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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God is Here

I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve seen so much fear in the lives of so many people. This election has brought out the worst in us in so many ways.

So today, the day before the most historic election in recent memory, I want to share some good news with you directly from God for you to meditate on before you go to the polls.

Remember that the same God who fed the multitudes; who calmed the storm; who gave sight to the blind; and who raised the dead is the same God who will take care of you and our country after November 8.

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 56:3-4
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 118:6
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 4:6-7
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

You don’t need to live in fear. God is here.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Life Cut Short

A death is always a tragedy. According to many sources approximately 150,000 people die every day, most of them unknown outside of a small circle of family and friends. Whether it’s a well-known person or an unknown person, their death is always to be lamented. God created us to live, not to die. Death is the most unnatural event in life.

The death this week of Whitney Houston is tragic on so many levels – she was still young; a beautiful voice was silenced; she left a family behind; according to some reports she died of a mixture of drugs and alcohol. But the tragedy that was Whitney Houston goes far beyond a life cut short. The greater tragedy was the influence that she had on the lives of so many people, especially young people. What does her death say to them? What does it teach them about how to deal with life?

To many people Whitney Houston was an icon, a star, someone to be emulated. There are young girls out there who are hoping to be the next Whitney Houston, to have all that she had; the money, the fame, the roar of the crowds. They live to have her life. But they never see the downside – the loneliness, the insecurity, the fears, the demons that could only be placated by drugs and alcohol. It was a life of glamour but at the core of the glamour there was darkness.

We may never know everything that led a young star on the path of self-destruction, but we can sound a warning. The warning is that life does not consist in the abundance of the things we possess (Luke 12:15). Life is about more than fame and fortune. In the final analysis everything Whitney Houston spent her life trying to accomplish will amount to nothing. Spending your life for what this life can give you is a futile and ultimately pointless exercise (Luke 12:20). How much better to spend your life for something that is worthwhile (Luke 12:21).

It’s appropriate and instructive to read what Christ had to say about the priorities of life.

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

STOP IT!

Counseling is not my strength. It’s not that I lack a sense of care for people or concern for their problems, it’s just that a majority of our problems in life are the result of the wrong choices we make. I know that is true in my life. I truly sympathize with people who struggle because of physical problems, psychosomatic issues or choices not of their own making. But for the rest of us and for the majority of our problems we just need to – well, STOP IT! My children often teased me as they were growing up that that was my answer to all of their problems.

Several years ago someone shared an old clip of Bob Newhart counseling a woman who was afraid of being buried alive in a box. If you want a good laugh you can watch it here. Although it was meant to be humorous there is some degree of truth in the skit. Now, I know that there are issues that go beyond making wrong choices but they do seem to be in the minority. If we would simply eliminate the things that are the result of our wrong choices we would be amazed at how much better life would be.

Believe it or not, there is a Biblical precedent for this idea. In John 14:1, Christ said to His disciples, let not your heart be troubled. The world that the disciples had known was coming apart at the seams. In the space of a few hours Jesus had told them that one of them would betray Him (John 13:21) and another would deny that they even knew Him (John 13:38). Then He announced that He was leaving and they could not go with Him. A thousand troubling thoughts entered their minds. Why was He leaving them alone? Where was He going? Why couldn’t they go with Him? What would happen to them? Who would lead them? How did this affect their relationship with God? If Jesus was leaving them, would God also leave them? Knowing the turmoil of their minds, Jesus spoke these simple words – let not your heart be troubled. Simple but profound.

Thayer in his Greek lexicon classifies Christ’s statement as one where one is bidden to cease from something already begun. In other words, He wasn’t saying “don’t begin to be troubled” but “stop being troubled”. Their hearts were already in a state of anxiety and stress and Christ said (kindly I’m sure), STOP IT! Stop allowing turmoil to rule your life. Stop giving in to anxiety. Stop living with a heart overcome by trouble. They had a choice to make; either to live in turmoil or to live in the power of God. It would not be an easy choice but it was one that they could make.

Life is not easy and sometimes in the hardships of life we make wrong choices. Those wrong choices often lead us into greater difficulties and the cycle repeats itself. With each hardship we have a choice to make, to either let circumstances dictate our outlook and attitude on life or to let the Word of God determine how we live life. We don’t need to live with troubled hearts. We can choose to stop living that way and begin to live in God’s peace (John 14:27). Your choice will make all of the difference in your life.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Living in Fear

Well we survived Hurricane Irene. I have friends living in Haiti, Florida and the Philippines who experience hurricanes or typhoons on somewhat of a regular basis, but for those of us living in the Northeast it’s a rare and admittedly frightening experience. We don’t know what to expect, how to prepare or how to act. The one thing that we do know is fear.

Fear is an interesting emotion that results from a variety of sources. We fear what we don’t know; we fear something/someone that is different from us; we fear danger; we even fear just the possibility of danger.

Fear is also interesting because of what it does to us. Fear causes rational people to act irrationally; it causes peaceful people to act violently; it causes people who profess to live out the love of Christ to act unlovingly towards others.

We often feel foolish about our fears. We know that it’s not logical to be afraid of the dark, or heights, or close quarters, but we’re afraid anyway. We just can’t seem to help ourselves. Our minds go to places that under normal circumstances it wouldn’t go. Even though most of our fears are unfounded and never materialize, our fear is still real. It’s an issue that we have to deal with – for some people daily. And God knows that.

In fact, God has a lot to say about fear. I recently read this quote from author Max Lucado’s book Imagine Your Life Without Fear, posted by a Facebook friend:  Jesus most common command emerges from the ‘fear not’ genre. The Gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “not fear” or “have courage.” The 2nd most common command, to love God and neighbor, appears on only 8 occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he made more than any other was this: don’t be afraid.

Think about that. We place such an emphasis on the Great Command of scripture (and rightly so); love God, love your neighbor, but the Bible talks about fear far more often than it does about loving God or loving your neighbor. That should give us some indication of how important this issue of fear and freedom from fear is to God.

God does take your fears seriously and He does not want you to live in fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has not given us a spirit of fear. That is, fear does not come from God. 1 John 4:18 tells us that there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. Living in Christ, which is living in perfect love, and living in fear are opposites of each other. Don’t minimize your fears, they are very real, but learn to turn your fears over to the God who loves you and wants to be your strength in your moment of fear.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Psalm 46:1-2).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve