God Cares – But Sometimes It’s Hard to See

god-cares

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?

knowing-god

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?

spiritual-journey

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

life_is_hard_logo

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

God in the Uncertainty of Life

uncertainty

Yesterday I preached a Thanksgiving sermon I called It’s Always Time to be Thankful. Taking examples from the Bible I tried to show that it’s important to be thankful at four critical junctures in life –

-in the Good Times when life is Great (Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 after the birth of her son);

-in the Hard Times when you’re going through difficult times and life isn’t so great (Paul in Acts 16 in prison);

-in the Certain Times when you can see God working in your life (King David in Psalm 18 after God gave him the kingdom);

-in the Uncertain Times when you wonder where God is or what He’s doing (Daniel in Daniel 6 when he was told not to worship God).

As Christians we intuitively understand that it’s important to be Thankful in the Good Times of Life. We know that we need to be Thankful in the Certain Times and we even have the sense that we need to be Thankful in the Hard Times.

That leaves the Uncertain Times.

There are several things about the Uncertain Times that I couldn’t fit into my sermon and I’d like to share them with you.

I think that it’s in the Uncertain Times of life that we struggle the most.

Some people have referred to these times as desert experiences. There is a spiritual dryness that parches the soul.

Times like this are often associated with great trials or spiritual testing. Times when we understand the cry of David and make it our own: How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? (Psalm 13:1).

Why does God put us through times of Uncertainty?

There may be various reasons – let me suggest three.

1. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to draw us to Himself.

When your way is cloudy and unclear you are more likely to run to Him for help.
It’s sad but true that when life is great we don’t need God (we do, we just don’t know it). We don’t look to Him for guidance. We don’t run to Him for help.

We’re like the small child who plays confidently and independently in the light, but let the darkness come and they immediately run to one of their parents. They don’t need you in the safety of the light but they do in the uncertainty of the darkness.

The same is true of many Christians. And so God send uncertainty into our lives so we will run to Him for help.

2. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to show us our frailty and His strength.

We live in a culture that elevates the self-made man and glories in the strong man. But that’s not the way of Jesus (Check 1 Corinthians 1 starting with verse 18).

God is not looking for strong men; He’s looking for people who will live each day recognizing their own weakness but in His power and strength. And so He sends times of uncertainty into our lives.

Until we come to understand the words of Jesus, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And we can say with the apostle, Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

3. God puts us through times of Uncertainty to bring Glory to Himself.

The Glory of God is the ultimate purpose for our existence. It’s why we are here. Anything else is but a distraction to the Christian life.

It’s all about His Glory.

God is most glorified when we find what we lack in Him. And we lack plenty.

But sometimes we need to be reminded of why we exist and so God sends the Uncertain Times, the Unclear Times. To help us to be Certain and to see Clearly.

Uncertain Times do not come by chance – they are the work of God.

Let me borrow from the words of the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 12; do not despise the work of God, because the one God loves is the one to whom He brings the Uncertain Time.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God is Here

fear

I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve seen so much fear in the lives of so many people. This election has brought out the worst in us in so many ways.

So today, the day before the most historic election in recent memory, I want to share some good news with you directly from God for you to meditate on before you go to the polls.

Remember that the same God who fed the multitudes; who calmed the storm; who gave sight to the blind; and who raised the dead is the same God who will take care of you and our country after November 8.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 118:6
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 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? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 4:6-7
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

You don’t need to live in fear. God is here.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve