This is a Time of Opportunity!

COVID-19! By now most of the world is familiar with that term. That’s  because it has literally shut down nations in ways that even wars have not been able to do.

People are sequestered in their homes; businesses have closed or learned new ways of operating; roads are mostly vacant stretches of asphalt and parking lots are empty. It’s a new world out there.

One of the biggest changes is in human interaction – or more precisely the lack thereof. Neighbors wave to each other from the safety of their yards. Residents in assisted care living facilities are confined to their rooms with meals delivered. Employees are working from home via video conferencing, which many will tell you is not the same as face-to- face meetings.

The lack of human contact is beginning to take a toll and stress is on the rise.

That’s because we were created as social beings. When God created Eve it was because it was not good that a man should be alone (Genesis 2:18). He needed companionship. For encouragement. For love. For support. For enjoyment. For sharing. For a myriad of reasons.

King Solomon touched on this subject in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 when he wrote,

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.

The bottom line is that we need each other.

It’s not likely that things will change any time soon. We will remain isolated from each other for the immediate future.

But that doesn’t mean that we ignore each other or forget about each other. We still have an open door to minister to people and I believe that people are more accepting of our ministry than at any time since 9/11.

The opportunities for ministry are not lacking, they just require us to do it differently.

While life has changed, ministry has not. God still wants us to touch the lives of other people. We are still to do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

And people need your ministry. They need you!

So, look for creative ways to encourage someone, to lift them up, to put a little joy into their lives. It won’t take much and it’s very possible that you will be just the thing they need to get them through their day.

This is a Time of Opportunity!

Living in Fearful Times

I had originally planned to write an optimistic blog about the New Year and how we can make the most out of the blank canvas that we call 2020.

But things have changed. Quickly. Events in the middle east have taken a turn since last Friday that few, if any of us saw coming. More U.S. troops are being deployed. People on both sides are using war language. It is certain that the assassination of Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani has changed what 2020 would have been into something else and that it will not be the final act in this drama being played out in real time.

We are Living in Fearful Times. No one knows where or how this will end – not even the decision makers.

And we don’t know how the events that will certainly play out in 2020 will affect each of our lives. While most of us live far from the Middle East and probably far from any direct impact of retaliatory actions, there is the possibility that our personal worlds will be affected. The times are far from certain.

So how are we to live in uncertain times? How are we to face fearful days?

Without question there are some specific things that each of us can do to prepare our families, and I’m sure that we will soon be inundated with advice telling us how to get ready for Armageddon. Some of the advice will undoubtedly be practical and useful and some will be over the top and simply engender more fear.

But what do we tell our children about these days? What do we tell ourselves? How do we handle an unknown future that appears threatening?

The Bible is clear that as Christians we are not to live in fear (2 Timothy 1:7). So what are we to do?

The answer is not difficult – we are to live in the reality that God is ultimately in control of our world (Isaiah 14:24, 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Luke 12:22-32, Ephesians 1:11). Even though bad things happen – and we have no guarantee that we won’t be affected by them, we are to reaffirm that God is the One in control, not those men who sit with their fingers on the red button.

Beyond that we know that this God who is in control is a God of great mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and that His grace is sufficient for our journey (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so we trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Even when we don’t understand His ways. Even when we can’t reconcile what’s happening in our world with His mercy and grace. Even when fear grips our hearts. Even then we trust Him.

None of us knows what will happen in 2020 – but He does. And that is enough.

So we live in faith not in fear. That is the choice for all of us – faith or fear.

No matter what happens in this New Year, God does not want you to live in fear. He wants you to trust Him and live in faith.

When you feel fear creeping in, get alone in a quiet place with God and tell Him again that you’re going to trust Him regardless of the chaos around you. And keep telling Him, not because He needs to hear it over and over, but because you need to confess it until your heart believes it.

You can live in peace in a fearful world.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

So You Think You’re in Charge?!

In our Adult Bible Fellowship at church we’re studying the book of Proverbs. As part of our study we’re encouraging everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs a day for the four months that we’ll be in this study. 31 chapters in 30 or 31 days. By the end of the study they will have read through Proverbs four times. That’s a good way to imprint the truths  of God’s Word on our minds.

Today was Proverbs 16 (September 16 – get it?).

One of the things that jumped out at me this morning was just how much God is involved in our lives – even when we think we’re in Charge.

Three verses in particular from this chapter emphasize just how much God is involved in our lives.

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

Proverbs 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

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

If there is one thing these verses teach it is that God is ultimately sovereign over the affairs of our lives.

We can make preparations, plan our way and even make decisions the old fashion way by casting lots, but God is in control.

We don’t understand how it all works but somehow God takes even our worst decisions, our messed up plans and our flip of the coin and uses them for His good.

That doesn’t excuse us from making good plans, but it does encourage us that even when we make plans that are not the best plans, it won’t frustrate God. He is bigger than any of our plans.

At least four times the writer of Psalms declares the Lord reigns, affirming the fact that God is sovereign (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1). And in the final book of the Bible, the Apostle John quotes a great multitude in heaven who declare Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6).

It was that truth that George Fredrick Handel picked up and used in the Hallelujah Chorus as the focus of his soul-stirring masterpiece, that we know as Handel’s Messiah. You can listen to the Royal Chorus Society sing it here.

Some people are put off by the teaching that God is sovereign. I find it a comfort for several reasons.

-If the outcome of my life depends on my decisions rather than on God’s sovereignty it’s going to end badly – very badly.

-The truth that God is in control gives me infinitely more comfort than knowing that I’m cast onto the whims of fate, my own plans or someone else’s decisions.

-Because God is good (see Luke 18:19), I know that His control of my life will be good. I can’t even trust my own control to always be good.

-Since God knows the beginning from the end, He knows what is best for me. I don’t.

For these and many more reasons I can rest quietly in the sovereignty of God.

Rather than see God’s sovereignty as a restriction in life, see it as a benefit. Something that helps you do life God’s way.

You might think that you are in charge of your life, but thankfully you’re not. Someone much wiser, more powerful, and infinitely more loving is in control.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where Do You Get Your News?

A government shutdown and millions of innocent people suffer. A dam fails and many, perhaps hundreds of people die. More rape and assault allegations in the sports world against people who were supposed to be taking are of the athletes.

These are just a few of the headlines in the news today.  We’re tempted to ask; is there any GOOD news? 

I want to remind you again that there is good news, especially for the Christian.  It’s all about where you look.  Most people get their news in some form from news organizations 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  there’s plenty of good news.  Here’s just a sample of the good news from God’s Word 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 we have in the Bible. 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

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Or is It?

We’re entering the Holiday Season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. Time to celebrate!

This time of the year means family, food and football for a lot of people. It means the changing of seasons and the leaves turning the beautiful colors of fall. It means parades, parties and presents. And snow! At least for those of us who live in the northeastern part of the United States.

As the song says, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Or is it?

Not for everyone.

In all of the festivities it’s easy to forget that we are blessed. It’s even easier to forget those who aren’t.

There are so many people around the world who won’t enjoy the holidays the way you do – and some of them are just outside your back door.

The Bible has a lot to say about how we as Christians are to relate to the poor, especially in the book of Proverbs.

He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he (Prov 14:21).

He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy (Prov 14:31).

He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished (Prov 17:5).

He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given (Prov 19:17).

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard (Prov 21:13).

Check out James 2:2-9 for a longer New Testament perspective on how we are to treat poor people.

There is a special place in the heart of God for poor people and there should be a special place in our hearts as well.

This holiday season find a way to bless someone who is less fortunate than you. Take a holiday meal to a poor family. Buy some presents for some children who won’t get any presents otherwise. Serve a meal at your local rescue mission.

There are many ways that you can help someone celebrate the holidays who is dreading this time of the year.

It’s not a matter of time – we all have the same 24 hours in the day. It’s not a matter of money (maybe it is for some) – we all have enough. It’s simply a matter of priority.

Make helping someone a priority this holiday season.

The rich and the poor have this in common, The Lord is the maker of them all (Prov 22:2).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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

 

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