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

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Crushed Hopes

The Cleveland Cavaliers – Crushed Hopes. Phil Mickelson – Crushed Hopes (again!). Argentina, Spain, Germany (especially Germany!), and Brazil – Crushed Hopes.

I know, all examples from the world of sports, in which you may not have any interest. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to understand Crushed Hopes. It happens every day and in far more significant ways then the outcome of a game.

We all have hopes and sometimes they get crushed.

Hope is important in life. Can you imagine a world without the possibility for hope? No hope in a better tomorrow? No hope that life holds a brighter future? No hope that you can be healed?

I wouldn’t want to live in a hopeless world. So very dark.

But sometimes we feel like hope has passed us by. That even though we hope, the reality of the end result is far different from the hope we had.

The truth is that hope is an elusive thing. It often depends on people or events over which you have no control. You cannot always dictate the path that life will take and that makes hope a dangerous thing. Lose hope too often and you’ll give up. It’s not worth getting Crushed again.

The key to realizing your hope is to make sure that it has a solid foundation.

Hope is only as good as that upon which you build. Put your hope in a fragile structure during a hurricane and it really won’t matter how hard you hope or how sincere your hope is – you’ll probably end up in Kansas with Toto.

That’s why it’s important to handle hope wisely. Crushed Hope is the result of putting your faith in the wrong thing. Too many people put their hope in hope and that will never work.

And that’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. It gives us a solid Hope. Not just in this life but for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19-22). As Christians our hope is in Jesus and His return to take us to a place where hope won’t be necessary because the expectation will be realized. (Titus 2:13).

Jesus is the solid foundation of our hope.

And so we wait. But we wait in the firm hope, the certain expectation, the reality of His coming (Galatians 5:5).

And while we might experience Crushed Hopes in this life, the hope that anchors our souls is firm, it is solid, it will last the storms of life (Hebrews 6:10).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Crushed But Not Forsaken

One of the great struggles of the Christian experience is our struggle with God when we are being crushed by life. Too often it feels as if God is nowhere to be found at exactly the time we need Him the most.

What is it with God?

David Powlison a teacher at Westminster Theological Seminary and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, addresses this dilemma in an on-line article, Is God Far Away When He Feels Far Away?,

He writes:

So Crushed in Spirit

There’s a passage in the beginning of Exodus 6 where Moses goes to the people bringing words of hope and promise. It says that [the] people could not even listen to him. They were so crushed in spirit and so under the weight of their harsh slavery.

It’s interesting that Scripture captures both the subjective experience of being internally broken, crushed, and distraught, and it captures an external experience: that there was something objectively hard in their lives.

They couldn’t even hear.

Sharing in Christ’s Suffering

So, the experience of God feeling far away is a common one.

What is so remarkable in how the Bible approaches people in suffering—fully cognizant that they feel God is far away—is that over and over again it says “he’s near, he’s in it, and he’s going through this with you.”

In saying that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12:2], it’s saying he was actually the one that suffered and was tempted in all ways as you are, went through the afflictions of what it means to be human. He went through betrayal, mortality, physical pain, being mocked, and humiliated. He’s with you, and he’s not going to forsake you.

Two Roads

An understandable battle in the human heart arises . . . when something is very hard and God seems far away. People can be tempted to give up on God, looking for a quick fix, weighing God’s closeness by a feeling, experience, or sense. And, God may give a sense of his presence. He may show up in some way that’s visible and evident in what happens—a change of circumstances.

But, there’s another way where his purposes in us is that our faith would grow up. We all love the subjective experience of faith with joy and a sense of closeness to God, but faith at its heart is objective—it’s about someone who is there, irrespective of how I feel.

Often, only really hard affliction can push you to the point where either you give up on God and like Job’s wife you say Curse God and die, or you hold fast allowing your faith to prove true to who God really is.

He is near and he is with us in what we go through.

There are some important take-a-ways from Powlison’s article that can help us when we are being crushed by life.

1. There are real-life reasons for you to feel crushed in spirit. God knows your circumstances and He understands. He never minimizes what you are going through in life. To Him it is real (1 Peter 5:7 – I like J. B. Phillip’s translation here, You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.)

2. You are not alone. As Powlison says, the experience of God feeling far away is a common one. That may or may not encourage you, but just know that your experience is common to faith.

3. Jesus feels your pain. It’s easy to say, But He was the Son of God and He knew He would come out on the other side. I don’t know that. True. But that doesn’t negate the fact that He can sympathize with your pain (Hebrews 4:15). The pain of the nails in His hands was real. And you will come out on the other side.

4. Jesus is not going to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Even when you don’t feel a sense of His presence, He is there. Sometimes our pain is so great that it obscures our view of Him. Take it on faith that He’s with you.

5. God may show up in obvious ways when you need Him – but He may not. If He does, it’s grace. If He doesn’t, it’s grace. Trust His grace.

6. God has a purpose in your suffering. Let Him work out His purpose in your life. You may not see it now, but in time it will become evident.

You may be crushed today but you are not forsaken. Perhaps by others, but never by God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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

The Day After the Resurrection

It’s the Day After. Yesterday was a day of Hope, Praise, and Expectation for Christians. We celebrated one of the greatest days/events of our faith. It’s the day that gives our faith meaning and significance. Without it we have nothing. We had every right to be excited and to celebrate – Jesus rose from the dead!

But what about today? It’s the day after and we’re back to our normal routines, our lives as we know them. For most of us nothing has changed. Today is the same as the day before yesterday.

But . . .

Shouldn’t yesterday have some impact on today?

Shouldn’t yesterday change the way we view today?

Shouldn’t the euphoria of yesterday carry over into today – and the next day and the next?

Resurrection isn’t just about a future event. It’s about a present reality (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It’s about transformed lives. It’s about a present hope. It’s about how we live out our faith in this world.

Our lives should be fundamentally different today than they were before yesterday. Yesterday should have a bigger impact on us than just the hour or so we spent in church with other Christians.

Look at how the early followers of Jesus were impacted in the days following the Resurrection:

-they worshipped Him (Matthew 28:9, 17, Luke 24:52)
-they marveled (Luke 24:12, 41)
-their hearts burned in them (Luke 24:32)
-they were highly motivated (Luke 24:33)
-they were excited (Luke 24:34)
-they were filled with joy (Luke 24:41, 52)
-they continually praised and blessed God (Luke 24:52)
-they professed their love for Jesus (John 21:15f)
-they followed His instructions (Acts 1:4)
-they boldly shared the gospel (Mark 16:20, Acts 2:5f)

The lives of the early believers were literally transformed by one thing – the Resurrection!

So the question for us is – Have our lives been transformed today by our celebration yesterday?

If not then we have missed something – something terribly important.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

One Title – Two Messages

Occasionally someone in our church will recommend a song for us to sing – something they heard at another church or on the radio. We welcome suggestions at our church and look into requests to see if the song has potential for us to use in our worship.

This past Sunday one of our worship team members suggested a song called Bow the Knee. When I began to search for the song on the internet I quickly discovered that there are two songs by this name (sometimes you’ll find four or more songs with the same name!). The song that had been suggested is this one – and it’s a good song. You can actually watch the writer of the song (Ron Hamilton) sing it here. Its message is along the lines of recognizing who God is and bowing before Him. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement (Philippians 2:9-11):

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The other song by the same title has a different message. Written by Chris Machen and Mike Harland it takes the idea of bowing before God in the direction of accepting the work that God is doing in our lives, even when we don’t understand it.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

You can listen to this version here.

Two songs. Both songs with a good biblical message. Both true.

As Christ followers we need to recognize who God is. He IS King of all the ages and He alone deserves our worship.

It is also true that this God who is high and lifted up is one that we can trust on our journey through life even when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan. The writer reminds us of a truth that we need to hang onto; don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight – see 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Wherever you are today – rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God or struggling to understand the heart of the Father – stop long enough on your spiritual journey to bow your knee.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Finding Value in Suffering

I need to be clear from the start; I’m using the term suffering as a generic term for problems, hardships, trials or miseries that comes into our lives regardless of scope or size. For the purposes of this discussion, suffering is anything that causes fear, anguish, pain or discomfort. It includes disappointments, discouragements and sorrows. I’m not talking here just about the great sufferings of life. I’m talking about even the smallest sufferings.

The most common human response to suffering is avoidance. We don’t like to suffer and we don’t want to suffer so we will do anything to avoid problems. But suffering is a fact of life – and it’s a fact of life that we desperately try to explain as if our ability to rationalize it somehow makes it easier to accept. As a writer in the New York Times observed, even when we can offer some plausible explanation for our suffering does that change all the many times when suffering leaves us with no seeming benefit at all, and only a resentment of those who tell us to look on the bright side and count our blessings and recall that time heals all wounds (when we know it doesn’t)?

Perhaps without knowing it, the writer has put his or her finger on the crux of the matter – suffering leaves us with no seeming benefit at all. But what if, in our haste to avoid problems, there really is a benefit to our suffering? What if there is a value in all of the hardships, the disappointments, the sicknesses, the pains of life? What if good can actually come out of our suffering? What if, in the eternal scheme of life, suffering is really on the positive side of the balance sheet and not the negative?

For the Christian suffering is not only a part of life, it is part of faith. We know that suffering is redemptive – Christ suffered for us the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:8). That in itself gives eternal value to suffering.

But what about our suffering? What value is there in the sufferings of our lives that gives them value?

Here are some random thoughts on suffering for you to reflect on. If you are struggling with suffering I encourage you to take the time to read through this list. It may not make suffering any easier, but it does show that suffering is not arbitrary; there is value in our suffering.

Suffering . . .

provides us the opportunity to minister to others (2 Cor 1:3-5)

forces us to look beyond our limited self to see something greater (Hebrews
4:14-16)

reminds us of our mortality (1 Peter 1:24-25)

reminds us that something better is waiting for us (Hebrews 11:8-16)

produces thankfulness in us (Phil 4:6)

produces a spirit of rejoicing in us (Phil 4:4)

drives us to dependency on God (2 Cor 12:7-10)

motivates us to greater heights of prayer (Phil 4:6)

keeps our attention focused on the One who can help us (Hebrews 12:1-2)

provides us with an avenue to show God’s grace in our lives to others (1 Peter
2:11-12)

increases our dependency on God (1 Peter 5:7)

creates in us a desire for something better – heaven (Romans 8:18)

affirms that we belong to Christ (Hebrews 12:4-8)

keeps us from becoming complacent in this life (Romans 8:18)

shows us the ugliness of sin (Romans 5:12)

clarifies the things of real value in life (James 1:2-4)

deepens our compassion for others (Hebrews 2:18)

brings the reality of heaven into sharper focus (Hebrews 12:13-16)

reveals the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)

brings us into a greater fellowship with Christ (Phil 3:10)

produces hope in us (Romans 5:3-5)

For the Christian there is value in suffering even when we cannot explain it. Don’t miss what God may be doing in your life through suffering.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve