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

Advertisements

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

 

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

Trusting God

I started a new series in our church yesterday called Unreasonable Faith. Sometimes in the Christian life, God askes us to do things that from our perspective might seem unreasonable, even impossible.

Let me stress that they are not unreasonable when you look at them with spiritual eyes. But most of the time we aren’t looking at life through the eyes of faith and it’s then that things begin to appear as unreasonable.

I began the series with a sermon called Unreasonable Trust.  Even in the darkest times of life God wants our complete trust in His goodness and in the fact that what He does is always right (Proverbs 3:5-6) even if we don’t understand it.

He wants (from a human perspective) an unreasonable trust. He wants our complete, total trust in every situation.

There is so much to say in a sermon like that, that you can’t say everything. But my wife reminded me that I left out something very important. I never answered the question What can I do that will help me trust God more?

So, let me give you a couple of ideas how you can build that kind of trust in God.

Remember the Past

It’s all over the Old Testament. Whenever Israel was down, discouraged, despairing, or even forgetting God, they were reminded of the past. Specifically of the things that God had done for them in their ancient history.

He brought plagues on Egypt; He parted the Red Sea; He gave them water from the rock; He led them through the wilderness; He provided manna for them; He gave them meat to eat (all mentioned in Psalm 78 and other places).

The point was that as they remembered these events, they would be reminded of the faithfulness of God – that He was worth trusting. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 78, said that the value of remembering was that they might set their hope in God, and not forget His works (Psalm 78:7).

The point is that God is worth trusting because of what He has done for you in the past.

What has God done in your life, sometime in the past, that you need to remember today?

Build Monuments

When Israel crossed the Jordan river into the Promise Land, God told them to build a monument using twelve stones from the river. One stone for each tribe.

The purpose of the monument was so they would never forget what happened at that time and in that place (Joshua 4:1-7). And when their children in future years asked them the meaning of the stones, they could tell them what God had done. They were to be stones of remembrance.

Again, the point was that they could trust the God of the past to be their God today.

I’m not suggesting that you build a stone memorial when God answers your prayer or is faithful to you in some other way. There may be other ways you can build a monument. If you’re into journaling, write it down. Take pictures if that’s appropriate. Have your children color pictures and hang them in the upstairs hallway.

Do something to remind you that God is worth trusting.

Know Him Better

There is a direct relationship between how well you know someone and how much you trust them.

Do you remember the game you use to play where you fell backward and hoped that another player would catch you? Sometimes it’s called Trust Fall.

If you didn’t know the person who was supposed to catch you, it was harder to trust them.

The same thing is true of God. You’re only going to trust God to the extent that you know Him.

When the Bible tells us to trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5) it’s implying that you know God with all your heart.

The better you know Him the more you’ll trust Him.

So, spend time in your Bible, praying, meditating on the Word, listening to the Word, worshiping and praising Him. You’ll be amazed at what it will do for your trust.

Complete trust in God won’t come naturally. You’ll have to be intentional about developing it.

It is possible.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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

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