Is This the Beginning of the End?

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8).

CNN headline of September 9, 2017: Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century leaves dozens dead. Read article here.

Washington Post article of April 11, 2017 reporting that 20 million people are living in famines: Starving to Death. Read article here.

New York Times headline of September 9, 2017: Hurricane Irma Is One of the Strongest Storms In History. Read article here.

By now you are familiar with the headlines and the disasters. Not only are they affecting us but disasters are taking place around the world.

The question that people are asking is: Are Natural Disasters Increasing? According to an article of the same name published by the Borgen Project the answer is Yes. You can read it here. The evidence seems to point in both directions depending on who you listen to.

The question on the increase of natural disasters is especially important to Christians, many of whom believe that there will be a dramatic increase just before the return of Christ. Two well-known evangelicals, Anne Graham Lotz and her brother Franklin Graham have both released statements recently pointing to the end times. Her statement is here.

Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page:

Wildfires raging on the West Coast. Violent hurricanes, one after the other, ravaging everything in their paths, with one of the worst—Irma—bearing down on Florida. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook the southern parts of Mexico this week, and we even recently experienced a rare solar eclipse. The Bible says in Luke 21:25, “…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.” In Matthew 24:7 it says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” These are some of the Biblical signs before Christ’s return. Nobody knows the day or hour, not even the Son of God, but it is a reminder to all of us to be ready—to repent and confess our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness. In the meantime, we can find comfort, peace, and hope in Him. As we pray for all those affected by the current disasters, we should also remember God’s promise to us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Whether the things we are seeing today are the beginning of the end or not is a question that can be debated. As Graham points out, no one knows the exact time of Christ’s return. Christians have expected His return in every generation since the beginning of the church.

What so many Christians miss in their discussion of end times events, natural disasters and the return of Christ is how all of this relates to our lives. The Apostle Peter addressed this in his second epistle in the context of the Second Coming.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)?

Great question!

Peter was not concerned that we are able to explain all of the events of prophecy; his concern was how we live.

Anne Graham Lotz may be right that we are seeing God’s judgment on America, but maybe we’ve missed another message that God is sending His people. If Irma and other natural disasters do anything for us they should move us to live holy and godly lives. Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Let’s not waste a great opportunity to be lights and salt in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

God is more interested in how you live not in how much you know.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Let’s Be Jesus People

As a pastor I often find myself occupied with issues that are good but that are not the primary thing – How we can grow our church?; What should I preach on next (actually I plan my preaching schedules 6-12 months in advance so next does not mean next Sunday, or even next week)?; Where can we get someone to teach a Sunday School class?; Where can I find a guest speaker for when I’m on vacation?; and the list literally goes on and on and on and on.

Your list probably looks different from my list but you have one and it goes on and on and on.

Most of the things on our lists are good and necessary and they need to be addressed. But they are not the primary thing. The problem is that they tend to dominate our time, occupy our attention and suck the life out of the primary thing.

So what is the primary thing?

As I was thinking about all of this the thought came to me that what we need most and what we need to make primary in our lives is to Be Jesus People.

It’s not an original thought (I haven’t had one of those in a long time – if ever!). In fact I think that this is the message of the Bible especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He didn’t say it in those words, but he said it often:

Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called (Eph 4:1).

Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27).

Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Col 1:10).

Walk worthy of God (1 Thess 2:12).

Adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10).

What Paul is saying is Be Jesus People!

Be People who reflect Jesus. People who teach Jesus. People who walk with Jesus. People who walk LIKE Jesus. People who honor Jesus with your life.

Make Jesus central. Make Jesus the focus. Make Jesus important in your life. Make much about Jesus.

Make Jesus the primary thing in your life.

All of those other things on your list have to get done. Just make sure that they get done in the context of making Jesus the primary thing.

Do them in the context of Being Jesus People.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Christian Life Isn’t for Sissies!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I just get weary trying to live the Christian Life. Think how easy life would be if we could just forget all the “do’s and don’ts”. You wouldn’t have to be concerned about temptation – you could do whatever you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about your own sinful desires – again, do what you want. You wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Satan because he wouldn’t care what you did. In fact he would be delighted in your spiritual indifference.

What may come as a shock to you is that God knows that the Christian life is like that. That’s why in the New Testament He compares the spiritual life to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-4), a marathon runner (Hebrews 12:1), a boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26), and a hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). All strenuous and difficult occupations.

The difficulty of the spiritual life and the ensuing weariness that we experience doesn’t take God by surprise. In fact you could make the case that He designed it that way. It’s one way to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff, the “I’m in it for the long-haul” from the “let’s see if this works” crowd.

But to those who are in it for the long-haul, there is a word of encouragement from the pen if the Apostle Paul: Don’t grow weary in doing good (living godly), for in due season we will reap if we don’t lose heart (and give up!) (Galatians 6:9).

The problem for most of us is that we keep looking at how hard the Christian life is instead of looking at the goal.

How long do you think a marathon runner would last if all they thought about during training (and the race!) was how hard they were working? How long would a farmer work in his fields if he didn’t keep the harvest in mind?

The goal for the Christian is a harvest that comes out of a life lived in godliness and for the glory of God.

Sure we get weary. There are even days we want to give up. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4). In fact some of us haven’t even been bruised yet.

So when you feel like I do some days, keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and on the harvest. Do the battle. Run the race. Fight the good fight. Plant the seed. And keep telling yourself, in the words of the old hymn, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

If you need to be reminded again, you can listen to it hear.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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