Watch Out for the Potholes

We have entered into another New Year. It’s officially 2019. With a new year comes new expectations, new hopes, and new dreams. There is always a fresh optimism at the beginning of another year.

But the reality is – life is still the same. Turning another page on the calendar doesn’t really change anything. Life goes on. You’ll face the same issues, same problems and same hardships as you did on the last day of 2018.

That’s the bad news.

I’m not trying to ruin your year. There is good news.

The good news is that you can face whatever 2019 throws at you with a new sense of strength and hope if you face it with the knowledge that Jesus is both your strength and your hope. He’s what you need.

He won’t eliminate the problems (wish He would!). But He will help you handle them if you’ll trust Him.

Read these words from the Bible and let them sink deep into your soul.

Psalm 9:10 – Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.

Psalm 33:18 – Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.

Psalm 42:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.

Isaiah 40:29 – He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

My hope and prayer for you is that you will experience joy and blessing in 2019.  But it is also likely that you will face some problems and hardships. The question is not Will you? but When?

The secret to the Christian life is not in avoiding the problems of another year, the secret is in how you handle them.  Handling them with dependence on God and with the confidence that in His power you can do what is right is the goal.

Blessings on you in 2019. But watch out for the potholes along the road (if you’re from PA you know what I’m talking about!).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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But at What Cost?

It’s a question that affects most of life. You probably don’t consciously ask it before every decision you make but it’s always lurking somewhere in the back recesses of your mind. You want to know how a certain course of action will affect you – will it affect you positively or negatively? Will it help or hurt? Will it benefit your life or detract from it?

And if the effect is negative, just how negative will it be? We can all endure some degree of pain or adversity but there’s a point beyond which we are not willing to go. We are not willing to pay the cost.

But often in life – probably quite often – the yardstick that we use to gauge our actions is, But at What Cost?

Should I drive 55 mph in a 25 mph zone? What will the cost be if I’m pulled over?

Should I go back to school for another degree? What will the cost be?

Should I leave my present job and take another one? What will it cost me?

Should I cheat on my income taxes? What will the cost be if I’m caught?

We face a hundred questions that arise during a typical day and we analyze the potential risks and rewards of our options.

When the cost is low we’re more likely to engage in the behavior in question.

When the cost is high we’re much less likely to engage in the behavior in question.

The yardstick, But at What Cost? is not intrinsically wrong. It’s kept a lot of people out of trouble. But it’s not the best way to go through life.

The better yardstick is, Is it Right? Is what I am planning to do the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?

God is clear on this point. Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17). In all of our actions, our relationships, our decisions, and our activities God has but one standard for us – Is It Right?

Determining your actions by the standard of Right instead of the standard of Cost will not necessarily make your life easier. In fact, it can make your life much harder. Sometimes it will cost you and the cost cab be high. But living by the standard of Right is the way God wants you to live.

Don’t sacrifice the difficult way of Right for the easy way of Cost.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Important Things

There are important things in life and then there are those things that aren’t so important. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

I suspect that most of us spend the majority of our time on things that really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. We fight the brush fires – and there are many of them – which doesn’t leave us time to fight the forest fires.

So how do we determine what’s important and what’s not?

Everyone has their own way to measure the relative importance of a specific event, whether it’s shopping for a new dress (or tool!), spending time at work, watching television, reading your Bible, or praying. We always have a good reason for why we do what we do.

But many of our reasons don’t hold up under intense scrutiny. The truth is that we do what we do because we like to do it. Not because it’s the most important thing we could be doing, or even the most pressing thing we need to do. We just like to spend our time that way.

Is there a guide that will help us determine what’s important and what’s not?

I think there is.

Do you remember the bracelets people wore back in the 1990’s with the initials WWJD on them? What Would Jesus Do? It was a good question to ask, unfortunately I think it became more of a fad than a reality – it was just cool to wear them and we all thought we were spiritual giants. Wearing a bracelet never made anyone a spiritual giant.

Determining what’s important in life is similar to WWJD.  Only this time the question is, Is it important to God?

That’s how you can determine what’s important in life and what isn’t.

If it’s important to God it should be important to us.

I read an online article with the title, Whatever’s Important to You Is Important to God. That’s only true in a very restricted sense. Sinful things may be important to you but they’re only important to God as far as He uses them to get your attention and change your behavior.

The title is misleading. Turn it around. Whatever’s Important to God is Important to You.

The prophet Isaiah wrote about the rebelliousness of God’s people, when they refused to listen to the prophets. It just wasn’t important to them. As a result of their dismissal of God’s messages, judgement awaited them.

But the prophet also wrote about another day when God would bring His people back and they would live in peace and in obedience to Him. In that time he said, Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it. (Isaiah 30:21).

In other words God will say to Israel, This is important to Me, do it.

That’s a good message for all of us, not just for Israel.  All that God wants is for you to do what is important to Him.

That’s why we’re here. Not for ourselves but for Him.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

How Thankful Are We?

It’s the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s a time that we stop and think about how thankful we are. At least that’s the idea. But with family, food and football it’s difficult to squeeze in much time to think about thankfulness.

The question that I have is: How do you gauge thankfulness?

Is it a warm feeling deep down inside? The warmer the feeling the greater the thankfulness? Sounds too mystical.

Is it an assertion that says I’m thankful? And the more confident your assertion the more it becomes a reality? In that case A type personalities will certainly be more thankful than the rest of us.

Is it an attitude, a way of thinking? I think therefore I am. Doesn’t sound right.

Is it something that we just say so it must be true? Sort of like, I’m the best basketball player in the world – so I automatically become the best basketball player in the world. That would send Lebron James into fits of laughter.

So how do you gauge thankfulness?

Is it even possible to gauge thankfulness?

There must be a way to determine, say on a scale of 1 – 100, how thankful you really are.

As it turns out, there are several ways that you can gauge your thankfulness.

You can gauge your thankfulness by how generous you are.

God loves generous people.

Psalm 112:5 says It is well with the man who deals [with other people] generously.

In other words, God wants us to be generous.

I seriously doubt that you can give generously without being thankful for what you have.

And I believe that when you are thankful for what you have – knowing that it all came from God (Psalm 24:1, James 1:16-17) you will in turn be generous.

You can gauge your thankfulness by how much your generosity costs you.

Do you remember the story of the widow in Luke 21? After the wealthy people had dumped their bags of money into the treasury in the Temple in Jerusalem, she put in her two coins. They gave out of their abundance – which is better than not giving at all, but it didn’t cost them anything. They had plenty more where that came from. There was really no generosity in what they did.

Then she put in her two coins. They were all she had. Her generosity costs her everything.

Jesus’ commentary on it was this: I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

Giving generously is not the same as giving extravagantly. But when you give generously it will cost you something.

You can gauge your thankfulness by your satisfaction in the difficult times of life.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God.

Being thankful in the good times of life doesn’t tell you anything about yourself except that life is good.

It’s when you can be satisfied with what God is doing in your life as the sky falls in that you know you are a thankful person.

The difficult times in life reveal a lot about us.

Being thankful is more than just saying you’re thankful. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Being thankful is about what you do. It’s about your actions.

Thursday is coming. It’s time to be thankful.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Don’t be Like the Saudis

The Saudis are in a world of trouble over the Khashoggi affair. Call me Captain Obvious. I don’t bring this up to step into the world of politics, but to use it as an illustration.

Think about how the Saudi government has handled, or should I say mishandled this entire affair. There’s a good summary in the New York Times that you can read here. They have:

  1. Claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate the same day.
  2. Denied that he was detained or killed in the consulate.
  3. Denied any involvement in his disappearance.
  4. Denied any knowledge of the affair until days later.
  5. Denied that their leaders ordered the operation to take place.

Is anyone really buying this?

So far they have done everything except admit the truth (that seems to be the opinion of many people). Slowly their explanations are unraveling.

In a kingdom as tightly controlled as Saudi Arabia their denials ring hollow. This is a sin that will reach to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

But this blog is not about the Saudis. It’s about us. And OUR sins.

As Christians, when we sin we are tempted to act like the Saudis. We issue denials (even when no one else knows about our sin). We make excuses. We attempt to justify our actions. We offer alternative scenarios. We do everything except admit the truth.

While it’s easy to criticize the Saudis for their sin, we give ourselves a pass for our sin.

For us it’s not a matter of when the truth will come out. The Truth is already out – at least to the one who counts the most.

And that’s the insane part of this – God already knows so why do we try to hide our sin, or worse yet, act like it never happened?

It’s because we are more like the Saudis than we would like to admit.

We try to save face. We try to put the best spin on it. We try to come out of it smelling like a rose. Meanwhile the whole world (or at least the people who know about our sin) knows the truth. When we try to convince ourselves that our sin really doesn’t matter – it’s not that bad, we are kidding no one but ourselves. Just like the Saudis.

King David had the right perspective when he wrote, I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3).

When it comes to sin, be like David. Don’t be like the Saudis.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

What’s Your Focus?

As a pastor I have the opportunity to observe people, especially church people. One thing that I’ve noticed is that Christians have different focuses. That is, there are different things in the Christian life that are important to different people – and sometimes that leads to misunderstandings and wrong assessments.

When other Christians don’t attach the same degree of importance to the things that we think are important – well relationships can suffer.

Think about the things that different Christians stress as important in the Christian life:

-Worship

-Prayer

-Bible study

-Prophecy

-Missions

-Witnessing

-Music

-Counseling

-Spiritual Gifts

And the list goes on.

It’s not wrong to place importance on any of these things, in fact they are all important. The problem comes when one of them becomes THE criteria by which we judge our own spiritual life and the spiritual lives of people around us.

There’s something that we need to clarify here and that is that there is a difference between an interest, even an intense interest in some area of the Christian life and what we might call a spiritual obsession (this may not be the best phrase to describe this, but you get the idea).

Many Christians have a strong interest in prophecy but they don’t expect all Christians to have the same degree of interest that they have.

One of the issues with a spiritual obsession is that it quickly becomes the standard for (and a poor substitute for) spirituality. If I can distinguish between the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Earth (Rev 13), explain every obscure prophetic reference, and rattle off all of the end time judgments, then I must be spiritual.

And if you can’t, you aren’t.

Not necessarily.

Knowledge and even involvement cannot pass for spirituality. Spiritual Christians are most often (always?) balanced people. They have room in their life for all of the many facets of the Christian life and don’t elevate one over the others.

Is worship more important or less important than exercising your spiritual gift? Is prayer more or less important than involvement in missions? Is witnessing more or less important than Bible study?

When we start building a hierarchy of spiritual activities we enter uncertain waters. What if you are wrong? What if someone else chooses something different? How do you weight the relative importance of each against the rest?

The key is not to focus on one thing but to focus on the whole thing. Each area of the spiritual life adds something to our personal spiritual life.

Don’t make your focus so narrow that you loose sight of what the spiritual life is all about.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

The Weary Christian

If you are trying to live a spiritual life anywhere close to New Testament Christianity, you will experience times of weariness. Weariness with trials. Weariness with trying. Weariness with sin. Weariness with failing. Weariness with ministry. Weariness with fighting off temptations. It comes in all types and sizes.

There are a lot of saints experiencing spiritual fatigue.

If you are one of them, you are not alone (1 Corinthians 10:13). Spiritual weariness has been around as long as people have been around. I’m sure that Job grew weary in his trials. That Noah grew weary of people refusing to listen to his warning of impending judgment (120 years!). That Elijah grew weary when he thought that he was the only one standing up for God. That Peter grew weary with his failure. That Paul grew weary in his travels and trials. That the early Christians grew weary in their persecutions.

If you are a weary Christian, you are in good company.

God did not design the Christian life to be easy. Jesus said, In this world you will have tribulations (John 16:33). Enough tribulation will eventually lead to weariness.

That’s why God promised to give us strength. He gives power to the weary and to those who have no strength He gives strength (Isaiah 40:29). A few verses later the prophet wrote Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

The answer to spiritual weariness is power. Not our power but His Power.

God knew that we would struggle with spiritual fatigue, so He offered to give us His power and His strength. It is only as we live in the power and strength of God that we will be able to overcome spiritual weariness.

In the New Testament we are encouraged with these words: And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9).

Spiritual weariness is to be expected but it is not to be accepted. As long as we have the power of the risen Lord Jesus available we don’t have to give in.

That power is explained in the words of scripture; sought in prayer; made available by the death of Jesus; and applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit.

It is possible to live in power not in weariness.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve