Christians sometimes act as if they need to protect God.

You see this most often in the religious sounding clichés that are posted on social media sites like Facebook. The trouble with many religious sounding clichés is that they simply don’t ring true. At least not if you are using the Bible as your standard of truth (and we all should be).

We profess to be people of truth but we don’t always express the truth in ways that are clear and helpful.

Here are two of numerous examples of clichés that Christians like to throw around.

God never shuts one door without opening another

There are variations in this, such as God never shuts a door without opening a window.

But where is that in the Bible?

It’s not.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all the doors and leaves you standing in the hallway because you’re not spiritually ready for the opportunities He has for you.

The truth is that sometimes God shuts all of the doors because He wants you to stay right where you are and not be looking for other opportunities.

There may be more reasons that God does not open a door but you get the point.

There is no Biblical guarantee that when God shuts a door of opportunity, He’ll open another one for you.

Another spiritually twisted clichés is:

God never gives you more than you can handle.

Again, that’s not in the Bible. It’s a nice thought but not a Biblical thought.

But what would people think of God if He overloaded us with burdens? That’s far from loving in our minds.

And what about 1 Corinthians 10:13? Doesn’t it promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle?

Here’s what it says:

No temptation (some would say trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tried) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Because that’s in the Bible, it’s true. But is that the same thing as saying God never gives you more than you can handle?

Paul didn’t think so.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

Far beyond our ability to endure sure sounds like God gave him more than he could handle.

So how do we reconcile these two passages – both from the pen of the same writer?

The key is what follows in verse 9 where Paul exclaims, Yes! We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God.

God does give us more than we can handle, but not more than He can handle. And He does it for a reason – so that we learn to trust Him in the difficult circumstances of life.

The way of escape from our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13) is to trust.

So why do we throw around these cute sounding but unbiblical religious slogans?

There are several reasons for this anomaly. One is that many Christians are unfamiliar with the Bible and if something sounds religious it must be right. While that may be true of some Christians, I don’t think it’s true of the majority of evangelical Christians (the majority of my audience).

Another reason for our religious clichés is that it makes us feel better about God. Our mental image of God is that of a grandfatherly figure who will always act in kind, loving ways toward His children.

It’s true that God always acts in kind and loving ways toward us, but only when you understand that trials and suffering (and yes, even discipline see Hebrews 12:5-6) are included in His acts of kindness and love.

Giving you more than you can handle is not an unkind act, it’s an act of love.

A third reason that we express our faith in religious sounding clichés that don’t reflect Biblical truth – and I think this is more often the case than we would like to admit – is because we’re trying to protect God. And if anyone demeans Him, we do what we can to protect Him and His reputation.

After all God needs someone to protect His image. Not.

God is more concerned about making you like Jesus than He is about what people think about Him. So He’ll load your plate if He needs to without worrying about His reputation.

Here are my two take-a-ways from all of this.

1. God doesn’t need us to protect Him. Anyone who would blame God for being unfair, unkind or unloving doesn’t know God. And no cute sounding religious saying is going to change their minds.

2. We need to be Biblical in our expressions and beliefs. Just because something sounds like something God would do doesn’t mean that it is.

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.

Last week’s blog, Life is Hard, hit a nerve. There was good feedback from a number of readers. But I don’t want to leave it there because that’s only half of the Truth.

The other half of the Truth is God is Good!

Psalm 136:1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Whenever we emphasize half of the Truth to the neglect of the other half we’re headed down a self-defeating path. Half of the Truth is never the Truth. You need it all. And what we need to balance the difficulties of life is the Goodness of God.

Which gives us some insight into why we question God when we don’t like the way life is going. It’s because we’re not focusing on all of the Truth.

There is even truth in the realization that at times God in His Goodness makes our lives hard. From the beginning Adam was expected to work (Genesis 2:15). Granted we don’t know all that entailed, and it was certainly different from the work he did after the fall (Genesis 3:17-19) but it was still work. He didn’t sit around all day sipping Mint Juleps. God expected Adam to work.

The idea of God displaying His Goodness through the Hard Times in life is even more evident after the Fall. Perhaps the clearest statement is Joseph’s explanation to his guilt-ridden brothers late in his life. After all of the hardships of life that he went through because of the hatred of his brothers, he could say God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). That clearly implicates God in the hardships. But it was because He is Good and He was doing Good.

Even when He brings hardship into your life He is still Good.

And you can count on Him always being Good because His Goodness is based on His Character, not on your circumstances.

God can’t help being Good. It’s Who. He. Is.

That means that God always acts toward us in Goodness. It doesn’t always appear that way to us; we don’t always understand it; we don’t always like it, but it’s still true.

When someone is fundamentally Good you know that you can Trust them. You know that you can Rely on them. You know that they will Treat you Right. You know that they have your best interest at heart.

That’s God.

His Goodness, even in the Hard Times, is for your Good.

Yes, Life is Hard. YES, God is Good.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

God in the Big Things

Recently I shared a posting on Facebook – it was a sermon by Alistair Begg titled God of the Ordinary (you can listen to it here). Too often we miss what God is doing because we overlook the ordinary events of life – which is where He normally appears. Don’t miss God in the ordinary.

But God also works in the dramatic, the extraordinary. Let me share a story with you from a young lady who was raised in our church and is now serving as a missionary in Haiti. Her name is Krischelle and she works in a very poor and difficult area of Haiti, even by Haitian standards.

A large truck and trailer filled with supplies was donated to Lemuel Ministries (see their blog here), the ministry Krischelle works with in Haiti. Getting supplies to Haiti is difficult at best – getting them through customs is even harder. Two of their staff members traveled to Port au Prince and each day checked with customs praying and hoping that their things would be released. One of the customs agents was even a former Lemuel staff member who did all he could to expedite their case. The two men who were there to pick up the truck and drive it back parked in the same place at the dock every day and waited – for a week and a half. Then on Thursday of the second week there was a large chemical explosion at the docks. Buildings, trucks, cars, and supplies were damaged and destroyed.

The customs inspector who was helping Lemuel had walked out of the area thirty minutes before the explosion.

The two Lemuel staff members decided that day to return home. The location where they had parked for the better part of two weeks suffered extensive damage – all the cars parked in that area burned.

There was a group of ten new four-wheelers waiting to clear customs. The security personnel only had time to save one of them – it was Lemuel’s.

Other large trucks waiting to clear customs were destroyed – Lemuel’s truck was unscathed.

You can choose to look at this as a series of fortuitous circumstances. Or you can choose to see the hand of God providing for His people. It takes as much faith to believe one as the other.

Yes, God appears in the ordinary events of life and that is where He normally works. But at times He shows up in the big events – at just the right place, at just the right time. And for that we praise Him!

Romans 8:28 is still true. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

The Mysteries of God

I’ve been writing this column for almost six years now. Some of you have been readers from the very beginning – others may be reading it for the first time. My hope is that it is an encouragement and guide to you on your spiritual journey.

The longer I write, the more I find myself addressing what might be referred to as the mysteries of God. Let’s face it – God is not easy to understand. If He was, He wouldn’t be God. Be glad you have a god that you can’t understand. That means He’s more than the sum of your thoughts, greater than your problems and higher than your expectations. If you could understand all there is about God then He would be no greater than your IQ. I want a god who is vastly greater than my IQ.

One of the great mysteries related to God is why life happens the way it does. Why doesn’t God intervene in bad situations? Why does He allow/determine things to happen to His children that bring sorrow and pain? Why does He seem silent . . . uninterested . . . uncaring? If God is sovereign, isn’t He in control of life? And if He is in control of life, why doesn’t He solve our problems? Why doesn’t He remove all evil? Why doesn’t He just DO something?

No one has all of the answers to such cosmic questions, but as I have reflected on this issue some thoughts came to mind. I need to hear them – perhaps you do too.

1. It may be that God has intervened and you haven’t yet recognized it. We are dealing here with not only what we can see, but what we can’t see. Remember Elisha’s servant who saw the mighty army of the Syrians but couldn’t see the army of God until his eyes were opened (2 Kings 6:17). Much of what God does in our lives is done in the realm of the unseen. Don’t think that just because you cannot see what God is doing that He has failed to act. Ask Him in His grace to help you to see.

2. Remember that God’s highest goal is His glory (Exodus 20:2, Isaiah 42:8, 48:11). We want God’s highest priority to be us. We want Him to spend His time (if we can even refer to God and time in the same breath) solving our problems. I know that God is the ultimate multitasker – I’m not making a reference here to God but to us. We need to keep the truth in front of us that when God acts, He ultimately acts for His own glory. That might mean that the trials we face are intended to enhance His glory in ways that we cannot understand. Ask God to glorify Himself through you.

3. God may use the bad in your life for the good in someone else’s. Life isn’t just about us – it’s about all of us. As Christians we are to live our lives for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and the benefit of others (Galatians 6:10). Joseph’s trials were for the good of his family and ultimately the nation of Israel. Paul’s prison experience was for the good of the Philippian jailer and his family. Christ’s death was for the good of those who trust Him as savior. Good often comes out of bad – and if the spiritual good of another person can come out of your pain, well isn’t that worth it?

4. God may be trying to change you. Real spiritual change rarely comes from pleasant circumstances. It normally comes out of hardship (James 1:2-4). When life is good we tend to sit back and enjoy it. It’s when life is painful that we begin to examine it and search for answers. That process will lead to change. In fact the Christian life is all about change – changing into the image of Christ. Take encouragement from your trials – they mean that God isn’t through with you yet (Hebrews 13:21).

5. God forgives all confessed sin but He doesn’t always remove the consequences of our sin. We tend to think that when God forgives, He removes the sin and the results of our sin. It’s true that He removes the sin and puts it on His Son. It’s also truth that He removes the eternal consequences of sin. But He doesn’t always choose to remove the temporal consequences. The alcoholic may suffer the ravages of a diseased liver even after confessing his sin. Many of our problems in life fall into this category. We suffer even though we are walking with God because of choices made in the distant past. When that is the case, ask God for grace to handle the trials (Hebrews 4:16).

6. The actions of other people impact my life. It may not be fair but it is reality. What other people do; the choices they make can have a significant impact – often negative – on our lives. While we may not be able to control what they do, we can control how we respond. This is where faith comes in. As Christians we walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That is we choose to respond in a Jesus imitating way instead of how we would like to respond.

God is a mystery, however the Christian life isn’t. He’s told us how to live. It won’t be easy but it is possible. Ask Him for strength to get you through.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Out the Lights

Pastor will you out the lights? I was on my way inside the church and the lights were still on. It was a gentle reminder from one of our men so that I didn’t forget to turn them off. That and he was probably tired of my rants about people turning lights off when they were the last ones out of the building.

To a lot of people out the lights is a strange way to ask someone to turn the lights off but to the Pennsylvania Dutch people among whom I minister it (along with many other colorful expressions) is quite typical. There was a time when I would have wondered what it meant but after hearing it over and over again it’s become part of my thought process (although many of their expressions are still a mystery to me).

That made me think about God. Sometimes God speaks to us in a strange language – a language that we struggle to understand. Maybe I should say that He speaks in a strange way. We understand the words just like we understand the three words out – the – lights, but understanding the words is not the problem. The problem is we don’t always understand what God means (out the lights) by the words He uses.

An example might help here. Jesus said to His disciples if any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple/follower (Luke 14:26). Among the hard sayings of Jesus that one has to rank somewhere near the top of the list. To those who were raised in an evangelical church you might have some understanding of what Jesus meant, but think about the person who picks up a bible for the first time and randomly turns to that page and reads those words. They understand the words – come to mehatecannot be my disciple, but they may never get past the words to what the words were intended to convey. The problem is that they don’t understand what Jesus meant by the words He used. Many of us are right there. Even as Christians we struggle with understanding what God means by what He says. And if we can’t understand what He means how can we know what He wants from us?

So what do you do when you don’t understand the words of God? Here is my suggestion; spend more time with God. The only reason that I understand what it means to out the lights is because I have spent time with people trying to understand what they mean by the words they use. Admittedly I still have a long way to go – but then I have a long way to go with God too. But I find that as I spend more time with God, reading His word, searching the scripture, agonizing over the hard sayings, little by little it becomes clearer. Not all at once, but slowly.

One final thought – when you struggle with what God is saying don’t feel alone. All of us struggle. In fact the disciples struggled with some of His teachings. Their exact words were this is a hard/difficult saying; who can understand it (John 6:60)? We are all on the same spiritual journey and it’s not an easy one. But it is a worthwhile journey so don’t give up. Start with what you do understand and go from there. As you spend time with God you will begin to understand Him more and more – and who knows, someday you may even understand what it means to out the lights.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve