When All Else Fails

One of the standard jokes about men is that they only read instructions (when assembling something) when all else fails. Sort of like how they read maps – or don’t! Not totally fair, but sometimes true. Men often look at directions as a necessary evil.

On one end of the spectrum ignoring instructions can be dangerous and simply dumb at the other end.

Directions are given to us for a reason, which is to make the job and therefore life easier. Following directions can save you time and frustration, not to mention peace of mind for your wife.

As Christians we have been given directions for life, which we often ignore. To our peril. Of course, I’m referring to the Word of God.

Too often, even Christians look at the Bible as something that cramps their style. A book of do’s but mostly don’ts. That’s not entirely accurate. Yes, there are a lot of things in the Bible that God says we shouldn’t do, but there are a lot more do’s – things God wants us to do.

Remember that the don’ts were given to us for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16). Think of it like this – you’re driving on a dark, winding road in the rain. On the side of the road is a sign advising you to slow down because a sharp curve is up ahead. You’d be thankful for the warning.

God’s don’ts are often warnings given to us for our protection and they are ignored at our peril. Accept them as blessings from a loving heavenly father who has your best interests in mind and you will find that there is value in those don’ts.

Which brings me back to reading the instructions.

Maybe if we read the instruction manual (Bible) more, we would complain about it less. Becoming familiar with the Bible is the first step to understanding it. Once you begin to understand it, you become more in tune with it. As you get in tune with it, you begin to see the value in it. Once you see it’s value, you’ll begin to follow it’s instructions. All to your benefit.

So when all else fails in life – when you have tried everything you can think of to solve your problems and nothing has worked, read the instructions. I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the information and value you find there.

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

All-Weather Christians

On December 23, 1776, the American patriot Thomas Paine wrote those famous words, these are the times that try men’s souls. While he was referencing American’s problems with Britain, we can easily relate to his emotion.

We are living in times that certainly try our hearts and souls.

His next statement is almost as famous as his first: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.

Summer soldiers will march in the good weather, but not in the bad. Sunshine patriots will stand up for the cause when there’s little to no danger but not when the dangers become great.

Which leads me to this – are we summer Christians and sunshine followers of Jesus? Are we among those who sing praise songs when life is great, raise our hands and say Amen when we aren’t bogged down with problems, post on Facebook I Love Jesus and if you do, you’ll re-post this, when we’re feeling blessed?

Or are we among those Believers who will remain faithful in the dark times?

Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, I was teaching a Bible Study on the life of the Apostle Paul. That man was no summer soldier or sunshine patriot! It seemed like the harder life became for Paul, the harder he served God. Paul has been a challenge to my faith!

And I want to challenge your faith. Don’t allow the bad times to affect your faithfulness. If ever we needed to stand firm (Paul’s admonition to us in Ephesians 6:14 in the context of putting on the armor of God to stand against the attacks of Satan) it is now. Our faith is being tested and now is when we will know how strong it really is.

Let’s not be, to quote another great American (and again take it out of context), President Teddy Roosevelt, among those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Great results come from great effort. Great victories usually include great defeats, even in the spiritual realm. Even if you try, stumble and fall (spiritually speaking), don’t give up. God understands and He will be there to pick you up, dust you off, and put you back on the right path.

Now is when we need to be all-weather Christians. People who remain faithful when all odds are against us.

It is in HIS power that we stand (Ephesians 6:10). It is for HIS glory that we strive (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is for HIS honor that we remain faithful.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

 

Does God Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

It’s popular in Christian circles to say to someone who is going through difficult times, God will never give you more than you can handle. While I write from an Evangelical perspective, I assume that this is quoted in most branches of Christianity. I have said it in the past myself.

But is it true? Is it true that God will never give you more than you can handle?

One caveat here, I also assume that by handle we mean face them in a good and godly way without sinking into despair, questioning our faith, struggling with God, or worse yet, dying. It seems to me that none of these can qualify as handling our trials.

I’ve tried to research where this came from and it seems that most people who have looked into it trace it back to 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Commentators will tell you that the Greek word, here translated as temptation can mean either a trial or a temptation to sin and that is true. So, the question is, which is Paul talking about? Is he talking about a trial that comes into your life or is he talking about a temptation to sin? It makes a difference!

I think that two different episodes in the New Testament help to clarify this issue.

One is the Apostle Paul who face a serious trial in his life that he called his thorn in the flesh. It was so distressing to Paul that three times he asked God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Remember that Paul had a long litany of trials – he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, thrown into prison, run out of various towns, and in his own words, been exposed to death again and again (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). But he never asked God to remove these from his life.

Whatever his thorn in the flesh was, it was something that he desperately wanted God to remove – but He didn’t. Paul had to live with this trial. There was no way of escape that God had promised for him.

The other example is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed and asked God if it was possible to remove the extreme suffering of the cross that He was about to faced. God didn’t. Jesus endured unbelievable pain and suffering. His only way of escape was death.

My point is that both Paul and Jesus faced tremendous suffering which they asked God to remove it, but He didn’t. It was suffering that they felt they could not endure and in Jesus’ case, He died because of it. There was no way of escape outside of death.

God does not always make the way of escape from the trials of life.

So, 1 Corinthians 10:13 cannot be talking about trials. I believe that this passage is talking about temptations to sin and there is always a way to escape temptations even if it just means running from them.

So back to the original statement: God will never give you more than you can handle.

Yes, God will sometimes give us trials that are more than we can handle, even if (and this should always be true of us) we face them in His strength. I think that this was the Apostle Paul’s testimony when he wrote:  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).

When someone is suffering, don’t tell them that God will never give you more than you can handle. Tell them that God is present in their suffering and although they, and you, may not understand it, God is working in their lives in some unknown, mysterious way.

The bottom line is, we have to Trust when we can’t explain.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Mary at the Cross

One of the hardest parts of being a pastor is that you get to know many of the heartaches and sorrows of the people in your church. In a sense, their pain becomes your pain. And you want to fix it for them, but you know that many times you can’t.

There’s the husband fighting cancer. The young couple who are devastated with infertility. The family that was just ripped apart by divorce. The senior saint who recently buried their spouse after fifty plus years of marriage. The father who just lost his job. The single mother struggling to keep food on the table for her children.

The list gets long and it weighs on the pastor.

It is inevitable that people will suffer.

It is also a privilege to be taken into people’s lives and trusted with their heartaches and trials. You know that even if you can’t fix every problem that comes to you, you can hold them up before the throne of immense grace.

It’s not that pastors don’t want to know, it’s just that they care – sometimes too much.

And then I think of Mary at the Cross.

Can you imagine her heartache? The son that she gave birth to; the boy she raised; the young man she watched as he grew into a man destined to shake the world. And now he has been accused of treason, arrested, beaten to within an inch of his life, publicly humiliated and he’s hanging on a cross bloody and bowed.

This wasn’t just her son – he was her Messiah, her Savior. He has been lied about, tortured, rejected, and crucified like a common criminal. A piece of trash to be thrown out.

And she has had to stand by and watch it all happen . . . and could do nothing about it.

Mary at the Cross has experienced more pain, more sorrow, more heartache than we will ever know. She is the ultimate sufferer.

Not that it helps my pain, but it does say to me, you are not alone. There have been others and there will yet be others who will suffer in ways that are hard to even imagine.

The Apostle Paul understood this when he penned the words, No temptation (trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). Common to man. Common among men. Our pain is not unique.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that most of us have not struggled to the point of shedding our blood – perhaps a metaphor for death or martyrdom (Hebrews 12:4). We have suffered but we have not died.

We have suffered but not in ways that others have suffered. We can’t even begin to compare to Mary’s suffering.

Mary at the Cross is a lesson for us; an example; a paradigm of grace. She suffered the ultimate suffering in silence, committing herself to a faithful creator (1 Peter 4:19).

Sometimes that is all that we can do.

And it is enough.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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

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