Where Do You Get Your News?

If you watch the news for any length of time you’ll be tempted to ask is there any GOOD news? We’re inundated with one unsavory story after another that cause us to live in fear, disgust and/or hopelessness. It seems like evil has overrun our world.

As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised. God’s Word tells us that in the days just before the return of Christ, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We’re there.

But back to the question is there any GOOD news? The answer is YES! Yes there is good news, especially for the Christian. It’s all about where you look. Most people get their news from sources like as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or various internet sites and if you keep looking there, you’ll probably continue to get bad news and it will be discouraging. However, if you get your news from God’s Word there is plenty of good news. Here’s just a sample of the good news that God has for you as a Christian:

God is still in control. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

You are on God’s heart. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. Psalm 34:15

We have peace. Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

We have hope. Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

You don’t have to pay for your sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

The problems of today are nothing compared to what is coming. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

A better day is coming. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

You are loved. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:14

Think about all of the good news that’s available to us if we just look in the right place. I’m sure that you can add to this list. Don’t be jaded by the news that you get from the television, newspaper or internet – the news from the world isn’t so good, but the news from God’s Word is great!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Amazing (Grace) Mercy How Sweet the Sound

With apologies to John Newton, God’s mercy is as amazing as His grace! Where would we be today without the mercy of God?

Mercy is often associated with pity or compassion and is sometimes translated by those words. Both concepts are certainly part of God’s mercy but it is so much more. It’s more in any way you look at it. It’s more in intensity; it’s more in duration; it’s more in substance; it’s more in quality; it’s more in quantity – it’s just more than we can describe.

Over the years theologians, and others, have offered definitions to explain God’s grace and mercy, but none of their definitions get it completely right. One favorite way to explain grace and mercy is that God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve (His love, forgiveness etc) while His mercy is not giving us what we do deserve (judgment). Again, it’s true but there is so much more.

Simply put, and this is admittedly too simplistic, both mercy and grace are aspects of God’s love. Mercy is God’s love given to those who need it the most – the blind man (John 9), the cripple (John 5), the leper (Matthew 8) were all recipients of His mercy.

Grace is different. Grace is God’s love given to those who deserve it the least – people who are not just physically damaged but especially to people who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:8). None of us deserves to be forgiven.

Not perfect definitions but they’ve helped me understand the distinctions a little better.

As much as we talk and sing about God’s grace it is His mercy that stands behind His grace. Grace is motivated by mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Without God’s mercy there would be no salvation. Without His mercy there would be no healing. Without His mercy there would be no forgiveness for our daily sin. Without His mercy there would be no escaping judgment. Without his mercy there would be no hope for eternity.

Without mercy, grace would just not be the same.

Yes, grace is essential and we need to give it the importance it deserves. But so is mercy.

Think what your life would be like without the mercy of God. Think what eternity would be like without the mercy of God.

The old hymn says, O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be. We’re also immensely in debt to mercy.

Thank God for His grace – but also thank Him for His mercy.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Spirituality by Osmosis

We all know it’s not possible. You can’t become spiritual by osmosis – the process of unconsciously assimilating something while you sleep. You won’t wake up one morning more spiritual than you went to bed the night before.

It just doesn’t work that way – but we act like it does.

Growing in spirituality is a process. But it’s more than simply a process – it’s an intentional process. You have to choose to be godly and then take the proper steps to move in that direction.

And that’s where so many Christians today come up short. They want to be more godly but they don’t want to do what it takes to be more godly. There is a spiritual neglect evident in the church today. Call it spiritual laziness.

Some people blame it on our culture. We live in a culture that wants instant access to everything. So we have fast food. We have same day delivery. We have apps that eliminate the need to wait for a cab, a date, a table at your favorite restaurant or the latest movie.

When was the last time you were upset with your computer because it didn’t load fast enough?

And we want our spirituality to be served up the same way. Easy and fast.

But blaming the culture is too easy. And it eliminates personal responsibility. Your responsibility for your own godliness.

Yes, it’s true that without God’s work in our lives none of us would ever be spiritual (Psalm 127:1, John 15:4-5, Philippians 2:13, 4:13). But every command of scripture tells us that we also have a part in God’s plan and a responsibility to grow in grace (Ephesians 4:15, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 2:1-2, 2 Peter 3:18). You have a responsibility for the level of your spirituality. It won’t happen by osmosis.

Here’s how scripture describes it.

Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Pursue peace with all people, and [pursue] holiness; without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

From a human perspective it’s up to you.

Fortunately God has provided the means to godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). God has given us everything we need to become spiritual people. The old theologians called them the spiritual disciplines. They were talking about things found in the Bible that, if practiced on a consistent basis, would promote holiness of life. Included among the spiritual disciplines are bible reading and study, prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, and service. There are others and depending on who you read the lists will verily slightly. The point is that there are specific things that you can do – that you need to do to promote holiness in your life.

Practiced on a consistent basis with a humble heart, the result of the spiritual disciplines will be spiritual growth. Ignore them consistently and you will be a spiritual pygmy. Or as scripture says, a spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-13).

If you would like to know more about the spiritual disciplines we’re teaching on them in our Adult Bible Fellowship at SVBC or you can read Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, published by NavPress.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Christian Response

Las Vegas, Nevada – 58/500+
Sutherland Springs, Texas – 26/20

That’s how many people were killed and wounded at two terrible shootings in our country between October 1 and November 5. In 36 days.

84/520+.

I’ll leave the political debate to others. My concern is from another perspective. Since the vast majority of my audience is made up of Evangelical Christians, the issue for us, most of who are far removed from either Nevada or Texas, is how do we respond?

How should Christians respond to horrific events in our culture?

After the shooting in Las Vegas I suggested five Christian responses in a blog published on October 2. You can read it here.

The five responses I gave following the Las Vegas shooting were:

-Hate is Wrong
-Sinful Anger is Not an Option
-Revenge is Out of the Question
-Prayer is Always Good
-Self Inspection is Appropriate
-Forgiveness is Always Right

Those are still good points. Let me add three more.

Recognize the Awfulness of Sin

This is a bottom line issue and the bottom line is that men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and sinners do terrible things. Sure not all sinners do such extremely bad things, but we are all capable of the most horrific actions. It’s time that we faced the reality of the awfulness of sin (James 1:15). There’s nothing good about it. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your life until there is nothing left. The sin that was committed in Sutherland Springs should cause us to take swift and fierce action against any sin in our own lives.

Recognize Your Own Deadly Potential

The problem is that we downplay sin. It’s not so bad. At least my sin isn’t so bad. So we keep it and it lives in the deep recesses of our lives. And all the while it’s worse than we can even imagine. The step from lust to adultery, from anger to hatred, from hatred to murder is much smaller than we think. The deadly potential for unspeakable sin lies deep in all of us – just ask King David (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51). We are not as far from Devin Kelley as we would like to think.

Rejoice in the Grace of God

But then there’s grace. Praise God for grace! It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from committing more horrific sins than we do. It was grace that took a sworn enemy of Christianity like Paul and turned him into the greatest missionary of the church. It was grace that took a slave trader like John Newton and changed his heart so that he wrote one of the most enduring hymns of Christendom. And it’s only the grace of God that will help us cope with the terrible sins in our culture. And in that grace we can and should rejoice.

As you grapple with the awfulness of sin and your own potential for sin and the wonderful grace of God, remember to pray for the people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Better Day is Coming

One of the New Testament books that people struggle with is the book of Revelation. Not only is it difficult to understand but even scholars disagree on its interpretation. However, there is still a lot of material that we can understand. One of the passages that gives us encouragement and hope is Revelation 21:1-4.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

Let me point out the obvious. In eternity we will no longer be separated from God. Three times (I’ve underlined them for you) we are told that God will be with us. The preposition means to be in company with or to accompany. The idea is that we will have a close intimate relationship with God that is different from what we presently experience. That relationship will be possible because we shall be His people and He will be their God. That is, we will be totally His, heart, mind and soul, and He will be totally ours. No sin to tempt us; no temptations to lure us away; no lust to divide our loyalties, we will be His. And He will be ours. Think about it. The Almighty God of the universe will be totally and only for us to enjoy.

The next statement is not only encouraging but it illustrates just how much He will be ours. Tenderly and compassionately He will wipe away every tear from their (our) eyes. As a father I can remember the times when my children were very young and one of them would fall down or hurt themselves. All I wanted to do was to hold them and wipe away their tears until the hurt was gone. Now I feel the same about my grandchildren. I just want to make it all better. That’s what God will do for us. We often think of God as austere and authoritarian. But He is also kind and compassionate and I like to think that someday He is going to take you in His arms, wipe away your tears and hold you until all of the hurts that you have experienced in this life are gone. I don’t know how He will do that with millions of believers, but then He’s God – I’m sure He can figure it out.

And life will be fundamentally different. No death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain. All of the things that bring you pain and suffering in this life will be over, never to be experienced again.

Some of you are going through trials in your life of pain and suffering and it’s easy for the rest of us to say, we’re praying for you. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. Perhaps you are battling cancer or something equally difficult, with endless rounds of hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, chemo therapy and you are facing an unknown future. Your prognosis is not good. You are suffering physically, emotionally and probably spiritually. To you I want to hold out the hope, the assurance, of rest in the arms of God. Of a future that will know no pain or suffering, but only the blessedness of the presence of God.

God Himself will be with [you] and [He will] be [your] God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Responding to Violence

Another shooting. More violence. More deaths. It’s getting to the place where it doesn’t surprise us anymore. We almost expect it.

As of this afternoon the death toll in the Las Vegas shooting stood at 58 with another 515 people wounded. 573 people whose lives have been forever changed – and that doesn’t take into consideration the thousands of people – wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children, moms, dads, cousins and friends of the dead and wounded who have been dramatically impacted.

What are we to make of these life-changing events?

How should we respond?

People are going to have a variety of responses ranging from anger to sadness. And that’s understandable on a human level. However, for the Christian there are some appropriate ways to respond and they will take more than a human effort.

Those who don’t confess faith in Christ will struggle to understand this. In fact many Christians will struggle to respond in a Christ-like way. The struggle is not wrong as long as you end up in the right place.

So here are a few responses and how Christians should understand them.

Hate is Wrong

To be a little more specific – hatred of the shooter is wrong. You can hate the tragedy, or the conditions that drove him to act this way, or a society that has degenerated to this point, but to hate the individual, no matter how grievous their crime is wrong. Jesus taught us to not only love those who love us, but to love those who don’t love us (Matthew 5:43f). Hatred does not solve the problem, it exacerbates the problem (Proverbs 10:12) and leaves you filled with bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

Sinful Anger is Not an Option

The Bible is filled with warnings about the dangers of anger (Psalm 37:8, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:31, James 1:19-20), but apparently there is an anger that is not sinful (Ephesians 4:26), such as anger against evil or sin. But the overriding message of the Bible is that anger is not the solution in most situations in life, in fact in the vast majority of cases it is sinful. Jesus equated anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22) so when our response is to be angry with the shooter, we have put ourselves side by side with him.

Revenge is Out of the Question

In a passage of the Bible that falls into the one of the hardest to obey category, we’re told that revenge is out of the question (Romans 12:17-21). As much as we would like to set things right by doing to the shooter what he did to so many innocent people, God says that we just can’t go there. Revenge is His option, not yours. Your only option is to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Prayer is Always Good

Prayer is appropriate at a time like this. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the families and friends of those who died or were wounded. Pray for the family of the shooter. Pray for the people who have been traumatized. Pray for the responders who had to deal with the shooting and with those who had been shot. Pray for the government officials who need to wrestle with this issue. Pray for a solution to violence. Pray for peace. Prayer is always good (Luke 18:1f, Philippians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Self Inspection is Appropriate

When violence happens we are quick to focus on the person responsible for the violence to the exclusion of examining our own hearts. But how many times have we acted in hatred? How many times have we caused pain to another person? How many times have we allowed violence to control us? Times like this are good times for some self inspection. Again, the Bible has something to say about our hearts and it’s not necessarily good (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18-20). A lack of self inspection usually leads to self-deception.

Forgiveness is Always Right

Always. Forgiveness is one of the distinguishing attributes of the Christian faith. We are to forgive regardless of the severity of the crime. It’s fair to say that without forgiveness there would be no Christian faith. It’s that important. God forgives us when we repent of our sin and express faith in Christ (Psalm 32:1-2, Luke 7:47-48, Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9) and He forgives us for the innumerable sins we commit as Christians. How then do we withhold forgiveness from others? We are to forgive regardless of their offense (Matthew 6:15, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness is always right.

Responding to violence as terrible as this will not be easy. It will take more grace than you can muster. That’s why you need to rely on His grace. With the grace that only God can give, you can respond in a godly way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Standing With the Others

This has been called the era of Celebrity Christianity. It’s a term that has been used in a variety of different ways. Some use it to refer to Christians who adopt the lifestyles and mindsets of secular celebrities. To others it has the connotation of Christian leaders acting like celebrities – you know, special treatment, more recognition, more power and more influence.

Then again it can refer to the Christian subculture and our need to have our own celebrities. People we look up to. People we can emulate. People who give us hope that we can make it just like they made it.

Over the years evangelical Christianity has developed a parallel universe with our own schools, our own publishers, our own musicians, and even our own celebrities.

Every culture has their celebrities. Every culture seems to have a need for celebrities. People who have made it in life. The rest of us are just the others still hoping to make it.

The Bible presents a vastly different picture.

Hebrews 11 is a good example. In the first 34 verses it relates the faith of some of the greatest “celebrities” in the Bible. People like Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his son Joseph, and Moses. People who were celebrities in the right sense of the word.

Then you get to verse 35 and it says others . . .

We all know about Enoch and Noah and Abraham. We’re familiar with Jacob and Joseph and Moses. And we know that we aren’t worthy to carry their bags. But what about the others that the writer mentions? Those unnamed, anonymous followers of God who lived by faith even though they faced mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:36-38). They were just ordinary people – people like you and me. But people who knew what it meant to live by faith.

Up until verse 35 most of the things that are said of the people who are named are positive. They walked with God. They were obedient. They led great nations and conquered great cities.

All of that changes when you come to the others. They had great trials, suffered for God, were homeless and wandered destitute. No glory here. This is not the stuff of Celebrity Christianity.

But it is the stuff of our lives. Most of us live on the other side of verse 35. The hard side. History will probably not record your name. You will stand anonymous, unnamed.

But not to God. He knows. And ultimately that’s all that counts.

God is not looking for the next Abraham or Moses. He’s not looking for another Christian Celebrity. He’s looking for ordinary people, the others, who will live with courageous faith. He’s looking for people of whom He can say the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38). He’s just looking for people who will be faithful no matter what life throws at them.

The truth is we don’t need more Christian Celebrities. We need more others.

It’s an awesome heritage and responsibility that has been left to us to live life with the others.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve