A Mother’s Heart

In a few short days we will move into the month of December with all of its festivities and celebrations. For most people, the central focus of the month is Christmas Day. But for Christians the focus of the season is the birth of Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to that wonderous event.

While our thoughts rightly center around the Christ child, there is another figure in the story that we shouldn’t miss – I’m referring to Mary.

Mary is such a pivotal character both in the Christmas story and in the life of Christ that you can’t tell either story without her.

When you think about Mary, the thing that stands out is her heart. That thing deep inside of her that reveals her innermost thoughts, joys, and sorrows.

There are many beautiful and wonderful things about Mary but there is nothing that compares to her heart.

Very early in the Christmas Story Mary’s heart is brought into focus. As the Shepherds left Bethlehem after worshipping the Christ child, they proclaimed His birth to anyone who would listen. I wonder how many people simply shrugged and went on their way, hearing but not listening. Not Mary. She tucked their words away in her heart (Luke 2:19).

As He grew up and experienced the ordinary life of first century Palestine, he also experienced things that went beyond the normal life of a young Jewish boy, extraordinary things; things that amazed (Luke 2:41-52); Mary stored them away in her heart (Luke 2:51).

There is no question, but that Mary’s heart was filled with this her son.

God has put within the breast of mothers a heart that beats differently from all other hearts. There’s nothing quite like a Mother’s heart.

It’s a bottomless well of tender caring; an endless ocean of unconditional love; a universe of willing self-sacrifice for the happiness of her family. It is different from anything else.

Mary’s heart was no different. In fact, if anything, it was deeper, wider, and higher than the other women around her. Hers was a heart beyond comparison.

That made it a heart that not only loved greater but a heart that suffered more intensely. The greater a heart loves, the deeper a heart is broken. And Mary’s was broken like no other.

The ecstasy of Bethlehem became the agony of Calvary.

Mixing our holidays, we are now just days away from Thanksgiving – a perfect time to express our thankfulness to God for His blessings. Don’t forget to thank Him for the heart that He has placed within mothers. For all that they add to our lives. For all that they teach us. For their great example. For their comfort.

Thank God that deep within mothers, He placed a Mother’s heart.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Appearance is Everything

We live in a world where most of us make judgements with less than all of the facts. After all, it’s almost impossible to have all of the facts. The problem is that we often don’t even have enough facts but that doesn’t stop us from reaching certain conclusions.

Mary Poppins addressed our penchant for quick assumptions when she sang; A cover is nice, but a cover is not the book. Her point is that you can’t judge people by their looks – there’s more to them than you see on the outside.  There’s some truth to her downhome philosophy. Too often we pass judgment on people based solely on external, even trivial things.

A cover is not the book.

But there are times when we need to pay attention to appearance. Not our physical appearance (although it would help if some people did!) but our spiritual appearance. People make judgements on the authenticity of your spiritual life by how your life appears to them.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 says abstain from every kind of evil. Some of the older translations say abstain from all appearance of evil.  The original word can mean either kind or appearance. There’s really not much difference between the two. Appearing to do evil is one kind of evil. One translation is more general the other is more specific.

Regardless of which translation you prefer, the concept of how we as Christians appear to other people is important. That’s one reason there is an emphasis in the Bible on holiness. Because we are to be holy and we are to appear to be holy.

When people look at us they shouldn’t have to wonder if we are holy or not. They shouldn’t have to think about the rightness or wrongness of our actions.

It’s entirely appropriate in evaluating our actions to ask the question, How does this appear to my neighbor? Do they think that I’m lying? Do they think that I’m cheating my employer? Do they think that I’m committing adultery?

They may jump to the wrong conclusions because they don’t have all of the facts, but that’s really our problem, not theirs. We have to make sure that whatever facts they have, however limited, are in line with the Word of God.

What exactly do people think when they look at me? What does the appearance of my life tell them?

What they think is often determined by what they see. And even if they don’t see it all – or if they see it inaccurately, the burden falls on us.

Appearance is everything.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Live in the Spotlight

All of the talk out of Washington, D.C. seems to be about impeachment hearings. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s a serious time in our country. It must be hard to live under the ever-present eye of the public.

I can think of a lot of things that I would rather go through than to have my every word and action scrutinized in the public venue. Not too many people could survive that kind of examination unscathed. I wonder if any of our congresspeople who are investigating the president could go through such an ordeal and come out untouched at the other end. I somehow doubt it.

I know I couldn’t, and I suspect that there are few, if any, who could.

But as Christians, that’s where we live.

Consider two passages:

1 Peter 2:12

Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Titus 2:7-8

In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

We are to live in such a way that no one can legitimately say anything evil about us.  Our goodness (godliness) is to be so evident that when people look at our lives, what they see is so overwhelmingly good that even if they want to condemn us it will be difficult for them to find something to say.

Combined with Matthew 5:14 (you are the light of the world), the implication is that rather than shun the spotlight, we are to put ourselves in the spotlight so that people can see Jesus. We are to embrace the spotlight.

Politicians may not come out smelling so good when their lives are examined, but we should.

If the president, or any other public official is held to a high standard, we are to hold ourselves to an even higher one.

Our standard is not a constitution or law or ethical guideline. Our standard is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:26) and we are to live in such a way that we adorn the doctrine of God our savior in all things (Titus 2:10).

An interesting question might be: If my spiritual life was examined would I be impeached?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

What is Love?

It’s an interesting question. In the Christian faith love is one of, if not the, defining characteristics of life. Without love there is no Christianity. You can’t call yourself a Christian and not embrace and display true, godly, biblical love. Just can’t.

I’m not talking about an emotion or a physical attraction or romance. I’m talking about a Biblical love. The kind of love that motivated God to send Jesus to the earth (1 John 4:10). The kind of love that we’re told we are to build into our lives that will cause us not only to love other Christians (John 13:34-35) but even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45).

I admit, I struggle with that last one. How do you love someone who lies about you, who gossips about you, who dislikes (hates?) you? It’s easy to say that we love them but words are easy and sometimes we lie to ourselves.

So, What is Love? What does it look like? How can you know if you possess it?

I don’t have all of the answers, especially to a question as difficult and all-encompassing as this one. But I do have some thoughts on the subject.

The defining Biblical statement on love is undoubtedly 1 Corinthians 13 and it teaches us several things.

Here are a few thoughts to mull over.

-Love acts – not out of self-interest but in the interest of others.

-Love isn’t determined by our circumstances.

-Love is not about Me.

-Love isn’t primarily about those who love me.

-Love isn’t affected by the actions of others.

-Love finds no joy in sinful things.

-Love loves truth.

-Love outlasts all failures.

Read 1 Corinthians 13, especially verses 4-8 and see if you don’t find each of these statements/descriptions.

Defining love may not be the hard part. The actual Loving is the hard part. It goes against every inclination and desire of our flesh. It’s not natural. It’s certainly not easy.

When God tells us to love, He’s telling us to do something beyond our own abilities. He’s telling us to do something supernatural. To love as God loves requires an act of the Holy Spirit in us. Without His enablement and empowerment, we cannot love. What we need is a daily filling of the Holy Spirit.

Ask God to fill you with the Spirit’s power so that you can know true love and show it to your world.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

We Need to be Careful (And Kind)

I’m not into the world of secular music so it’s not surprising that I know little to nothing about current musicians and their music. However, my interest level did go up a few notches when articles began to appear recently in both the religious and secular media concerning Kanye West – of whom I admittedly know very little.

What I have read (you can read here and here) is that he has had some kind of religious awakening – call it what you will. His latest album released this past week, Jesus is King, is said to be overtly religious. Apparently, Kanye has dabbled in religion for many years, but in the past year has turned somewhat more serious, even hosting weekly religious gatherings for his staff and friends called Sunday Services.

There are those who are thrilled by his new-found commitment to Christ and those who see it as a publicity stunt. I have no idea and I’m content to leave any judgment up to God.

Here’s where I think we need to be careful. It’s not spiritually wise to make a spiritual novice the face or hope of Christianity. Some people are excited, anticipating the great spiritual influence that a public figure like Kanye can have on people, especially on young people. And he may – we’ll have to wait and see.

But let’s not put more responsibility on his shoulders than we should. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue in writing to Timothy regarding spiritual leadership: not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6-7).

Granted this is a qualification for Elders in the church and no one that I know of has suggested that Kanye should be or even wants to be an Elder. But it is still sound advice and should apply to everyone in spiritual leadership.

While I can’t say with any degree of certainty, from what I have read, it does not appear that Kanye falls into the category of the spiritually mature. He needs more time to grow and to demonstrate that good testimony not only to those in the church but especially to those who are outside.

In the meantime, those of us who are naturally suspicious and may lean toward the is this simply a publicity stunt ? (and even some non-Christians have suggested as much) need to be kind in our assessment and judicial (pharisaical?) proclamations.

Like most things in life, it will become clearer with more time and a little grace.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Stop Obsessing

According to the Council on Foreign Relations there are five critical conflicts, eleven significant conflicts and nine limited conflicts taking place in the world. Twenty-five in all, and that’s only counting the conflicts that impact the interests of the United States (you can read their report at https://www.cfr.org/interactive/global-conflict-tracker?category=us).

There’s no mention in their report of the unrest in Haiti, or the MNLF in the Philippines – conflicts that seriously impact people locally but (let’s be honest here) that we don’t have a vested interest in so they are of little interest to America as a nation.

By one count there may be as many as fifty-five conflicts presently on-going in the world today. That’s a significant number.

Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group has said, The international order as we know it is unravelling, with no clear sense of what will come in its wake (https://www.ceasefire.ca/trends-and-trouble-spots-in-2019/).

So naturally people are asking, is this the end? Are we at that point in human history when we are literally looking into the abyss?

Jesus talked about the final days of history and identified one characteristic of this period of time as wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). With that anticipation, it’s logical that Christians will ask if we are in the last times.

But for many Christians, it’s more than just a question. It has become, if not an obsession then certainly a major emphasis in their study and personal lives.

But we don’t need to obsess over it. Whether or not we are in the final days shouldn’t change anything. It’s interesting to think about but it should not be a determining factor in how we live out our lives.

The Apostle Peter makes this clear in his discussion on the Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10-13). After telling us that,

the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up,

he asks the million-dollar question – Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?

Peter (read God here) is more concerned with how we live in light of the end than he is with our obsession with all things future. Frankly, an infatuation with the end times, or a penchant for calculating when the end will come, is a waste of time and energy. We should instead be spending our time and energy on holy living and godliness.

We don’t live holy lives because we think that Jesus might come back tonight. We live holy lives because it’s the right thing to do and we need to do it regardless of the timing of His return. Our lives should reflect godliness whether He returns tomorrow or a thousand years from tomorrow.

Our focus is to be holy living, not the end times. The end times is the incentive, but holy living is the goal.

The question is not When will Jesus come? The question is Am I living like Jesus today?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Finish Well

Today is a special day for one member of our church – today a dear lady named Ruth celebrated her 90th birthday!

Several years ago I decided that anyone in our church who reached their 90th birthday deserved a party, so we have a celebration after the church service complete with balloons, streamers and cake. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that for Ruth. For several years she has been in an assisted care facility and while she can move around independently, she’s not strong enough to attend church. So, we took a bundle of birthday cards to her from people in our church. She was so appreciative.

We all have special days – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations etc. Days that mark special events or that remind us of specific times of life.

When you visit with Ruth, she will often remark that she is ready to move on. She knows there are more days behind her than she has in front of her. I really believe that she is longing for and looking forward to heaven.

As I visited with Ruth today the thought came to me, she’s finishing well! Ruth is just a simple lady from a Pennsylvania Dutch background. Most people, unless they are part of her small group of friends, don’t know Ruth. They’ve never heard of her. But God isn’t going to evaluate Ruth’s life by how many people knew her – he’s going to weigh her life by her faithfulness to Him. And by that standard I think Ruth will rank high.

Life isn’t about the fame or the accolades, it’s about faithfulness. And faithfulness is about finishing well. Ruth, even with her physical problems is finishing well.

The Apostle Paul was concerned about finishing life well. As the end of his life loomed before him he wrote to Timothy, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Paul was faithful to the end.

That’s really all that God wants from any of us. Simply to complete the race. To finish life well.

Life hasn’t been easy for Ruth. It’s not easy for most people. But you can still finish well. Don’t let the problems of life determine how you live your life or how you finish life.

Be faithful. Keep the faith. Finish well. Be like Ruth.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve