Trusting Bravely in The Darkness

One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is trust. Although we often use the words faith and trust as synonyms, there is actually a difference. As one writer said, trusting is what we do because of the faith we have been given.

We begin the Christian life by trusting in the death of Jesus to save us. And we grow in the Christian faith as we learn to trust God in the various times of life.

In Joshua 1:9, God said to Joshua, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. He was saying, trust Me whatever life throws at you.

The Bible has a lot to say about trust, especially in the Psalms. Just a few examples include Psalm 9:10, Those who know your name trust in you; Psalm 13:5, I trust in your unfailing love; Psalm 20:7, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God; and Psalm 37:3, Trust in the Lord and do good.

The classic passage on the subject is Proverbs 3:5-6 which stresses just how important the issue of trust is. Trust in the Lord with all your heart (all that you are), and don’t lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

God wants us to trust Him all of the time for everything in life. Even in the hard times.

The thing about trust is that you really don’t know the strength of your trust until your trust is tested. It is in the trials of life that the depth of trust is revealed. It is in the darkness that we really learn just how much we trust. What is assumed in the light is often exposed in the darkness.

And that’s why God sometimes puts us in difficult circumstances. Trust demands trials. Without them we really don’t know anything about the strength of our trust.

David McCullough in his excellent biography about the early life of President Theodore Roosevelt, Mornings on Horseback, relates what was undoubtedly the darkest day of Roosevelt’s life.

Roosevelt had always had a close relationship with his mother, which only deepened after the death of his father. In October of 1880 he married Alice Lee, the love of his life and the only other woman to whom he gave his love (until a second marriage some years later). These two women, his mother and his wife, were the lights of his life and he could not have been happier.

Until a fateful day in 1884 when tragedy struck. His mother was the first to die of typhoid fever. Alice died eleven hours later in the same house of a kidney disease after giving birth to their only child.

Contemplating the death of his wife some months later he wrote, When my heart’s dearest died, the light went out from my life forever. It was a dark place.

One of Roosevelt’s contemporaries prayed that God would give Roosevelt strength to work bravely in the darkness.

I would like to make a small change to his prayer and pray for you and for me, that when we are in that dark place, that place where we don’t understand what God is doing, when we can’t explain His plan, that He will give us strength to trust Him bravely in the darkness.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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Responding to the Face of Evil

Blacksburg, Virginia (2007) – 32 & 17
Fort Hood, Texas (2009) – 13 & 32
Aurora, Colorado – (2012) – 12 & 58
New Town, Connecticut (2012) – 27 & 1
San Bernardino, California (2015) – 14 & 21

These are not all of the mass killings in the past ten years but they are enough.

And now we can add Orlando, Florida to the list – 50 & 53. Fifty killed, 53 injured.

There are so many unanswered questions. Why? Why now? Why here? How do we move on? How can we stop the killings?

One question that we need to ask from a Christian perspective is How should we respond to the face of evil?

Is it enough to build a higher fence? To limit immigration? To pass stricter laws?

Probably not.

But those questions miss the most essential point. God has already told us how we are to respond.

Before I get to that, there is another important thing that God has told us that plays into all of this.

He told us to expect it. Perhaps not mass shootings exactly, but evil. We should expect evil to happen in all of its ugliness and in many twisted forms.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1). The Apostle describes the perilous times as men without self-control, those who are brutal and despise the good and those who have a form of religion but don’t know Christ.

So how should we respond to this kind of evil? Again the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. . . do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

I bet you didn’t see that coming! You may not even like it. But it’s there, right in the Bible.

Some take-a-ways from this passage:

1) We are to do everything we can to live in peace with all men. Even those who attack us.

2) Responses to evil are to be left up to God. Any attempt on our part to get even comes out of a place of wrath and anger – which comes from the pit of hell.

3) We are to treat the enemy in ways that are counterintuitive and run totally against our natural inclinations.

4) The winning formula is to overcome evil with good.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we should stop making good laws. Or that we don’t need police security. Or that we should never protect ourselves and our families.

But what God wants is for us to 1) Do all of this in the right way, 2) Not be motivated by revenge, 3) Strive to live in peace even with the peace-breakers, 4) Treat those who attack you with love, and 5) Leave the rest up to Him.

There is a way for Christians to respond to evil – and most of us have missed it.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that people of other faiths have such misconstrued and misinformed ideas about Christians.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

One Title – Two Messages

Occasionally someone in our church will recommend a song for us to sing – something they heard at another church or on the radio. We welcome suggestions at our church and look into requests to see if the song has potential for us to use in our worship.

This past Sunday one of our worship team members suggested a song called Bow the Knee. When I began to search for the song on the internet I quickly discovered that there are two songs by this name (sometimes you’ll find four or more songs with the same name!). The song that had been suggested is this one – and it’s a good song. You can actually watch the writer of the song (Ron Hamilton) sing it here. Its message is along the lines of recognizing who God is and bowing before Him. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement (Philippians 2:9-11):

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The other song by the same title has a different message. Written by Chris Machen and Mike Harland it takes the idea of bowing before God in the direction of accepting the work that God is doing in our lives, even when we don’t understand it.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

You can listen to this version here.

Two songs. Both songs with a good biblical message. Both true.

As Christ followers we need to recognize who God is. He IS King of all the ages and He alone deserves our worship.

It is also true that this God who is high and lifted up is one that we can trust on our journey through life even when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan. The writer reminds us of a truth that we need to hang onto; don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight – see 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Wherever you are today – rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God or struggling to understand the heart of the Father – stop long enough on your spiritual journey to bow your knee.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Heaven: The Celestial North Korea?

A trend that has become decidedly more noticeable in the recent past is the aggressive position of atheists and atheistic organization in getting out their message and their confrontation of Christianity. In fact it now has its own name: the New Atheism. The “new” doesn’t refer to a new set of beliefs as much as it refers to a new attitude and new tactics.

According to one source; New Atheism is a social and political movement in favour (sic) of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
This is happening not only on an academic level (Christopher Hitchens et al.) but also on a more popular level (Bill Maher for example).

Prior to his death, Christopher Hitchens was one of the New Atheist who championed this new approach. Take this statement for example: I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque. . . . Just consider for a moment what their [the devout’s] (sic) heaven looks like. Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea.

I want to make several observations, first about New Atheism in general and then about Hitchens’ view.

Christians should not despair over the new vocalness of atheist, in fact we should welcome an open and honest conversation with those who oppose our faith. It is in the spiritual darkness that we are told to shine the light of the gospel (Matthew 5:14-16). In one sense people like Hitchens are doing us a favor – they are bringing the conversation out into the open; they are instigating the dialogue. We don’t have to wonder how we can bring up the subject of the gospel with our neighbors, they have done it for us. Let’s rejoice and take advantage of the new opportunities!

As for Hitchens’ view of God, the Christian life and eternity, I think that we can take away several things. First we need to ask ourselves where his views came from. Is that really the message that we as Christians are communicating by our lives and message? I rather suspect that it comes from a very prejudicial reading of the Bible, however, we need to keep in mind that for most people their views on God, the Christian life and eternity are going to come from how we live and what we communicate. If they have defective views perhaps it is our fault.

Secondly, we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. How do you respond to the charge that we as Christians live under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring? How would you explain heaven to an unbeliever? Will it be as Hitchens claimed a place of, endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation, and abjection of self, a celestial North Korea? (Notice the truth mixed with error – heaven will be a place of endless praise and adoration, as should our lives be today. It will not be a celestial North Korea). Too often we despair over criticisms of our faith instead of searching for ways to answer them.

Thirdly, it seems to me that Hitchens operates from a world view that is not just centered on man (anthropocentric) but expressly self-centered (egocentric). Life and eternity are all about Christopher Hitchens. In contrast in the Christian life God is at the center of our lives and our eternity (theocentric). When anyone installs themselves at the center of their universe they have enthroned themselves as the ultimate authority, as their own god. That might give them an ego boost but it’s a dangerous place to be.

There have always been atheists (2 Peter 3:3-4), people who choose to deny the existence of God and fashion their lives in their own image. As we come to the end of the age – and we’re there (Hebrews 1:2) their voices will grow louder. That’s when our lights need to shine the brightest.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Stop Cursing the Darkness

In case you haven’t noticed we are living in a rapidly changing world. Life-altering changes are occurring across a wide spectrum of society including technology, entertainment, medicine, the economy and society.

Change can be good. We are living longer and better because of change. We stay in contact with more people in more places today because of change. We have a better standard of living because of change. We get a glimpse into the lives of other nations and people and understand them better because of change. But not all change is to be accepted equally. Not all change is good. This is perhaps most noticeable in the changes we see taking place in our society.

Today we are witnessing some of the most profound changes in our culture and society that any of us can remember. This was brought out in an internet article under the title Are America’s Absurdly Homophobic Ways Just Buried in History? Don’t let the author’s calculated, prejudicial title, or the fact that she writes from a position on the extreme left put you off. Her main point, and at least this much is true, is that our western society is embracing rapid change, especially in the area of same-sex relationships. While we are not yet where she thinks we need to be, she points out evidence that suggests we are on the right track – at least her right track. What is interesting about her article is that she could have substituted several other topics for same-sex marriage and written the same article. As a culture we are changing and not always in good ways.

As Christians we recognize that our culture is changing in ways that often militate against our faith and our too typical reaction is to curse the darkness. But we also need to recognize that we have a choice: we can either curse the darkness around us or we can take steps to dispel the darkness. We were never promised a culture that would love us, respect our faith, or look at us as being desirable members of society – in fact a good case can be made from scripture for just the opposite response (Luke 6:22).

None of this should surprise us. We really shouldn’t be surprised at the downward progression of our western culture. We shouldn’t be surprised that we are characterized as being absurdly homophobic, or to use another descriptive phrase from the author, bigoted and homophobic. I can think of at least two reasons why the slide of our culture into the slough of immorality should come as no surprise to us: First, people without Christ are simply acting as people without Christ. They are following their fallen nature and except for the fact that God has changed us we would be right there with them. We should expect them to act this way.

The second reason that none of this should take us by surprise is because God told us this would happen. The Apostle Paul famously begins chapter three of 2 Timothy with the words but know this, in the last days perilous times will come. He goes on to describe these perilous times: people will be lovers of themselves . . . unholy . . . without self-control . . . despisers of good (always understand the biblical word good in the context of what God says is good, not what people think is good) . . . lovers of pleasure. Does that sound like our culture or what!?

So let’s stop cursing the darkness. It’s here. It’s to be expected. Cursing what we don’t like is the easy way out. But the spiritual darkness is here and it’s not going away, at least not until Jesus comes.

Instead of cursing the darkness try being a light to dispel some of the darkness around you (Matthew 5:14-16). If you provide some light in the darkness of your world some people will respond to the light and be drawn to the One who is the Light of the world. And that’s how you defeat the darkness.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve