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

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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

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

What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?

Former presidents, current leaders and lawmakers and former political adversaries remembered George H.W. Bush as the president who guided America through the end of the Cold War, while dedicating his life to serving his country and doing so with remarkable kindness and class.

So read an article with the headline, Bush remembered by presidential peers, family. You can read the entire article here.

By all accounts, former president George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, was a good and decent man. He is remembered that way by both his friends and political foes.

It’s a nice way to be remembered – as a man with remarkable kindness and class.

Far too few people in today’s world, especially in the line of work that he was in, will be remembered that way. Or even close to that.

So, how will you be remembered? What will they say about you when you are gone?

I can already hear some of you saying, I don’t care, I won’t be around to hear what they say.

That’s true enough. But your spouse will be; and your children will be; and your grandchildren will be; and people who love you will be. And they would like to hear good things about you.

If you can’t be a man or woman of remarkable kindness and class for yourself – do it for them.

And for Christians the reputation you leave behind is even more important. It will not only reflect on your family and friends, it will reflect on your church and more importantly on your Savior.

If you can’t be a man or woman of remarkable kindness and class for yourself – do it for Him.

The Apostle Peter put it this way: Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 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 (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Have your conduct honorable. Other translations put it like this:

  • Always let others see you behaving properly (CEV)
  • Keep your behavior excellent (AMP)
  • Live such good lives (NIV)

The point is that of all people, Christians, when they die (and we all will), should be remembered as good, decent, kind people.

So, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?

It’s not too late to change the perception.

Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 6:15).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve