The Important Things

There are important things in life and then there are those things that aren’t so important. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

I suspect that most of us spend the majority of our time on things that really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. We fight the brush fires – and there are many of them – which doesn’t leave us time to fight the forest fires.

So how do we determine what’s important and what’s not?

Everyone has their own way to measure the relative importance of a specific event, whether it’s shopping for a new dress (or tool!), spending time at work, watching television, reading your Bible, or praying. We always have a good reason for why we do what we do.

But many of our reasons don’t hold up under intense scrutiny. The truth is that we do what we do because we like to do it. Not because it’s the most important thing we could be doing, or even the most pressing thing we need to do. We just like to spend our time that way.

Is there a guide that will help us determine what’s important and what’s not?

I think there is.

Do you remember the bracelets people wore back in the 1990’s with the initials WWJD on them? What Would Jesus Do? It was a good question to ask, unfortunately I think it became more of a fad than a reality – it was just cool to wear them and we all thought we were spiritual giants. Wearing a bracelet never made anyone a spiritual giant.

Determining what’s important in life is similar to WWJD.  Only this time the question is, Is it important to God?

That’s how you can determine what’s important in life and what isn’t.

If it’s important to God it should be important to us.

I read an online article with the title, Whatever’s Important to You Is Important to God. That’s only true in a very restricted sense. Sinful things may be important to you but they’re only important to God as far as He uses them to get your attention and change your behavior.

The title is misleading. Turn it around. Whatever’s Important to God is Important to You.

The prophet Isaiah wrote about the rebelliousness of God’s people, when they refused to listen to the prophets. It just wasn’t important to them. As a result of their dismissal of God’s messages, judgement awaited them.

But the prophet also wrote about another day when God would bring His people back and they would live in peace and in obedience to Him. In that time he said, Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it. (Isaiah 30:21).

In other words God will say to Israel, This is important to Me, do it.

That’s a good message for all of us, not just for Israel.  All that God wants is for you to do what is important to Him.

That’s why we’re here. Not for ourselves but for Him.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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God Sent a Mosquito

In the black night it sounded like a miniature jet plane in my ear. Given its incredibly small size the sound it made was incredible. And irritating. No amount of waving my arms around in the dark could stop it from its intended mission.

Anyone who has been dive bombed by a kamikaze mosquito knows the aggravation. I was getting mosquitoed. Only my third night in Haiti and I was already under attack.

And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten the most important thing I needed to do in Haiti. Take my malaria medicine.

The problem with malaria medicine is that it’s easy to forget. It’s taken with food and my normal routine over the years has been to take it with my evening meal.

And that’s where the problem started.

Haitians eat their main meal at noon and I was only snacking last night. I’m a creature of habit and not being in my routine was a problem. No meal – no medicine. I had only been in country for three days and I’d already forgotten to take my malaria medicine.

And that’s when God sent a mosquito.

To be truthful I don’t know if God sent it or not but it did the job. That nasty little insect was looking for a landing spot. A place to suck my blood. And if it’s the right (or wrong) kind of mosquito, to give me the malaria virus. All I wanted to do was to end its’ life before it nailed me.

And that’s when I remembered the medicine. I never did kill the mosquito but I did take my medicine.

I got to thinking about that mosquito. Could it have been a messenger from God? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll never know.

But it made me think about how God directs us in life. We tend to think that if God is going to lead us He will do it in a nice, comfortable way. But what if God chooses to send a mosquito to move us in the right direction? What if He decides that the best way to get us to do what He wants is to send an irritation that has the possibility of giving us spiritual malaria if we don’t do the right thing?

There’s no guarantee that whenever God acts in our lives, He’ll do it in a way that we enjoy. In fact that seems to me to fall into the category of Christian myth.

The Palmist wrote; it is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes (Psalm 119:71). And this from the New Testament writer, James; count it all joy when you fall into various trials – because trials can produce godliness in us (James 1:2-4) when we handle them the right way.

I suspect that the list of saints, both Biblical and non Biblical, who have been moved by trials of all kinds is long. Somehow God knows that the mosquitoes of life are affective.

So the bottom line is –it’s ok to kill the mosquitoes before they bite you, but it’s better if you can learn from them – especially the spiritual ones.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

It’s Not About What You Want, It’s About What (God Knows) You Need

Life is not easy. We go through a thousand trials and wonder when we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think of people that God has placed in my sphere of ministry and the pain that they are going through – serious health issues, financial problems, loss of a loved one, family issues etc. etc. You probably have people in your circle facing the same things. You might be.

If that is your story – you’re not alone. How many times did the writers of the Psalms cry out, Hear me when I call, O God (Ps 4:1); God, deliver me! (Ps 70:1); God, don’t be far from me! (Ps 71:12). We can all identify with those sentiments. We’ve been there. And when we’re in that situation and we’ve cried out to God but nothing has changed – we wonder why God doesn’t help us. Is he ignoring us? Doesn’t He care?

Several years ago my daughter, a young mother, shared some of the Biblical truths that she had been learning from the Word of God.

I want to share some of it with you. She’s right on target.

If you are going through hard times, I hope this ministers to you in an encouraging, healing way.

“After church last night, I was up thinking. We’ve been studying the prophets, many of whom were quite dramatic. Several, maybe more than I realize, came to a point in life where they begged God to let them die rather than face their circumstances, and the pastor was talking about how God met their needs by not giving them what they were asking for. It’s something I’ve heard before…God gives us exactly what we need. Sometimes, it seems like a trite statement and not very encouraging. Especially when what I am so convinced I need isn’t happening, and I think if God is so loving why isn’t He moving, doing, fixing, revealing Himself? Last night, I realized that statement – God gives us exactly what we need – isn’t such a small thing to say. As a parent, I am often begged, pleaded with, cried out to, asked by my kids for something that they are CONVINCED they NEED. And I know that they don’t need it, and in fact, it is not in their best interests to give it to them. Yet, I’m tired out – tired of saying No one more time, tired of the tears when they don’t get what they think they need, tired of being the unpopular mom, so I give in. I just want to see them smile, squeal with joy, hug me…even when I know that is short lived. I end up giving them what is not best for them. I imagine God in the same situation with me, yet He continues to say No to me and bears my tears, complaints, even anger and doubt because He knows that what I am asking Him for (even though I believe it to be the best thing) is not the best thing, is not what is needed.”

There’s a song by Laura Story (you can listen to it here). Part of it says:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

I want to encourage you to take another look at your trials. To submit your trials to a loving God. To look at your trials differently. He’s working in your life. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need. And He knows what you need.

What if the trials in this life really ARE His mercies in disguise? What would you miss if you chose to avoid them?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Everyone Needs to Calm Down (Especially Evangelical Christians)

I can’t remember a time when evangelical Christians were so uptight (many, not all) about the political landscape, unless it was back in the 60’s when they wanted to impeach Earl Warren (yes, I’m old enough to remember it – and they were uptight).

You would think that God had just stepped off of His throne and Hillary was taking over the universe. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God is still in control.

We like to say that He’s in control but the evangelical blogs, the Facebook posts, the Twitter feeds, the emails and the scare tactics seem to indicate otherwise.

The way that many evangelical are acting you would think that if Clinton wins this election, the world as we know it will come to an end. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but I’m sure of this – God will still be in control on November 9th and every day after that.

I’m not making light of the importance of this election. It may well signal a sea-change in our nation. And, yes I believe evangelical Christians should exercise their freedom to vote for the candidate that they believe can best lead our nation.

But where’s our faith? Is it in the political process? Or in our ability to elect the “right” candidate? Or is it in God, who by the way is still in control.

The writer of Hebrews didn’t tell us to keep our eyes on the Republican Party; or on Donald Trump; or on passing the right laws or policies. He told us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s a reason for that. God is still in control.

Hey, we believe that God will bring about His will no matter who’s in the White House. We believe that He will bring about His will no matter who sits on the Supreme Court.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want – God’s will?

I’m not ignoring our responsibility to get involved in the political process. I’m just questioning the panic (even hysteria) that is the result of an unbalanced view of the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is in control we are confessing that He is sovereign over all things, including the election of our president.

So here’s my suggestion: Everyone just needs to calm down. Stop with the scare tactics. Stop telling people who God wants to be president. Stop pontificating on the end of civilization if your candidate isn’t elected.

Go ahead and try to persuade people to vote for your candidate; vote your conscience. But get a grip on reality! God is still in control.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What if You Don’t Get Through This?

In our Adult Bible Fellowship classes at our church we’re going through Max Lucado’s DVD series You’ll Get Through This. Using Joseph as his model, Lucado emphasizes that when a Christian goes through hard times You fear you won’t make it through. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. In the pits, surrounded by steep walls and aching reminders, we wonder: Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten?

Lucado’s answer is:

You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

This is not a new idea. The old hymn most of us sang as children (depending on how old you are!) said:

Be not dismayed what-e’er betide; God will take care of you.
Beneath His wings of love abide; God will take care of you.

God will take care of you, thro’ every day, o’er all the way.
He will take care of you; God will take care of you.

In other words, You’ll get through this.

As much as this appeals to me, I wonder about the person whose depression never does lift. About the family where the yelling never does stop. About the wife whose pain never leaves her.

What happens when the gray sky is never bright again or the load is never lightened?

It happens.

So what do we say? Have we been sold a lie? Is God not who we think He is? Has He failed us in some way?

I think there’s more to this than simply saying You’ll get through this. While I agree with a lot that Max Lucado says – trials won’t be painless, they won’t always be quick; God will use this mess for good, because that’s what God does; you don’t need to despair because you can get through it with God’s help; there’s more that needs to be said.

Here are a few thoughts.

1) It’s possible that Lucado means different things by the words he uses than I understand. When he says You’ll get through this he may include eternity in his statement (although his statement doesn’t make sense in eternity). If he’s including, not just this life but eternity then it’s true You’ll get through this.

2) It may be that we have the wrong idea of what it means to get through this. Did the people mentioned in Hebrew 11 get through this or did God fail them (Hebrews 11:32-38)? Getting through might look more like pain and suffering than healing and resolution.

3) It may not be God’s will/plan to remove all of your pain and suffering. Many Christians (Hebrews 11 again) throughout history have suffered and died without healing, without seeing a resolution, without knowing why God didn’t change things. Certainly we would not want to claim that God’s plan never includes unresolved suffering.

4) What we need to teach people is that the issue is not getting through our problems but how we deal with our problems.

The average person deals with his/her problems on their own, in their own strength, by getting even, by masking their pain, by venting their anger, by throwing their hands up in despair.

The Christian, on the other hand, should deal with their problems with God’s help, in His strength, by forgiving, by having a Biblical perspective on suffering and dealing with their pain accordingly (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Hebrews 12:1-11) , by rejecting anger, by trusting God. And most of all by accepting whatever comes into their life as coming from the hand of a loving God who knows what is best for them – even when none of it makes sense.

So even if you don’t get through this in this life, trust that God has something for you in the pain and the sufferings of life.

Without being presumptuous, I’d like to suggest another perspective for those facing pain and suffering – or as Lucado says, for those down in Egypt (Joseph).

This has a purpose.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll be better for it.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Disappointments and the Will of God

There are some issues that deeply divide the Christian community and explaining God’s Will certainly falls into that category. Those who emphasize that everything that happens in life is God’s will, point to passages that talk about the sovereignty of God. Those who emphasize the freewill of man point to passages that talk about our duty to obey.

One way that theologians have tried to answer this difficult question is by defining God’s Will in three different ways such as God’s Sovereign (Hidden) Will, His Revealed Will, and His Permissive (Perfect) Will (R.C. Sproul). Other’s divide the Will of God into two kinds, His Will of Decree (Sovereign Will that will always be fulfilled) and His Will of Command that we can choose to obey or disobey (John Piper). Still others talk about one Will of God manifest in two ways, His Antecedent Will (what God ideally desires) and His Consequent Will (what He permits).

However you understand the Will of God, there are questions that are hard to explain. How do natural disasters enter into God’s Will? When you sin is that God’s Will (John Calvin thought it was)? Can we frustrate the Will of God by our choices?

The Will of God plays into our lives in many ways – often in ways that cause us to struggle. One such area is the disappointments of life. Life is filled with disappointments. In fact for many people disappointments play a major role in life. For others life itself is a disappointment.

So how do we explain disappointments? When we don’t get the job we really wanted. When things don’t work out in what certainly appears to be the best way. When we struggle with health, finances, relationships, and even with ourselves. How are the disappointments in life related to the Will of God?

While we don’t have all of the answers, there are three things that I believe are clear in the Bible:

1. No one can know the mind of God (Romans 11:34), so we need to be careful in declaring our omniscience when it comes to His Will.

2. While we cannot explain everything about God’s Will we can rest in the truth that He can use even sinful/evil things – and the great disappointments in life – to accomplish His Will (Genesis 50:20).

3. Our responsibility is to conform to His Will that we know from the Word of God (Romans 12:2). That alone is enough to keep us busy!

Don’t let disappointments throw you off track in your life. They will come and go in the life of even the greatest of saints. It won’t help to deny them but it will help you to learn to handle them in a godly way. And finally concentrate on doing what you know (from the Bible) God wants you to do.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve