God’s Persistent Love

God’s love is one of the great truths of the Bible. The fact that the God of the universe; the omnipotent God; the eternal God; the God who is greater than all, is the same God who loves you as His child is a truth that should stagger your mind and overwhelm you like a giant tidal wave.

It’s also a truth that we need to be reminded of from time to time. Life is difficult at its best. We face issues and situations in life that seem to have no answers or explanations. People struggle with life-threatening illnesses, broken relationships, financial crises, rebellious children, loss of jobs, and natural disasters. It’s easy to become discouraged with life and wonder if it is all worthwhile. That’s exactly when we need to be reminded of the persistence of God’s love.

Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes God’s love in Romans eight:

Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You may not feel like a conqueror today but through Jesus Christ you not only can be – you are! The reality is that you are a conqueror over anything that tries to come between you and God’s love for you. That’s because the victory has already been won through Jesus. It is through Jesus that we know and experience God’s love. It is through Jesus that we conquer whatever life throws at us.

This week you will undoubtedly experience some of life’s more difficult moments. When you do, remind yourself that the God who created you also loves you with a Persistent Love. And there is nothing that you or anyone else (or anything else) can do to change that love.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Someday You Will See

I just came from my biennial eye exam. The good news is that there has been no change since my check-up in 2015. The bad news is that everything’s blurry! Since medical issues for me do not include eye problems (just reading glasses) I’m not tuned into the procedures. Forgot about the dilation.

Driving to the office was interesting! Even now the computer screen is blurry around the edges.

That made me think of the words of the Apostle Paul, now we see in a mirror, dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The word dimly is where we get our word enigma. An enigma is a mystery or a puzzle. It’s not clear or unambiguous. Perhaps a word that gives the sense of Paul’s statement would be indistinctly.

Most commentators point out the fact that in Paul’s day, mirrors were usually polished pieces of metal that gave a rather imperfect reflection. Sort of like seeing your face in the rippling waters of a stream. You can see yourself, just not as well as in your mirror at home.

To make his point about seeing in a mirror, dimly, Paul made a comparison between a child and an adult (verse 11). They just see things differently. Any parent of a small child will confirm this.

Children see things from a perspective limited by their knowledge and experience. The adult looks at the same set of facts and sees them entirely different because of the knowledge and experience that they have gained in a lifetime of struggle.

When Paul wrote when I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11), his focus was on the difference between our earthly/temporary existence and our heavenly/eternal existence.

Right now we see things from the perspective of a child – that is, limited by our humanness. Our understanding of life, the gift of salvation, God, His mercy, grace and forgiveness, the sacrifice of Christ, heaven, eternity and even who we will one day become are not what they will be.

That’s not to say that we don’t have some understanding of these things. Children possess an understanding, just not a complete one.

Think about it. Whatever you know about spiritual and eternal things is wonderful, but it’s like your reflection in the water. Someday you will see it all clearly and understand it perfectly. In the same way that God knows you (implied in the verse), you will understand all of the mysteries of salvation.

That’s awesome! And something to look forward to.

Is it any wonder that the Bible talks about heaven in terms of exuberant praise? Just wait. What you will someday learn will so expand your knowledge and understanding that you won’t be able to stop the praise from flowing. It will burst out of you like water bursting through a dam.

Someday You Will See.

Now I now partially, but then I shall know just as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Makes a Good Christian?

I listened to a podcast by 9Marks this week that asked the question, What Makes a Good Pastor? Good question.

If you are interested you can listen to it at www.9marks.org

Since most of you who read this blog are not pastors, I want to change the question to, What Makes a Good Christian? Another good question.

We often define what it means to be a good Christian by a list of Do’s and Don’ts.

They DO read their Bible every day; pray; go to church etc.

They DON’T gossip, get angry, harbor resentment etc.

All good things.

Or we define it with passages like Galatians 5:22-26 which lists the Fruit of the Spirit.

Manifesting the Fruit of the Spirit is a good start but there is more.

Just like there are many things that play into making a good pastor, there are many things that play into making a good Christian. Let me list just a few.

A Good Christian . . .

-loves God with all of their heart, soul and mind, and it shows in how they live life (Matthew 22:37).

-is willing to submit their lives (decisions, emotions, will) to the Word of God even to their own detriment and discomfort (James 1:21-25).

-is passionate about and dedicated to Jesus, His Word, His Church and His people (add John 13:34-35 to the above two passages).

-shows forgiveness and mercy to those who don’t deserve it – without hesitation (Matthew 18:21-35, Micah 6:8).

-struggles with sin but ultimately chooses the path of forgiveness over the path of pleasure (1 John 1:9).

-lives in the power and holiness of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-26).

-lives a life of love and knows that sometimes that includes doing the difficult thing (1 Corinthians 13, 1 Timothy 5:20).

-understands that their life is about God and not themselves (1 Corinthians 6:19).

There is more. This is just a start.

Being a Good Christian is not something that just happens to you. It’s something that you’ll have to work at. To strive for. It won’t be easy.

But it is what God wants. It’s what He’s asked us to do.

Ephesians 4:1
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.

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

The Power of a Life

People die every day. The famous ones have their pictures plastered on magazine covers and on social media.

The ordinary people might get a mention in the local newspaper.

Over the last few months our church has said goodbye to two very ordinary people. Two of our most senior saints have gone on to their reward. They weren’t famous but they were lives well lived. They were the kind of people of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

They will be missed by those who knew them.

Norman Zimmerman and Anna Mary Byler were both Pennsylvania Dutch. Such good people.

For those of you who are not familiar with south central PA – You might be Pennsylvania Dutch if you . . .

-You know how to cook, but not without butter.
-Your iced tea is sweeter than Pepsi.
-Your idea of Chicken Pot Pie has nothing to do with a pie and you can’t
figure out why people might think it would.
-You order “dippy eggs” for breakfast.
-The Green Dragon isn’t a Chinese restaurant.
-Three words: Red Beet Eggs.
-You know what a Whoopie Pie, a Shoo Fly Pie and Fasnachts are.
-You out the light.
-You go to the store when the milk is all.
-A “Bud” is not a beer and it’s much better than those cheap knockoffs like
Hershey’s kisses.
-English might not be your first language – ever hear Pennsylvania Dutch?

Back to the main point.

Norman didn’t speak English until he went to grammar school. And even then it was difficult for him. Because of a speech problem he was sometimes hard to understand. But he was a master craftsman, a faithful husband to his dear wife, Ruth, and a man whose word could be trusted.

Anna Mary was, among other things, a self-taught Bible scholar. She may have known more about the Bible than her pastor. She was a woman of grace, of hospitality, of honor and a faithful wife to her husband Marvin.

As I reflected on the lives of these dear saints three things stood out to me.

The first is that neither of them were people who lived in the limelight. They didn’t demand or even longed for the spotlight. It just wasn’t in their nature. Yet both of them accomplished more for the Lord than many who stand in the front of the church.

The second thing that stood out about them is that they were faithful. Faithful to their God, their families, their churches, their jobs, their friends. Unbelievably faithful. It’s a quickly vanishing trait.

The third thing that characterized both Norman and Anna Mary was the power of their influence. They both had great influence on other people. They might not have known it but others did. Their influence was shown in different ways to be sure, but it was – and still is – there. They both had an influence on my life.

That’s the Power of a Life. People left behind whose lives have been marked by your life. We should all aspire to such a legacy.

It was a privilege for me to have been the pastor for both Norman and Anna Mary for the last decade of their lives. They have inspired me to keep on; never quit; don’t give up; be faithful; don’t worry about who gets the credit; love Jesus, my wife, and others; speak the truth – in love and with grace; make my life count.

To both Norman and Anna Mary I would borrow from the gospels and say, well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Beauty of the Body

It’s Valentine’s Day and some of you are wondering where I’m going with that title! It’s true that God created the physical body as a thing of wonder and beauty, but that’s not the body I’m referring to.

I’m talking about the Body of Christ.

Just as God created the physical body as a thing of beauty, so He created the Body of Christ to be beautiful. Not just in our local churches but worldwide.

I’ve been exposed to the Body of Christ in both Haiti and the Philippines over the past 27 years and I have been blessed beyond anything I had anticipated.

My purpose in traveling to both of these countries was to teach in Bible Schools and preach in churches but I have learned far more from the Body in those places than I have given them.

Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from the extended Body of Christ. I hope they encourage you to look at the Body differently.

1. I’ve seen what it means to be Satisfied.

I just returned from Haiti where our team visited eight churches in four days that were in the path of Hurricane Matthew. In each church 80-100% of the people lost the roofs on their homes. Many had family members die.

One thing that I’ve learned in Haiti (it’s also true in the Philippines) is that the Christians are satisfied. Would they like better living conditions? Sure they would. But they have learned to trust God and to be satisfied with what He has given them.

Check Philippians 4:11-13.

2. I’ve seen what Relationships look like.

I tend to enjoy solitude. Being relational doesn’t come naturally for me. But I’ve learned the importance (and the need) of relationships.

Both Haitians and Filipinos are by nature relational. In fact life for them is about relationships.

If I understand 1 Corinthians 12 correctly, the Body of Christ is also about relationships. We can’t survive without each other – at least not in a spiritually healthy way.

Because of the example of the Christians in Haiti and the Philippines, I’ve come to enjoy relationships and even to desire them.

See 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.

3. I’ve seen what it means to be Hospitable.

If Haitians and Filipinos are anything, they are hospitable. They will share their meager meal with you even if it’s all they have.

They can help you in any way they can.

They are generous and giving people – just like the Body of Christ is supposed to be.

Check James 2:14-17.

4. I’ve learned to be more about Jesus.

We talk a lot about Jesus in the church. We sing about Him. We teach about Him. We preach about Him.

But Living Jesus is another thing.

Depending on Him for everything is something that we in the Western church don’t need to do. We have a lot of material possessions. We don’t know what it means to suffer.

Our brothers and sisters have learned through their suffering to make life all about Jesus, not about things.

We can learn from their example.

See Philippians 1:21.

5. I’ve learned to listen more and talk less.

When you are in another culture, especially if you don’t speak the language, you are forced to listen more and talk less.

That’s a good thing. We learn more that way.

And by listening we begin to understand the needs, the heartaches, the joys, the hopes, and the hearts of another part of the Body.

James 1:19 applies here.

6. I’ve learned to value people.

Other cultures value people more than we do in the West. They will go out of their way not to hurt someone intentionally. It goes back to the relationships. When you have relationships that really matter to you, you value those people.

It also goes back to material possessions. When you have a lot you want to protect the things you have. Eventually things take the place of people.

Things are not important. People are. Christ never told us to value things, but He did tell us to value people.

Don’t value things. Value people. Value the Body of Christ.

Check Matthew 22:37-40.

7. I’ve learned about the importance of prayer.

Haiti was never a land without suffering but the suffering has multiplied 10-fold in the past four months. First there was Hurricane Matthew. Then the Hundred-Year flood. Now there’s a drought. There was no food in the gardens when we visited.

The physical needs are overwhelming. Yet not one person asked us to give them money or food. Their only request was for us to pray for them.

Prayer is their only hope.

And it is our only hope. Prayer is important to the Body of Christ.

Check Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6-7

The Body of Christ is Beautiful beyond anything we can imagine. God made it that way. We need to see it that way.

We need to value the Body. We need to take care of the Body.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Word of Caution to the Church

There is a movement in our country (it’s possible that it’s wider spread than just the U.S.) that is threatening the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what to call it but I do know what it looks like.

It looks a lot like politics.

In all of the finger-pointing, political posturing, marches, social media posts and just general conversations that are taking place around the hot button issues of today (immigration, reproductive rights, the economy, the Supreme Court appointments, etc.), we are in danger of forgetting who we are as Christians.

So let me remind all of us (not the least, myself) that we are the FAMILY of God, united under one banner, in one name, for one cause.

Our unity in Jesus Christ must be stronger than our political differences.

Anything that divides us is not worth it – no, it is Wrong!

Something can be wrong for the Christian on several levels.

-It can be wrong because it is contrary to the teaching of God’s Word (don’t push your political agenda too far here. There are great brothers and sisters on different sides of most political issues).

-It can be wrong because we have allowed it to achieve something that it never should have achieved (IE division – see 1 Corinthians 1. I’m of the Democrats. I’m of the Republicans. I’m of the Libertarians – my paraphrase).

-It can be wrong because we have elevated it to a place to which it should never have been elevated (IE above the church of Jesus Christ – see Colossians 1:18).

I’m sure that all of these apply to various people in the church.

My point is not to stifle political debate among Christians. It’s to make sure that we keep the debates in their proper place. The temporal (earthly politics) can never be allowed to supersede the spiritual (the Family of God).

We can agree to disagree but we can never agree to separate or divide over earthly matters. They are simply not as important as the Church.

If we have to get rid of something it has to be that which has the potential to divide us.

But it seems that many Christians are willing to jettison the unity of the church in favor of expressing their political opinions.

We are to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Not eager to engage in verbal combat.

One of the passages that the Haitian Christians often share with their American visitors is Psalm 133. Verse one puts it into context – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Unity among Christians is good, it is pleasant. Division is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve