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

 

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Let’s Keep a Balance in the Church

I had a conversation with a dear saint in our church this week about church. In the course of our conversation they commented that something in church ministers to me.

I’m always happy when church ministers to someone and they leave blessed. We live in such a complex, hyper-busy culture that people today need to be blessed. Life is just difficult. For many, church is the fountain of life that they’ve been waiting for all week (as it should be).

As a pastor I need to think about how we can design our services to minister to all of our people – but especially to people who are discouraged, elderly, facing physical problems, run down, unemployed, going through a divorce, etc.

That’s not easy to do.

But people need to be blessed on Sunday.

There’s another side to every church service that we need to keep in balance with our being blessed and that is God being blessed.

I often tell our church that our primary reason for being in church is to bless God. That’s what we do when we worship Him – and worship is why we’re there (Ephesians 1:4-6 He chose us . . . to the praise of the glory of His grace). But I also tell them that I hope they are blessed, encouraged, motivated, and taught while they are blessing God.

The key is balance and order.

By balance I mean it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

By order I mean that blessing God has to take priority. It has to be the focus of why we are there. Church has to be about God first and us second (in fact all of life has to be about God first and us second). Unfortunately, we often get those two things reversed.

But, and here’s the beauty of it, if you come ready to bless God instead of seeking a blessing, you will go away counting your blessings. God wants us to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

It’s not easy to put your focus on God instead of on your problems, especially when you are hurting, but it’s exactly what we need to do. Focusing on self can easily obscure your worship of God and what He wants to do in your life. Whereas, focusing on God helps us keep self and all of life in the right perspective.

Try making church about Him and see if it doesn’t make a difference.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Why Can’t We Just Play Nice?!

I’ve written similar posts to this in the past and I don’t want to be redundant. However, it remains a problem in our culture. Not just in our culture in general, where it is a problem, but in our evangelical Christian culture, where it shouldn’t be.

I’m talking about the way we talk to people we don’t agree with and beyond that, the way we treat people we don’t agree with.

You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t tell the difference between Christian posts on social media and everyone else. And I often can’t tell the difference – even in some of my posts (this is me asking God for forgiveness).

Our evangelical posts (not all by any means) are often mean-spirited, derogatory, unkind, and demeaning of the opinions and people we don’t agree with. They get very personal. Why can’t we just play nice?

I’m sure that every mother of toddlers is tired of saying, play nice! But mothers under-stand that they have to keep saying it because toddlers will be toddlers and they have to learn.

But we’re supposed to be past that stage. We’re supposed to be spiritual adults. Unfortunately, some Christians fall into the category of people that the writer of Hebrews was talking too when he said that by now you should be eating solid spiritual food but you’re still drinking from the baby bottle (Hebrews 5:12-14).

So, what does it mean to play nice? One writer defined it this way: when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife

In other words, playing nice is just what the words say. But it’s not the words themselves that we need to work on. It’s the application of the words. Because the application is to people we really don’t agree with. People we believe are wrong, wrong, wrong. People who, we believe at the least are terribly misguided and at the worst are out to change our country in some very undesirable ways.

While neither the phrase playing nice, nor this definition are strictly biblical, they certainly agree with the bible’s description of a Christian whose responses to life are to be radically different from everyone else’s.

Paul in the book of Romans summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

That certainly doesn’t sound as fun as ridiculing someone on Facebook or sending out caustic Tweets. After all, if we don’t put them down, who will?

But then that’s not the point.

The point is to reflect Jesus.

So how have your recent Facebook posts and Tweets reflected the Savior?

If there is anything that evangelical Christians need to learn in the current politically divisive environment, it’s how to play nice.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

What’s With All the Anger?

I can’t prove it and I don’t want to overstate it, but it seems like anger has taken over. We live in an angry world. Just watch the news or read any online news site and you’ll see it. Anger abounds.

It was evident in the Senate hearings for the Supreme Court Justice. It showed up in the women’s final of the U. S. Open. Nike has experienced it. John Gruden knows what it’s about. Bob Woodward has raised the level.

If that isn’t enough to convince you just check out Facebook posts!

And it’s not just in the United States. It’s in every country. Political parties promote anger to get their voters to the polls. Athletes hype themselves up on anger. The rest of us resort to anger when we don’t like what someone else has done.

It really doesn’t take much to set us off.

The Bible has something to say about anger.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. Ephesians 4:3

But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Colossians 3:8

Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:20

Yes, I know it also says Be angry and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26) and a lot of Christians use that as their go-to text to justify their anger. Go ahead, try it – getting angry without sinning. You won’t get far with that.

God lumps anger in with bitterness, blasphemy, and filthy talk. Things most Christians try to avoid at all costs. Things Christians condemn in others while harboring anger in their own lives.

Talk about hypocrisy.

The fact is that God condemns anger in the strongest terms because it is the exact opposite of what He is trying to accomplish in your life.

You can’t have anger and holiness. The two cannot coexist. You’re either going to have one or the other.

So the next time that you’re tempted to speak about someone in anger, or lash out on Facebook in anger, remember that you and God aren’t on the same path.

And He’s not the one that needs to change.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Wise Women

One of the issues that churches wrestle with is the role of women in the church, especially in the area of leadership. Can a woman serve as the Pastor? Can women be Elders or Deacons?

What exactly is the role of women in the church?

It seems obvious that we will never reach a unanimous consensus. Those who believe that some leadership roles are restricted just to men have built their case from specific teachings in the Bible and are not likely to change. Those who believe that there are no restrictions on women serving in leadership roles have done the same.

Too often there is more heat than light in these types of discussions. That’s not helpful.

Regardless of which side you find yourself on in this issue, I want to remind all of us that there are significant roles that women can perform in the church.

One of the most significant roles is the role of the wise woman of Tekoa.

2 Samuel 14 records the story of a woman from the village of Tekoa who moved King David to action when even his advisers could not persuade the king to act. As a result she has become known as the wise woman of Tekoa.

There are other examples of women in the Bible that were used in very special ways by God. Women like Easter, Deborah, Anna, and Mary come to mind.

What is so intriguing is that these women lived in totally male-dominated cultures. Women were not only subservient to men but were often viewed as property to be owned and used by men. To advise kings, lead armies or speak words of prophecy were not only unusual but violated every standard of society. But thank God these women were there.

As a pastor I’ve been privileged to have some of these wise women in my churches. Women who were in the right place at the right time for God to use them. And I have benefited greatly from their wisdom. They are often older women. They don’t normally have much to say in public meetings but aren’t afraid to say what needs to be said in private. They don’t perceive themselves as wise, but they have accumulated a life-time of keen observations of people and events. They have walked with God, learned from the Word of God and talk with God as friends talk together. They have an intimate relationship with the Almighty.

There are a number of lessons that we can learn from these women, but one that stands out is that none of us know when or how God will use us if we, like these wise women, are spiritually ready to be used. One of the intriguing things about these women is that they don’t always know that they are speaking words of wisdom at the time they speak. It is simply that their collective time with God has given them a godly perspective on life so that when they speak they speak wisely.

That should be the goal – and it is an attainable goal – for each of us. To speak wisdom into every situation and event of life. That is only possible as we are immersed in the wisdom of God’s Word. Psalm 19:7 says the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure making wise the simple (spiritually unwise).

Wisdom for life can only come from the Word of God as we apply it to our everyday lives.

The challenge then is to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul who wrote, See then that you walk (live) circumspectly (accurately), not as foolish people but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Spiritual Apathy

Apathy refers to a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. It’s OK to be apathetic about some things in life but in other areas it’s dangerous.

There’s no problem if a wife is apathetic about sports or a husband is apathetic about shopping for shoes. It is a problem, however if she is apathetic about taking her blood pressure medicine or he about wearing his safety helmet on the construction site.

Apathy in life isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the Christian life apathy is never a good thing. It was apparently epidemic in the church in Laodicea and they were severely chastised by God (Revelation 3:14f).

Unfortunately, many Christians suffer from the sickness of spiritual apathy.

It is one of the most ignored problems in the church today. We’ve reached a spiritual low where we’re just happy if people show up on Sunday morning for an hour. They don’t have to DO anything, just be there and we’re good with that.

The problem is that you can have a full church of apathetic people. Church attendance alone is not an indication of a vibrant, connected, ministering church.

The malaise of spiritual apathy is far more dangerous than we recognize. At its core it’s a heart condition. Life is lived by the dictates of the heart (Proverbs 4:23). If you find yourself uninterested, unenthusiastic, or unconcerned about spiritual things it’s because your heart has fallen into an apathetic state.

Rarely, if ever, does spiritual apathy manifests itself in open rebellion. Instead it’s a secret thing, sometimes not even evident to those around us (although often evident to others before we even admit its presence in our lives). Spiritual apathy doesn’t care; it’s an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward spiritual things: Bible reading and study, prayer, worship, church, witnessing, our world view, our mental and emotional filters, relationships, service etc.

The thing about spiritual apathy is that it rarely strikes like a bolt of lightning. Instead it sneaks up on you; it’s a process that you don’t see coming. Few Christians become apathetic overnight – but they do over years. We all know people who at one time were faithful but who over time stopped attending church, reading their bibles, praying, witnessing – in short, stopped living the Christian life in any meaningful way.

Spiritually apathetic Christians rarely admit it, either because they are spiritually blind to their own condition or because of the hardness of their hearts. But make no mistake about it, spiritual apathy will damage your Christian life as much as any outward sin.

That’s why it is imperative to maintain a connection in Christ (John 15). Because the alternative is to slowly dry up and become useless to the Kingdom of God.

The key is to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), or to keep it with all diligence (NKJB). Because once the heart falls, the rest of life will be close behind.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Trusting God

I started a new series in our church yesterday called Unreasonable Faith. Sometimes in the Christian life, God askes us to do things that from our perspective might seem unreasonable, even impossible.

Let me stress that they are not unreasonable when you look at them with spiritual eyes. But most of the time we aren’t looking at life through the eyes of faith and it’s then that things begin to appear as unreasonable.

I began the series with a sermon called Unreasonable Trust.  Even in the darkest times of life God wants our complete trust in His goodness and in the fact that what He does is always right (Proverbs 3:5-6) even if we don’t understand it.

He wants (from a human perspective) an unreasonable trust. He wants our complete, total trust in every situation.

There is so much to say in a sermon like that, that you can’t say everything. But my wife reminded me that I left out something very important. I never answered the question What can I do that will help me trust God more?

So, let me give you a couple of ideas how you can build that kind of trust in God.

Remember the Past

It’s all over the Old Testament. Whenever Israel was down, discouraged, despairing, or even forgetting God, they were reminded of the past. Specifically of the things that God had done for them in their ancient history.

He brought plagues on Egypt; He parted the Red Sea; He gave them water from the rock; He led them through the wilderness; He provided manna for them; He gave them meat to eat (all mentioned in Psalm 78 and other places).

The point was that as they remembered these events, they would be reminded of the faithfulness of God – that He was worth trusting. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 78, said that the value of remembering was that they might set their hope in God, and not forget His works (Psalm 78:7).

The point is that God is worth trusting because of what He has done for you in the past.

What has God done in your life, sometime in the past, that you need to remember today?

Build Monuments

When Israel crossed the Jordan river into the Promise Land, God told them to build a monument using twelve stones from the river. One stone for each tribe.

The purpose of the monument was so they would never forget what happened at that time and in that place (Joshua 4:1-7). And when their children in future years asked them the meaning of the stones, they could tell them what God had done. They were to be stones of remembrance.

Again, the point was that they could trust the God of the past to be their God today.

I’m not suggesting that you build a stone memorial when God answers your prayer or is faithful to you in some other way. There may be other ways you can build a monument. If you’re into journaling, write it down. Take pictures if that’s appropriate. Have your children color pictures and hang them in the upstairs hallway.

Do something to remind you that God is worth trusting.

Know Him Better

There is a direct relationship between how well you know someone and how much you trust them.

Do you remember the game you use to play where you fell backward and hoped that another player would catch you? Sometimes it’s called Trust Fall.

If you didn’t know the person who was supposed to catch you, it was harder to trust them.

The same thing is true of God. You’re only going to trust God to the extent that you know Him.

When the Bible tells us to trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5) it’s implying that you know God with all your heart.

The better you know Him the more you’ll trust Him.

So, spend time in your Bible, praying, meditating on the Word, listening to the Word, worshiping and praising Him. You’ll be amazed at what it will do for your trust.

Complete trust in God won’t come naturally. You’ll have to be intentional about developing it.

It is possible.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve