Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power is a mantra that is becoming increasingly popular in our nation. It holds a special significance for Christians who believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word from God and is not just true but supreme in our lives.

It is the prophetic role of every Christian to speak the truth to those who hold temporal power in our nation. We have a long line of examples going back to Moses confronting Pharaoh, extending through the prophets who spoke to Kings (Nathan to David, Elijah to Ahab etc), and continuing into the New Testament (Peter to the Jewish Sanhedrin, Paul to King Agrippa and perhaps to Caesar himself).

Unfortunately, as Evangelical Christians have become increasingly engaged politically, a large part of the church has lost its prophetic voice. Many seemed more concerned that we have a strong political voice than a strong spiritual voice. That’s unfortunate because our strength is found in our faith not in our political views.

I’m not suggesting that Christians have to settle for one or the other. I am suggesting that in many situations we have chosen to elevate the temporal over the spiritual, even to the point of ignoring clear Biblical teaching.

Recent events of racial violence in our nation give us the opportunity to regain what we have lost. Ed Stetzer who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and is the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center has written eloquently on the subject here. I encourage you to read his article.

My purpose is not to repeat what Stetzer wrote. I simply want to offer some practical suggestions on how we can integrate the truth of God’s Word with the political landscape, especially as it touches on the area of racism.

1. Make sure your loyalty is in the right place. As Christians we are called to supreme loyalty to God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 22:37) not to political parties or earthly leaders. When political positions collide with spiritual truth you need to speak truth to power (see Acts 4:19).

2. View people as God views them. All people, regardless of race or color were created by God (Acts 17:25) and carry in them the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, James 3:8-9). That means that every person has intrinsic value and should be treated with godly respect. Racism elevates some people over other people and has no place in the Christian worldview.

3. Be more concerned with your spiritual family than your political family. Paul’s instruction to the church (Galatians 6:10) is instructive at this point. Christians are to treat other people in a good (godly) way, but we have a special responsibility to those who belong to our spiritual family.

Unless you are from a minority race in this country, especially African-American, you have no idea the kind of pain and fear that is caused by racial symbols. I’m not advocating that we rewrite history or that we even ignore part of our history. That would be unwise. But neither do we need to protect or flaunt symbols that inflict pain on people of color, many of whom are our Brothers and Sisters in the faith.

You may not understand their pain or fear, but the simple fact that they find the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers offensive should be enough for us to stand with those who want them removed from public places. Think about what a statue of a confederate soldier means. It puts a specific individual, in a uniform that stands for a set of ungodly values, on a pedestal. In other words it elevates the person and the worldly philosophy that they represented to a place of honor (see 1 Corinthians 1:18f) in our nation. Those things are certainly part of our collective history and should be taught to our children, but not as deserving of honor.

4. Don’t act out of fear. If I read the Evangelical landscape correctly, this is where many Christians find themselves. They are so afraid of the other political side that they are willing to keep quiet about issues that conflict with their faith instead of speaking truth to power. Fear does not come from God (1 Timothy 1:7), it comes from a lack of trust in God’s sovereign control over nations and events. If you are living in fear that is driven by the political turmoil in our nation, or by the potential ramifications of the “wrong person” coming to power, you are in the wrong place spiritually. Our actions, including political actions, should operate out of faith, not fear. We need to do the right thing and leave the results up to our sovereign God.

The events of the last several days in Virginia and North Caroline give us the opportunity to shine as spiritual lights in a very dark world. If our actions are driven primarily by a political agenda and not a faith agenda we will miss a valuable opportunity.

It is time for the Evangelical church to speak truth to power, individually as we have the opportunity and collectively as we see the need.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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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

The Power of a Life

People die every day. The famous ones have their pictures plastered on magazine covers and on social media.

The ordinary people might get a mention in the local newspaper.

Over the last few months our church has said goodbye to two very ordinary people. Two of our most senior saints have gone on to their reward. They weren’t famous but they were lives well lived. They were the kind of people of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

They will be missed by those who knew them.

Norman Zimmerman and Anna Mary Byler were both Pennsylvania Dutch. Such good people.

For those of you who are not familiar with south central PA – You might be Pennsylvania Dutch if you . . .

-You know how to cook, but not without butter.
-Your iced tea is sweeter than Pepsi.
-Your idea of Chicken Pot Pie has nothing to do with a pie and you can’t
figure out why people might think it would.
-You order “dippy eggs” for breakfast.
-The Green Dragon isn’t a Chinese restaurant.
-Three words: Red Beet Eggs.
-You know what a Whoopie Pie, a Shoo Fly Pie and Fasnachts are.
-You out the light.
-You go to the store when the milk is all.
-A “Bud” is not a beer and it’s much better than those cheap knockoffs like
Hershey’s kisses.
-English might not be your first language – ever hear Pennsylvania Dutch?

Back to the main point.

Norman didn’t speak English until he went to grammar school. And even then it was difficult for him. Because of a speech problem he was sometimes hard to understand. But he was a master craftsman, a faithful husband to his dear wife, Ruth, and a man whose word could be trusted.

Anna Mary was, among other things, a self-taught Bible scholar. She may have known more about the Bible than her pastor. She was a woman of grace, of hospitality, of honor and a faithful wife to her husband Marvin.

As I reflected on the lives of these dear saints three things stood out to me.

The first is that neither of them were people who lived in the limelight. They didn’t demand or even longed for the spotlight. It just wasn’t in their nature. Yet both of them accomplished more for the Lord than many who stand in the front of the church.

The second thing that stood out about them is that they were faithful. Faithful to their God, their families, their churches, their jobs, their friends. Unbelievably faithful. It’s a quickly vanishing trait.

The third thing that characterized both Norman and Anna Mary was the power of their influence. They both had great influence on other people. They might not have known it but others did. Their influence was shown in different ways to be sure, but it was – and still is – there. They both had an influence on my life.

That’s the Power of a Life. People left behind whose lives have been marked by your life. We should all aspire to such a legacy.

It was a privilege for me to have been the pastor for both Norman and Anna Mary for the last decade of their lives. They have inspired me to keep on; never quit; don’t give up; be faithful; don’t worry about who gets the credit; love Jesus, my wife, and others; speak the truth – in love and with grace; make my life count.

To both Norman and Anna Mary I would borrow from the gospels and say, well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Word of Caution to the Church

There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

Not since the 1960s have we seen chaos in our country on the level that we’re seeing it today. It seems like each morning brings more news of violence.

The burning question people are asking is: Who’s to Blame? We want to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s responsible for the turmoil and chaos?

The truth is – there’s enough blame to go around.

Some have even suggested that Christians are responsible. Before you throw that one out, prayerfully and carefully read this article by Pastor Tony Evans. It should make you, if you profess to be a Christian, a little uncomfortable.

America’s current violence can be traced to Christians’ failures

The horrific shootings over the past few days, in Louisiana, Minnesota and now my hometown of Dallas, have shaken all of us. Tragically, this is even more true for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and now Dallas police officers.

The events are shocking and revolting. Our prayers go out to the families and friends affected most closely by these events, and to those fighting for their lives at this very moment in Dallas. But we must do more than pray.

In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, it says that society was falling apart, and God troubled them with every kind of distress because they continued to reject the knowledge of God. These recent spates of violence – like all our worldly problems — have happened because Christians have failed to advance God’s kingdom, to spread the faith and to do so in a loving, unified way.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians.

One of the real tragedies today is that the Church as a whole has not furthered God’s light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, “Church” has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.

The Church and only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom, so we have unique access to God that nobody else has. It’s about time more churches start using those keys to unlock doors, so that we get greater heavenly intervention in our earthly catastrophe. This is not to negate or downplay the great work countless churches have done throughout time in our land. I applaud and am grateful for all of it. What we have been ineffective at, though, is a unity that increases our impact on a larger collective level. When we unite as so many churches did during the civil rights movement, we can bring hope and healing where we as a nation need it most.

Thus, I believe that the call of the Church is to come together as one on three levels.
One is to pray and call what the Bible calls a “solemn assembly,” which means a sacred gathering with prayer and fasting to invite God’s manifest presence to reemerge in the culture.

Secondly, the Church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.

And third, churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.

Unless the Church steps forward collectively to fulfill its God-given role of influencing the conscience of our culture, our country will keep spiraling downward into the depths of fear and hate.

We must do better. We must unite. We must stand together and commit to one another that we will usher in a wave of change, justice, life, safety, rightness, equity and dignity for all. And above all, we must not let fear or hatred divide us. Peace, unity, love and nonviolence should be our rallying cry and the catalyst for change in our nation. Through this, we can seek to transform the remnants of tragedy into the foundation of a stronger, more equitable future.

It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to stand up and show our nation a better way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Blessing God

Blessing is part of the Christian culture. We pray for God’s blessing; we bless each other; we sing about blessings; we testify about being blessed; and of course we read about blessings in both the Old and New Testaments. You can’t take the concept of blessing out of the Christian experience and still have Christianity.

One of the early places where you encounter the subject of blessing in the Bible is in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram to radical obedience – Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house (Genesis 12:1). Attached to that demand was God’s dual statements about blessing – I will bless you/you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).

From these early statements we get the idea that blessing involves some benefit. When God told Abram that He would bless him, He stated how He would do that; I will bless you and make your name great (Genesis 12:2). The personal history of Abram/Abraham shows how God fulfilled that promise.

When you bless someone it involves doing (or saying) something that brings a certain help to their lives – providing dinner to a shut-in, shoveling your neighbor’s snow-covered walk, driving an older person to their doctor’s appointment, praying with a fellow believer etc.

I often remind our church that our primary reason for gathering on Sunday is to bless God. Yes, there are other issues – fellowship, encouragement, receiving a blessing, and teaching/learning to name a few. And I always hope and pray that people are blessed in these ways. But our real reason for Sunday – the reason that must be even if nothing else happens on a particular week – is to bless God.

Blessing God occurs in a variety of ways. It happens when you come with a submitted heart. It happens when you pray, especially in thanksgiving. It happens when God sees you loving each other. It happens when you sing about God’s greatness, mercy and grace. It happens when you serve. It happens when you listen to the Word. It happens when you make a personal application of the truths of the Word.

In all of these ways, and I suspect more, God is blessed by you – He receives a benefit (if we can speak of God in those terms). The benefit of watching His children walking in the truth (cf 3 John 1:4). The benefit of hearing their prayers of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). The benefit of seeing His love spread to others (John 13:34-35). The benefit of hearing voices raised in praise of His marvelous grace (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The benefit of blessing other people through you as you serve Him/them (1 Corinthians 12:7, 25). The benefit of watching your faith grow as you listen to Him (Romans 10:17).

If your primary purpose for attending church is to bless God then several things will be true:

-You will make church about Him – not about you.
-You will go to church for what you can give – not just for what you can get (and get something while you’re there!).
-You will search for ways to bless God (and others) – not just be blessed.

It’s all in your perspective.

Next Sunday, whatever else you do in church, plan now to be a blessing to God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Do We Really Worship?

Worship has received a renewed emphasis in Christian circles in the past decade. That’s a good thing. Anything that causes us to think about worship is good.

With that said, I wonder if the reason we talk about it more today than our parents or grandparents generations is that they had it but somehow we missed it. They didn’t talk about worship – they just worshipped. We talk about it but don’t. At least not like they did. Perhaps.

Several years ago Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled The Heart of Worship. It was made popular by a number of Christian artists including Sandi Patti. You can listen to Matt Redman’s version here.

The lyrics of the first verse and chorus are:

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that’s of worth

That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You,

It’s all about You, Jesus

The song is true, as far as it goes. Worship is all about Jesus. It is all about what’s in our hearts. It’s true that it’s about blessing Jesus, not just being blessed. It’s true that we’ve turned it into something less than it is.

The shortcoming of the song (and this may never have been Smith’s goal) is that it tells us what worship ISN’T but it doesn’t tell us what worship IS. And that’s rather important. We won’t be able to worship until we know what the worship of Jesus is supposed to look like.

So let me offer some general thoughts on worship that I believe are grounded in a study of worship in the Word

  • Worship is more about how we live each day in the holiness of Jesus than it is about what we do on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about giving to Jesus than it is receiving something from Jesus.
  • Worship is more about who we are as sanctified people than it is about what we do (and it is about what we do).
  • Worship is more a life-style of obedience to Jesus than it is an hour spent with Jesus on the first day of the week.
  • Worship is more about the time we spend with Jesus every day than it is about the hour we spend with Jesus on Sunday.
  • Worship is more about serving Jesus than it is singing about Jesus.
  • Worship is more about Jesus than it is about me.

I don’t claim these statements define worship in its totality. Maybe you can add to them. But they are a place to begin the discussion.

So the question is: Are we really worshiping or are we doing something else?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve