Easier said than done. The problem is in the details.

Take loving your neighbor in the current pandemic climate. What does it mean to love other people?

One person will say that loving your neighbor means criticizing the government and insisting that small companies be opened to business with careful planning and adequate safeguards just like the big box stores. After all it’s not loving to see people suffer financially, be unemployed or lose their business. That’s just not loving.

Another person will say that loving your neighbor means continuing the quarantine as is. That the infection and death numbers are still too high and it’s not loving for people to go out into public and risk spreading the virus. To change the status quo at this point is not prudent. That’s just not loving.

Each side will have arguments in support of their position and each side will say that they are acting in love. I know pastors on both sides of this issue – men who are doing their best to obey the Word of God; who believe that they are acting in love; who are trying to lead their churches to act in love.

Sometimes, even with statements in the Bible that we think are clear and unambiguous, it’s just not that easy.

While we believe in absolute truth and don’t subscribe to a philosophy of relativism, there are contributing issues that can make your actions loving at one time and unloving under a completely different set of circumstances.

And that seems to be where we are with Covid 19.

So what are we to do? How do we handle situations where good and godly people are on opposite sides, each firmly convinced in their own minds (Romans 14:5) that they are doing the right thing?

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation in Romans 14. His advice was that in matters that are not specifically commanded or prohibited in the Bible (such as opening our society – or not) we are to follow the promptings of our conscience.

God has given a conscience to each of us to help guide us in the decisions of life. The more conscience is informed by the teachings of God’s Word, the better it can be trusted to guide you in a godly way. That makes knowing the Bible critical to knowing where to stand on debatable issues.

Even with that, there will be disagreements. And when there is, the loving thing to do is to agree to disagree in a godly way. Then throw yourself on the mercy of God, acknowledging that you may be wrong (it is possible you know!).

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

Satan can Use This!

I live in a county in Pennsylvania that has been hit hard by the coronavirus. At the present we are in a sever quarantine mode until June 4th (the date seems to be rather fluid, depending on the circumstances). There have been a good number of deaths, many people are sick and businesses are feeling the crunch of being shut down. Some of them may not survive.

The situation has divided the larger community, and even the Christian community, into two large groups (there are variations on both sides) between those who want to follow the Governor’s directions for a longer shutdown and those who want to open up the economy and allow more activity under some, as yet unspecified, guidelines.

The two sides are evident in hundreds, maybe thousands, of social media posts.

Which leads me to this: Satan can Use This! He can use the situation of Christian disagreement, even over valid issues to affect our families, our relationships, and our churches if each of us are not extremely careful.

And nothing would give him more joy.

He can use our differences of opinions to divide us.

The majority of the Facebook posts that I see are from evangelical Christians – because that is the circle that I run in. While most of them have been careful to state their case in kind, inoffensive ways, there is still the potential for offending someone.

We need to speak the truth but do it in a loving way (Ephesians 4:15).

There’s a secondary issue at play here. I realized today that even when we state our case in ways that we don’t think are offensive – we can still offend, and I have been guilty of this. Sometimes just taking the opposite side of an issue can offend people.

I know that you can’t always know how people will respond to what you say and you can’t always be responsible for how they will react to something you say or post, but we need to recognize the potential problems we can create (cf James 3:5-6!).

Sometimes we think that our responsibility is to state our thoughts on an issue, or to persuade people to our position. I don’t have a problem with anyone doing that, but we need to remember that our greater responsibility as Christians is to exert ourselves to
keep the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). If we don’t, we will give Satan an opportunity in our lives. That’s why the Apostle Paul warns us not to give Satan a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:27), lest he make himself at home and destroy the unity that we should have as Christians.

Some time ago a Facebook friend posted three questions that we should ask ourselves before we say (or post) anything.

Is it Loving? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?

It would be a good idea for us to use those three questions as guidelines before we express our next opinion.

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

That was one of my favorite hymns . . . back in the day . . . when we still sang hymns. For those of you too young to have ever sung a
hymn . . . or too old to remember what you sang, the first verse goes like this:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Wow! I can’t remember the last time I sang that song in church.

This isn’t about the worship wars. We all have our opinions and I’m not sure anyone has ever changed anyone else’s mind.

It’s more about the need to lean on God in times of – as the writer of the hymn phrases it, alarms.

The idea of leaning on something or someone implies two thoughts: 1) a need, and 2) a trust. Used with it’s normal meaning, both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek refer to the need for support, either physical or emotional. That’s what leaning says – you’re weak or tired and you need support.

But there’s also the trust side. If you need support you lean on something or someone you can trust. You don’t lean against a rotten tree for physical support, you lean against a tree that you can trust.

And you don’t lean on something or someone who has the potential to fail you for spiritual support, you lean on the only One who will not fail you. The One with Everlasting Arms.

Proverbs 3:5-6 brings this out. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths (way).

Acknowledging God indicates a need for direction. So you lean on Him because you trust Him.

Because of the new normal in our lives most of us are at a place where we know that we need someone greater than ourselves just to make it through another day. We need someone to lean on.

To have that joy divine and peace that the song talks about we have to lean. We need to recognize our need and learn to lean. Only then will we be safe and secure from all alarms.

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

When All Else Fails

One of the standard jokes about men is that they only read instructions (when assembling something) when all else fails. Sort of like how they read maps – or don’t! Not totally fair, but sometimes true. Men often look at directions as a necessary evil.

On one end of the spectrum ignoring instructions can be dangerous and simply dumb at the other end.

Directions are given to us for a reason, which is to make the job and therefore life easier. Following directions can save you time and frustration, not to mention peace of mind for your wife.

As Christians we have been given directions for life, which we often ignore. To our peril. Of course, I’m referring to the Word of God.

Too often, even Christians look at the Bible as something that cramps their style. A book of do’s but mostly don’ts. That’s not entirely accurate. Yes, there are a lot of things in the Bible that God says we shouldn’t do, but there are a lot more do’s – things God wants us to do.

Remember that the don’ts were given to us for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16). Think of it like this – you’re driving on a dark, winding road in the rain. On the side of the road is a sign advising you to slow down because a sharp curve is up ahead. You’d be thankful for the warning.

God’s don’ts are often warnings given to us for our protection and they are ignored at our peril. Accept them as blessings from a loving heavenly father who has your best interests in mind and you will find that there is value in those don’ts.

Which brings me back to reading the instructions.

Maybe if we read the instruction manual (Bible) more, we would complain about it less. Becoming familiar with the Bible is the first step to understanding it. Once you begin to understand it, you become more in tune with it. As you get in tune with it, you begin to see the value in it. Once you see it’s value, you’ll begin to follow it’s instructions. All to your benefit.

So when all else fails in life – when you have tried everything you can think of to solve your problems and nothing has worked, read the instructions. I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the information and value you find there.

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

Sunday is a Comin’

One of my favorite Easter “messages”, is by S.M. Lockridge, the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, California from 1953-1993 (Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. Now that’s a name!). It’s been known by several titles, the best known is simply, Sunday is a Comin’.

I’ve printed the lyrics at the end, but you should do yourself a favor and listen to the author read it. You can do that here. What a powerful message – and that voice!

The Easter message is the message of resurrection; of forgiveness; of salvation. And embedded in that message is the truth that when the darkness is over, the light will shine again!

From death comes life (John 12:24). From the grave comes victory!

I know that not everyone is alone during this pandemic, and that there are degrees of isolation. Not everyone feels loneliness the same. But there are some, perhaps more than we realize, who are feeling the need for more human contact.

It’s important for us to remember that it won’t always be this way. While it’s dark now, the light is a comin’. The night will pass and the light will shine again. There is Hope. There is something better for us ahead, either in this life or the next – and especially the next!

It was necessary for Good Friday to happen so we can have Easter Sunday.

Easter Sunday is that much brighter because of the darkness of Good Friday.

So, in the momentary darkness that is today, keep your eyes on the light that will be tomorrow.

It’s true, It’s Friday, but Sunday is a Comin’.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

It’s Friday
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
Pilate’s struggling
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Mary’s crying
Peter is denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning

It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals

It’s Friday
But let me tell you something
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?           Ooooh
It’s Friday
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit

It’s Friday
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’

It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place

But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!

This is a Time of Opportunity!

COVID-19! By now most of the world is familiar with that term. That’s  because it has literally shut down nations in ways that even wars have not been able to do.

People are sequestered in their homes; businesses have closed or learned new ways of operating; roads are mostly vacant stretches of asphalt and parking lots are empty. It’s a new world out there.

One of the biggest changes is in human interaction – or more precisely the lack thereof. Neighbors wave to each other from the safety of their yards. Residents in assisted care living facilities are confined to their rooms with meals delivered. Employees are working from home via video conferencing, which many will tell you is not the same as face-to- face meetings.

The lack of human contact is beginning to take a toll and stress is on the rise.

That’s because we were created as social beings. When God created Eve it was because it was not good that a man should be alone (Genesis 2:18). He needed companionship. For encouragement. For love. For support. For enjoyment. For sharing. For a myriad of reasons.

King Solomon touched on this subject in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 when he wrote,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.

The bottom line is that we need each other.

It’s not likely that things will change any time soon. We will remain isolated from each other for the immediate future.

But that doesn’t mean that we ignore each other or forget about each other. We still have an open door to minister to people and I believe that people are more accepting of our ministry than at any time since 9/11.

The opportunities for ministry are not lacking, they just require us to do it differently.

While life has changed, ministry has not. God still wants us to touch the lives of other people. We are still to do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

And people need your ministry. They need you!

So, look for creative ways to encourage someone, to lift them up, to put a little joy into their lives. It won’t take much and it’s very possible that you will be just the thing they need to get them through their day.

This is a Time of Opportunity!

Is God Good?

The question of the goodness of God has been discussed by countless generations. It is one of the most debated theological issues of every age. And it is being debated again today. The Coronavirus has once more pushed God’s character into the spotlight.

How can a loving God allow something like this to happen? If He really loves us, wouldn’t He spare people, the world, from such a deadly pandemic, especially the most vulnerable – infants, the sick, the aged?

How can God be good in light of the train wreck that is our world?

The question of the goodness of God is not easy to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. Each person has something different that they are looking for. To complicate matters, there are a number of variables that have to be taken into consideration. Things like the far-reaching effects and implications of sin; the value of suffering; the power or impotence of God; the fairness of eternal punishment; God’s definition of good verses our definition; making God conform to what we think good is, etc. etc.

There is also the issue of Choice.

When God created, He could have created man in one of two ways; either with the ability to choose, or without the ability to choose. If He had created us without the ability to choose, the charge against God would be that He had simply created automatons who did whatever He told them to do. None of us would be satisfied with that arrangement.

When God created us with the ability to choose, it opened up all kinds of possibilities for us. We could choose to love Him or not. We could choose to follow sin or not. We could choose to ignore Him and His Word or not. We could choose to make wise choices in life or not. The possibilities are endless and consequential.

Ultimately, in His wisdom, and for reasons, some known only to Him, God created us with the ability to choose.

And along with choice came responsibility. That is always the case. When you make a choice, you assume a certain sense of responsibility for that choice and for the outcomes of your choice, whether those choices affect only you or include other people (which they most often do).

When our choices affect other people, we assume certain responsibilities that pertain to them as well. Many of the things that affect us in life are the result of choices that are beyond our control. We don’t like it, but it comes with the territory of being choice makers. We are not automatons, nor are we isolated from the decisions of other people.

Choosing is a sticky thing.

At the same time that God gave us the ability to choose, He opened Himself to the charge of being less than good. Because one choice we have is to either trust that what comes into our lives is for a purpose, often beyond our ability to understand, or to see it as some deficiency in the goodness of God.

To trust or to blame.

To trust or to doubt.

To trust or to question.

The goodness of God, as far as it relates to our judgment of God (as opposed to the actual fact of His goodness which depends on nothing other than His perfection), is dependent on our choice to believe or not to believe. To trust or not to trust. We either believe what He has proclaimed of His own nature that He is good (Psalm 118:1, 136:1, Matthew 19:17) or we don’t. God took that risk when He made us with the ability to choose.

Believing in the goodness of God is totally a matter of faith as are so many other things in the Christian life (Hebrews 11:6). Perhaps that is the ultimate reason we were given the ability to choose.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve