Why Does God Bless Us?

blessings4

The short answer to that question is probably – He shouldn’t. We certainly don’t deserve His blessing. Anything good about us is because of Him. Anything that we’ve accomplished that is right is because of Him. So in reality God shouldn’t bless us because it’s not about us it’s about Him.

But the longer answer is that God does want to bless you. He has a history of blessing people who don’t deserve to be blessed. He blessed Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 1:29) until they rebelled and even blessed them after they sinned (Genesis 5:1-5). He promised blessing to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3); to Israel (see blessing sections in Deuteronomy), even after they sinned (Jeremiah 29:11); and to believers today (Matthew 6:33, Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:19 to name a few). God is a God of blessing.

Certainly His blessings do not exist in a vacuum. There are often other factors that play into God’s blessings. Number one on the list is obedience. But that’s for another time. The point is that God blesses us. But why?

Why would God have a desire to give us what we don’t deserve? Why would He give us things that we haven’t earned? The answer is simply because He loves us. His blessings flow out of His heart of love.

It’s also fair to say that God enjoys blessing us. It brings happiness to the heart of God to bless us.

But there’s more – and it’s even more to the point. God doesn’t bless us just for us, He blesses us for Himself. This is the bottom line when it comes to God’s blessing.

The Psalmist understood this concept. He wrote, God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, [so]

    that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations

(Psalm 67:1-2).

Later in the same Psalm he wrote, God shall bless us and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him (verse 7).

God’s blessing is primarily for His own glory. It’s so that people will understand His way of living; that they will see Christ; that they will give Him the honor He deserves as God.

When people see God blessing us it should provoke in them a sense of the wonder and awe of Who God Is. It should cause them to want to know this wonderful God.

Along with that, and perhaps associated with that idea, is that we benefit at the same time from His blessing. We get to go along for the ride as it were. God blesses us for His own glory and we reap the benefits.

Our desire should be for God’s blessing. We should want it. We should crave it. We should ask for it. Not to satisfy the selfish longings of our hearts, but because of what it will do for God and for our fellow-men.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Should We Pray Like Honi?

Prayer-Circles

This Sunday I’ll begin a series titled What’s Trending Now? Whether we like to admit it or not we’re all influenced by trends in our culture. We’re going to examine a few of the most popular cultural trends from a Biblical perspective.

The reason for the series is that even Christians are influenced by cultural trends. There’s something about being seen as old fashioned or out of touch that we resist. I’m aware that some Christians and/or religious groups wear the past as a badge of honor. But old doesn’t automatically equate with right. Nor does new. One is as dangerous as the other.

While there’s little virtue in hanging on to the past just because we’ve always done it that way, there’s also a potential danger in too quickly jumping on the band wagon of the new.

New theological movements, ways of doing church and ministry ideas come along frequently. One of the concepts that has gained popularity in the last few years is using prayer circles to get better answers to your prayers. Those who advocate prayer circles explain it this way:

Do you ever sense that there’s far more to prayer, and to God’s vision for your  life, than what you’re experiencing? It’s time you learned from the legend of  Honi the Circle Maker—a man bold enough to draw a circle in the sand and not budge from inside it until God answered his prayers for his people. What impossibly big dream is God calling you to draw a prayer circle around?

The legend of Honi the Circle Maker or Honi ha-Ma’agel, is a Jewish legend from the century before the birth of Christ. The legend relates that in a time of drought, Honi drew a circle, stood inside it, and told God that he would not move until God sent rain. When it began to drizzle, Honi informed God that it wasn’t enough. So God sent a downpour but Honi still wasn’t satisfied and told God it had to be a steady, even rain. And God answered Honi’s prayer.

Now Christians are being told to follow the example of Honi and draw circles around their requests and not budge until God answers.

Sounds good, right? What Christian doesn’t want more from their prayer life? Who doesn’t want God to tell us what His impossibly big dream is for our lives?

But it’s that desire for something bigger, better, more exciting that gets us into trouble.

Too often as Christians we are too eager to accept anything that is new, revolutionary, or exotic. We want something – anything that will take us to the next level in our spiritual lives. We’ll try anything that looks like it will work. And because of our eagerness we are spiritually gullible instead of discerning (Philippians 1:9, Hebrews 5:14).

Here’s the point. God has given us all that we need! The Apostle Peter said as much: His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us (2 Peter 1:3). You don’t need prayer circles to pray better you just need to search the Word of God and learn to pray biblically.

What we need isn’t an experience, yours or someone else’s. It isn’t a new method of doing Christianity. We already have what we need to live a godly, spiritual life; to be effective; to make a difference in the world. All we need is the Word of God.

Don’t be taken in by the new and exotic. Don’t look for shortcuts. It’s all there for you. Pick it up and read it.

Oh, if you want to read a Biblical evaluation of prayer circles check here.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Dimness of the Soul

Dimness

I decided to take the month of December off from writing for a variety of reasons but with a new year it’s time to get back at it.

One of the issues that Christians deal with, if not on a conscious level then certainly on the subconscious, is the seeming absence of God, especially when we need Him the most. If that describes you, don’t feel like you’re alone, all Christians have the same struggle of the soul. Even David, the Psalmist, struggled with God. You don’t have to read far into the Psalms before you encounter phrases like, Hear me when I call, O God (Psalm 4), and Give ear to my words, O Lord (Psalm 5). And then this one, Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? (Psalm 10). There’s no question that at times David felt as if God was absent.

Theologically we know that’s not the case and I suspect that David knew it as well. But practically we struggle to explain God’s silence.

Recently I read this phrase that I think can help us in our struggle; the dimness of my soul. It’s from an old hymn, Spirit of God, written in 1854 by George Croly an Anglican priest.

The hymn expresses the writers desire to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in his life and it’s in the second stanza that this phrase appears:

 I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, no sudden rending of the veil of clay, no angel visitant, no opening skies; but take the dimness of my soul away.

I want to suggest that when we can’t see/hear/feel/sense the presence of God, the problem isn’t with God it’s with the dimness of our souls. We’re not in tune with God; we’re on a different track; we’re not on the same page – express it however you want the simple fact is there’s something that is keeping us from seeing as God sees. There’s a dimness of our souls. The Apostle Paul touched on this when he wrote now we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Our natural reaction when God seems to be absent is to long for God to do something miraculous – give us a dream, write it in the sky, send angels to tell us. While God has done all of those things at times in human history that’s not His normal M.O. That’s why we call them miracles. Even in the Bible God rarely spoke through dreams, angels, or prophets. Today because we have the complete canon of scripture there’s no need for God to communicate with us in extra biblical ways. He’s given us everything we need to live a godly (2 Peter 1:3).

So what’s the answer? There’s no simple answer that fits every person’s situation. It may be a need for confession of sin; a restitution of fellowship with an offended brother; time spent with God in the Word of God; prayer.

However, I think George Croly points us in the right direction in the first verse of his hymn when he wrote:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; wean it from earth; through all its pulses move; stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art, and make me love thee as I ought to love.

Removing the dimness of our souls requires an overwhelming desire for the Spirit of God to take control of our lives. To surrender our every pulse to Him. To cooperate with Him in weaning our lives away from this world to a better one. That becomes true when we love Him as we ought – with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength (Mark 12:30).

It’s true as Paul states that someday we will see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and on that day we will know, not dimly but perfectly. But we don’t have to wait for eternity to have a clearer vision of what God is doing in our lives.

Loving God to the point of total surrender to His Word and His Will will allow you to see more clearly today. It will go a long way in removing the dimness of your soul and opening up spiritual vistas that you’ve never seen before.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Character Says it All

Syrian children march in the refugee camp in Jordan.  The number of Children in this camp exceeds 60% of the total number of refugees hence the name "Children's camp". Some of them lost their relatives, but others lost their parents.

It has been interesting to follow the national debate regarding immigration. Prior to the recent events in Paris, France most of the debate centered on our southern border and illegal immigration from countries to our south. Now the debate has broadened to include refugees from various Middle Eastern countries. It has become another wedge issue dividing our country.

Not only has the issue of Middle Eastern immigrants divided our country, it is dividing the church. There are Christians on every side of this issue.

For Christians the looming question is not, How should I view this issue as an American?, but How should I view this issue as a follower of Christ?

If we are to follow in the footsteps of Abraham and the great pioneers of our faith, we will confess with them that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth; that we are seeking a homeland that is not of this world. That our desire is for something greater and better than even the greatest nation that has ever existed. Our desire is for something eternal (Hebrews 11:13f).

Yes, we are Americans and we are concerned about the problems that our country faces. But we are first of all Christians. And it is that reality that shapes our character as the church of Jesus Christ and determines the positions we take on the issues. Character says it all.

For the Christian, character leads us to ask questions like:

How can we use this opportunity to show the love of Christ?

What is our responsibility to the weak and helpless?

Is there ever a time when we sacrifice our security for the sake of the gospel?

Is the protection of our way of life our ultimate priority?

What does the Bible say about our treatment of aliens and refugees?

What is the Right (IE Godly) thing to do?

If we are Christ-centered in our world view and Bible-centered in our living these questions have to be answered out of a Christian perspective, not an American perspective. Our character must be shaped by the teaching of God’s Word, not by talk radio or political movements.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians Don’t Need Another Celebrity

Rocky

For some reason Christians seem to need celebrities. When a Christian achieves celebrity status our chests swell with pride. One of us has made it! We finally have value. When someone with a connection to Hollywood or professional sports becomes a Christian the internet explodes with rejoicing. But it’s not exactly a Luke 15:10 rejoicing. It’s like we need someone with celebrity status to validate our existence. A celebrity Christian lets us hold our heads up high. We need our Tim Tebows.

None of this is new. When I was young and living on the West coast in the 60’s our Boys Brigade group traveled to Oakland to hear all star baseball player Felipe Alou give his testimony. We were awestruck. We weren’t just in the presence of a Christian – we were in the presence of a bon a fide star who believed like we believed. There was a lot of hero worshipping going on that night. We went away convinced that what we believed was real – it HAD to be, he believed it too.

Times haven’t changed. We still get giddy whenever a celebrity announces that they have accepted Christ. One of the recent stories circulating the Christian realm is that action hero, Sylvester Stallone became a Christian several years ago. An article has popped up twice in the past week on my Facebook page (this is not a criticism of those dear friends – good people all – who posted it). The title was, Sylvester Stallone: I Have Surrendered My Life to Jesus Christ, and the article linked to a video produced in 2006 by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club. Robertson could hardly contain his enthusiasm that another poor soul had been rescued from the evil clutches of Hollywood.

The only trouble is that nowhere in the video did Stallone make that confession. He talked about God and how his life in Hollywood had gotten out of control but he never confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. To his discredit Robertson never pressed him on the issue. The entire interview was more about publicity for the latest Rocky movie than it was a testimony for Jesus Christ.

Since that interview Stallone has said things that are cause for serious skepticism. For example in a 2010 interview with GQ magazine he was asked about eternity. Here’s the exchange:

Q: Do you ever have any concerns about your own mortality?

A: I don’t believe that we go anyplace. You make your heaven and hell right
here, and you are what you leave behind. But don’t think that you’re going to change anything; you’re not.

Not exactly what you would expect to hear from someone who had surrendered his life to Jesus.

When Stallone’s publicity rep was asked in 2013 to verify that Stallone had given his life to Jesus Christ his reply was one word – “wrong”. After first jumping on the Stallone bandwagon, the Conservative Tribune, to their credit, corrected their original report and asked their readers to pray for Stallone’s conversion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy when anyone – famous or not, comes to Christ. What perplexes me is why we get more excited about the thought that perhaps Sylvester Stallone became a Christian than we do about John Doe who lives down the street making a genuine profession of faith. Why does Pat Robertson give a seriously questionable interview to someone who talks all about God but can’t say Jesus is my Lord and Savior? I suspect for Robertson televisions ratings have something to do with it. That’s beyond sad.

Here’s the bottom line: Christians don’t need another celebrity to validate their faith – we already have One and He’s all that we need (Colossians 2:10).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

Darkness

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Should You Drink Starbucks Coffee?

Starbucks

By now you have probably read about the Starbucks controversy. It’s all over the internet. It centers around Starbucks’ Christmas coffee cups. I don’t patronize Starbucks – I don’t even like their coffee. But that’s not the point.

There are Christians who are as mad as hel . . . sorry I got carried away for a moment. Anyway they’re mad because Starbucks has removed all Christmas decorations from their coffee cups and replaced them with a simple red cup.

Well some – many evangelical Christians are up in arms about it. They see it as an attack on our Christian values and they’re not going to take it anymore!

I’d like to offer an alternative perspective from the pen of Professor Clifford Stumme from Liberty University. He just says it better than I could.

You don’t need to agree with him – just hear him out and ask yourself if what he says makes sense for Christians.

If you want to read his original article (which I have duplicated below) you can read it at http://cliffordstumme.com/2015/11/06/merrychristmasstarbucks-is-a-symptom-of-pointless-conservative-christian-self-martyrdom/

#merrychristmasstarbucks Is a Symptom of Pointless Conservative Christian Self-Martyrdom

You may have seen the pictures or videos Conservative Christians are spreading around the Internet of the words “Merry Christmas” handwritten on Starbucks’s redesigned red Christmas cups.

The phenomenon was started by Joshua Feuerstein, a former evangelist and current antagonist of “political correctness.” He realized that Starbucks had redesigned its cups to remove festive Christmas tree branches and ornaments, and had made its cup much more simple, with a sleek, red design.

Feuerstein claimed that Starbucks employees are no longer allowed to say “Merry Christmas” on the job (and a real-live Starbucks barista has debunked this claim in the comments below–thanks, Judi). He concluded that Starbucks was making war on Christmas and filmed this video:

(Note: here’s the link to the video if you want to watch it, Pastor Steve. https://www.facebook.com/joshua.feuerstein.5/videos/689569711145714/)

Feuerstein says in the description of his video: “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus … SO I PRANKED THEM … and they HATE IT!!!!

I did some quick research and found what Feuerstein found: Starbucks through its VP of Design & Content claims that “In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs . . . This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

This leads me to conclude what Feuerstein concludes: Starbucks is being more inclusive of holidays and what people celebrate this time of year.

What Feuerstein doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that (1) Starbucks is an international company that markets to people both in America and elsewhere who do not celebrate Christmas and (2) that even if Starbucks was run by Christians (which recent decisions by the company suggest it isn’t) wishing people Merry Christmas does not directly spread the Gospel. As it is, Christmas is almost completely taken over by consumerist capitalism. Any blow to Christmas in America is a blow not directly to Christ, but maybe more likely to Wal-Mart or .

What is Feuerstein doing wrong? There are five things I’d like to talk with him about if he’d be willing to contact me:

1. He’s trying to impose Christian morals on a secular company. Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth that holds spiritual meaning for Christians. The rest of the world celebrates other things on December 25th and certainly the least festive thing is to try to make people feel guilty or stupid for not acknowledging your holiday.

2. He’s confusing a greeting with the holiday. Christmas is larger and bigger and will happen whether a company recognizes it or not.

3. He’s taking the battle to a company rather than to the hearts and minds of people. As we’ve seen in the past few months, Starbucks tends to serve as a stomping grounds for flashy, dramatic conservative Christian performances of antagonistic faith. It is a great place to demonstrate how you stand up to the “liberals of the world,” and because Starbucks wants your money and for you to like them, they won’t fight back. They don’t care. These people are still buying coffee. And, incidentally, while Starbucks is demonstrated at, friends and neighbors who could be being loved or given truth to about the Gospel are being ignored.

4. He’s equating Christianity with conservatism. Conservatives are right about a lot–I identify as one–but Christian does not equal conservative and certainly doesn’t equal American or gun-owner. When Feuerstein flashes his gun and challenges “all great Americans and Christians” to “prank” Starbucks as though they are the same thing (probably something he could clarify but which his syntax implies), he’s completely wrong.

5. Feuerstein isn’t convincing anyone. By accusing Starbucks of hating Jesus in his video description, he’s vilifying them and using flashy click-bait tactics to spread his video. His tactics encourage disagreement and win-lose situations.

What should we be doing?

If you’re an American and a Christian worried about the growing absence of Christ in public businesses or institutions there are three things that we can do that won’t make the situation worse:

1. We can stop martyring ourselves with no cause and stop “fighting back” with flashy, viral, passive-aggressive demonstrations. Losing a Christmas greeting on a cup is very small battle compared to the battle for the one neighbor you’ve been meaning to tell about Jesus but haven’t gotten around to talking to yet. Starbucks isn’t persecuting us and even if they were, our marching orders from Christ himself are simple: “Turn the other cheek.”

2. Do extraordinary acts of love. It’s not about winning arguments or using brute shows of force. By the way, if Feurestein is correct in saying that tens of thousands of Christians have visited Starbucks in the last 20 hours and done this, that’s at least $100,000 worth of business he’s sent to his opponent. Starbucks is laughing all the way to the bank. And if Feuerstein’s sarcastic, flippant, aggressive attitude is indicative of the attitudes of those working with him, Starbucks employees probably aren’t being convinced of the extraordinary love of Christ.

3. Stop equating Christianity with America or conservatism or gun rights. Civilizations come and go. They are mortal in the truest sense as C. S. Lewis points out in The Weight of Glory. Human souls are eternal. If we were expelled from America, lost all of our guns, or couldn’t vote for Republican candidates anymore, we Christians would still be Christians, and we could still follow Christ. The rest of that can melt away. (Admittedly, such a situation sounds terrible, and it’d be difficult for me to let go of some of those things peacefully, but Christ is in me perfecting me so that I truly can cling to Him when I lose everything else.)

That’s all I’ve got to say, and I’d love to chat with Mr. Feuerstein if he’s available. I’m sorry to my regular readers for deviating from my pop song analyses. Have a wonderful day everyone, and let’s love people well.

As I said at the beginning, you may not agree with everything Professor Stumme said, but there’s a lot there to digest.

Matthew 10:16 – Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Philippians 2:14-15 – Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve