It’s the Little Things that Count

How important is God in your everyday life?

Most people who read this blog will agree that God is important in their lives or at least should be. They go to church most Sundays, they pray, they may even read their Bibles. By their actions they are saying that God is important in their life.

But attending church, praying and even reading your Bible does not necessarily mean that He’s as important to you as He should be.

It’s not enough to say He’s important. As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. It’s not even enough to do the minimum things that every Christian should do. God wants more than that.

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:34f), and He said, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He was getting to the heart of how important God should be in our lives.

What does it mean that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds?

The Expositor’s Greek New Testament explains it this way: The clauses referring to heart, soul, and mind are to be taken cumulatively, as meaning love to the uttermost degree; with “all that is within” us.

In other words our love for God is to be complete, total (to the uttermost degree). Love for Him should consume us. It should be the focal point of our lives; the essence of our lives; the center of our lives. Our lives are to be wrapped up in God.

His truth (i.e. the Bible) is to inform every thought you think, every decision you make, and every action you carry out.

Love for God is not determined simply by the things that we so often use to gauge our relationship with Him (church attendance, how much we give in the offering, how often we pray, how many chapters of the Bible we read etc.), as good and as important as these things are. It’s determined by the everyday things, by the simple things we do that reflect His character.

When the everyday things of our lives begin to reflect God then we know that He’s becoming increasingly important to us.

It’s the little things that make the difference. It’s the little things that tell us just how much we really love Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on God’s Mercy

Mercy. There are various ways to define it – especially when you’re talking about God’s mercy. At its core it’s an aspect of the Love of God. Sometimes we equate it with compassion.

I’ve often defined mercy as God’s love given to those who need it the most. While grace is God’s love given to those who don’t deserve it. Not perfect definitions, but helpful in distinguishing these two aspects of God’s love.

Think of the people on whom Jesus had compassion – the blind, the deaf, the destitute, and the dead. People who were desperate; people who, humanly speaking, need God’s love the most.

The ultimate mercy is when God gave His love to sinners in the person of Jesus (John 3:16). Sinners certainly need God’s love the most.

We often pray for God’s mercy – for God to be merciful to us. What we want is for God to change our circumstances. To make our life better.

But how do we know when our prayer is answered? How do we know when God gives us His mercy?

If you’re like most people you equate the reception of His mercy with a change in your life. Life becomes better because God answered your prayer the way you wanted Him to answer it.

But is that a good barometer of God’s mercy?

What if in His omniscience He knew that what you cried out for, what your heart longed for, would not be good for you in the long run? What if His mercy was NOT to give you what you wanted? What if, in His love, He knew that it might even be harmful to you in some way?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He knew would be harmful to you?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He didn’t give you because He had something even better for you?

The truth is that you won’t always immediately recognize God’s mercy. Sometimes you’ll see it in hindsight. Sometimes far, far hindsight.

So in the meantime you need to live by faith. Not seeing the evidence but believing in what you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith believes that God always acts toward you in ways that are merciful, even when life doesn’t go your way. It believes that God is merciful even when He disciplines you (Hebrews 12:5-6). It believes that God is always merciful. That there is never a time that He does not act in mercy (sometimes we draw a dichotomy between God’s wrath and His mercy – as if when God disciplines us He stops being merciful. That would mean that God would have to stop being God).

What if, as Laura Story has reminded us in her song Blessings (you can listen to it here), that God loves you too much to give you the little things you want instead of the greater things He has for you. What if the trials of life are His mercies in disguise?

Don’t judge God’s mercy based on how He responds to your prayer. He will always respond in love. He is always merciful.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Can You Love Jesus but Not Love His Church?

Good Question.

If you asked most Christians if they loved The Church they would probably answer in the affirmative. But many would have some mental qualifications.

I love The Church but not all of the people in it.

I love The Church, just not MY church.

I love The Church, it’s Christians I can’t stand.

I love the Church but I don’t need it.

According to a Barna survey, 10% of self-identifying evangelical Christians don’t attend church anywhere. They say that they love Jesus, they just don’t love His church. And the percentage is growing – slowly, but growing.

There are inconsistencies here. As Mark Galli, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today pointed out in a recent article, can people really say that they love Jesus if they “refuse to participate in the community he promises to be present in?” Seems rather inconsistent.

The problem goes even deeper. Can people say that they love Jesus if they consciously choose not to do what He said to do? Hebrews 10:24-25 can’t be any clearer about our responsibility in regard to church attendance. Neither can John 14:15 be any clearer about the standard we are to use to judge our love for Jesus.

You can’t say that you love Jesus if you don’t do what Jesus said to do and you’re not doing what Jesus said to do if you don’t attend church. Pretty simple really.

The real issue here is not attending church verses not attending church. The real issue is an issue of the heart. Will we or won’t we bend our hearts to His will?

There are numerous reasons for the Christian to attend church. Among the most obvious are, Obedience, Worship, Fellowship, Instruction, Ministry, Exercising your Spiritual Gift, and Encouragement. Things that you can’t accomplish or experience on the same level as a Long Ranger Christian.

But the most important reason to attend church is because you love Jesus. Christians who say that they love Jesus but don’t love His church are demonstrating theological inconsistency at the highest level.

You can’t separate Jesus and His Church. To love one is to love the other. To be faithful to one is to be faithful to the other.

It’s no stretch to say, You love Jesus best when you love His church.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Trust His Heart

I read a statement recently that intrigued me. It said, When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

There will be times in life when you don’t see the hand of God, either because you’re not looking in the right place or because God has hidden His hand from you (that’s another blog!). And because you can’t see His hand you don’t understand His plan.

What do you do then?

If you are like many Christians your reaction can range from panic to doubt to complaining. Because you haven’t yet learned to trust. Trusting God when you can’t see what’s going on is not easy.

We want answers. We want full disclosure.

What we really want is to control our lives – to call the shots.

The reality is that we simply don’t trust God to do what’s best for our life. That’s a natural human reaction.

But it’s not the right reaction.

Have you ever had a friend that you were so close to that you trusted them explicitly? It didn’t matter what they did or even what they said about you, you knew that they had your best interest at heart?

They might even publicly disagree with you, perhaps causing you some degree of embarrassment but you knew that they loved you. So you gave them the benefit of the doubt. You accepted their criticism.

You trusted their heart.

That’s all God wants. He wants you to trust His heart even when you don’t understand His plan for your life.

I think that’s the essence of Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t trust in your own understanding, perspective, wisdom (my translation/ commentary).

Trust HIS heart, not your heart. Trust HIS wisdom, not your wisdom. Trust HIS way not your way.

As Christians we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith refers to the things that we can’t see. You can’t walk by faith if everything in life is clear and plain.

Walking by faith demands hiddenness.

Walking by faith demands trust.

Trust in the Heart of God.

Trust that His heart is Good. That His heart is Pure. That His heart is Loving. That His heart will never take you where His Grace cannot take care of you.

So when you can’t see the Hand of God – you can’t tell what God is doing in your life, Trust His Heart.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

P.S. You might enjoy the song Trust His Heart. You can listen to it here.

God Cares – But Sometimes It’s Hard to See

I’ve been talking a lot lately to groups in our church about caring. We want to be known as a church that cares for each other (we do a good job here) and for our communities (we need to do better here).

The question that arises is Why? Why should we care, especially for people outside of the walls of our church?

There are several answers to that question. One is that we are taught to care in passages like Galatians 6:10, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men. That’s clear. Not just to other Christians – the passage goes on to talk about that – but to all men. Everyone.

Even if they’re not part of our “group” (IE church). Even if they don’t believe like us. Even if they don’t look like us. Even if they don’t like us! All. Men.

But the primary reasons that we are to care is because God cares.

Passages that actually talk about God caring are limited to just a few.

Psalm 27:10
When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.

1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

You get a more complete picture of God’s care when you look into the areas of His love and His faithfulness.

Most Christians understand God’s care from an intellectual perspective, but sometimes struggle with it from an experiential perspective.

It’s hard to really believe that God cares when you can’t see His care or feel His care. When His care isn’t evident in ways that you expect you begin to wonder if He really does care about your problems.

When we care for people we show our care in tangible ways; ways that they can relate to. We are conditioned to equate care with verbal and physical gestures. We tell people how much we care for them. We give them hugs. We try to take away the hurt and “fix” whatever is wrong. That’s how we care.

But God’s not always like that. Sometimes He is – but not always. May not even normally.

The statement quoted above (1 Peter 5:7) was said to people who were suffering persecution. God didn’t eliminate their persecution – which is what I would have done so that they knew I cared. In fact they were suffering because it was God’s will for them to suffer (1 Peter 4:19).

The truth that we fail to grasp is that God’s will for them to suffer did not negate God’s care for them.

It is possible for a human parent to inflict or allow suffering in the lives of their children and yet still care for them profoundly.

How much more is it possible for God to bring (allow if you like) suffering into our lives for any number of reasons and yet care for us with a love that comes from the deepest recesses of His heart.

His care is not dependent on our seeing it nor on our feeling it. It is not even dependent on our understanding it.

It is enough that we know His care in the person of Jesus and that we have His impeccable word on the matter.

Never doubt His care, whatever comes into your life.

Your suffering may have a greater purpose than you will ever know.

His Care will never fail you.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Know God?

Christians are people who believe that they know God. They have a relationship with God. The deeper the knowledge the deeper the relationship. Or so we like to think.

In the Christianity where I live (and the same is true for most of you reading this) – i.e. evangelical, biblically oriented, non-charismatic, evangelistic, mission-minded – we equate knowing God with gaining knowledge of God. In our minds the more knowledge the more we know God. And we’re sincere.

But is that the biblical understanding of knowing God?

Is that what the Apostle meant when he wrote, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10)?

If anyone knew about God it was the Apostle Paul. He had been personally taught by God Himself (Galatians 1:12), a claim none of us can make. But there was still a longing in his heart to know God. Wasn’t his knowledge enough?

Apparently not.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love learning about God. I spend hours every week as a pastor studying the Word of God. It’s my favorite thing to do.

But knowing God has to be more than a knowledge-gathering pursuit.

I read a statement several years ago that said a collection of information is not the same thing as knowledge.

In other words you can know a lot about God without knowing God. James says that even the demons know about God (James 2:19). That’s not very good company of knowledge gatherers.

Knowing God – really knowing God in a biblical sense – goes much deeper than the gathering of information. It is something that touches the soul and changes your life.

Without life transformation on some level you can’t say that you know God.

I’m not talking about an I’m saved and going to heaven instead of hell transformation.

I’m talking about an, I’m saved so I hate the sin that corrupts and destroys my life transformation.

An, I’m saved so I’ll sacrifice my own happiness and comfort for someone else transformation.

An, I’ll do anything to be more like Jesus transformation.

An, I’ll give it all up for Jesus if that’s what He wants transformation.

The same author I quoted earlier said most American Christians do not know God – much less love Him.

That’s a serious indictment.

Could it be true that while we claim to love God we don’t even know Him?

So how do we go from a knowledge-as-information-gathering to knowledge-as-life-transformation? And show that we not only know God but that we love Him.

Here are three easy things you can do,

1. As you read the Bible ask God, What do you want to change in my life today?

2. As you go to church ask God, What do you want to teach me through the sermon this week?

3. As you meditate on the Word of God ask God, What is it in my life that you want to transform into Your image?

It’s more than knowing more. It’s knowing more with the ultimate goal of life-transforming change.

It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about the change.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Where is Your Journey Taking You?

I love missionaries. Missionaries are the people on the front line for God.

As a result I get a lot of newsletters, both electronic and the old fashion variety, from missionaries around the world. This week I received a letter from missionary friends, Jim and Marilou Long. Jim normally shares their news around a theme – this time the theme was Trips and Journeys. Since their previous letter their ministry has taken them to California, Delhi, India, and Kathmandu, Nepal. I have to admit to a certain amount of envy.

At the end of the letter was this challenge: “Where is God taking you? What kind of JOURNEY are you on right now? Remember that God is always with you and leading you—even in new journeys and in uncharted territories. When the children of Israel were ready to cross the Jordan River and were probably quite apprehensive about it, God said to them through Joshua, “Then you will know the way to go since you have not been this way before,” Joshua 3:4. We take great comfort and encouragement in knowing that He is going before us in these new ventures.”

In the past few months I started a couple of those journeys into uncharted territories, so this got my attention.

But the reality is that for the Christian, all of life is a journey or perhaps a series of journeys.

You might not realize that you are on a journey – but you are. Your life is not a series of unrelated, random events. Things just don’t happen to you.

Your life is not even made up of decisions that you make from day to day.

Somehow God takes all of it – the daily events of life; the decisions you make and molds all of it into His sovereign will for you.

The writer of Proverbs had that in mind when he wrote:

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

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

So where is God taking you on your spiritual journey?

God has you on a journey that is unique just to you. No one else has your journey. Even your spouse is on a different journey. While there will be obvious similarities in your journeys, there will also be some significant differences.

So how should you approach this idea of a journey?

There are several basic things that you should do.

1. Recognize that you are on a journey but ultimately you’re not in charge of this journey. This is a journey (a life) directed by God for His purpose, for His glory.

2. Ask God to show you the way forward on your journey. He might make your journey as clear as crystal (the Israelites were following the ark). He may not. Just keep following the ark (IE, Bible reading & study, prayer, church – all of the great spiritual disciplines).

3. Commit to the journey. Don’t bail out when you can’t figure it out. Be committed.

4. Decide that even if the way isn’t clear you’ll keep following (see #2) one day at a time.

You probably won’t always know where your journey is taking you but you do know the final destination.

And as the old song says, it will be worth it all when we get there.

Happy Journey.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve