We All Need God

It’s true. We all need God.

I’m not talking about in the sense of salvation. Yes, we need God to save us from our wretched, sinful lives. But after that we still need Him. Perhaps more than we know. It’s not a one and done.

When life gets hard and crashes over you like massive ocean waves – you need God.

When the unexplainable happens to you – you need God.

When you’re suffering beyond what you can stand – you need God.

In those and a thousand other situations we know that we need Him. And, He knows that we need Him, and He encourages us to come to Him in our time of need (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 4:14-16).

So, we do what the Psalmist did, and what God encourages us to do – we cry out to Him. We express our anxiety, our pain, our angst, hoping that He will come to our aid.

But He doesn’t always come – at least not when we think He should.

What’s with that? Didn’t He tell us to do exactly that and if we did, He would be there for us in our time of need (NIV Hebrews 4:16)? Not in His time – but in our time! When we are suffering the most. When it feels like we’re going down for the third and final time. Not later, Lord. NOW!

That phrase in our time of need has been difficult to understand since it was first penned.

The old Scottish theologian Alexander Maclaren offered this explanation: the right grace will be most surely given to me to help me in time of need, or, as the words may perhaps be more vigorously and correctly translated, find grace for timely aid, grace punctually and precisely at the very nick of time, at the very exact time determined by heaven’s chronometer, not by ours. It will not come as quickly as impatience might think it ought, it will not come so soon as to prevent an agony of prayer, it will not come in time enough for our impatience, for murmuring, for presumptuous desires; but it will come in time to do all that is needed.

The key is to understand the significance of the word need. It is need as seen from the mountaintop, not the valley. It is need seen from God’s perspective, not ours.

God knows the time of your need far better than you.

Peter’s time of need was not while he was on the water but when he was sinking. Lazarus’ time of need was not when he was sick but when he was in the grave. Paul’s time of need was not in the moment of his suffering but in the experience of never-ending grace.

God will meet us in our time of need which He alone knows.

So, faith hangs onto that truth even as we cry out with the Psalmist My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear (Psalm 22:1).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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The Ministry of Presence

When I first started going to Haiti thirty years ago, missionary Dan Shoemaker would talk about The Ministry of Presence. Haiti has been such a needy country for so long that it doesn’t seem like any of the missionary efforts (by either short-term and long-term missionaries) or humanitarian efforts have made even a dent in the problems.

The situation remains hopeless, at least from our perspective.

That’s where The Ministry of Presence comes in. Just being there.

I remember in the early days meeting with the leadership of a Haitian church. We were discussing how we as an American church could help them. They came up with a lengthy list of options for us, far more than we would be able to do. Being inexperienced in their culture I was overwhelmed with their needs. But we had asked and they answered as honestly as they could.

In my mind, what I heard was – We need your money – if you come with it that’s optional. So, being the prototypical American (blunt, to the point etc.) I asked, If you had to chose one, money or us, which one would you choose?

It took less than 5 seconds for them to respond, We want you to come!

What they wanted more than our money was our presence.

I’ve learned in the years since then that it is my presence in Haiti that makes the most difference. Just to be there with them in their suffering. To sit in their homes no matter how poor; to preach in their churches, sometimes with cracks in the walls so big that I can see farmers herding their goats down the street outside. Just to be there.

The Ministry of Presence is not just for a Third World Country like Haiti. It’s not just for missions. We all have the opportunity to practice The Ministry of Presence with those around us. With the widow who has just lost her husband. With the neighbor who is discouraged. With someone at church who is struggling with God.

The Ministry of Presence is just to be there. To talk – maybe. To pray – perhaps. To encourage – always.

But most importantly just to be there.

To let God use your presence in the lives of other people when they feel like no one cares. No one understands. No one will take the time out of their busy schedules to simply sit with them.

We all know the story of Job in the Old Testament. How he was attacked by Satan until he had nothing left. How his friends came to comfort him but actually ended up making his situation somewhat worse with their ill-timed theological explanations of suffering.

But what we often miss in the story of Job is that his friends started out well. They started out simply practicing The Ministry of Presence. Job 2:13 says they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. That’s The Ministry of Presence.

Perhaps had they stopped there Job’s suffering would have been different. But they didn’t stop there – they began to lecture Job and try to explain why God allowed him to go through such great suffering which only added to Job’s pain.

There will be times in life when giving advice or council is appropriate. But there will also be times when The Ministry of Presence is what is needed. I suspect that we often error toward the former and not the latter. For some reason it’s easier to talk than to keep quiet.

It takes great discernment to know when to keep quiet and simply be there. To simply practice The Ministry of Presence.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Handling Hardships (or Grace for the Journey)

I was complaining to God recently about the difficulties of life (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does that!). All I wanted was a little relief. Some time – a few days of peace when I didn’t have to think about problems and stress.

You would think God would be OK with that. But it didn’t happen.

On the same day of my complaint, (not before and not later!) I was reading in the book of 2 Timothy and came to verse 3. It says, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

That’s where I stopped reading. No point in going any further. The answer was right in front of me in black and white.

Not if you want to, but you must!

There’s no ambiguity about it. Hardships will come in the Christian life and you must endure them; tolerate them; stomach them; put up with them.

Just to make his point clear, the Apostle followed that statement up with illustrations of three people who have to put up with hardships. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. All of them face hardships by virtue of the occupation they have chosen, and they must endure them to be successful.

I’m sure that anyone who goes into one of those three lines of work knows that their life will involve hardships, but I doubt that any of them understood the extent of the hardships they would face.

The same is true of the Christian. When you became a Christian you automatically were placed in a position similar to that of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. A place of hardship.

You may have had some vague idea that the Christian life would make your life harder in some way, but, like the soldier, athlete or farmer, you probably didn’t understand the extent of the hardships you would face.

And then you found out!

And the encouragement you got as you searched the Word of God for answers is that sometimes you simply have to endure.

Endure the pain. Endure the suffering. Endure the hardships.

There’s not much comfort in that. But there is comfort in the knowledge that you can handle the greatest hardships in life by the grace of God.

That was the lesson the same Apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:3 learned and recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as he dealt with his own hardship. As he asked God to remove his trial, the divine response was My grace is sufficient for you. All Paul needed to handle his hardship was the grace of God.

And that’s all any of us need.

We need God’s grace.

Thankfully, God has made sure that in the person of Jesus we received His grace. Another Apostle, this time John, wrote, and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. The emphasis is on the abundance of grace that we received in the person of Jesus. We have all of the grace we need.

All of the grace to face the hardships that will come. All of the grace to make it through difficult times. All of the grace to handle the stress of life.

Grace piled on top of grace.

So, I had to stop and ask God to give me grace instead of praying for a way of escape.

The good news is that there is Grace for the Journey.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

What Does it Mean to Wait on God and . . .

The Bible talks about waiting on God, especially in the Psalms (25:3-5, 25:21, 27:14, 37:7-9, 37:34 etc.). You also find this idea expressed in the book of Isaiah (8:17, 30:18, 49:23).  The best-known passage may be Isaiah 40:31: But they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.

Waiting on God is often mentioned in the context of trials and suffering. Exactly the hardest times to wait.

But what does it mean to wait on God?

The word used in the Old Testament (where most “wait” passages are found) has several concepts built into it.

One concept in this word is the idea of waiting for something with an eager expectation. You are waiting because you know something better is coming.

Another concept found in this word is waiting with endurance or what we would call tenacity and patience. You’re not just hanging in there until something better comes along – you’re hanging on with all that you have, determined not to be swept away by the riptide of life. It’s another way of saying, My faith means something and I’m not giving it up that easily.

When you wait on God you dig your heels in and wait in faith because you know He’s doing something that is better than what you are going through today.

So, if that is true, why do we find it so hard to wait on God?

There are likely several things that come into play here.

One is that we’re impatient people. Call it the McDonald syndrome. We have a spiritual melt-down if we have to wait a month or even a couple of years for God to answer us.

Another issue is God’s timing – which is always the right time, whether we think so or not. Inherent in the very word wait is the concept that this isn’t going to work out when we think it should – so we have to W-A-I-T for it to work out in God’s time.

A third thing that comes into play is suffering. It’s just hard to wait when it hurts so much.

But the idea of waiting on God also implies, as I’ve already said several times, that something good is going to happen. A child waits (not so patiently!) for Christmas. The Bride waits for her wedding day. We wait for our out of town guests to arrive. All because we know that something good is coming.

Waiting on God is not easy, but it can be a faith-building experience if we learn how to do it.

The prophet Isaiah, who exhorted Israel to wait on God, held up a future glorious day as encouragement for them to wait patiently. While this was written to Israel there is an application for us today.

And it will be said in that day: Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation (Isaiah 25:9).

So, Wait on God. A Better Day is coming. Be Glad and Rejoice in His Salvation.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Trusting Bravely in The Darkness

One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is trust. Although we often use the words faith and trust as synonyms, there is actually a difference. As one writer said, trusting is what we do because of the faith we have been given.

We begin the Christian life by trusting in the death of Jesus to save us. And we grow in the Christian faith as we learn to trust God in the various times of life.

In Joshua 1:9, God said to Joshua, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. He was saying, trust Me whatever life throws at you.

The Bible has a lot to say about trust, especially in the Psalms. Just a few examples include Psalm 9:10, Those who know your name trust in you; Psalm 13:5, I trust in your unfailing love; Psalm 20:7, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God; and Psalm 37:3, Trust in the Lord and do good.

The classic passage on the subject is Proverbs 3:5-6 which stresses just how important the issue of trust is. Trust in the Lord with all your heart (all that you are), and don’t lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

God wants us to trust Him all of the time for everything in life. Even in the hard times.

The thing about trust is that you really don’t know the strength of your trust until your trust is tested. It is in the trials of life that the depth of trust is revealed. It is in the darkness that we really learn just how much we trust. What is assumed in the light is often exposed in the darkness.

And that’s why God sometimes puts us in difficult circumstances. Trust demands trials. Without them we really don’t know anything about the strength of our trust.

David McCullough in his excellent biography about the early life of President Theodore Roosevelt, Mornings on Horseback, relates what was undoubtedly the darkest day of Roosevelt’s life.

Roosevelt had always had a close relationship with his mother, which only deepened after the death of his father. In October of 1880 he married Alice Lee, the love of his life and the only other woman to whom he gave his love (until a second marriage some years later). These two women, his mother and his wife, were the lights of his life and he could not have been happier.

Until a fateful day in 1884 when tragedy struck. His mother was the first to die of typhoid fever. Alice died eleven hours later in the same house of a kidney disease after giving birth to their only child.

Contemplating the death of his wife some months later he wrote, When my heart’s dearest died, the light went out from my life forever. It was a dark place.

One of Roosevelt’s contemporaries prayed that God would give Roosevelt strength to work bravely in the darkness.

I would like to make a small change to his prayer and pray for you and for me, that when we are in that dark place, that place where we don’t understand what God is doing, when we can’t explain His plan, that He will give us strength to trust Him bravely in the darkness.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Watch Out for the Potholes

We have entered into another New Year. It’s officially 2019. With a new year comes new expectations, new hopes, and new dreams. There is always a fresh optimism at the beginning of another year.

But the reality is – life is still the same. Turning another page on the calendar doesn’t really change anything. Life goes on. You’ll face the same issues, same problems and same hardships as you did on the last day of 2018.

That’s the bad news.

I’m not trying to ruin your year. There is good news.

The good news is that you can face whatever 2019 throws at you with a new sense of strength and hope if you face it with the knowledge that Jesus is both your strength and your hope. He’s what you need.

He won’t eliminate the problems (wish He would!). But He will help you handle them if you’ll trust Him.

Read these words from the Bible and let them sink deep into your soul.

Psalm 9:10 – Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.

Psalm 33:18 – Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.

Psalm 42:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.

Isaiah 40:29 – He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

My hope and prayer for you is that you will experience joy and blessing in 2019.  But it is also likely that you will face some problems and hardships. The question is not Will you? but When?

The secret to the Christian life is not in avoiding the problems of another year, the secret is in how you handle them.  Handling them with dependence on God and with the confidence that in His power you can do what is right is the goal.

Blessings on you in 2019. But watch out for the potholes along the road (if you’re from PA you know what I’m talking about!).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

But at What Cost?

It’s a question that affects most of life. You probably don’t consciously ask it before every decision you make but it’s always lurking somewhere in the back recesses of your mind. You want to know how a certain course of action will affect you – will it affect you positively or negatively? Will it help or hurt? Will it benefit your life or detract from it?

And if the effect is negative, just how negative will it be? We can all endure some degree of pain or adversity but there’s a point beyond which we are not willing to go. We are not willing to pay the cost.

But often in life – probably quite often – the yardstick that we use to gauge our actions is, But at What Cost?

Should I drive 55 mph in a 25 mph zone? What will the cost be if I’m pulled over?

Should I go back to school for another degree? What will the cost be?

Should I leave my present job and take another one? What will it cost me?

Should I cheat on my income taxes? What will the cost be if I’m caught?

We face a hundred questions that arise during a typical day and we analyze the potential risks and rewards of our options.

When the cost is low we’re more likely to engage in the behavior in question.

When the cost is high we’re much less likely to engage in the behavior in question.

The yardstick, But at What Cost? is not intrinsically wrong. It’s kept a lot of people out of trouble. But it’s not the best way to go through life.

The better yardstick is, Is it Right? Is what I am planning to do the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?

God is clear on this point. Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17). In all of our actions, our relationships, our decisions, and our activities God has but one standard for us – Is It Right?

Determining your actions by the standard of Right instead of the standard of Cost will not necessarily make your life easier. In fact, it can make your life much harder. Sometimes it will cost you and the cost cab be high. But living by the standard of Right is the way God wants you to live.

Don’t sacrifice the difficult way of Right for the easy way of Cost.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve