Live in the Spotlight

All of the talk out of Washington, D.C. seems to be about impeachment hearings. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s a serious time in our country. It must be hard to live under the ever-present eye of the public.

I can think of a lot of things that I would rather go through than to have my every word and action scrutinized in the public venue. Not too many people could survive that kind of examination unscathed. I wonder if any of our congresspeople who are investigating the president could go through such an ordeal and come out untouched at the other end. I somehow doubt it.

I know I couldn’t, and I suspect that there are few, if any, who could.

But as Christians, that’s where we live.

Consider two passages:

1 Peter 2:12

Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Titus 2:7-8

In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

We are to live in such a way that no one can legitimately say anything evil about us.  Our goodness (godliness) is to be so evident that when people look at our lives, what they see is so overwhelmingly good that even if they want to condemn us it will be difficult for them to find something to say.

Combined with Matthew 5:14 (you are the light of the world), the implication is that rather than shun the spotlight, we are to put ourselves in the spotlight so that people can see Jesus. We are to embrace the spotlight.

Politicians may not come out smelling so good when their lives are examined, but we should.

If the president, or any other public official is held to a high standard, we are to hold ourselves to an even higher one.

Our standard is not a constitution or law or ethical guideline. Our standard is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:26) and we are to live in such a way that we adorn the doctrine of God our savior in all things (Titus 2:10).

An interesting question might be: If my spiritual life was examined would I be impeached?

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Finish Well

Today is a special day for one member of our church – today a dear lady named Ruth celebrated her 90th birthday!

Several years ago I decided that anyone in our church who reached their 90th birthday deserved a party, so we have a celebration after the church service complete with balloons, streamers and cake. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that for Ruth. For several years she has been in an assisted care facility and while she can move around independently, she’s not strong enough to attend church. So, we took a bundle of birthday cards to her from people in our church. She was so appreciative.

We all have special days – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations etc. Days that mark special events or that remind us of specific times of life.

When you visit with Ruth, she will often remark that she is ready to move on. She knows there are more days behind her than she has in front of her. I really believe that she is longing for and looking forward to heaven.

As I visited with Ruth today the thought came to me, she’s finishing well! Ruth is just a simple lady from a Pennsylvania Dutch background. Most people, unless they are part of her small group of friends, don’t know Ruth. They’ve never heard of her. But God isn’t going to evaluate Ruth’s life by how many people knew her – he’s going to weigh her life by her faithfulness to Him. And by that standard I think Ruth will rank high.

Life isn’t about the fame or the accolades, it’s about faithfulness. And faithfulness is about finishing well. Ruth, even with her physical problems is finishing well.

The Apostle Paul was concerned about finishing life well. As the end of his life loomed before him he wrote to Timothy, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Paul was faithful to the end.

That’s really all that God wants from any of us. Simply to complete the race. To finish life well.

Life hasn’t been easy for Ruth. It’s not easy for most people. But you can still finish well. Don’t let the problems of life determine how you live your life or how you finish life.

Be faithful. Keep the faith. Finish well. Be like Ruth.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Hope is the Answer

Hope is an elusive thing. In different ways, we have all pinned some aspect of our lives on hope. We hope for a promotion at work; for good weather this weekend; for our team to win; for better health; for our lottery ticket to have the winning number; for love and understanding; for safety and security and a thousand other things. Hope is a critical part of life, yet we don’t often understand just how important a role it plays. We can’t live without hope.

Here’s what many people fail to understand: Hope is only as good as the object in which you place your hope. You can hope for a promotion at work but what if your boss doesn’t like you? You can hope for good weather this weekend, but what if the forecast is for rain? You can hope for your team to win but what if they just stink? You can hope to win the lottery, but your chances are one in millions. You can hope for love and understanding but what if your friends are just nasty people? You can hope for safety and security but what if there is no reliable security structure where you live?

The object in which you place your hope is everything.

I just returned from a Third World country where life seems so hopeless for most people. As I discussed the hopeless plight of the people with a friend, he responded that the average person lives their life in hope – hope that someone will come to help them. For some their hope is in their government. For others it’s in an NGO, or relatives and friends in another country, or hitting the lottery (yes, even in drastically poor countries they spend their money on the lottery).

They were hopeless but living in hope.

They just want someone – anyone to help them. Meanwhile they live lives of quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) desperation. Unfortunately for most of the people the object of their hope has failed them.

And that’s where the Christian faith comes alive. We can offer them real Hope.

Not always hope for more food or better living conditions (although we could do more, and in fact have an obligation to help in these areas) but Hope for peace today and a future with God where every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4).

The Christian faith is sometimes criticized as offering an unrealistic hope because it doesn’t immediately change the present circumstances.

But hope always has a future aspect – we hope that the future will be different than the present. And the future, whether near or far is in God’s hands.

The truth is that the Christian life is all about Hope.

We were saved in Hope (Rom 8:24)

We are to cover ourselves in Hope (1 Thess 5:8).

The coming of Jesus is our Hope (Titus 2:13).

We have hope for an eternity with God (1 Cor 15:19, Titus 1:2).

We are to hang onto our Hope to the very end of life (Heb 3:6, 6:11).

Our Hope is based on the faithfulness of God (Heb 10:23).

Our Hope is alive because of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3).

It’s not just hope in this life as the Apostle Paul makes clear (1 Cor 15:19), it’s hope for this life and for eternity.

Hope is the answer for the human dilemma. And that’s what we have to offer.

Hope. Real, life-changing, eternal hope.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

So You Think You’re in Charge?!

In our Adult Bible Fellowship at church we’re studying the book of Proverbs. As part of our study we’re encouraging everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs a day for the four months that we’ll be in this study. 31 chapters in 30 or 31 days. By the end of the study they will have read through Proverbs four times. That’s a good way to imprint the truths  of God’s Word on our minds.

Today was Proverbs 16 (September 16 – get it?).

One of the things that jumped out at me this morning was just how much God is involved in our lives – even when we think we’re in Charge.

Three verses in particular from this chapter emphasize just how much God is involved in our lives.

Proverbs 16:1 – The preparations of the heart belong to man but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

If there is one thing these verses teach it is that God is ultimately sovereign over the affairs of our lives.

We can make preparations, plan our way and even make decisions the old fashion way by casting lots, but God is in control.

We don’t understand how it all works but somehow God takes even our worst decisions, our messed up plans and our flip of the coin and uses them for His good.

That doesn’t excuse us from making good plans, but it does encourage us that even when we make plans that are not the best plans, it won’t frustrate God. He is bigger than any of our plans.

At least four times the writer of Psalms declares the Lord reigns, affirming the fact that God is sovereign (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1). And in the final book of the Bible, the Apostle John quotes a great multitude in heaven who declare Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6).

It was that truth that George Fredrick Handel picked up and used in the Hallelujah Chorus as the focus of his soul-stirring masterpiece, that we know as Handel’s Messiah. You can listen to the Royal Chorus Society sing it here.

Some people are put off by the teaching that God is sovereign. I find it a comfort for several reasons.

-If the outcome of my life depends on my decisions rather than on God’s sovereignty it’s going to end badly – very badly.

-The truth that God is in control gives me infinitely more comfort than knowing that I’m cast onto the whims of fate, my own plans or someone else’s decisions.

-Because God is good (see Luke 18:19), I know that His control of my life will be good. I can’t even trust my own control to always be good.

-Since God knows the beginning from the end, He knows what is best for me. I don’t.

For these and many more reasons I can rest quietly in the sovereignty of God.

Rather than see God’s sovereignty as a restriction in life, see it as a benefit. Something that helps you do life God’s way.

You might think that you are in charge of your life, but thankfully you’re not. Someone much wiser, more powerful, and infinitely more loving is in control.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Grace for the Race

I read this statement recently: Grace for the Race.

Forrest Gump was right, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get until you take one and bite into it. But the imagery differs from reality. With a box of chocolates you always get something sweet. With life you sometimes get something bitter. Mixed in with the sweet chocolates are bitter pills of anxiety, illness, suffering, and disappointment.

But for the Christian there is Grace for the Race. That’s exactly what we need and it’s freely given.

In our staff prayer time at SVBC we pray for the people in our church – those who aren’t able to attend as often as they use to because of age or health; those who are going through difficult health issues; those who are struggling spiritually; those who are facing trials that we don’t know about because they have not shared them; those who are involved in ministries; and of course everyone else.

What all of these people need is Grace for the Race.

Two passages came to mind as I read that statement. The first was from the writings of the Apostle John who wrote: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace (John 1:16). Another way of translating that last phrase is grace on top of grace.

The idea is that God’s grace cannot be exhausted.

F. F. Bruce, in his commentary compares God’s grace to the waves of the ocean, one wave on top of another. One wave replacing another. He writes There is no limit to the supply of grace which God has placed at His people’s disposal in Christ.

Which means that you will always have Grace for the Race. It will always be there for you.

The other passage was from the pen of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote: My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In the context Paul asking God to take away what he called his thorn in the flesh. But God didn’t remove it as Paul asked (even the Apostle Paul didn’t have all of his prayers answered the way he wanted them to be answered.).

When you think of all of the trials that Paul went through in his Christian experience – beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, stonings etc. (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), this was the only one he asked God to remove. His thorn in the flesh was especially difficult.

Why would God refuse to remove it?

Because He had something even better for Paul. It’s called Grace.

What Paul needed more than relief from suffering was Grace for the Race.

That’s what we need most days – but we don’t know it. Thankfully God does.

He knows that His grace is enough for our trials.

Take those two thoughts with you today – God’s grace is always available, and God’s grace is enough. Let them sustain you, support you, nourish you. Don’t look for grace for tomorrow. Ask God for enough grace to get you through today with all of its trials, hardships, and problems of.

Ask Him for Grace for the Race.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The World We Live In

Anyone born before 1970 probably has a good idea of just how much our society has changed in the past sixty years. Before 1960 illegal immigration was a minor issue confined to a few specific states. Drugs were something that only happened in a couple of major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of the population disapproved of same sex relationships. Terrorism only happened in some remote corners of the world.

Sometime around 1960 that all began to change.

I don’t want to paint too idyllic a picture of the pre-60’s world. While many of the issues that we face today were either not present or existed only in an embryonic stage, there were plenty of ugly and sinful things about our society. Racism was rampant (if you think it’s bad now, it was worse then), Christianity was the proverbial lukewarm (Revelation 3:15f) in many churches, abuse, particularly in families, in all it’s ugly forms was normally swept under the rug, and sexual immorality, especially among Christians was too easily ignored.

No, life before 1960 was no Shangri-La and it was only Father Knows Best on our television sets.

That said, it’s true that we are living in a very different world today. We are dealing with issues that only the most perceptive people understood were potentialities.

Which makes me wonder what our world will look like in another sixty years? What issues will our children or grandchildren have to deal with?

And even more importantly, how can we prepare them for what we don’t know?

That’s where the unchanging Word of God comes into play.

We need to teach future generations of Christians the timeless truths and principles from God’s Word to guide their thoughts and actions. Issues have changed throughout history and they will continue to change. Future generations of Christians will have to deal with things that we can’t even begin to imagine today. And that’s the beauty of having something that never changes. Every generation can examine the issues they face against the same standard that every preceding generation used – God’s Word.

God told Israel, I am the Lord God – I don’t change (Malachi 3:6, see also James 1:17). Because God is eternal and does not change, what He says in His Word is also eternal and unchanging.  That’s why the Apostle Peter can write to his generation that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us (2 Peter 1:3) and we can still hold onto its truth in every succeeding generation.

While the world around us changes, every generation of Christians can judge the issues they face by the timeless teachings of God’s Word and be confident that they can handle whatever comes their way.

I remember when my daughters worked as bank tellers during their college years. The bank didn’t teach them what counterfeit bills looked or felt like – there were too many potential varieties. Instead they taught them what legitimate bills looked and felt like so that when a counterfeit bill came their way they would know something was not right.

That’s what we need to do with the Word of God. Teach truth so that when error comes along, we’ll know that something is not right.

It’s not the issues that we should be focused on, it’s the Word of God.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Pray for Them

The post this morning on our church Facebook site said, Praying for your friends is so important. Sometimes they fight battles they never talk to you about. Cover your friends in prayer.

So true. We need to pray for our friends. We have no idea what they are going through.

But it goes beyond our friends.

What about the person who sat across the aisle from you at church – you know the one, you know their name but that’s about all?

What about the person at work today that you rarely speak too? Maybe you’re just too busy.

What about the teller at the bank, the clerk at the store, the neighbor down the street?

It’s important to pray for them even though they don’t fall into the category of friend. They are all fighting battles that you’ll never know about. That’s the nature of life. And they all need your prayers, whether they talk to you about their problems or not.

James (5:16) says pray for each other. Yes, James is talking about Christians praying for other Christians, and that’s something we need to do. The Apostle Paul was a great one to pray for other Christians (Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:4 etc.) and he talked about being helped by their prayers for him (2 Corinthians 1:11). But we need to cast our nets much wider than that. We need to do more than pray just our friends.

We need to do more than limit our prayers to those in the family of God. We need to pray for our classmates, the people at work, the people in our neighborhoods, the people in the PTA, etc. We need to pray for people we know and for people that we barely know or don’t know at all.

Jesus even taught us to pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). That puts prayer into the category of don’t leave anyone out.

The truth is – we all need prayer. All of us. And we all need to pray for other people.

You will probably never know the impact your prayers will make in the lives of other people as you faithfully pray for them.

So, Pray. Pray for your friends. Pray for people you know. Pray for people you don’t know.

Pray when you see results. Pray when you don’t see results.

Pray when you know the problems people are going through. Pray when you don’t have any idea of the problems they are going through.

What you know isn’t the determining issue for whether or not you pray or for whom you pray.

You have been invited into the presence of the King of Kings, the Eternal God, the Creator, the Everlasting One, the Glorious All-mighty God and you get to talk to Him about anything or anyone. And He will listen.

Don’t waste the opportunity talking about trivial things. Pray for someone, even if you don’t know the battles that they are fighting.

Just Pray.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve