Who Are You Thankful For?

It’s been a run of ugliness – much of it coming out of Hollywood. There have always been whispers about the dark side of the movie industry but now details are coming into the light and they are even uglier than we expected.

It hasn’t been limited to Hollywood. Now there are similar accusations coming from women on the U.S.A. Olympic team.

I anticipate that this is just the beginning of revelations. There is more to come. And possibly from areas of society that will surprise us.

Who can women trust? Who can any of us trust?

That made me stop and think about the people in my life. People who did not break my trust. People I’m thankful for. People who made my life richer than it would have been had we not crossed paths. And there have been many of them.

But a few stand out.

Heading the list is my wife who has had an enormous impact in my life. She deserves more credit than most people realize. Proverbs 31:10-12.

My parents who raised me in a godly family are on the list. As are my children.

Then there were seminary professors who saw me as more than a student and imparted not just academic knowledge to me, but their own lives.

Along the line there have been some special friends who have been there when I needed them. They fulfilled 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in my life.

Included in the list have been people who have stood outside that ring of intimate friendship, but who in some simple way made a lasting impact.

There have been a few people who, although our contacts were relatively limited, nevertheless spoke words of truth (sometimes hard to hear) that influenced my life.

There have been others.

I’m thankful for each of these people who made me better and those who are continuing to have an impact on me. Their lives have rubbed off on my life. They are the Proverbs 27:17 people for me.

In this day of ugly news about people we need to remember the people who have been positive, godly influences in our lives. We need them.

If all you do is fill your mind with the ugliness of man’s sin, you’ll soon despair. If you fill your mind with those good people who have touched your life you’ll find hope.

Who are you thankful for?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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Trust His Heart

I read a statement recently that intrigued me. It said, When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

There will be times in life when you don’t see the hand of God, either because you’re not looking in the right place or because God has hidden His hand from you (that’s another blog!). And because you can’t see His hand you don’t understand His plan.

What do you do then?

If you are like many Christians your reaction can range from panic to doubt to complaining. Because you haven’t yet learned to trust. Trusting God when you can’t see what’s going on is not easy.

We want answers. We want full disclosure.

What we really want is to control our lives – to call the shots.

The reality is that we simply don’t trust God to do what’s best for our life. That’s a natural human reaction.

But it’s not the right reaction.

Have you ever had a friend that you were so close to that you trusted them explicitly? It didn’t matter what they did or even what they said about you, you knew that they had your best interest at heart?

They might even publicly disagree with you, perhaps causing you some degree of embarrassment but you knew that they loved you. So you gave them the benefit of the doubt. You accepted their criticism.

You trusted their heart.

That’s all God wants. He wants you to trust His heart even when you don’t understand His plan for your life.

I think that’s the essence of Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t trust in your own understanding, perspective, wisdom (my translation/ commentary).

Trust HIS heart, not your heart. Trust HIS wisdom, not your wisdom. Trust HIS way not your way.

As Christians we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith refers to the things that we can’t see. You can’t walk by faith if everything in life is clear and plain.

Walking by faith demands hiddenness.

Walking by faith demands trust.

Trust in the Heart of God.

Trust that His heart is Good. That His heart is Pure. That His heart is Loving. That His heart will never take you where His Grace cannot take care of you.

So when you can’t see the Hand of God – you can’t tell what God is doing in your life, Trust His Heart.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

P.S. You might enjoy the song Trust His Heart. You can listen to it here.

What if You Don’t Get Through This?

In our Adult Bible Fellowship classes at our church we’re going through Max Lucado’s DVD series You’ll Get Through This. Using Joseph as his model, Lucado emphasizes that when a Christian goes through hard times You fear you won’t make it through. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. In the pits, surrounded by steep walls and aching reminders, we wonder: Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten?

Lucado’s answer is:

You’ll get through this.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll get through this.

This is not a new idea. The old hymn most of us sang as children (depending on how old you are!) said:

Be not dismayed what-e’er betide; God will take care of you.
Beneath His wings of love abide; God will take care of you.

God will take care of you, thro’ every day, o’er all the way.
He will take care of you; God will take care of you.

In other words, You’ll get through this.

As much as this appeals to me, I wonder about the person whose depression never does lift. About the family where the yelling never does stop. About the wife whose pain never leaves her.

What happens when the gray sky is never bright again or the load is never lightened?

It happens.

So what do we say? Have we been sold a lie? Is God not who we think He is? Has He failed us in some way?

I think there’s more to this than simply saying You’ll get through this. While I agree with a lot that Max Lucado says – trials won’t be painless, they won’t always be quick; God will use this mess for good, because that’s what God does; you don’t need to despair because you can get through it with God’s help; there’s more that needs to be said.

Here are a few thoughts.

1) It’s possible that Lucado means different things by the words he uses than I understand. When he says You’ll get through this he may include eternity in his statement (although his statement doesn’t make sense in eternity). If he’s including, not just this life but eternity then it’s true You’ll get through this.

2) It may be that we have the wrong idea of what it means to get through this. Did the people mentioned in Hebrew 11 get through this or did God fail them (Hebrews 11:32-38)? Getting through might look more like pain and suffering than healing and resolution.

3) It may not be God’s will/plan to remove all of your pain and suffering. Many Christians (Hebrews 11 again) throughout history have suffered and died without healing, without seeing a resolution, without knowing why God didn’t change things. Certainly we would not want to claim that God’s plan never includes unresolved suffering.

4) What we need to teach people is that the issue is not getting through our problems but how we deal with our problems.

The average person deals with his/her problems on their own, in their own strength, by getting even, by masking their pain, by venting their anger, by throwing their hands up in despair.

The Christian, on the other hand, should deal with their problems with God’s help, in His strength, by forgiving, by having a Biblical perspective on suffering and dealing with their pain accordingly (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Hebrews 12:1-11) , by rejecting anger, by trusting God. And most of all by accepting whatever comes into their life as coming from the hand of a loving God who knows what is best for them – even when none of it makes sense.

So even if you don’t get through this in this life, trust that God has something for you in the pain and the sufferings of life.

Without being presumptuous, I’d like to suggest another perspective for those facing pain and suffering – or as Lucado says, for those down in Egypt (Joseph).

This has a purpose.
It won’t be painless.
It won’t be quick.
But God will use this mess for good.
Don’t be foolish or naïve.
But don’t despair either.
With God’s help, you’ll be better for it.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When God Isn’t There

I recognize that this title states an impossibility – there’s never a time when God isn’t there. He’s always there whether or not we sense His presence. But there are times in life when it seems like God isn’t there. Times when we struggle with a God who is silent. What do we do then? I think there is a clue in Psalm 13. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it before you read the rest of this blog. It’s short.

Psalm 13 is a lament written by David. And he doesn’t mince any words getting to the core issue: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever (Vs 1)?

For David it seemed like God wasn’t there or at least that God had forgotten him. Just in case God didn’t get the idea David followed that question up with another: How long will You hide Your face from me (Vs 1)? In that culture when the king hid his face it meant that he withheld his blessing. David was feeling left out by a God who seemed to be absent from the details of his life.

The result of God’s disappearing act (at least that was how David saw it) was that David had a sense of being on his own in life without anyone, especially God, to help him. Ever been there? Ever felt as if God had gone AWOL and you were on your own? That’s where David was. In fact he was so alone that he thought that this might literally be the end (Vs 3).

So what’s the answer? When you feel like God isn’t there for you and you’re on your own – what do you do?

David doesn’t end the Psalm without giving us three simple things that every Christian needs to do when it seems that God isn’t there.

1. Keep Trusting in His Goodness

But I have trusted in Your mercy (Vs 5).

Even though he was going through a spiritual desert, David determined that the one thing that was always true was God’s goodness and he could trust in that.

Trusting in God’s goodness is saying, God I’m going to choose to believe that You are good to me even when I don’t see any evidence of Your goodness. It’s putting Truth before feelings. It’s putting what you know is right before what you feel is wrong.

2. Keep Rejoicing in His Salvation

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Vs 5).

Rejoicing is difficult when you think God is ignoring you. But that’s what David resolved to do.

Rejoicing in His salvation is saying God I’m going to rejoice in what I know is true because if you can save me, you can take care of me. Do you really think that we have a God who has gone to such great lengths to save us only to turn His back on us?

And even if He isn’t doing anything that we can identify right now, isn’t the fact that He saved you enough evidence of His presence?

3. Keep Remembering His Blessings

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me (Vs 6).

Remembering has great value. It encourages. It gives hope. It stirs our emotions. It reminds us that God IS there and that He CAN help us.

Remembering His blessings is saying God I know that if you blessed me in the past you can and will bless me in the future.

It’s affirming that God is interested in your life and that without Him life would a lot worse than we think it is.

Trusting in God’s goodness, rejoicing in His salvation and remembering His blessings are all acts of Faith. It takes faith to trust God when you can’t sense His presence. It takes faith to rejoice in the fact that God saved you when He doesn’t seem to be around. It takes faith to remember His blessings when it doesn’t seem like He’s blessing you now.

So the next time you think that God isn’t there, follow David’s lead.

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

What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Hobby Lobby Case: Victory for Religion or Harbinger of Defeat?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what many believe will be one of its most significant decisions of this term. In summary the court decided by the narrowest of margins (5-4) that a privately owned company cannot be forced by the government to pay for health care which violates the religious convictions of the owners. Those who sided with the plaintiffs, which in this case were Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, will claim a great victory for our first amendment rights, specifically the protection of religion. The comments posted online by the Pennsylvania Family Institute reflect the sentiments of many evangelicals. Liberty in America was affirmed and protected today as the United States Supreme Court sided with advocates for First Amendment freedoms, and rejected government overreach into the lives of those who own and operate businesses. You can read their complete statement here.

There is, however, cause for great concern in this apparent victory. Our government was established to function with three equal but separate powers; the executive (president), the legislative (congress) and the judicial (courts). Each has their role to play in concert with the others. One of the geniuses of our founders was that our laws were to be established by the officials who were elected by the people. Those who were closest to the people and answerable to the people made the laws.

However, recent history has demonstrated the inability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to function together for the good of our nation. For some time our nation has been at a political impasse. While many on both the right and the left of the political spectrum see their primary responsibility as impeding the agenda of their opponents there is a dark side to this impasse. We have effectively become a nation ruled by the courts. No longer is the will of the people or their elected representatives the key factor in determining our laws. Instead a few unelected judges who do not need to answer to the people determine the laws that govern us.

In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Christians approve the court’s decision. But what happens when the makeup of the court shifts to the left? When decisions begin to come down in opposition to our religious beliefs? It will only take one more strategic appointment for the votes to become 5-4 against religious freedom. And another to be 6-3. Before we rejoice too loudly we need to understand what is at stake. We need to realistically evaluate the course on which we are headed. A country that is ruled by its judiciary can more easily be led down a different path than a country in which the laws are established by the representatives of the people. Do we really want to be a nation ruled by judges? Even if they occasionally rule in our favor?

While I am grateful for the ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case, I believe that it is a dangerous harbinger of things to come. That we will increasingly become a nation ruled, not by laws passed by the people or their representatives, but by judges. And if recent history is any indicator, the decisions will not reflect a biblically based wisdom, but a humanistic view of life. There is danger in the path that we are on even if we see occasional victories.

Which brings me to this: our confidence is not in man but in God. The Psalmist reminds us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) and the writer of Hebrews that the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6).

Ultimately our hope is not in the laws that are passed or the judicial decisions that are rendered but in a righteous God who never changes (Hebrews 13:8). That is where we need to rejoice!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve