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

Advertisements

Don’t be Like the Saudis

The Saudis are in a world of trouble over the Khashoggi affair. Call me Captain Obvious. I don’t bring this up to step into the world of politics, but to use it as an illustration.

Think about how the Saudi government has handled, or should I say mishandled this entire affair. There’s a good summary in the New York Times that you can read here. They have:

  1. Claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate the same day.
  2. Denied that he was detained or killed in the consulate.
  3. Denied any involvement in his disappearance.
  4. Denied any knowledge of the affair until days later.
  5. Denied that their leaders ordered the operation to take place.

Is anyone really buying this?

So far they have done everything except admit the truth (that seems to be the opinion of many people). Slowly their explanations are unraveling.

In a kingdom as tightly controlled as Saudi Arabia their denials ring hollow. This is a sin that will reach to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

But this blog is not about the Saudis. It’s about us. And OUR sins.

As Christians, when we sin we are tempted to act like the Saudis. We issue denials (even when no one else knows about our sin). We make excuses. We attempt to justify our actions. We offer alternative scenarios. We do everything except admit the truth.

While it’s easy to criticize the Saudis for their sin, we give ourselves a pass for our sin.

For us it’s not a matter of when the truth will come out. The Truth is already out – at least to the one who counts the most.

And that’s the insane part of this – God already knows so why do we try to hide our sin, or worse yet, act like it never happened?

It’s because we are more like the Saudis than we would like to admit.

We try to save face. We try to put the best spin on it. We try to come out of it smelling like a rose. Meanwhile the whole world (or at least the people who know about our sin) knows the truth. When we try to convince ourselves that our sin really doesn’t matter – it’s not that bad, we are kidding no one but ourselves. Just like the Saudis.

King David had the right perspective when he wrote, I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3).

When it comes to sin, be like David. Don’t be like the Saudis.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Crushed Hopes

The Cleveland Cavaliers – Crushed Hopes. Phil Mickelson – Crushed Hopes (again!). Argentina, Spain, Germany (especially Germany!), and Brazil – Crushed Hopes.

I know, all examples from the world of sports, in which you may not have any interest. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to understand Crushed Hopes. It happens every day and in far more significant ways then the outcome of a game.

We all have hopes and sometimes they get crushed.

Hope is important in life. Can you imagine a world without the possibility for hope? No hope in a better tomorrow? No hope that life holds a brighter future? No hope that you can be healed?

I wouldn’t want to live in a hopeless world. So very dark.

But sometimes we feel like hope has passed us by. That even though we hope, the reality of the end result is far different from the hope we had.

The truth is that hope is an elusive thing. It often depends on people or events over which you have no control. You cannot always dictate the path that life will take and that makes hope a dangerous thing. Lose hope too often and you’ll give up. It’s not worth getting Crushed again.

The key to realizing your hope is to make sure that it has a solid foundation.

Hope is only as good as that upon which you build. Put your hope in a fragile structure during a hurricane and it really won’t matter how hard you hope or how sincere your hope is – you’ll probably end up in Kansas with Toto.

That’s why it’s important to handle hope wisely. Crushed Hope is the result of putting your faith in the wrong thing. Too many people put their hope in hope and that will never work.

And that’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. It gives us a solid Hope. Not just in this life but for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19-22). As Christians our hope is in Jesus and His return to take us to a place where hope won’t be necessary because the expectation will be realized. (Titus 2:13).

Jesus is the solid foundation of our hope.

And so we wait. But we wait in the firm hope, the certain expectation, the reality of His coming (Galatians 5:5).

And while we might experience Crushed Hopes in this life, the hope that anchors our souls is firm, it is solid, it will last the storms of life (Hebrews 6:10).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Justice is a Hard Word

Justice. It’s a word that conjures up images of a gaunt faced, steely eyed, black-robed, no nonsense judge handing down the sentence. The criminal got what he deserved. No love lost here. Now we can move on with our lives. Justice was served.

We love it – especially if you are a diehard conservative. After all we are a nation of laws! We love Justice. We want judges who will hand it out according to the letter of the law.

There’s little to no place for mercy in our system.

Until we are the one standing before the Judge.

I have yet to read of anyone, conservative or liberal, asking the judge to give them what they deserved. Most, perhaps all, are hoping for the lightest possible sentence. Hoping for mercy.

To be honest, we only want justice for those we have predetermined are unworthy.

But that includes all of us.

According to the highest court in the universe, we are all unworthy – we are all guilty. There is not one innocent person, not even one (Romans 3:10). All are guilty and have come woefully short of keeping the law of God (Romans 3:23). While I’ve paraphrased those two passages, I don’t think that I’ve violated the meaning. In fact, I think this is exactly what they mean.

Somehow when we’re faced with our own guilt before God the righteous judge, our demand for justice changes into something else. We’re not so conservative now. Truthfully, we hope for a giant helping of liberal mercy.

If we were to get justice we know where we would spend eternity. I’m not talking about heaven.

But God is not only Just, He is also the Justifier (Romans 3:26). In His Justice He deals with our sin. As the Justifier He forgives our sin. And it’s all because of Jesus.

God made it possible for our sin to be assumed by another (1 Peter 3:18) and for anyone who will put their faith in Jesus to stand before him in complete innocence (2 Corinthians 5:21).

His is a hard Justice. But it’s a justice tempered by mercy.

Justice without mercy is cruel. Justice tempered by mercy gives hope.

Thankfully God knows what we struggle to understand. That Justice and Mercy can walk hand in hand.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Loving God More

Loving God is an interesting thing. Many Christians think that they love God simply because they say that they love God. But loving God surely has to be more than just an affirmation. It’s too easy just to say it.

I can say that I love someone without it really being true.

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the commandments in the Bible, He said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). He identified this as the first (in priority) and greatest of all of the commandments that God has given us.

We are to love God with every fiber of our being. Loving God is of no little importance.

But how to do it is the issue.

How can we love God more?

This morning I read this passage which sheds some light on the subject. Jesus said: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

Loving God begins with understanding just how much we have been forgiven. Without a proper understanding of our indebtedness we will never love Him the way we should.

The event that led up His statement was a dinner to which Jesus had been invited. During the meal a woman who possessed a less than stellar reputation came into the room and began to act rather strangely.

A brief explanation will help us understand the situation. When guests visited a home they would be greeted with a kiss on the check similar to the custom of some cultures today.

Then because of the hot climate some provision would be made to have the dusty feet of the guests washed before they reclined on low-lying cushioned “couches” or mats arranged around a central table. Depending on the exact arrangement of the mats, it was possible for the feet of another guest to be a little too close to your nose. Not a pleasant thought if their feet had not been washed.

Apparently the normal customs were not provided at this particular dinner.

Back to the woman and her strange behavior. The story says that she began to wash and dry the feet of Jesus. Nothing too strange at this point – these were accepted norms in the culture. It would not have been unusual for the other guests, if they were not paying close attention, to assume that she was one of the house servants.

But she went beyond what was expected and began to kiss his feet and to anoint them with a fragrant oil. Definitely not normal behavior.

If the other guests, however, were paying attention they would have noticed something unusual in the demeanor of the woman. She was in deep anguish of soul. The text says that she stood at His feet behind Him weeping: and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hair of her head (Matthew 7:38). Definitely not normal behavior.

That brings us to the question: What produced this unusual action?

The clue is in the words of Jesus: To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Luke 7:47).

This woman was not just a sinner – she was a sinner who had been forgiven. And she understood the magnitude of her forgiveness. She understood that she had sinned greatly and that God had forgiven her greatly. This was no little thing to her.

Her love for Jesus sprang out of her understanding of her forgiveness.

The same will be true in our lives. When we understand our forgiveness it will lead us to not only say that we love God, but to demonstrate our love the way this woman demonstrated her love.

Those who understand just how much they have been forgiven by God will be the ones who Love God More and it will be reflected in their behavior.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

God Sent a Mosquito

In the black night it sounded like a miniature jet plane in my ear. Given its incredibly small size the sound it made was incredible. And irritating. No amount of waving my arms around in the dark could stop it from its intended mission.

Anyone who has been dive bombed by a kamikaze mosquito knows the aggravation. I was getting mosquitoed. Only my third night in Haiti and I was already under attack.

And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten the most important thing I needed to do in Haiti. Take my malaria medicine.

The problem with malaria medicine is that it’s easy to forget. It’s taken with food and my normal routine over the years has been to take it with my evening meal.

And that’s where the problem started.

Haitians eat their main meal at noon and I was only snacking last night. I’m a creature of habit and not being in my routine was a problem. No meal – no medicine. I had only been in country for three days and I’d already forgotten to take my malaria medicine.

And that’s when God sent a mosquito.

To be truthful I don’t know if God sent it or not but it did the job. That nasty little insect was looking for a landing spot. A place to suck my blood. And if it’s the right (or wrong) kind of mosquito, to give me the malaria virus. All I wanted to do was to end its’ life before it nailed me.

And that’s when I remembered the medicine. I never did kill the mosquito but I did take my medicine.

I got to thinking about that mosquito. Could it have been a messenger from God? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll never know.

But it made me think about how God directs us in life. We tend to think that if God is going to lead us He will do it in a nice, comfortable way. But what if God chooses to send a mosquito to move us in the right direction? What if He decides that the best way to get us to do what He wants is to send an irritation that has the possibility of giving us spiritual malaria if we don’t do the right thing?

There’s no guarantee that whenever God acts in our lives, He’ll do it in a way that we enjoy. In fact that seems to me to fall into the category of Christian myth.

The Palmist wrote; it is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes (Psalm 119:71). And this from the New Testament writer, James; count it all joy when you fall into various trials – because trials can produce godliness in us (James 1:2-4) when we handle them the right way.

I suspect that the list of saints, both Biblical and non Biblical, who have been moved by trials of all kinds is long. Somehow God knows that the mosquitoes of life are affective.

So the bottom line is –it’s ok to kill the mosquitoes before they bite you, but it’s better if you can learn from them – especially the spiritual ones.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

You Have Value

Everyone lives in different circumstances. This is true on the local as well as the global level. What is true in your life, the things you have to deal with, are different from the things that anyone else has to deal with. The issues that people in one country face are different from the issues people in another country face.

It may be true that your life is similar to other people around you, but no matter how much your life is like someone else’s, there are areas that are unique just to you. No one else has a life exactly like yours.

Even in the Christian life, we are all different (on another level Paul makes this clear in his discussion of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12). The trials you face, the temptations you deal with, the concerns you have, are not the same as your brother or sister in the faith.

This gets us into the area of judging another Christian. While this is not the purpose of this blog, it does help in our understanding of Matthew 7:1 (although the spiritual rational for not judging another believer goes far beyond the American proverb of “walking in his moccasins”).

One of the great truths that is easy to overlook in any discussion of life is that every Christian has value in the eyes of God. You as an individual have great value to God regardless of the circumstances of your life.

Your value to God does not depend on the relative ease or difficulty of your life. Your value in the eyes of God depends on one profound truth – you are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6. A favorite NT term that demonstrates the love relationship between the Father and the Son).

When God looks at you, He sees His own Son. You are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Wow!

God does not see me as the terrible sinner that I am – He sees me as pure, holy and righteous. Because of Jesus.

That means that He values you as the most important person in the world because He values you as much as He values the Son of God!

So whatever you are facing today – no matter how difficult your circumstances, no matter how badly someone treats you – don’t forget that you have great, even infinite value to God!

Be encouraged! Be blessed! As much as the Eternal God values nothing and no one more than He values you!

You are His Beloved.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve