Not for Sissies

Before she died my mother use to say, Old age isn’t for sissies! I’m sure that it wasn’t original with her – someone probably said something similar thousands of years ago. But it does express a certain generalization, i.e. most people struggle with the aches and pains brought on by age. Old age is hard.

In the same way it’s true to say that Christianity isn’t for sissies! Over the years there has been a vein of evangelical Christianity that has soft peddled the cost of following Jesus (often referred to by the term discipleship). At the very least, people are not exposed to the cost, at the very worst they have been misled and perhaps even told that following Jesus will be easy.

But following Jesus is a life of counting the cost – it may be a life of hardship and it’s certainly a life of surrender. That’s Jesus faith.

The cost of discipleship will be different for each of us. Throughout history some Christians have had to pay with their lives (see Hebrews 11) while others have been, in the words of Isaac Watts, carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease (Am I a Soldier of the Cross).

Why is it that some suffer greatly while others hardly at all?

The cost of following Jesus isn’t necessarily measured in terms of the magnitude of the suffering experienced. It’s measured in the willingness of the heart.

In a podcast called, Following Christ is Costly – But How Do You Count the Cost? Pastor John Piper, commenting on Luke 14:25-33, one of the hard passages of scripture, says this:

 “How do we count the cost in advance when we don’t know what the cost will be in advance?” The answer is, you assume the cost could be total. All possessions given up, all relationships given up, all of life given up. That’s the expectation that Jesus calls for.

When you decide to follow Jesus, the expectation is that you surrender all to Him. The reality may not be that for you but the expectation is. The willingness is what counts.

Piper goes on to say there’s no negotiating here with Jesus. It’s all or nothing. Disciples are all in, or they’re not in (Piper). That is true even if you didn’t understand it when you became a Christian.

But don’t run from the hardships because there’s good news coming. I want to end with this lengthy but encouraging quote from Piper.

Disciples are all in, or they’re not in. That’s what the text is saying. But let’s make sure . . . [we] get this in right perspective, because just a few paragraphs earlier — in this same chapter — Jesus said, after he laid down some pretty high costs, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

In other words, “There is no cost that you can pay in following me that won’t be made up to you a thousand fold in the resurrection.” And we need to remember Matthew 13:44, which says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A man sees and sells everything he has — everything he has! — to get that treasure. In other words, all the so-called costs and all the so-called losses — everything — are nothing compared to the gains of having Jesus, the greatest treasure.

So yes, we must count the cost in order to be a disciple. The cost is total in principle and may be total in actual experience. In the end, having Jesus means gain, like Paul says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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We All Need God

It’s true. We all need God.

I’m not talking about in the sense of salvation. Yes, we need God to save us from our wretched, sinful lives. But after that we still need Him. Perhaps more than we know. It’s not a one and done.

When life gets hard and crashes over you like massive ocean waves – you need God.

When the unexplainable happens to you – you need God.

When you’re suffering beyond what you can stand – you need God.

In those and a thousand other situations we know that we need Him. And, He knows that we need Him, and He encourages us to come to Him in our time of need (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 4:14-16).

So, we do what the Psalmist did, and what God encourages us to do – we cry out to Him. We express our anxiety, our pain, our angst, hoping that He will come to our aid.

But He doesn’t always come – at least not when we think He should.

What’s with that? Didn’t He tell us to do exactly that and if we did, He would be there for us in our time of need (NIV Hebrews 4:16)? Not in His time – but in our time! When we are suffering the most. When it feels like we’re going down for the third and final time. Not later, Lord. NOW!

That phrase in our time of need has been difficult to understand since it was first penned.

The old Scottish theologian Alexander Maclaren offered this explanation: the right grace will be most surely given to me to help me in time of need, or, as the words may perhaps be more vigorously and correctly translated, find grace for timely aid, grace punctually and precisely at the very nick of time, at the very exact time determined by heaven’s chronometer, not by ours. It will not come as quickly as impatience might think it ought, it will not come so soon as to prevent an agony of prayer, it will not come in time enough for our impatience, for murmuring, for presumptuous desires; but it will come in time to do all that is needed.

The key is to understand the significance of the word need. It is need as seen from the mountaintop, not the valley. It is need seen from God’s perspective, not ours.

God knows the time of your need far better than you.

Peter’s time of need was not while he was on the water but when he was sinking. Lazarus’ time of need was not when he was sick but when he was in the grave. Paul’s time of need was not in the moment of his suffering but in the experience of never-ending grace.

God will meet us in our time of need which He alone knows.

So, faith hangs onto that truth even as we cry out with the Psalmist My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear (Psalm 22:1).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Handling Hardships (or Grace for the Journey)

I was complaining to God recently about the difficulties of life (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does that!). All I wanted was a little relief. Some time – a few days of peace when I didn’t have to think about problems and stress.

You would think God would be OK with that. But it didn’t happen.

On the same day of my complaint, (not before and not later!) I was reading in the book of 2 Timothy and came to verse 3. It says, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

That’s where I stopped reading. No point in going any further. The answer was right in front of me in black and white.

Not if you want to, but you must!

There’s no ambiguity about it. Hardships will come in the Christian life and you must endure them; tolerate them; stomach them; put up with them.

Just to make his point clear, the Apostle followed that statement up with illustrations of three people who have to put up with hardships. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. All of them face hardships by virtue of the occupation they have chosen, and they must endure them to be successful.

I’m sure that anyone who goes into one of those three lines of work knows that their life will involve hardships, but I doubt that any of them understood the extent of the hardships they would face.

The same is true of the Christian. When you became a Christian you automatically were placed in a position similar to that of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. A place of hardship.

You may have had some vague idea that the Christian life would make your life harder in some way, but, like the soldier, athlete or farmer, you probably didn’t understand the extent of the hardships you would face.

And then you found out!

And the encouragement you got as you searched the Word of God for answers is that sometimes you simply have to endure.

Endure the pain. Endure the suffering. Endure the hardships.

There’s not much comfort in that. But there is comfort in the knowledge that you can handle the greatest hardships in life by the grace of God.

That was the lesson the same Apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:3 learned and recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as he dealt with his own hardship. As he asked God to remove his trial, the divine response was My grace is sufficient for you. All Paul needed to handle his hardship was the grace of God.

And that’s all any of us need.

We need God’s grace.

Thankfully, God has made sure that in the person of Jesus we received His grace. Another Apostle, this time John, wrote, and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. The emphasis is on the abundance of grace that we received in the person of Jesus. We have all of the grace we need.

All of the grace to face the hardships that will come. All of the grace to make it through difficult times. All of the grace to handle the stress of life.

Grace piled on top of grace.

So, I had to stop and ask God to give me grace instead of praying for a way of escape.

The good news is that there is Grace for the Journey.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Grace to Heal

The longer I minister to people, the more I realize that most people in life are dealing with difficult issues. If you aren’t, consider yourself blessed. Some are dealing with not just difficult issues but debilitating issues – some physical, some emotional, some financial.

Without being cavalier let me say – That’s Life. Jesus warned us about it (John 16:33).

While we would like life to be all roses and candy, more often it resembles dead flowers and stinking fish. That’s Life.

If you are going through one of those times in your life, whether it is difficult or debilitating, what you need more than anything else is Grace to Heal. God’s grace to be specific. In His grace is healing power for whatever you are going through.

But here’s the thing about God’s grace – it normally comes through people.

There’s no pill called the Grace pill. There’s no elixir that you can take that will give you more grace. There’s no Grace Spa that you can go to. There are only four places where you can find God’s Grace.

The Bible. Prayer. The Holy Spirit. And God’s People.

That’s it. That’s the short (literally!) list.

But that’s enough. It is ALL you need.

You already know what to do with the first two. Read the Bible faithfully. Pray faithfully. The third one (Holy Spirit) is totally up to God.

But what about the last one? God’s People?

You can control how much or how little you read the Bible and pray. But you can’t control God’s People. They are literally out of your control. You can’t demand that another person give you grace. All you can do is wait for someone to show you grace, either through an intentional act or perhaps without even realizing it.

And that’s where we as Christians come into the picture.

God wants us to be people of Grace. While God does work in significant ways through scripture and prayer, and He is always working in our lives through the Holy Spirit, He also works in significant ways through His people. That’s why there are so many commands in the Bible like Be Kind; Love One Another; Pray for One Another; Build each other up, etc. It’s all about becoming a person of grace.

The apostle Paul exhorts us to Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). By following Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, we are in the end following Jesus, the ultimate Man of Grace.

So if you are breezing through life today – look for someone who isn’t and show a little grace.

If you are struggling today, it’s still a good time to show grace to someone else. Being the healing power in their lives will also turn on the healing power of grace in your life.

At some time(s) in life we all need Grace to Heal.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

What Does it Mean to Wait on God and . . .

The Bible talks about waiting on God, especially in the Psalms (25:3-5, 25:21, 27:14, 37:7-9, 37:34 etc.). You also find this idea expressed in the book of Isaiah (8:17, 30:18, 49:23).  The best-known passage may be Isaiah 40:31: But they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.

Waiting on God is often mentioned in the context of trials and suffering. Exactly the hardest times to wait.

But what does it mean to wait on God?

The word used in the Old Testament (where most “wait” passages are found) has several concepts built into it.

One concept in this word is the idea of waiting for something with an eager expectation. You are waiting because you know something better is coming.

Another concept found in this word is waiting with endurance or what we would call tenacity and patience. You’re not just hanging in there until something better comes along – you’re hanging on with all that you have, determined not to be swept away by the riptide of life. It’s another way of saying, My faith means something and I’m not giving it up that easily.

When you wait on God you dig your heels in and wait in faith because you know He’s doing something that is better than what you are going through today.

So, if that is true, why do we find it so hard to wait on God?

There are likely several things that come into play here.

One is that we’re impatient people. Call it the McDonald syndrome. We have a spiritual melt-down if we have to wait a month or even a couple of years for God to answer us.

Another issue is God’s timing – which is always the right time, whether we think so or not. Inherent in the very word wait is the concept that this isn’t going to work out when we think it should – so we have to W-A-I-T for it to work out in God’s time.

A third thing that comes into play is suffering. It’s just hard to wait when it hurts so much.

But the idea of waiting on God also implies, as I’ve already said several times, that something good is going to happen. A child waits (not so patiently!) for Christmas. The Bride waits for her wedding day. We wait for our out of town guests to arrive. All because we know that something good is coming.

Waiting on God is not easy, but it can be a faith-building experience if we learn how to do it.

The prophet Isaiah, who exhorted Israel to wait on God, held up a future glorious day as encouragement for them to wait patiently. While this was written to Israel there is an application for us today.

And it will be said in that day: Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation (Isaiah 25:9).

So, Wait on God. A Better Day is coming. Be Glad and Rejoice in His Salvation.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Is God Unloving or Just Too Weak?

I read an online article this morning as I waited for the bank to open. The title was Where is God for the Suffering, Starving, and Freezing? Besides being a great, attention-getting title, it’s a great question. You can read the article here.

It’s also an age-old question that’s probably been around since the dawn of time. We want to know where God is in the face of evil. The typical question goes something like this: If God is a god of love then why do people suffer? The oft drawn conclusion is that either God is not a god of love or He is not an all-powerful (omnipotent) god. He just can’t do anything about evil.

But are those the only two conclusions?

In fact, are we even looking in the right place?

Certainly, God is a god of love. The sacrifice of His beloved Son is all of the evidence that we need of His love.

Certainly, He is all-powerful. The miracles of Jesus, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead are all evidences of His power.

To ignore the sacrifice or the miracles of Jesus is to rewrite history in our own image.

So where should we look for answers when it comes to people who are suffering, starving and freezing?

We need to begin with sin. It was the voluntary sin of our first parents that introduced evil into the human equation. There are theological explanations as to how that sin got down to us but let’s just say that had any of us been in Eve’s place we would have done exactly as she did. Don’t flatter yourself to think otherwise.

Suffering, starving and freezing are the result of sin, not of God’s lack of love or any perceived weakness on His part.

Let’s not blame God for the ravages of sin.

Sure, God could heal the suffering, feed the starving and provide for the freezing – and He did (see Matthew 8:1-15 for healing the suffering, Matthew 14:13-21 for feeding the starving, and Mark 5:25-34 for providing for someone).

But Jesus didn’t heal every leper or give sight to every blind person or feed every starving child.

Why?

We don’t know why He met some needs and didn’t meet others. And we don’t know why God does what He does today. Some He heals, some He doesn’t. Some He feeds, some He doesn’t. Some He provides for, some He doesn’t. (Maybe He’s waiting for you and me to be the answer that He uses to meet their suffering!).

Just because we don’t understand the reasons for the actions of an omniscient, omnipotent God don’t mean that there aren’t any.

Those answers lay in the infinite wisdom of God.

But to accuse God of being unloving or impotent in the face of evil is to ignore the question of sin and to assign blame where it does not belong.

God is neither unloving nor weak.

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