Is this The End?

Already in this young year I’ve written about the times in which we live. To say the least these are scary times. One of the words being used now in connection with the coronavirus outbreak is pandemic.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is calling the locust plague in Africa an unprecedented threat. There are, to use a Biblical expression, wars and rumors of wars circulating almost daily in the news. And those are just some of the major issues facing our world.

The turmoil that our world is in causes Christians to ask the question: Is this the End? Are we facing those issues that will usher in the end of this world and the beginning of the next?

The answer is Yes, and I don’t know.

We have been in the final stages of human history ever since the time of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews introduced his book by telling us that we are in the last days (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus told His disciples that when they saw nations rising against nations, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places it signaled the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:8). This has been going on for over 2,000 years.

So, Yes we are in the End.

But if you are asking if Jesus will come tonight, or tomorrow, or soon, the answer changes to I don’t know.

While we believe that the return of Jesus is imminent; that is, there is nothing recorded in the Bible that has to happen before He comes, we need to exercise a bit of caution before we make any definitive proclamations.

History, even in our lifetime has had its share of date-setters and so far they have proven to be 100% wrong.

Jesus made an interesting statement to His disciples about the timing of the end. He said that no one knows the timing of the coming of Christ, not even the angels in heaven. But then He takes it one amazing step beyond the angels and says not even the Son (Mark 13:32). Is it possible that the all-knowing Son of God did not know the exact time of His own return?

Theologians have debated this statement for generations. How is it even possible?

There are several theories and I’ll leave it up to you to investigate them. The point that I want to make is that if for some reason Jesus did not know, we need to tread carefully lest we join that ignominious group of false prophets who have gone before us.

The timing of the return of Jesus shouldn’t occupy us as much as how we are living out our faith.

That was the Apostle Peter’s point when, just after he described the world ending in a cataclysmic ball of fire, he said, therefore, since all of these things will be dissolved, what kind of people should you be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)?

You see, The End is not about setting dates. It’s about living life. Because we know the end is coming, we should live like the end is coming.

Should we live like Jesus will come tonight? Absolutely.  And when He doesn’t we need to live tomorrow like He will come tomorrow night. And the next day, and the next, and the next. Even if He never comes in our lifetime.

Don’t obsess about The End but live like it is.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Mary at the Cross

One of the hardest parts of being a pastor is that you get to know many of the heartaches and sorrows of the people in your church. In a sense, their pain becomes your pain. And you want to fix it for them, but you know that many times you can’t.

There’s the husband fighting cancer. The young couple who are devastated with infertility. The family that was just ripped apart by divorce. The senior saint who recently buried their spouse after fifty plus years of marriage. The father who just lost his job. The single mother struggling to keep food on the table for her children.

The list gets long and it weighs on the pastor.

It is inevitable that people will suffer.

It is also a privilege to be taken into people’s lives and trusted with their heartaches and trials. You know that even if you can’t fix every problem that comes to you, you can hold them up before the throne of immense grace.

It’s not that pastors don’t want to know, it’s just that they care – sometimes too much.

And then I think of Mary at the Cross.

Can you imagine her heartache? The son that she gave birth to; the boy she raised; the young man she watched as he grew into a man destined to shake the world. And now he has been accused of treason, arrested, beaten to within an inch of his life, publicly humiliated and he’s hanging on a cross bloody and bowed.

This wasn’t just her son – he was her Messiah, her Savior. He has been lied about, tortured, rejected, and crucified like a common criminal. A piece of trash to be thrown out.

And she has had to stand by and watch it all happen . . . and could do nothing about it.

Mary at the Cross has experienced more pain, more sorrow, more heartache than we will ever know. She is the ultimate sufferer.

Not that it helps my pain, but it does say to me, you are not alone. There have been others and there will yet be others who will suffer in ways that are hard to even imagine.

The Apostle Paul understood this when he penned the words, No temptation (trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). Common to man. Common among men. Our pain is not unique.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that most of us have not struggled to the point of shedding our blood – perhaps a metaphor for death or martyrdom (Hebrews 12:4). We have suffered but we have not died.

We have suffered but not in ways that others have suffered. We can’t even begin to compare to Mary’s suffering.

Mary at the Cross is a lesson for us; an example; a paradigm of grace. She suffered the ultimate suffering in silence, committing herself to a faithful creator (1 Peter 4:19).

Sometimes that is all that we can do.

And it is enough.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Great Impeachment

To anyone who is paying the least bit of attention to what is going on in our country there is one item that is dominating the headlines: the impeachment trial of the President. However it turns out, at least half of the country (approximately) will be self-righteously angry and the other half smugly delighted.

In the grand scheme of history it probably doesn’t amount to much – perhaps a tiny blimp on the radar screen. So why all the fuss? Given that everyone in Washington knew that with the present makeup of the Senate they were unlikely to find him guilty, the real goal seemed to be to simply embarrass the President. Do whatever damage you can.

While I’m not a fan of this president, I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him. How would you like to be in his place?

Sure, he may deserve it, but don’t we all?

I’m reminded of the time a woman who had been caught in adultery was dragged before Jesus by a mob of men (John 8:1-11). I find two things especially interesting about this story. First, the man involved didn’t receive the same treatment. After all it takes two to tango (you get the idea), but only the woman is accused. Secondly, it wasn’t really about the woman, it was about Jesus. They were trying to find something that they could use against him, something to discredit him in the eyes of the populous with whom he had become wildly popular (see verse 6). She was simply collateral damage. They used her to get to him.

There’s no question that she was guilty. She didn’t claim otherwise, nor did Jesus say You’ve got the wrong woman. No, they had an adulteress all right. Guilty as charged. Punishable by death according to the Jewish law.

In one of the greatest turn-the-tables-on-them that you’ll ever find, Jesus told them to go ahead and carry out the punishment, but with one caveat, the first rock had to be thrown by someone who was sinless.

Boy, did he know how to break up a crowd! One by one they left with visions of their own sin flashing in their minds.

What about us? What do you think life would be like if we followed that piece of advice?

Go ahead, impeach him, but let the first witness be the one who has never sinned. The one who has no skeletons in his/her closet. That would make for a short trial.

But forget the Washington bubble. You and I live in the real world.

What would our lives be like if we lived by that standard?

Go ahead and get angry at him/her. Go ahead and speak ill of your neighbor. Go ahead and blame your co-worker. Go ahead and yell at your kids. But first just make sure that there’s no sin in your life.

Impossible standard? Sure it is. But then why do any of us think that we have the right to put someone else on trial when we should be standing in front of the mob with them?

He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

 

That Birth!

I love December. Not so much for the cold of the season but for the warmth of what we celebrate – the birth of Jesus. That Birth!

We love the story for its drama and inspiring message if for nothing else. The starting appearance of an angel to Mary and then to Joseph that sent their worlds into a tailspin. A young, poor couple making their way on an arduous journey to the tiny village of Bethlehem of Judea. The oft maligned inn keeper who had to tell them that his rooms were filled but they could sleep with the animals. The dark sky of the hillside suddenly filled with the brilliant light of angels as they announced the birth to some rough-hewn shepherds – and their obvious delight as they hurriedly made their way to Bethlehem. The mysterious magi from the East who came searching for the child, bearing gifts.

It’s all a bit too otherworldly even unbelievable, almost surreal.

But that one birth changed the world in ways previous unknown and never duplicated. It changed it in ways that we are still struggling to understand.

And it’s That Birth that is still impacting lives generation after generation.

It’s the birth of Jesus that gives life meaning when nothing else makes sense.

It’s the birth of Jesus that makes life bearable in the unbearable times.

It’s the birth of Jesus that gives hope when all hope has been lost.

It’s the birth of Jesus that brings calmness into our chaos.

It’s the birth of Jesus that shows us what love is really like.

It’s the birth of Jesus that leads the way to the Father.

Most of all it’s the birth of Jesus that offers salvation to anyone who will believe.

That Birth was the birth that changed the world. Not with massive armies or with superior legislation or with advanced technology. It changed the world one heart at a time.

As one person knelt before the King. As one person confessed Him as Lord. As one person surrendered control of their life to Him. The world was Changed. By That Birth.

It’s more than a nice drama or inspiring story. It’s what the angel said: Emmanuel – God with us. In That Birth God came to man so that man might find God.

This Christmas let the birth of Jesus change you. In whatever way you need to be changed, let it start with That Birth.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

A Mother’s Heart

In a few short days we will move into the month of December with all of its festivities and celebrations. For most people, the central focus of the month is Christmas Day. But for Christians the focus of the season is the birth of Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to that wonderous event.

While our thoughts rightly center around the Christ child, there is another figure in the story that we shouldn’t miss – I’m referring to Mary.

Mary is such a pivotal character both in the Christmas story and in the life of Christ that you can’t tell either story without her.

When you think about Mary, the thing that stands out is her heart. That thing deep inside of her that reveals her innermost thoughts, joys, and sorrows.

There are many beautiful and wonderful things about Mary but there is nothing that compares to her heart.

Very early in the Christmas Story Mary’s heart is brought into focus. As the Shepherds left Bethlehem after worshipping the Christ child, they proclaimed His birth to anyone who would listen. I wonder how many people simply shrugged and went on their way, hearing but not listening. Not Mary. She tucked their words away in her heart (Luke 2:19).

As He grew up and experienced the ordinary life of first century Palestine, he also experienced things that went beyond the normal life of a young Jewish boy, extraordinary things; things that amazed (Luke 2:41-52); Mary stored them away in her heart (Luke 2:51).

There is no question, but that Mary’s heart was filled with this her son.

God has put within the breast of mothers a heart that beats differently from all other hearts. There’s nothing quite like a Mother’s heart.

It’s a bottomless well of tender caring; an endless ocean of unconditional love; a universe of willing self-sacrifice for the happiness of her family. It is different from anything else.

Mary’s heart was no different. In fact, if anything, it was deeper, wider, and higher than the other women around her. Hers was a heart beyond comparison.

That made it a heart that not only loved greater but a heart that suffered more intensely. The greater a heart loves, the deeper a heart is broken. And Mary’s was broken like no other.

The ecstasy of Bethlehem became the agony of Calvary.

Mixing our holidays, we are now just days away from Thanksgiving – a perfect time to express our thankfulness to God for His blessings. Don’t forget to thank Him for the heart that He has placed within mothers. For all that they add to our lives. For all that they teach us. For their great example. For their comfort.

Thank God that deep within mothers, He placed a Mother’s heart.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Spend Time With Him – Get to Know Him

Two things happened to me recently that at first didn’t seem to have anything in common.

The first was an email exchange I had with someone who tried to justify their ungodly anger by saying that even Jesus became angry. The very fact that they tried to make that claim to justify their sinful behavior showed just how far into left field they are spiritually.

The second was a Facebook post of a remote setting in Pennsylvania that I immediately recognized even though it had not been identified. I recognized it because I had just been there.

So, what do a misguided appeal to Jesus and an unidentified photo have in common?

Just this. If you want to know Jesus you have to spend time with Him.

The writer of the email mistakenly appealed to the righteous actions of Jesus to justify their unrighteous actions because they don’t spend enough time with Him to know Him.

I was able to identify the photo on Facebook because I had just spent time in the same place so it was instantly recognizable.

Put together the lesson is: If you want to know Jesus you have to spend time with Jesus. Don’t assume you can know Him if you aren’t with Him.

One of the problems is that most Christians assume that they’ve spent time with Jesus because they went to church on Sunday. An hour on Sunday morning is helpful but it’s not enough. The Disciples of Jesus knew Him intimately because they spent three years with Him, 24/7. You get to know someone when you spend that much time with them.

In the early church, in the days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles faced opposition from the Jewish leaders because they were proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. When these unlearned fishermen were taken before the religious leaders of Israel to answer for their actions, the Bible says: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Being with Jesus is what made the difference.

If you spend enough time with Jesus you’ll be able to recognize when something is good or bad. You won’t fall victim to Satan’s lies. You’ll begin to think like Him. Your life will begin to reflect His life. It will make a difference.

Too many Christians spend so little time with Jesus that He’s more like a stranger to them than a friend.

Spend Time With Him – Get to Know Him.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

What if You Prayed Like Jesus?

For the past several weeks I’ve been thinking about prayer. I did the Thursday Live! vlog about prayer two weeks ago and last Monday I wrote What’s Good About Prayer? in this space.

I want to return one more time to the subject and share one additional thought with you.

Here it is: What if You Prayed Like Jesus?

One of the ministries of Jesus is to pray for believers.

He prayed for all believers in John 17 (John 17:1-26, see verse 20) just moments before His arrest, trials and ultimately His death. And His ministry of prayer continues today.

Did you know that He is praying for you right now? The Bible says that Jesus is making intercession for you before the throne of God (Romans 8:34 & Hebrews 7:25).

Just the fact that Jesus prays indicates how important prayer is.

But have you ever thought about how Jesus prays? If His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is any indication, the prayers of Jesus can be characterized as intense, focused and passionate. The Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark stress the agony of Jesus, that He was burdened to the point of death and deeply distressed as He prayed. It is Luke who tells us that as He prayed, His sweat was like large drops of blood running down His face.

Yes, those prayers were in the context of His impending suffering and death, but is there any reason to think that He prays less intensely or passionately for you today?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never prayed that intensely, that passionately. Jesus prayed!

And He is still praying for Christians today.

What if all of us prayed like that!?

Maybe we don’t see the answers to our prayers the way we would like because we don’t pray the way we should. Is that possible?

I want to look at this from a somewhat different point of view and change the question just slightly and ask: What if Jesus Prayed like you?

What if He prayed for you the way you pray for other people? What if His prayer was like your prayers? God bless John. God be with Sue. God watch over Jimmy, Amen. What if that was how Jesus prayed?

I know that I’m asking a hypothetical question that can never be true, but isn’t it worth pondering? If Jesus prayed like us, how do you think that would affect our lives?

The fact is, we don’t want Jesus to pray like us and we hope that He doesn’t. We want Him to pray with intensity, with passion, and with urgency. We want Him to sweat those drops of blood for us, if necessary.

We want Him to spend hours, not minutes, praying for us. And we don’t want Him to quit. Because we believe that His prayers are effective. They get results.

If that is how we want Jesus to pray, then isn’t that how we should pray? Why should we expect anything more of Jesus than we expect of ourselves?

That brings us back to our original question: What if You Prayed Like Jesus?

This is where the story of Elijah on Mt Carmel comes into play. The Bible says that even though Elijah was just like us, never-the-less, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain (James 5:17-18).

Did you get how he prayed? He prayed earnestly. He prayed like Jesus and he got results. And we are assured in that passage that the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much (with God). The intense, passionate prayers of godly people have power with God!

Praying like Jesus (and Elijah) gets results!

When we fail to pray like Jesus, we cheat ourselves of seeing God work in marvelous and powerful ways.

Don’t cheat yourself or those you are praying for with anemic, powerless prayers.

Pray like Jesus.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve