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

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Is God Hiding?

I’m intrigued by the hiddenness of God. The Bible presents God as both beyond us, hidden from our eyes (Job 11:6-7, Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 11:33-36) and at the same time there for us (Jeremiah 9:23-24, Matthew 11:28). He is both incomprehensible and knowable.

The idea of the hiddenness of God has caused some people to reject Christianity and to even take the position that there is no God. Their reasoning can take several different directions but ultimately it comes down to this: if God does exist then He should reveal Himself in a way that removes all doubt.

Even as Christians we struggle with the hiddenness of God. When we face the acute pressures of life we want God to make Himself known to us in unmistakable and obvious ways. And we want to decide what form that takes.

The reality is that God has revealed Himself. He’s revealed Himself in creation (Romans 1:20), in the Bible (pick a page!), in history (this was one of the arguments used in early church history – see Acts 7:2-54), and most of all in Jesus (John 14:9, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15).

That brings questions to mind, such as What more does God have to do? How many more times does God have to show Himself before we’re satisfied?

Our desire for God to be obvious is not unlike the wife who continually asks her husband if he loves her. At first he tells her. Then he tries to show her. But no matter what he says or does, she continues to doubt – and ask. That’s going to get old after awhile.

I wonder if it gets old for God when we continue to expect Him to reveal Himself when He’s already given us all of the evidence that we need.

The problem is not the lack of evidence. The problem is our lack of trust in God – we don’t think that He’s done enough, or a lack of satisfaction with the way He’s chosen to reveal Himself.

But if we believe that God is who He says He is – an omnipotent, all-wise God of love, then He has revealed Himself in exactly the right way and enough for anyone to believe and be satisfied.

As finite beings, we should not expect to know the Infinite One in great detail, nor should we expect (demand?) that He act in ways that meet our requirements. As Paul reminds us, He’s the potter and we’re the clay (Romans 9:21) and we have no right to question what God does or how He does it.

There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14). To state it another way, all that God does is right and righteous. Even when we wish He would do more.

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

The Christian Life Isn’t for Sissies!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I just get weary trying to live the Christian Life. Think how easy life would be if we could just forget all the “do’s and don’ts”. You wouldn’t have to be concerned about temptation – you could do whatever you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about your own sinful desires – again, do what you want. You wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Satan because he wouldn’t care what you did. In fact he would be delighted in your spiritual indifference.

What may come as a shock to you is that God knows that the Christian life is like that. That’s why in the New Testament He compares the spiritual life to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-4), a marathon runner (Hebrews 12:1), a boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26), and a hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). All strenuous and difficult occupations.

The difficulty of the spiritual life and the ensuing weariness that we experience doesn’t take God by surprise. In fact you could make the case that He designed it that way. It’s one way to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff, the “I’m in it for the long-haul” from the “let’s see if this works” crowd.

But to those who are in it for the long-haul, there is a word of encouragement from the pen if the Apostle Paul: Don’t grow weary in doing good (living godly), for in due season we will reap if we don’t lose heart (and give up!) (Galatians 6:9).

The problem for most of us is that we keep looking at how hard the Christian life is instead of looking at the goal.

How long do you think a marathon runner would last if all they thought about during training (and the race!) was how hard they were working? How long would a farmer work in his fields if he didn’t keep the harvest in mind?

The goal for the Christian is a harvest that comes out of a life lived in godliness and for the glory of God.

Sure we get weary. There are even days we want to give up. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4). In fact some of us haven’t even been bruised yet.

So when you feel like I do some days, keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and on the harvest. Do the battle. Run the race. Fight the good fight. Plant the seed. And keep telling yourself, in the words of the old hymn, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

If you need to be reminded again, you can listen to it hear.

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

The Power Behind Our Sin

Sin has been in the news recently. Surprisingly it’s been one of the major topics of conversation. I’m not talking about murders, infidelity, robberies and political scandals. That kind of sin has been with us so long that we’ve become impervious to it. I’m talking about sin from a religious perspective.

For example there have been articles (again) about why Joel Osteen won’t address the topic of sin in his sermons. You can read about it here. Then there is the 261 page document released recently by the Pope titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) that has a lot to say about sin especially in the context of marriage. If you don’t want to read the entire document you can read articles here and here. For such an unpopular subject people are suddenly talking about sin.

Admittedly, sin isn’t a popular subject. In fact it’s become so unpopular that it’s mentioned less and less in churches where you would expect to hear something about it. We would much rather talk about grace – and that’s not all bad. The problem is that you can’t have grace without sin and there’s no salvation without something to be saved from.

Even when we do talk about sin we often try to absolve ourselves and blame it on someone or something else.

We even try to blame Satan for our sin – as if he held a gun to our head and made us do something we didn’t want to do.

But the Apostle James had a different take on it. He said each one [of us] is tempted [and gives in to the temptation] when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed (James 1:14).

The key words here are by his own desire. Here’s what James is saying in a nutshell: Sin is the result of our own Selfishness.

The power behind sin is the fact that we are selfish people.

It may be most evident in sins that we classify as the BIG ones: abortion, adultery, etc. etc. But it’s also evident in the sins that we wink at: lying, gossip, anger etc. etc.

We sin because there is an advantage that accrues to us in our sinning. It feels good. It benefits me. It simplifies my life. It removes a potential problem. Most sin (perhaps all sin) is the result of selfishness. Our focus becomes us.

But the Christian life is the exact opposite of selfishness. It is not about me, it’s about others. Even Christ did not come to be served (it’s about me) but to serve (it’s about others (Mark 10:45).

We’re taught to be others focused.

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

1 Corinthians 10:24: Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

To put it into perspective, selfishness is one of the predominant sins that the Apostle Paul lists (in fact it’s first on his list) as characteristic of a sinful world in the last days: men will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2). A clear condemnation.

When we realize how serious selfishness is and the grip it has on our lives – when we begin to recognize that it is the power behind our sin we have taken the first step in leaving the me culture and gaining some degree of control over sin in our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Thorns

The Thorns

We all have them. Some are larger, some smaller; some hurt more, some less. But we all have them – the thorns of life. Even spiritual giants have them. The Apostle Paul comes to mind (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

No one likes the thorns, they cause heartache, tears, doubt, worry, anger (often at God), sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. From our perspective they serve no earthly or heavenly good. They are useless intruders that rob us of our peace and happiness.

But what if, as Laura Story sings, what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise? If you haven’t listen to Blessings in awhile, take time to listen again here.

If you are familiar with Steven Saint’s story you know that he has been enduring tremendous suffering as the result of an accident. Recently he posted this poem online. I shared it on my Facebook site but for those who don’t communicate that way, here it is again.

The Thorn
Martha Snell Nicholson

I stood a mendicant [beggar] of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.

The thorns of life are not arbitrary nor are they pointless. They have a purpose often greater than we can see. Life would be radically different without the thorns. And not always in a better way.

Think about how the thorns impact your life.

Without the Thorns we would

…trust Him less
…love Him less
…want heaven less
…pray less
…cherish His blessings less
…encourage others less
…grow in Christ less
…grow weary of this world less
…desire God less
…learn about His grace less
…spend time with God less
…experience God’s power less

My heart goes out to those who are being pricked by the thorns. It’s never fun. My prayer is that you will know the grace of God in your time of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that your thorn will reveal the face of the One who loves you more than any other.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve