Don’t Expect God to Make Everything Right

God on the Mountain

Linda Randall popularized the song God on the Mountain. If you’ve never heard her beautiful voice you can listen to her sing it here. I’ve mentioned this song in some of my previous posts – it’s got a great message of encouragement.

My wife was part of a duet that sang it at our church this past Sunday. The chorus of the song says:

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

There’s always been one phrase of the song that bothered both me and my wife. It’s the phrase when things go wrong, He’ll make them right. I know that ultimately God will make everything right. But I don’t think when most people hear the song they’re thinking long-range. They want God to make it right and to do it now. And if that is how people understand this song aren’t we offering them a false message and a false hope?

The reality is that God doesn’t always make things right in the short-term. In fact He may not make them right in our lifetime. He didn’t make everything right for the unnamed heroes in Hebrews chapter 11. He didn’t make everything right for countless missionaries through the centuries who have been martyred for their faith. When we expect God to make everything in life right we’re missing the point of our faith

So with apologies to the author (Tracy Dartt) and to Linda Randall who made it so popular, our duet made a slight change in the wording of the song. Instead of singing when things go wrong, He’ll make them right, they sang when things go wrong live by faith not by sight.

After all that is the defining mark of a Christian – living by faith. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). And he says explicitly in 2 Corinthians for we walk (live) by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s who Christians are; it’s what they do.

The Christian life is not waiting for God to make right the wrongs of our lives. It’s not even wanting God to do make them right. That’s living by sight; by what we can see. We’re to live by faith; by what we can’t see but know to be true. So when life goes wrong we show our faith, not by asking God to make everything right but by trusting God even when we can’t see and we don’t understand. That’s faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t expect God to make everything right. If He does it’s called grace and you can be thankful. But if He doesn’t we still need to live by faith.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When God Isn’t There

Where-is-God-

I recognize that this title states an impossibility – there’s never a time when God isn’t there. He’s always there whether or not we sense His presence. But there are times in life when it seems like God isn’t there. Times when we struggle with a God who is silent. What do we do then? I think there is a clue in Psalm 13. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it before you read the rest of this blog. It’s short.

Psalm 13 is a lament written by David. And he doesn’t mince any words getting to the core issue: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever (Vs 1)?

For David it seemed like God wasn’t there or at least that God had forgotten him. Just in case God didn’t get the idea David followed that question up with another: How long will You hide Your face from me (Vs 1)? In that culture when the king hid his face it meant that he withheld his blessing. David was feeling left out by a God who seemed to be absent from the details of his life.

The result of God’s disappearing act (at least that was how David saw it) was that David had a sense of being on his own in life without anyone, especially God, to help him. Ever been there? Ever felt as if God had gone AWOL and you were on your own? That’s where David was. In fact he was so alone that he thought that this might literally be the end (Vs 3).

So what’s the answer? When you feel like God isn’t there for you and you’re on your own – what do you do?

David doesn’t end the Psalm without giving us three simple things that every Christian needs to do when it seems that God isn’t there.

1. Keep Trusting in His Goodness

But I have trusted in Your mercy (Vs 5).

Even though he was going through a spiritual desert, David determined that the one thing that was always true was God’s goodness and he could trust in that.

Trusting in God’s goodness is saying, God I’m going to choose to believe that You are good to me even when I don’t see any evidence of Your goodness. It’s putting Truth before feelings. It’s putting what you know is right before what you feel is wrong.

2. Keep Rejoicing in His Salvation

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Vs 5).

Rejoicing is difficult when you think God is ignoring you. But that’s what David resolved to do.

Rejoicing in His salvation is saying God I’m going to rejoice in what I know is true because if you can save me, you can take care of me. Do you really think that we have a God who has gone to such great lengths to save us only to turn His back on us?

And even if He isn’t doing anything that we can identify right now, isn’t the fact that He saved you enough evidence of His presence?

3. Keep Remembering His Blessings

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me (Vs 6).

Remembering has great value. It encourages. It gives hope. It stirs our emotions. It reminds us that God IS there and that He CAN help us.

Remembering His blessings is saying God I know that if you blessed me in the past you can and will bless me in the future.

It’s affirming that God is interested in your life and that without Him life would a lot worse than we think it is.

Trusting in God’s goodness, rejoicing in His salvation and remembering His blessings are all acts of Faith. It takes faith to trust God when you can’t sense His presence. It takes faith to rejoice in the fact that God saved you when He doesn’t seem to be around. It takes faith to remember His blessings when it doesn’t seem like He’s blessing you now.

So the next time you think that God isn’t there, follow David’s lead.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thought-Provoking Observations

Silhouette-question-mark

If you’ve read my blog for very long you know that I occasionally reblog (is that even a word?) something I’ve read that I think is worth passing on.

The following was written by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto Canada. He’s one of a group of pastors that I call the young guns. They’re young, energetic, passionate pastors, mostly under the age of 40 who are making a noticeable difference for Christ.

I think you’ll find his article enlightening even if you don’t agree with him on every point.

I’ve had to remove many of his links so if you want to follow them, you can find his original blog at http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/07/5-stupid-things-the-church-needs-to-stop-doing-to-make-progress/. Just clip and paste it into your browser.

So here it is, weird Canadian spellings, thought-provoking title and all.

5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress

The church has more than its share of critics these days.

Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the church, which is never healthy.

And, of course, the church will inevitably run into criticism.

What we’re doing is counter-cultural and will never be met with universal applause. The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, got John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus and the prophets killed, just to name a few.

While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected.

But other times we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way.

Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot.

Here are 5 things that, in my view, would help the mission of the church become more authentic and more effective if we could just stop doing them.

1. Being So Weird Online

Too many Christians come across online as either

Toxic (Hello angry ranters, trolls and haters);

Cynical (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you); or

Syrupy (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world)

Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness?

It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus you also need to become socially awkward.

I know people might say “no, I’m just being authentic”. But being authentic does not mean being weird.

I think a general rule is if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online.

If you go to post something and you think, well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone, that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it.

Similarly, if you think “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it.

If you’re always angry or cynical or all you do is complain online and you think “well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it, or be like that.

And if you think “well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue.

Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, okay?

2. Commenting on Politics

Part of the weirdness is political.

God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an independent.

God is God.

When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church.

Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government.

As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader.

I know some will say “well, God has opinions about things happening today”.
I’m sure he does.

But when authentic Christians sincerely share different views on subjects, we should be very careful about speaking for God.

And, after all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore.

You might be worshipping yourself.

3. Handling Conflict So Poorly

The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it.

Yet we often side step. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people.

We avoid conflict. Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth.

If we just handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively and bravely, we would be so much better.

If you really want to see how to restore someone in love, listen to this message by Andy Stanley on judgment and helping others who are sinning. It’s brilliant.

If we handled conflict more healthily, our churches would be so much healthier.

And a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.

4. Ranking Sin Selectively

Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own.

We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications.

But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarrelling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them.

I would suggest that just as many congregations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness and quarrelling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin.

I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness and our quarrelling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously.

Imagine what the church might look like if that happened.

And we haven’t even touched gossip, gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain.

Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins.

So here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin.

You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they.

You might actually be able to help them.

5. Judging Outsiders

This is a pet peeve of mine.

As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians. Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.

I completely get the urge to judge our neighbours and even the world. Things bother me too.

But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it.

Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In first year law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty.

I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea.

That made me feel better.

But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty.
I got nervous again.

“Well what if you think he’s guilty but he says he’s not…doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?”

I’ll never forget his answer.

“You’re confusing you’re role, Carey. You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

So Christians, the world has a judge. And it’s not you.

He’s fairer than you. More just than you. More perfect than you. And far more accurate.

In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sister in the world to their heavenly father through Christ. That’s your job.

Take some comfort in that. And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.

Some good advice.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Along the Road to Sodom

sodom

Paraphrasing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Friday, June 26, 2015 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States Supreme Court determined that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. For some it was a day of celebration. For others it was another step along the road to Sodom.

Numerous articles have been written since Friday suggesting the best way for evangelical Christians to respond to this political/social/spiritual development. I would like to add a slightly different perspective from what you may have heard or read.

Few Christians will argue that as a country we are on the road to Sodom – if we haven’t already arrived. What is easy to miss, however, in all of the noise about the same-sex marriage issue are the other people on the road. The greater issue at stake is not how the United States defines marriage, but the lives, often badly broken by a culture spinning out of control that you will meet as you travel along the road.

On the road to Sodom you’ll meet the party girl who used her body for popularity but was quickly discarded by those she called her friends; the homosexual/lesbian who chose a life characterized by sexual desires eventually to realize how unfulfilling and empty it was; the drug addict who traded everything in life for moments of ecstasy, now living in an empty shell; the moral hypocrite who could tell everyone else how they should live but was blind to their own advice; the religious zealot who thought they had all the answers but forgot that godliness is in how we live not in what we say. The road to Sodom is littered with broken lives; wasted lives; empty lives. And God has put us on the road to be Christ to them.

As a nation we have traveled faster and farther down the road to Sodom in the past few years than at any time in our history because as Christians we have failed to be Jesus to our fellow travelers. We’re standing at the gates of Sodom and it’s not just their fault; it’s also ours.

It’s time that Christians stopped with the harsh, condemning rhetoric and begin to put lives back together. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be fun. But God put us on this road at this time in history to make a difference – not in which laws are passed but in which lives are saved.

The road to Sodom is our mission field. The broken lives are our responsibility. If we don’t reach them who will? If we don’t mend their lives by the love of Jesus, who will?

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Importance of Symbols

cross

I don’t know when people figured out that symbols were useful, but I suspect it was early on. Some of the earliest written forms were pictorial in nature. Before alphabets were designed people drew symbols. Fast forward several thousand years and Madison Avenue figured out that they could describe a company or product in a hundred words or they could simply show you a picture. So along came the Golden Arches, the Swoosh and the Apple.

The importance of symbols has been reignited in our collect conscience by the recent tragedy in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over one of the most notorious symbols in American history, the Confederate flag. To the proponents of the flag it is a symbol of their proud history and freedom from federal domination. To others it is a symbol of slavery, racism, and hatred.

What is sometimes forgotten in the heat of debate is that symbols are more than pictures – they are powerful images that invoke thoughts and actions in us. By design they are made to produce a response.

The other thing that is sometimes overlooked is that the same symbol can mean different things to different people – people see them in different ways. The Golden Arches can symbolize either cheap, tasty food or obesity; the Swoosh either great shoes or run-away capitalism; the Apple either advanced technology or time-wasting machines. It all depends on how you look at things.

Christianity has used symbols with varying success since the first century. Some groups have used them more extensively and effectively than others. The Eastern Orthodox Church has used symbols in their religious ceremonies for centuries and still does today. Other groups use few symbols.

Without question the greatest Christian symbol is the cross. And it, like most symbols, is viewed differently by different people. To the Romans the cross represented an instrument of death. To the Jews it was a symbol of shame. To the Greeks it was a symbol of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). But to the Christian the cross has always been a symbol of the most powerful love ever expressed to man. It is central to our theology and our lives. Without the cross there is no forgiveness, no hope and no future. This one symbol represents everything about our faith.

And in a manner of speaking it represents everything about God. Thousands of books have been written attempting to explain God to us but we still see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We’re still left with unanswered questions. But there is a way to know God (I’m not neglecting the Bible here). Without being too simplistic, if you want to understand God just look at the symbol – it will tell you what you need to know.

It is the Cross that teaches us about God’s love, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His nature, His eternal plan, His sacrifice, His kingdom, His mercy, His compassion, His justice, His grace, His humility and so much more.

And it is the Cross that calls people to a response of faith.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s About Living

Christ

A rather odd occurrence has happened in our county (Berks County, PA). In the span of less than four weeks two evangelical pastors have been involved in fatal motorcycle accidents, one killing the pastor the other killing the pastor’s wife and leaving the pastor in critical condition. Many people are asking hard questions – questions that don’t have easy answers. It was the topic of conversation among the tellers when I stopped at the bank this morning.

As Christians we often turn to the words of the Apostle Paul in times of tragedy; if I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don’t know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better (Philippians 1:21-23). We find comfort that our loved one is in a far better place. And that is a profound truth.

But it’s easy to miss the emphasis of the Apostle in this passage – if I live, it will be for Christ. His point is living, not dying. For me to live is Christ! Yes, dying brings us into a better place, a better relationship, a better future. But before death is life and God wants us to know how to live.

At the moment it seemed like coincident. Early this morning I received word of one of the accidents that had taken place last night. On my way into the church I turned on my radio hoping to get more information. As I searched the dial landed on a Christian radio station so I listened because the pastor was preaching from this exact text. At the end of his sermon he challenged his listeners to complete this sentence: For me to live is ________________.

It would be a good exercise for all of us to fill in the blank.

For me to live is retirement
For me to live is my children
For me to live is the weekend
For me to live is golf
For me to live is my portfolio

What is life for you?

The question that every one of us has to answer is; What are you living for? What is the point of your life? Most things that people live for are not wrong but they should not be the essence of your life as a Christian.

For the Christian there is only one answer that completes the sentence: For me to live is Christ! He has to be first. He has to be the focus. He has to be that which supersedes everything else. It has to be Christ.

To live life for anything less is to waste the most valuable part of life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Lesson from Reality TV (Who Knew!?)

weight-of-sin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the Duggars – the evangelical Christian family that stars in the reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. You’re probably also aware of the recent confession of one of the Duggar’s sons, Josh, that as a 14-15 year old he molested five underage girls (he’s now 27), including some of his own sisters.

I’m not a fan of reality television and I quickly admit that I have never watched a complete episode of any reality program (if memory serves me I’ve seen about 10 minutes of 19 Kids and Counting). I just think that we can do better than to live vicariously through the joys and heartaches of other people, especially a family that is anything but your typical family (that’s why they are on TV and your family isn’t).

According to the news reports that I have read, Josh Duggar confessed his actions when still a teen and asked the girls for forgiveness. However that is not all that should have happened. It appears that the entire situation including reporting to the authorities, professional counseling and appropriate punishment should have been handled far differently than it was. I’m sure these issues will be debated ad nauseam.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this sad story but if the Duggar’s situation does anything, it should make all of us stop and do a self-evaluation. None of us are without sin. Perhaps your sin does not rise to the level of Josh Duggar’s but that’s missing the point. Sin is sin and we all stand on the guilty side (Romans 3:23). Many who are criticizing the Duggars – and there seems to be plenty for which to criticize them – seem to be forgetting that they stand side-by-side with Josh Duggar.

When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Christ (John 8), He didn’t say Whoever has never committed adultery throw the first stone at her, He said Whoever is without sin. Adultery is certainly a grievous sin but Christ’s point was that only those who are sinless have the right to judge the sin of another. He was pointing out the reality that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

Yes, there are those who need to deal with the sin of others – parents, various agencies of the government and church leaders – but that’s not most of us. Most of us have no part in the Duggar scandal, except to learn from the misfortune of another. If reality television has any redeeming value it is simply this.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve