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

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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

Is God Unloving or Just Too Weak?

I read an online article this morning as I waited for the bank to open. The title was Where is God for the Suffering, Starving, and Freezing? Besides being a great, attention-getting title, it’s a great question. You can read the article here.

It’s also an age-old question that’s probably been around since the dawn of time. We want to know where God is in the face of evil. The typical question goes something like this: If God is a god of love then why do people suffer? The oft drawn conclusion is that either God is not a god of love or He is not an all-powerful (omnipotent) god. He just can’t do anything about evil.

But are those the only two conclusions?

In fact, are we even looking in the right place?

Certainly, God is a god of love. The sacrifice of His beloved Son is all of the evidence that we need of His love.

Certainly, He is all-powerful. The miracles of Jesus, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead are all evidences of His power.

To ignore the sacrifice or the miracles of Jesus is to rewrite history in our own image.

So where should we look for answers when it comes to people who are suffering, starving and freezing?

We need to begin with sin. It was the voluntary sin of our first parents that introduced evil into the human equation. There are theological explanations as to how that sin got down to us but let’s just say that had any of us been in Eve’s place we would have done exactly as she did. Don’t flatter yourself to think otherwise.

Suffering, starving and freezing are the result of sin, not of God’s lack of love or any perceived weakness on His part.

Let’s not blame God for the ravages of sin.

Sure, God could heal the suffering, feed the starving and provide for the freezing – and He did (see Matthew 8:1-15 for healing the suffering, Matthew 14:13-21 for feeding the starving, and Mark 5:25-34 for providing for someone).

But Jesus didn’t heal every leper or give sight to every blind person or feed every starving child.

Why?

We don’t know why He met some needs and didn’t meet others. And we don’t know why God does what He does today. Some He heals, some He doesn’t. Some He feeds, some He doesn’t. Some He provides for, some He doesn’t. (Maybe He’s waiting for you and me to be the answer that He uses to meet their suffering!).

Just because we don’t understand the reasons for the actions of an omniscient, omnipotent God don’t mean that there aren’t any.

Those answers lay in the infinite wisdom of God.

But to accuse God of being unloving or impotent in the face of evil is to ignore the question of sin and to assign blame where it does not belong.

God is neither unloving nor weak.

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

Evil Will Be No More

There are certain place names that have been seared into our collective consciousness. Names we will never forget. Names that provoke instant, dark images in our minds.

Auschwitz, The Gulag, Chernobyl, Sandy Hook, Shanksville.

Add one more name: Tree of Life Synagogue.

You don’t have to be Jewish to be nauseated by what happened this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, PA. Innocent people killed simply because of their nationality and faith.

We forget how strong hate is.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing against the backdrop of the Civil War reminds us of the power of hate in his poem Christmas Bells, later made into the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. (I especially like this dramatized version of the song that you can listen to here.)

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

If we stop to only look at the evil in our world this will be the verse we sing – over and over again.

But there’s more than just the power of evil in this world. And that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus came to defeat the powers of evil and in a strange twist of events did just that – not at Bethlehem but at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-15).

Longfellow seemed to understand that. He concluded his poem with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

No God is not asleep. He knows what is going on in our world. He knows the evil. He knows the hurting. And someday, in His time, The Right will prevail.

We have that to look forward to. Not because Longfellow said it, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said it.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days . . .

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

(Isaiah 2:2, 4)

Someday the Messiah will come and The Righteous One will sit on the Throne of David and there will be peace (Isaiah 9:7).

And that Righteous One will make sure that Evil will be no more.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

We Can Be So Unlike Christ

It was the followers of Christ in the city of Antioch who were first labeled Christians (Acts 11:26). It wasn’t a name that they took for themselves – it was given to them, and we’re not even sure if it was in respect or in derision. I suspect the latter.

However it happened, people who follow Jesus have been called by that name since those early days of our faith. Today we wear it with justifiable pride. We belong to Christ. We follow Christ. We live for Christ. At least that is the goal.

Whatever Christians do – we are to reflect Christ.

That’s what’s so distressing in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. By a 7-2 decision, the court found that Christian businessman and bakery owner, Jack Phillips could not be forced to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. It was an act that went against his religious convictions.

While I’m happy for Mr. Phillips and personally agree with the court’s decision, the reaction of some Christians has been less than Christ-like. And for that I am ashamed.

According to news reports A Tennessee hardware store owner is celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding by placing a “No Gays Allowed” sign in front of his store. 

The article goes on to quote owner Jeff Amyx, as saying “Christianity is under attack,” “This is a great win, don’t get me wrong, but this is not the end, this is just the beginning. Right now, we’re seeing a ray of sunshine. This is ‘happy days’ for Christians all over America, but dark days will come.”

You can read the entire article here.

Jeff Amyx doesn’t have to wait – dark days are already here and it’s not just because of sin. It’s because Christians are not bringing the light into the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16).

In what universe does a sign, rejecting the very people who need the light of the gospel the most (Mark 2:17), reflect Christ?

I can’t imagine Jesus posting the same sign in the window of his carpenter shop in Nazareth.

Where did Christians ever get the idea that it’s better to alienate people than to love them?

We certainly didn’t get if from Jesus (Mark 2:13-16, Luke 7:36-39). In fact, Jesus gave us a compelling example of how we are to relate to sinful people. While not endorsing their sin, neither did he avoid (or insult) them.

His purpose was not to keep them out of his store. His purpose was to get them into his heavenly home.

It seems to me that you can’t do both at the same time.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Loving God More

Loving God is an interesting thing. Many Christians think that they love God simply because they say that they love God. But loving God surely has to be more than just an affirmation. It’s too easy just to say it.

I can say that I love someone without it really being true.

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the commandments in the Bible, He said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). He identified this as the first (in priority) and greatest of all of the commandments that God has given us.

We are to love God with every fiber of our being. Loving God is of no little importance.

But how to do it is the issue.

How can we love God more?

This morning I read this passage which sheds some light on the subject. Jesus said: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

Loving God begins with understanding just how much we have been forgiven. Without a proper understanding of our indebtedness we will never love Him the way we should.

The event that led up His statement was a dinner to which Jesus had been invited. During the meal a woman who possessed a less than stellar reputation came into the room and began to act rather strangely.

A brief explanation will help us understand the situation. When guests visited a home they would be greeted with a kiss on the check similar to the custom of some cultures today.

Then because of the hot climate some provision would be made to have the dusty feet of the guests washed before they reclined on low-lying cushioned “couches” or mats arranged around a central table. Depending on the exact arrangement of the mats, it was possible for the feet of another guest to be a little too close to your nose. Not a pleasant thought if their feet had not been washed.

Apparently the normal customs were not provided at this particular dinner.

Back to the woman and her strange behavior. The story says that she began to wash and dry the feet of Jesus. Nothing too strange at this point – these were accepted norms in the culture. It would not have been unusual for the other guests, if they were not paying close attention, to assume that she was one of the house servants.

But she went beyond what was expected and began to kiss his feet and to anoint them with a fragrant oil. Definitely not normal behavior.

If the other guests, however, were paying attention they would have noticed something unusual in the demeanor of the woman. She was in deep anguish of soul. The text says that she stood at His feet behind Him weeping: and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hair of her head (Matthew 7:38). Definitely not normal behavior.

That brings us to the question: What produced this unusual action?

The clue is in the words of Jesus: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

This woman was not just a sinner – she was a sinner who had been forgiven. And she understood the magnitude of her forgiveness. She understood that she had sinned greatly and that God had forgiven her greatly. This was no little thing to her.

Her love for Jesus sprang out of her understanding of her forgiveness.

The same will be true in our lives. When we understand our forgiveness it will lead us to not only say that we love God, but to demonstrate our love the way this woman demonstrated her love.

Those who understand just how much they have been forgiven by God will be the ones who Love God More and it will be reflected in their behavior.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve