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

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Does Jesus Really Need Facebook?

As Christians we’ve come up with all kinds of ways to tell people that I love Jesus. It began with bumper stickers on our cars – anybody remember God is My Co-Pilot? and it quickly spread to tee shirts and mugs for your office desk. One of the latest ways to make sure that people know you’re a Christian is your Facebook page.

Have you ever wondered why we need extraneous ways to declare our faith? Is it because people won’t know who we are just by looking at us? If so, what does that say about us?

As Christians don’t we already have a way to declare to other people who we are and where we stand on the person of Jesus Christ? Why do we need a tee-shirt or bumper sticker or Facebook page to tell people that we’re Christians? They should already know that by our lives. And that may be the problem. Perhaps our lives don’t reflect Christ the way they should so, just to make sure people aren’t confused about who we are, we declare it on Facebook.

The Apostle Paul wrote that every Christian is an epistle (a book) . . . known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2).The page of our lives should be enough to show Jesus Christ to anyone who reads it.

Matthew’s gospel adds to this when it says, Let your light (life) so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). If our lives are lived in agreement with the Word of God so that they shine out the person of Jesus, people will see who we are and that will lead them to give glory to God.

I’m not sure if a Facebook page can do that. God is into people not technology.

As a Christian, your life is like the page of a book. Make sure that the people who read your book are reading something worthwhile.

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

You Need to Run Well

Another Olympics has ended and the athletes and spectators are returning home. For some who stood on the podium holding their medals as their countries’ anthem played over the loudspeaker it was the dream of a lifetime.

For many more who never reached the podium – who never had a realistic chance of reaching the podium – it was an experience they will never forget.

The Olympics reminded me of the similarities that the Christian life has to an athletic endeavor. Several times the Bible describes the Christian life in athletic terms because the original readers of the New Testament letters were familiar with the Olympic idea.

Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews employ the imagery of the runner.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1

There are numerous applications to the Christian life that we can glean from these images.

-Living the Christian life in order to receive a reward is our motivation (knowing that we will give it all to Jesus in the end.)

-Self-control is essential to the success of the Christian life.

-The reward at the end of the Christian Life will be worth every sacrifice you make.

-If you’re going to live the Christian life successfully, you can’t give up when it gets difficult.

-You can’t win the race of the Christian life if you’re carrying excess baggage (sin).

-Without a long-term perspective the Christian life will be almost impossible to live.

-It’s essential to keep your eyes on the goal to finish the Christian Life well.

-The Christian life won’t be easy!

Maybe you can add some additional applications to this list.

The point is that Christians, like Olympians must train rigorously, deny themselves many enjoyable things, and be laser focused on one thing to be successful.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Big Mac or Filet Mignon?

Have you ever noticed that we’re always in a rush? I’m talking about those of us who live in the U.S. This isn’t always the case with people from different cultures, but it is often true of Americans. Patience is not one of our virtues. We rush from event to event. We want everything now not later. Fast food is no longer good enough we want instant food. The last time I pulled into the drive through at a fast food establishment it took them more than 60 seconds to take my order. I wasn’t happy. We have become a society of the instantaneous and anything less is unacceptable.

But life doesn’t always happen instantly. Some things only occur gradually. I’m reminded that many things in life happen over a period of time – step by step. Plants grow slowly, diets take time (!), education is a process, and relationships are built one day at a time. In fact many things in life are not only step by step but two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step backward, two steps forward and one step . . . .

And that’s the way of the Christian life. You won’t (can’t) become a spiritual person overnight. It’s a step by step process. Or a better description is it’s a two-step forward, one step backward process. The theological description that we use is progressive sanctification. That means that becoming like Christ (being sanctified) is a process not a sudden event.

And that’s where the frustration comes in. We want to be godly NOW. And that’s a good thing, but the reality is that because we battle the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), sin (Romans 7:14—20) and the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18), godliness is always going to be a process. It’s always going to be two steps forward and one step backward. The key to becoming like Christ from a human perspective is that you never give up. No matter how slow your progress, no matter how frustrating it becomes – you don’t give up.

The Biblical term is perseverance. It’s a word that means to endure, not give up, don’t quit. The Apostle Peter links perseverance directly to godliness when he writes, Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness (2 Peter 1:6). It is through that step by step, agonizingly slow, tedious process that godliness will grow in your life.

We all like instantaneous. As a society we’ve become addicted to it. But some things are so much better when you devote time to them. Think of it this way – you can have a Big Mac for supper or you can have filet mignon. You can have one in 90 seconds at the drive through window or you can sit down in a fine restaurant with linen tablecloths and fine china and wait for the chef to cook your steak to perfection. One is fast the other is best.

God is in the business of changing your life for the best. He’s in no hurry. He’ll take as long as necessary for you to grow into someone who reflects His Son. He’s doing His part (2 Corinthians 3:18), your part is to cooperate with God’s work in your life and never give up simply because you don’t think it’s happening fast enough. There is no fast food in the spiritual life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

How Effective is Your Church?

One of the issues that all pastors struggle with is gauging the effectiveness of the church they serve. One of the reasons pastors even care about this issue is because for a pastor, the effectiveness of his church is directly related to the effectiveness of his ministry. After all, pastors like to know that they aren’t just spinning their wheels. They like to know that their lives are counting for something; that they are making a difference. I believe that the vast majority of evangelical pastors desperately want their church to be spiritually effective, to be spiritually health. That is what they give their lives for (obviously in the context of giving their lives in service to Christ).

So what are the things that indicate an effective church? Attendance? Annual growth? Baptisms? Offerings? Number of guests? Percentage of people in small groups? Pastors have used all of these and probably a few more to evaluate the effectiveness of their church. But are these really the marks of an effective church?

A pastor friend recently posted this on his Facebook site (it wasn’t original with him).

THE MARK OF AN EFFECTIVE CHURCH IS NOT HOW MANY PEOPLE COME BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE LIVE DIFFERENTLY AS A RESULT OF HAVING BEEN THERE.

Wow! That hit close to home and it hurt (thanks brother RD!). Pastors can’t help but take this personally. Maybe too personally. You see pastors are part of that wonderful process that God uses to change lives. Yes, the Holy Spirit plays a major role and yes, the Word of God is extremely important and yes, the people themselves have a responsibility to change the things in their lives that need to be changed. But the pastor also plays a role. After all, he is the one who is invested with teaching the Word in ways that changes lives (2 Timothy 4:2). He is the one who will answer for the lives of the people in his church (Hebrews 13:17). And that means that when the church isn’t effective the pastor has to shoulder some of the responsibility.

But the bottom line is this – the effectiveness of a church is not about the size of the church, it’s about people who continue to live differently as a result of having been in the church. It’s possible to have a church of a thousand uncommitted people. That would be a church where no one is living differently as a result of having been there. And it’s possible to have a church of fifty people whose lives have been, and are continuing to be changed because they were there (of course pastors want both – a church of a thousand whose lives have been changed!). When we begin to judge the effectiveness of a church by any standard other than changed lives, we are missing the point of church. It’s not about the numbers (and I’m like any other pastor, I’d like bigger numbers!), it’s about the lives. Changed lives.

So back to the question: How Effective is Your Church? No, not your pastor’s church – YOUR church. You. How effective are you as a Christian? Forget the size of your church, have you cooperated with the Spirit of God and the Word of God and seen consistent spiritual change in your life? The effectiveness of your church will depend on the spiritual change in your life and the lives of the other people in your church.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God Takes the Summer Off

A lady in our church recently published this on her Facebook page – it came from the ministry Joni and Friends. I hope it makes you think and reevaluate your priorities this summer.

God Takes The Summer Off

We are sorry to inform you that God will not be available during the summer beginning June 1st. He feels He deserves some time off, so He has canceled His normal duties for the summer.

He has agreed to send the sun and rain occasionally when He happens to be in town, but so far as answering prayers for the needs of your family, please don’t count on Him.

God has let church leaders know that they should not plan any outreach efforts or mission trips during the summer—or at least if they do, they will have to do it without Him because He plans to be gone a lot to see relatives, baseball games and the lake. God has expressed the opinion that we should find someone else to take His place.

Then we reminded Him of His promise, “Surely I will be with you always,” but He said He didn’t realize when He said it that it meant going two or three years without a break. He expressed His sincere regret and hopes that it will not cause anyone any inconvenience.

God may be contacted anytime after September 1st at which time He hopes to get back into the routine. “Please defer all requests until then,” He requested.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t take the summer off? As we approach summer, make it your determination to bring yourself and your family to God’s House on Sunday. He’ll be waiting for us to worship Him.

Does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe you? Sure it’s a ridiculous thought that God would take any time off, let alone an entire summer. And it’s a good thing He doesn’t or we’d be in big trouble.

But why, then do we think we can take time off from church? Can you imagine how Hebrews 10: 25 might sound if some Christians were writing it today?

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, unless it’s too hot, or you
have a family reunion on Sunday, or you have tickets to see your favorite
baseball team play, or you just need a break . . .

You get the idea. We often do what we don’t want God to do.

Hey, I know that there will be times when you can’t be in church this summer but it should be a very short list – sickness, kids sick, vacation, have to work, – hold on I’m still thinking. Well, like I said it should be a very short list.

I hope to see you in church this Sunday!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve