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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And Life Goes On

Most problems/hardships that those of us in the Western world struggle with on a daily basis are really not that important. Not to those of us living far from the squalid slums of Mexico City, the oppressive poverty of the Congo, the ravages of war, or the hundreds of thousands of hopeless children that roam the streets of the major cities of the world.

If we can put those pesky, unpleasant images out of our minds – we live well. Nothing much to worry about.

And life goes on.

I’m not disparaging people who are struggling with legitimate and life crushing issues. But that’s not most of us. Most of us are just fine. We have a roof over our heads, food on our tables, and money to pay the bills. We live in the land of the 3 S’s: Security, Satisfaction and Surplus.

Yet we live so much of our lives uptight about the little things. The things that are not that consequential in the grander scheme.

Think about the last thing that made you uptight. Was it really that important? Probably not. No matter which way it went, life would probably go on. You’d still have a warm bed to sleep in, more than enough food to eat, more clothes in your closet than some third world villages combined, and people who still loved you.

That’s more than most people in the world have.

The reason that we in the prosperous West get so uptight about the little things is because we’ve made life all about us. In our minds a good life is dependent on two things – our comfort and our enjoyment.

And what we’ve forgotten is the transient nature of life.

The Bible addresses this issue in several places, like James chapter 4.

You should know better than to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!” What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears (James 4:13-14).

 In the eternal scheme your life isn’t even a blimp on the radar screen. It’s a puff of smoke – here one moment and gone the next.

There has to be something more than our comfort and enjoyment that gives meaning and significance to our lives.

And there is.

James goes on to say, You should say, “If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things.”  (James 4:15).

What James recognizes is the importance of bringing God into the decisions of our lives. We do what we do dependent on Him.

In reality life is about Him. He is the focal point of life. He is what gives life meaning and significance.

Acting as if we are autonomous and there is nothing greater than us is what leads us to place so much significance on the insignificant things of life. When we eliminate the most significant (God) we will elevate the less significant to heights far above what they deserve.

It’s in keeping God in His rightful place that we will find balance in life. When He is the focal point everything else will fall into its proper place.

Jesus put it this way: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

That’s keeping God in the right place. It will also keep the problems/hardships of life where they belong.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Learn to Let Go

One of the problems that we as Christians experience in life is not being able to let go of situations that cause anxiety, stress, pain and even anger. It often seems that we are incapable of simply letting them go.

We pray about them and we ask God to remove them (that’s good), but for some unknown, divine reason He doesn’t. And since we cannot know the mind of God, we wrongly assume that He doesn’t care. You’ll have to take this one on faith – He cares, even when we think He doesn’t.

I wonder if we put too much on God. Not too much in the sense that He can’t handle it, but too much in the sense that we can and should handle it.

Not everything requires God’s intervention.

Sometimes we just need to let it go. Not always – but sometimes. The wisdom comes in knowing when it’s right to let something go.

I think the Apostle Paul indirectly touches on this issue in Romans chapter 12. That’s the passage that famously says things like, Repay no one evil for evil. And Do not avenge yourselves. And Heap coals of fire on his head.

The reason behind these statements is because revenge belongs to God (vs 19). When we step into territory that belongs to God, we’ve stepped over the boundary.

So what are we to do while we’re waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do?

There are several things. Naturally we should pray. We should spend more time with God so He can change us. We should try to learn what we can about God, sin, ourselves, forgiveness etc. because God is always teaching us.

But we should also learn to let go. Just. Let. It. Go.

Responding to some things in life is God’s prerogative, not ours (vs 19).

Let go of what’s not yours.

Let go of what you can’t change.

Let go of whatever is toxic in your life.

At the same time let go of your anger (Col 3:8). Let go of your bitterness (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15). Let go of your desire to get even (Rom 12:18). Let go of anything that does not promote godliness in your life (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

You’ve probably heard the expression Let go and let God. It’s an expression that is easy to misuse. But it applies here. In fact it’s exactly what Paul is advocating for in Romans 12. Let go of what is not your right. Let go of what you can’t change. Let go and let God be God.

It’s not easy to do. You will have to learn how to do it. And that means learning to control your mind and thoughts. The mind is a hard thing to control. It wants to control us.

But the key to letting go is controlling it. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:6 that we are to bring every though into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

In the context of that passage he was referring to ungodly philosophies that exalt themselves above God. But the principle is still there – that every though is to be made captive to Christ. That includes our thoughts.

When we learn to control our minds and thoughts we will find that it’s possible to let go and trust our problems to God (Prov 3:5-5).

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

Life is Hard

Sometimes when I look out over my congregation of really great people I can’t help but wonder how they’re making it. In fact I marvel that they’re making it.

One of the privileges, and at the same time burdens, of being a pastor is that you know things about people. They tell you things. You know their hardships. You know who’s crying on the inside.

That one is unemployed. Another one over there is too. Over there is a wife that just left her husband of 50 years in the Alzheimer Unit. There and there and there are people dealing with life-changing health issues. People struggling with their marriages – and divorce. Families are crying out to God for their prodigals. On that side a mother who just buried her son. Behind her a husband sitting alone because his dear wife is struggling with depression. Every month the family in the back drives two hours to visit a son in the state prison – they’ll do it for at least 10 years. Several more struggling with various kinds of cancer. Old age is slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, creeping up on our seniors. Broken relationships. Too many bills and not enough money. Sick children.

I’m not making this stuff up.

There’s more. A lot more.

I marvel at these people.

But life is Hard. It is for everyone. Not to the same extent. Not in the same way. But Hard.

The trap that we have to avoid is thinking that we have it hard while other people have it easy. That leads to questioning and even doubting God. Why should I suffer while other people enjoy the good life?

The reality isn’t that some people have an easy life and others have a hard life. The reality is that some people have learned how to handle the hard life without letting it destroy them while others are still searching.

If you’re still trying to figure it out here are 3 things to remember.

Even when life is hard, God still loves you. Don’t gauge His love by the relative ease of your life. He loves you just as much in the Hard Times. Maybe more (if that’s even possible).

Someone else is suffering more than you. I know that sounds like a lousy reason to look up, but it’s still true. The writer of Hebrews used this argument in Hebrews 12 when he said that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus who suffered death. Not keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to discouragement. Then he blasts us with this: You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin (vs 4). His point: Jesus suffered more than you so don’t give up yet.

You might have it bad but there are plenty of people in the world who are hungrier, who are hurting more, who have been beaten and raped and tortured. Keep it all in perspective. Don’t lose heart. It’s just a light affliction.

Not my words. Paul’s (you need to read this. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t you hate it when he’s right!

You’ll make it. We’ll all make it. You might arrive bruised and bleeding, but you’ll make it. God will see to that.

It might not be clear to you now but He’s got your life under control and He’s leading you even in the darkness. Sometimes on the mountain. Sometimes through the valley. But He knows the way and You’ll. Make. It.

He’s never lost anyone yet.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s Not About What You Want, It’s About What (God Knows) You Need

Life is not easy. We go through a thousand trials and wonder when we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think of people that God has placed in my sphere of ministry and the pain that they are going through – serious health issues, financial problems, loss of a loved one, family issues etc. etc. You probably have people in your circle facing the same things. You might be.

If that is your story – you’re not alone. How many times did the writers of the Psalms cry out, Hear me when I call, O God (Ps 4:1); God, deliver me! (Ps 70:1); God, don’t be far from me! (Ps 71:12). We can all identify with those sentiments. We’ve been there. And when we’re in that situation and we’ve cried out to God but nothing has changed – we wonder why God doesn’t help us. Is he ignoring us? Doesn’t He care?

Several years ago my daughter, a young mother, shared some of the Biblical truths that she had been learning from the Word of God.

I want to share some of it with you. She’s right on target.

If you are going through hard times, I hope this ministers to you in an encouraging, healing way.

“After church last night, I was up thinking. We’ve been studying the prophets, many of whom were quite dramatic. Several, maybe more than I realize, came to a point in life where they begged God to let them die rather than face their circumstances, and the pastor was talking about how God met their needs by not giving them what they were asking for. It’s something I’ve heard before…God gives us exactly what we need. Sometimes, it seems like a trite statement and not very encouraging. Especially when what I am so convinced I need isn’t happening, and I think if God is so loving why isn’t He moving, doing, fixing, revealing Himself? Last night, I realized that statement – God gives us exactly what we need – isn’t such a small thing to say. As a parent, I am often begged, pleaded with, cried out to, asked by my kids for something that they are CONVINCED they NEED. And I know that they don’t need it, and in fact, it is not in their best interests to give it to them. Yet, I’m tired out – tired of saying No one more time, tired of the tears when they don’t get what they think they need, tired of being the unpopular mom, so I give in. I just want to see them smile, squeal with joy, hug me…even when I know that is short lived. I end up giving them what is not best for them. I imagine God in the same situation with me, yet He continues to say No to me and bears my tears, complaints, even anger and doubt because He knows that what I am asking Him for (even though I believe it to be the best thing) is not the best thing, is not what is needed.”

There’s a song by Laura Story (you can listen to it here). Part of it says:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

I want to encourage you to take another look at your trials. To submit your trials to a loving God. To look at your trials differently. He’s working in your life. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need. And He knows what you need.

What if the trials in this life really ARE His mercies in disguise? What would you miss if you chose to avoid them?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Splashed with Someone Else’s Sin

In my personal Bible reading I’m working my way through the book of Isaiah and I’ve come to chapters 7 & 8 where, hidden among the words of judgment, I found an important lesson.

The background for this section of Isaiah was the invasion of the southern kingdom, Judah, by the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom, Israel. The central issue was, would Judah trust God to protect them or would they search for a protector among the pagan nations of the world, in this case Assyria? The prophetic message of Isaiah was for the nation to trust in God and not in the strength of human armies. He was all that they would need. But as the story played itself out Judah was blinded by its own sin and chose a human protector over a divine protector.

What caught my attention was the tension that runs through the passage between the godly and the ungodly people in Judah. God was going to bring His judgment on the ungodly for their sin but at the same time the godly people in Judah would be caught up in that judgment. Through no fault of their own, they would suffer the same punishment as everyone else. The prophet clearly predicted (vs 17) that God would hide His face from Judah (withhold His blessing) because they chose to trust in the King of Assyria to deliver them instead of trusting in God. But the nation was composed of both godly people (the minority) and ungodly people (the majority) and when He withheld His blessing because of the actions of the ungodly, the godly in Judah would pay the same price.

That offends our sense of fairness. Certainly, if God was fair, He would reserve His judgment for those who did the sinning. But sometimes innocent people get caught in the sin of the world and suffer along with everyone else. That’s true when a nation sins and it can be true when individuals sin. Sin rarely, if ever, affects only the sinner. Innocent people get splashed with the mud of someone else’s sin all of the time.

The question for us is not Why should I pay when someone else sins? but How should I respond when I am not the guilty party? Isaiah tells us. In the same breath that he pronounced God’s judgment he said: I will wait on the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him (Vs 17). There’s the answer: wait and hope. In the case of Isaiah, wait for the time that God would deliver the nation and hope (trust) in His goodness. For you and me it’s wait for the time when God will make all things right (maybe now, maybe later) and trust that He does everything right even though we don’t understand it.

And that’s where we so often get hung up. We can wait for God when everything is going great, or when we can understand what’s going on. But wait for Him when the situation we are going through seems so unfair to us?

We can trust God when there’s really little that we actually need to trust Him for (after all we only need to trust when there’s trouble – which isn’t all of the time. I know we always need to trust Him but you get the point). But trust Him when we suffer because of what someone else did?

That’s exactly what God wants. He wants us to wait for His timing – after all His timing will always prove to be better than our timing. And He wants us to simply trust Him, even when it’s not our fault, because He knows what is best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve