It’s a Complicated World

We live in a complicated world. As much as we want simplicity there are no easy answers. For every issue that we face there are multiple things that we need to consider. It seems that every issue is more complicated that it appears on the face.

And that causes problems between people.

We want quick answers. We have a need to know – now; to hold people responsible; to assign blame; to take sides; to make sure our side wins the PR battle.

And that means that we are often too quick to condemn those who see an issue differently and too quick to defend those we agree with. We have lost the art of reflection and deliberation.

Reserving judgment until all, or most of the facts are in, was at one time more common than it is today. But no longer. Now we rush to judgment. So much so, that anyone who seems too deliberative is considered suspect and their motives questioned.

It’s true in every arena of life.

No longer do we give people we disagree with the benefit of the doubt. They don’t deserve it. And too often we view them as the enemy.

I’m not suggesting that we put aside all of our differences or that we no longer take firm stands on the issues. Only that we do it carefully, with due consideration and thoughtfully.

For the Christian there is a standard that should guide all of our actions. It’s the standard of love. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest of all of the Old Testament commandments (Matthew 22:34f) He said that we are to love God with all that is in us. He quickly followed that up with a second commandment that was as important as the first and that is to love other people as much as we love ourselves.

I think that includes people who hold a different position on the issue.

We are to operate, always, in the context of love.

What does that mean in terms of how we related to people who don’t see things the same way we seem them?

The Apostle Paul touches on that in 1 Corinthians 13:7 when he says love believes all things. The Amplified Bible states it this way: Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person.

Always. Even when we disagree.

The New Testament scholar Leon Morris explained what this means when he wrote, it means to see the best in others . . . . This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived . . . but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt.

When as Christians we are too quick to condemn; too quick to draw conclusions; too quick to take sides, we are no longer operating in the standard of love.

Imagine what our society would look like if everyone practiced love this way. Always. All of the time. With everyone. Regardless.

While the issues we face are complicated, the way to handle them is not.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve


What Will You Do With Another Year?

A year has ended and a new year is here. Some people, especially the young, look forward to a new year with all of its possibilities and potential. Others, mostly older people, aren’t so enthusiastic about another year with its trials and hardships.

Whichever group you fit into, the reality is the same for everyone – it’s here! You can’t stop it; you can’t change it; you can’t avoid it.

It is a set reality that the old year has gone and a new year has come. And that means several things.

It means that you are a year older and have one year less on your personal calendar.

It means that some opportunities have been lost to the past, never to be recovered.

It means that for some things in your life that you messed up there are no “do-overs”.

It means that certain things are now in the dust bin of history.

But a new year is here and that too is significant.

It means that you are a year wiser and can achieve more in a year’s time than before.

It means that you will have new, unexpected opportunities.

It means that you can determine to do things right the first time this time.

It means that you can live so that at the end of this year, when the actions of your life are relegated to the dust bin of history, they will be seen as achievements not as failures.

The question for all of us is: What will you do with another year?

Will it just be another year, like so many past years, that comes and goes? Or will it be unlike any other year of your life?

Will you live it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Will you achieve great things for the kingdom of God (John 9:4)?

Will you influence someone’s life for eternity (Matthew 5:14-16)?

Will you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?

A typical year has 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months. It’s the same for all of us. No one gets an advantage.

The success or failure of a new year is not in the advantage of time, it’s in how you use the time that is the same for all of us.

Use it wisely (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Where Do You Get Your News?

If you watch the news for any length of time you’ll be tempted to ask is there any GOOD news? We’re inundated with one unsavory story after another that cause us to live in fear, disgust and/or hopelessness. It seems like evil has overrun our world.

As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised. God’s Word tells us that in the days just before the return of Christ, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We’re there.

But back to the question is there any GOOD news? The answer is YES! Yes there is good news, especially for the Christian. It’s all about where you look. Most people get their news from sources like as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or various internet sites and if you keep looking there, you’ll probably continue to get bad news and it will be discouraging. However, if you get your news from God’s Word there is plenty of good news. Here’s just a sample of the good news that God has for you as a Christian:

God is still in control. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

You are on God’s heart. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. Psalm 34:15

We have peace. Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

We have hope. Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

You don’t have to pay for your sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

The problems of today are nothing compared to what is coming. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

A better day is coming. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

You are loved. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:14

Think about all of the good news that’s available to us if we just look in the right place. I’m sure that you can add to this list. Don’t be jaded by the news that you get from the television, newspaper or internet – the news from the world isn’t so good, but the news from God’s Word is great!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Don’t Give Up! (or Keep On Pestering God)

One of my favorite parables in the New Testament is found in Luke 18:1-8. It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Widow and the Judge or the Parable of the Persistent Widow. As with most of the parables Jesus told, it’s not all that complicated.

There are just two characters, a judge who didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people said about him and a widow who had been treated unfairly (we’re not given the details). The widow went to the judge expecting justice, and apparently went more than one or two times – she went persistently until the judge agreed to hear her case.

In the end the judge ruled in the widow’s favor, not because it was the right thing to do (although the implication is that she had been wronged) but because she was becoming a pain in the neck.

The text is explicit that Jesus told this parable to teach us that we shouldn’t become discouraged in prayer even when the answer isn’t readily apparent.

That in itself is a lesson. God knows that we are prone to give up easily. O we of little faith.

The part of the parable that always challenges me is the application Jesus made in verse eight: When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

That is, when Jesus returns will he find people who have enough faith that they are willing to pray, and pray, and keep on praying without giving up even though they haven’t seen an answer to their prayer?

It takes a deep faith to keep on praying when heaven is silent.

The implication to His question is that when Jesus comes that kind of faith will be rare. There won’t be many Christians who will have enough faith to keep on trusting. Trusting that prayer is the right way to handle the situation. Trusting that prayer really works. Trusting that God actually hears prayer. Trusting that God still answers prayer.

In a recent study on prayer I came across an interesting thought. The writer asked the question, How do we know which prayer God answers? Does He answer your first prayer? Or will it be your one hundredth prayer? Or will be the culmination of all of your prayers?

The answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know how God works, especially in the area of prayer.

So we keep on praying.

We don’t give up. We’re persistent. We keep knocking on the door of heaven. We keep pestering God (from our perspective, not His).

We keep exercising faith.

Don’t be like the judge whose actions were dictated by his earthly, self-centered view of life. Be like the widow and refuse to quit on God even when you can’t see the answer.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Amazing (Grace) Mercy How Sweet the Sound

With apologies to John Newton, God’s mercy is as amazing as His grace! Where would we be today without the mercy of God?

Mercy is often associated with pity or compassion and is sometimes translated by those words. Both concepts are certainly part of God’s mercy but it is so much more. It’s more in any way you look at it. It’s more in intensity; it’s more in duration; it’s more in substance; it’s more in quality; it’s more in quantity – it’s just more than we can describe.

Over the years theologians, and others, have offered definitions to explain God’s grace and mercy, but none of their definitions get it completely right. One favorite way to explain grace and mercy is that God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve (His love, forgiveness etc) while His mercy is not giving us what we do deserve (judgment). Again, it’s true but there is so much more.

Simply put, and this is admittedly too simplistic, both mercy and grace are aspects of God’s love. Mercy is God’s love given to those who need it the most – the blind man (John 9), the cripple (John 5), the leper (Matthew 8) were all recipients of His mercy.

Grace is different. Grace is God’s love given to those who deserve it the least – people who are not just physically damaged but especially to people who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:8). None of us deserves to be forgiven.

Not perfect definitions but they’ve helped me understand the distinctions a little better.

As much as we talk and sing about God’s grace it is His mercy that stands behind His grace. Grace is motivated by mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Without God’s mercy there would be no salvation. Without His mercy there would be no healing. Without His mercy there would be no forgiveness for our daily sin. Without His mercy there would be no escaping judgment. Without his mercy there would be no hope for eternity.

Without mercy, grace would just not be the same.

Yes, grace is essential and we need to give it the importance it deserves. But so is mercy.

Think what your life would be like without the mercy of God. Think what eternity would be like without the mercy of God.

The old hymn says, O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be. We’re also immensely in debt to mercy.

Thank God for His grace – but also thank Him for His mercy.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Spirituality by Osmosis

We all know it’s not possible. You can’t become spiritual by osmosis – the process of unconsciously assimilating something while you sleep. You won’t wake up one morning more spiritual than you went to bed the night before.

It just doesn’t work that way – but we act like it does.

Growing in spirituality is a process. But it’s more than simply a process – it’s an intentional process. You have to choose to be godly and then take the proper steps to move in that direction.

And that’s where so many Christians today come up short. They want to be more godly but they don’t want to do what it takes to be more godly. There is a spiritual neglect evident in the church today. Call it spiritual laziness.

Some people blame it on our culture. We live in a culture that wants instant access to everything. So we have fast food. We have same day delivery. We have apps that eliminate the need to wait for a cab, a date, a table at your favorite restaurant or the latest movie.

When was the last time you were upset with your computer because it didn’t load fast enough?

And we want our spirituality to be served up the same way. Easy and fast.

But blaming the culture is too easy. And it eliminates personal responsibility. Your responsibility for your own godliness.

Yes, it’s true that without God’s work in our lives none of us would ever be spiritual (Psalm 127:1, John 15:4-5, Philippians 2:13, 4:13). But every command of scripture tells us that we also have a part in God’s plan and a responsibility to grow in grace (Ephesians 4:15, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 2:1-2, 2 Peter 3:18). You have a responsibility for the level of your spirituality. It won’t happen by osmosis.

Here’s how scripture describes it.

Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Pursue peace with all people, and [pursue] holiness; without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

From a human perspective it’s up to you.

Fortunately God has provided the means to godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). God has given us everything we need to become spiritual people. The old theologians called them the spiritual disciplines. They were talking about things found in the Bible that, if practiced on a consistent basis, would promote holiness of life. Included among the spiritual disciplines are bible reading and study, prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, and service. There are others and depending on who you read the lists will verily slightly. The point is that there are specific things that you can do – that you need to do to promote holiness in your life.

Practiced on a consistent basis with a humble heart, the result of the spiritual disciplines will be spiritual growth. Ignore them consistently and you will be a spiritual pygmy. Or as scripture says, a spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-13).

If you would like to know more about the spiritual disciplines we’re teaching on them in our Adult Bible Fellowship at SVBC or you can read Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, published by NavPress.

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