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

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

Hope is the Answer

Hope is an elusive thing. In different ways, we have all pinned some aspect of our lives on hope. We hope for a promotion at work; for good weather this weekend; for our team to win; for better health; for our lottery ticket to have the winning number; for love and understanding; for safety and security and a thousand other things. Hope is a critical part of life, yet we don’t often understand just how important a role it plays. We can’t live without hope.

Here’s what many people fail to understand: Hope is only as good as the object in which you place your hope. You can hope for a promotion at work but what if your boss doesn’t like you? You can hope for good weather this weekend, but what if the forecast is for rain? You can hope for your team to win but what if they just stink? You can hope to win the lottery, but your chances are one in millions. You can hope for love and understanding but what if your friends are just nasty people? You can hope for safety and security but what if there is no reliable security structure where you live?

The object in which you place your hope is everything.

I just returned from a Third World country where life seems so hopeless for most people. As I discussed the hopeless plight of the people with a friend, he responded that the average person lives their life in hope – hope that someone will come to help them. For some their hope is in their government. For others it’s in an NGO, or relatives and friends in another country, or hitting the lottery (yes, even in drastically poor countries they spend their money on the lottery).

They were hopeless but living in hope.

They just want someone – anyone to help them. Meanwhile they live lives of quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) desperation. Unfortunately for most of the people the object of their hope has failed them.

And that’s where the Christian faith comes alive. We can offer them real Hope.

Not always hope for more food or better living conditions (although we could do more, and in fact have an obligation to help in these areas) but Hope for peace today and a future with God where every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4).

The Christian faith is sometimes criticized as offering an unrealistic hope because it doesn’t immediately change the present circumstances.

But hope always has a future aspect – we hope that the future will be different than the present. And the future, whether near or far is in God’s hands.

The truth is that the Christian life is all about Hope.

We were saved in Hope (Rom 8:24)

We are to cover ourselves in Hope (1 Thess 5:8).

The coming of Jesus is our Hope (Titus 2:13).

We have hope for an eternity with God (1 Cor 15:19, Titus 1:2).

We are to hang onto our Hope to the very end of life (Heb 3:6, 6:11).

Our Hope is based on the faithfulness of God (Heb 10:23).

Our Hope is alive because of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3).

It’s not just hope in this life as the Apostle Paul makes clear (1 Cor 15:19), it’s hope for this life and for eternity.

Hope is the answer for the human dilemma. And that’s what we have to offer.

Hope. Real, life-changing, eternal hope.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

So You Think You’re in Charge?!

In our Adult Bible Fellowship at church we’re studying the book of Proverbs. As part of our study we’re encouraging everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs a day for the four months that we’ll be in this study. 31 chapters in 30 or 31 days. By the end of the study they will have read through Proverbs four times. That’s a good way to imprint the truths  of God’s Word on our minds.

Today was Proverbs 16 (September 16 – get it?).

One of the things that jumped out at me this morning was just how much God is involved in our lives – even when we think we’re in Charge.

Three verses in particular from this chapter emphasize just how much God is involved in our lives.

Proverbs 16:1 – The preparations of the heart belong to man but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

If there is one thing these verses teach it is that God is ultimately sovereign over the affairs of our lives.

We can make preparations, plan our way and even make decisions the old fashion way by casting lots, but God is in control.

We don’t understand how it all works but somehow God takes even our worst decisions, our messed up plans and our flip of the coin and uses them for His good.

That doesn’t excuse us from making good plans, but it does encourage us that even when we make plans that are not the best plans, it won’t frustrate God. He is bigger than any of our plans.

At least four times the writer of Psalms declares the Lord reigns, affirming the fact that God is sovereign (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1). And in the final book of the Bible, the Apostle John quotes a great multitude in heaven who declare Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6).

It was that truth that George Fredrick Handel picked up and used in the Hallelujah Chorus as the focus of his soul-stirring masterpiece, that we know as Handel’s Messiah. You can listen to the Royal Chorus Society sing it here.

Some people are put off by the teaching that God is sovereign. I find it a comfort for several reasons.

-If the outcome of my life depends on my decisions rather than on God’s sovereignty it’s going to end badly – very badly.

-The truth that God is in control gives me infinitely more comfort than knowing that I’m cast onto the whims of fate, my own plans or someone else’s decisions.

-Because God is good (see Luke 18:19), I know that His control of my life will be good. I can’t even trust my own control to always be good.

-Since God knows the beginning from the end, He knows what is best for me. I don’t.

For these and many more reasons I can rest quietly in the sovereignty of God.

Rather than see God’s sovereignty as a restriction in life, see it as a benefit. Something that helps you do life God’s way.

You might think that you are in charge of your life, but thankfully you’re not. Someone much wiser, more powerful, and infinitely more loving is in control.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Small is Not Insignificant

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything significant in life. I don’t see the results I would like. The wheels keep spinning but it doesn’t produce many visible outcomes. That happens often in small, rural churches.

Words like insignificant, unimportant, irrelevant, inconsequential are often part of my mental vocabulary. We don’t normally equate small with significant.

One reason for this equivalency is that our culture has taught us that large is better than small. Everyone strives for big. Bigger businesses. Bigger churches. Bigger events. No one likes small. Small is bad.

But is it?

Certainly there are times when small is not ideal – when growth is not only desirable but necessary. But is small always bad and large always good?

Not necessarily.

There were times when God used the small – even the insignificant to advance His Kingdom.

He chose Israel to represent Him on this earth, not because they were big or mighty but because they were small. He specifically said that He chose them because they were the least of all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:7).

He selected David the youngest and the smallest of his family (1 Samuel 16:11-12) to take down the giant, Goliath and then to rule His people.

He used a little servant girl to bring healing to General Naaman (2 Kings 5) and He picked another little girl from an insignificant village to bear the Messiah (Luke 1).

All of them small but not insignificant.

That’s just the way God works. He sometimes chooses to use the little things instead of the big things.

Which should say several things to us.

One is that God is OK with small things. They aren’t insignificant to Him. In fact, they are important enough for Him to use in His eternal plan.

Another is that God can use small things for big purposes. All of the illustrations I gave above testify to this.

A third is that small things have the potential to have an impact/influence that is out of proportion to their size. That’s encouraging.

I’m not trying to defend staying small. I’m just saying that small is not the end of the world when it comes to serving God.

If God has you in a small place, serve Him well. You’ll never know what kind of impact you will have.

And in that reality, I find great encouragement.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve