Crushed Hopes

The Cleveland Cavaliers – Crushed Hopes. Phil Mickelson – Crushed Hopes (again!). Argentina, Spain, Germany (especially Germany!), and Brazil – Crushed Hopes.

I know, all examples from the world of sports, in which you may not have any interest. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to understand Crushed Hopes. It happens every day and in far more significant ways then the outcome of a game.

We all have hopes and sometimes they get crushed.

Hope is important in life. Can you imagine a world without the possibility for hope? No hope in a better tomorrow? No hope that life holds a brighter future? No hope that you can be healed?

I wouldn’t want to live in a hopeless world. So very dark.

But sometimes we feel like hope has passed us by. That even though we hope, the reality of the end result is far different from the hope we had.

The truth is that hope is an elusive thing. It often depends on people or events over which you have no control. You cannot always dictate the path that life will take and that makes hope a dangerous thing. Lose hope too often and you’ll give up. It’s not worth getting Crushed again.

The key to realizing your hope is to make sure that it has a solid foundation.

Hope is only as good as that upon which you build. Put your hope in a fragile structure during a hurricane and it really won’t matter how hard you hope or how sincere your hope is – you’ll probably end up in Kansas with Toto.

That’s why it’s important to handle hope wisely. Crushed Hope is the result of putting your faith in the wrong thing. Too many people put their hope in hope and that will never work.

And that’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. It gives us a solid Hope. Not just in this life but for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19-22). As Christians our hope is in Jesus and His return to take us to a place where hope won’t be necessary because the expectation will be realized. (Titus 2:13).

Jesus is the solid foundation of our hope.

And so we wait. But we wait in the firm hope, the certain expectation, the reality of His coming (Galatians 5:5).

And while we might experience Crushed Hopes in this life, the hope that anchors our souls is firm, it is solid, it will last the storms of life (Hebrews 6:10).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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We Can Be So Unlike Christ

It was the followers of Christ in the city of Antioch who were first labeled Christians (Acts 11:26). It wasn’t a name that they took for themselves – it was given to them, and we’re not even sure if it was in respect or in derision. I suspect the latter.

However it happened, people who follow Jesus have been called by that name since those early days of our faith. Today we wear it with justifiable pride. We belong to Christ. We follow Christ. We live for Christ. At least that is the goal.

Whatever Christians do – we are to reflect Christ.

That’s what’s so distressing in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. By a 7-2 decision, the court found that Christian businessman and bakery owner, Jack Phillips could not be forced to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. It was an act that went against his religious convictions.

While I’m happy for Mr. Phillips and personally agree with the court’s decision, the reaction of some Christians has been less than Christ-like. And for that I am ashamed.

According to news reports A Tennessee hardware store owner is celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding by placing a “No Gays Allowed” sign in front of his store. 

The article goes on to quote owner Jeff Amyx, as saying “Christianity is under attack,” “This is a great win, don’t get me wrong, but this is not the end, this is just the beginning. Right now, we’re seeing a ray of sunshine. This is ‘happy days’ for Christians all over America, but dark days will come.”

You can read the entire article here.

Jeff Amyx doesn’t have to wait – dark days are already here and it’s not just because of sin. It’s because Christians are not bringing the light into the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16).

In what universe does a sign, rejecting the very people who need the light of the gospel the most (Mark 2:17), reflect Christ?

I can’t imagine Jesus posting the same sign in the window of his carpenter shop in Nazareth.

Where did Christians ever get the idea that it’s better to alienate people than to love them?

We certainly didn’t get if from Jesus (Mark 2:13-16, Luke 7:36-39). In fact, Jesus gave us a compelling example of how we are to relate to sinful people. While not endorsing their sin, neither did he avoid (or insult) them.

His purpose was not to keep them out of his store. His purpose was to get them into his heavenly home.

It seems to me that you can’t do both at the same time.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Justice is a Hard Word

Justice. It’s a word that conjures up images of a gaunt faced, steely eyed, black-robed, no nonsense judge handing down the sentence. The criminal got what he deserved. No love lost here. Now we can move on with our lives. Justice was served.

We love it – especially if you are a diehard conservative. After all we are a nation of laws! We love Justice. We want judges who will hand it out according to the letter of the law.

There’s little to no place for mercy in our system.

Until we are the one standing before the Judge.

I have yet to read of anyone, conservative or liberal, asking the judge to give them what they deserved. Most, perhaps all, are hoping for the lightest possible sentence. Hoping for mercy.

To be honest, we only want justice for those we have predetermined are unworthy.

But that includes all of us.

According to the highest court in the universe, we are all unworthy – we are all guilty. There is not one innocent person, not even one (Romans 3:10). All are guilty and have come woefully short of keeping the law of God (Romans 3:23). While I’ve paraphrased those two passages, I don’t think that I’ve violated the meaning. In fact, I think this is exactly what they mean.

Somehow when we’re faced with our own guilt before God the righteous judge, our demand for justice changes into something else. We’re not so conservative now. Truthfully, we hope for a giant helping of liberal mercy.

If we were to get justice we know where we would spend eternity. I’m not talking about heaven.

But God is not only Just, He is also the Justifier (Romans 3:26). In His Justice He deals with our sin. As the Justifier He forgives our sin. And it’s all because of Jesus.

God made it possible for our sin to be assumed by another (1 Peter 3:18) and for anyone who will put their faith in Jesus to stand before him in complete innocence (2 Corinthians 5:21).

His is a hard Justice. But it’s a justice tempered by mercy.

Justice without mercy is cruel. Justice tempered by mercy gives hope.

Thankfully God knows what we struggle to understand. That Justice and Mercy can walk hand in hand.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where Is The Glory?

One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel. Israel had been captive in Babylon for approximately five years when God revealed to Ezekiel through a vision, the extreme sinfulness of the small group of people who had been left in Jerusalem.

They had turned the temple of God into a center of pagan worship. There had been a complete rejection of God. Instead of learning from their sin, which resulted in the captivity, they said God does not see us, God has forsaken us (Ezekiel 8:12).

The irony is that God was still there, it was the people who had forsaken Him.

But He wasn’t there for long.

Because of their callus sinfulness, the Glory of God that had resided in the Holiest place in the temple departed from Israel (Ezekiel 8-11).

God removed His presence from His people.

He will not share His space with sin.

The good news is that one day God will change Israel and will give them a new heart and He will put a new spirit in them (Ezekiel 11:19). And once again Israel will be His people and He will live among them. And the Glory will Return.

It’s worth asking – Where is the Glory of God today?

In the Old Testament the Israelites knew where to find the Glory. At least until the time of Ezekiel. But where can people today find the Glory of God? Where does His Glory shine so intensely that they can’t miss it – even if they’re not looking for it?

It’s true that God has displayed His Glory in nature. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). But that is not the only place where God has revealed His Glory.

And for us – it may not be the most significant place.

Today the Glory of God does not reside in any one place like a temple. It resides in a hundred million places around the world – today the Glory of God resides in the life of every Child of God; in every person who claims the name of Jesus; in every Christian.

People should be able to see His Glory in every one of us. Every. One.

When people look at us they should see all of His magnificence; all of His purity; all of His holiness; all of His splendor; all of His perfection; and all of His love.

They should see all of His Glory.

The Glory of God should be on display for the world to see – in us.

So the Question is: Where is the Glory?

Where is His Glory? Where are people going to see Who God Is?

Let me paraphrase a key text. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, eating, drinking, or whatever, do it so people can see His Glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

If people are going to see the Glory of God they must see it in us.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Wonder of God

More and more we live in a laid-back, relaxed society. We’ve lost a lot of the formality of former times. That’s not all bad. It keeps us from being too pretentious. Too full of ourselves.

But, as with everything, there are unintended consequences to our informality. One downside of our penchant for a lack of formality is that this laid-back attitude has infiltrated many churches with the result that even our view of God has suffered.

Being informal at church is not in itself a problem. It can even be a good thing. But there’s a danger that if we are not vigilant we’ll drag God down to our level.

There’s an old song that George Beverly Shea used to sing called The Wonder of It All.

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,
The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul,
Is the wonder that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.

The Wonder of God. It’s something that we seem to have lost along the way.

The Bible talks about the wonder of God’s works (Psalm 65:8) and the wonder of His word (Psalm 119:161). And we’re astounded by what He has done and by what He has said.

But what about God Himself? The one who works is greater than his works. The one who speaks is greater than his words. The very thought of God should amaze us even more than what He has done or what He has said.

The Psalmist wrote, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him (Psalm 33:8).

King David understood that the maker is greater than what He has created. He wrote, O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places (Psalm 68:35).

One of God’s holy places was Solomon’s Temple. A magnificent structure, it undoubtedly caused a sense of awe, especially in those who saw it for the first time.

God was/is greater.

On a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stood in the middle of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and just took in the magnificence of that structure. The wonder that is St. Peter’s takes your breath away.

But God is more awesome.

I’m not suggesting that we jettison our informality and go back to the days of top hats and stiff collars. I’m just saying that we need to see God for Who He is. Not for who we think He is or who we want Him to be.

And certainly not as we see the rest of life.

We need to take time to be moved by who God is. To marvel at God. To be amazed by Him. To wonder at His greatness and His glory.

We lose when we lose the wonder of God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Learn to Let Go

One of the problems that we as Christians experience in life is not being able to let go of situations that cause anxiety, stress, pain and even anger. It often seems that we are incapable of simply letting them go.

We pray about them and we ask God to remove them (that’s good), but for some unknown, divine reason He doesn’t. And since we cannot know the mind of God, we wrongly assume that He doesn’t care. You’ll have to take this one on faith – He cares, even when we think He doesn’t.

I wonder if we put too much on God. Not too much in the sense that He can’t handle it, but too much in the sense that we can and should handle it.

Not everything requires God’s intervention.

Sometimes we just need to let it go. Not always – but sometimes. The wisdom comes in knowing when it’s right to let something go.

I think the Apostle Paul indirectly touches on this issue in Romans chapter 12. That’s the passage that famously says things like, Repay no one evil for evil. And Do not avenge yourselves. And Heap coals of fire on his head.

The reason behind these statements is because revenge belongs to God (vs 19). When we step into territory that belongs to God, we’ve stepped over the boundary.

So what are we to do while we’re waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do?

There are several things. Naturally we should pray. We should spend more time with God so He can change us. We should try to learn what we can about God, sin, ourselves, forgiveness etc. because God is always teaching us.

But we should also learn to let go. Just. Let. It. Go.

Responding to some things in life is God’s prerogative, not ours (vs 19).

Let go of what’s not yours.

Let go of what you can’t change.

Let go of whatever is toxic in your life.

At the same time let go of your anger (Col 3:8). Let go of your bitterness (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15). Let go of your desire to get even (Rom 12:18). Let go of anything that does not promote godliness in your life (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

You’ve probably heard the expression Let go and let God. It’s an expression that is easy to misuse. But it applies here. In fact it’s exactly what Paul is advocating for in Romans 12. Let go of what is not your right. Let go of what you can’t change. Let go and let God be God.

It’s not easy to do. You will have to learn how to do it. And that means learning to control your mind and thoughts. The mind is a hard thing to control. It wants to control us.

But the key to letting go is controlling it. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:6 that we are to bring every though into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

In the context of that passage he was referring to ungodly philosophies that exalt themselves above God. But the principle is still there – that every though is to be made captive to Christ. That includes our thoughts.

When we learn to control our minds and thoughts we will find that it’s possible to let go and trust our problems to God (Prov 3:5-5).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Is God Hiding?

I’m intrigued by the hiddenness of God. The Bible presents God as both beyond us, hidden from our eyes (Job 11:6-7, Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36) and at the same time there for us (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Matthew 11:28). He is both incomprehensible and knowable.

The idea of the hiddenness of God has caused some people to reject Christianity and to even take the position that there is no God. Their reasoning can take several different directions but ultimately it comes down to this: if God does exist then He should reveal Himself in a way that removes all doubt.

Even as Christians we struggle with the hiddenness of God. When we face the acute pressures of life we want God to make Himself known to us in unmistakable and obvious ways. And we want to decide what form that takes.

The reality is that God has revealed Himself. He’s revealed Himself in creation (Romans 1:20), in the Bible (pick a page!), in history (this was one of the arguments used in early church history – see Acts 7:2-54), and most of all in Jesus (John 14:9, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15).

That brings questions to mind, such as What more does God have to do? How many more times does God have to show Himself before we’re satisfied?

Our desire for God to be obvious is not unlike the wife who continually asks her husband if he loves her. At first he tells her. Then he tries to show her. But no matter what he says or does, she continues to doubt – and ask. That’s going to get old after awhile.

I wonder if it gets old for God when we continue to expect Him to reveal Himself when He’s already given us all of the evidence that we need.

The problem is not the lack of evidence. The problem is our lack of trust in God – we don’t think that He’s done enough, or a lack of satisfaction with the way He’s chosen to reveal Himself.

But if we believe that God is who He says He is – an omnipotent, all-wise God of love, then He has revealed Himself in exactly the right way and enough for anyone to believe and be satisfied.

As finite beings, we should not expect to know the Infinite One in great detail, nor should we expect (demand?) that He act in ways that meet our requirements. As Paul reminds us, He’s the potter and we’re the clay (Romans 9:21) and we have no right to question what God does or how He does it.

There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14). To state it another way, all that God does is right and righteous. Even when we wish He would do more.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve