The American Obsession

Americans are an obsessed nation. We are preoccupied, fixated, infatuated, and addicted.

Are you starting to see a trend here? The idea of an obsession has a negative connotation. Generally speaking, an obsession is not a good thing.

I’ll grant you that an obsession can be good – it’s good to be obsessed with Jesus, and your spouse, and doing the right things. But our national obsession doesn’t fall into those categories. Our obsession is different and it’s harmful.

The American Obsession is a very narrow thing. It’s knowing all we can about other people. We have entered an era where we as a nation are obsessed with knowing about the personal lives of someone else. We can’t get enough of the intimate details of their lives. We are living vicariously.

We’re obsessed with the President’s latest tweet; with what someone posted on Facebook; with which celebrity did what; with who did what to whom; with the tawdry gossip of Hollywood; with someone’s baby bump.

The obsession with the personal lives of other people has become an epidemic. Not only are we fixated on knowing the intimate details of other people’s lives, but we think that we have a right to know.

Why do we check our cell phones as soon as we get out of bed? Why do we want to know what the President tweeted during the night? Why do we jump on our Facebook accounts as soon as we can? It’s so we don’t miss anything.

If you don’t think that you’re obsessed I’d challenge you to think back over your social media usage from the past week. How much time did you spend on social media? What were you hoping to find?

This obsession with the lives of other people is harmful to our culture. We have destroyed privacy. We have become convinced that living vicariously is better than living personally. We have made the lives of other people far more important than they really are and in the process we’ve made our lives far less important than they really are.

This also has a harmful spiritual component. As Christians we need to be concerned with our own personal lives – not with the lives of other people. We need to make sure that we are living out the gospel (Philippians 1:27); that we represent Christ well (2 Corinthians 5:20); that we are not swallowed up by the attitudes, thought patterns, goals and desires of this world (Romans 12:2); that we don’t fall in love with what the world loves (1 John 2:15-16); that our minds are set on the things of God (Colossians 3:1-3).

Christians need to begin pushing back against The American Obsession. We need to take back our lives and in the process live them well.

We are not responsible for how someone else lives their life. We will answer for how we live our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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The Christian Life Isn’t for Sissies!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I just get weary trying to live the Christian Life. Think how easy life would be if we could just forget all the “do’s and don’ts”. You wouldn’t have to be concerned about temptation – you could do whatever you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about your own sinful desires – again, do what you want. You wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Satan because he wouldn’t care what you did. In fact he would be delighted in your spiritual indifference.

What may come as a shock to you is that God knows that the Christian life is like that. That’s why in the New Testament He compares the spiritual life to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-4), a marathon runner (Hebrews 12:1), a boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26), and a hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). All strenuous and difficult occupations.

The difficulty of the spiritual life and the ensuing weariness that we experience doesn’t take God by surprise. In fact you could make the case that He designed it that way. It’s one way to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff, the “I’m in it for the long-haul” from the “let’s see if this works” crowd.

But to those who are in it for the long-haul, there is a word of encouragement from the pen if the Apostle Paul: Don’t grow weary in doing good (living godly), for in due season we will reap if we don’t lose heart (and give up!) (Galatians 6:9).

The problem for most of us is that we keep looking at how hard the Christian life is instead of looking at the goal.

How long do you think a marathon runner would last if all they thought about during training (and the race!) was how hard they were working? How long would a farmer work in his fields if he didn’t keep the harvest in mind?

The goal for the Christian is a harvest that comes out of a life lived in godliness and for the glory of God.

Sure we get weary. There are even days we want to give up. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4). In fact some of us haven’t even been bruised yet.

So when you feel like I do some days, keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and on the harvest. Do the battle. Run the race. Fight the good fight. Plant the seed. And keep telling yourself, in the words of the old hymn, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

If you need to be reminded again, you can listen to it hear.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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

It’s the Little Things that Count

How important is God in your everyday life?

Most people who read this blog will agree that God is important in their lives or at least should be. They go to church most Sundays, they pray, they may even read their Bibles. By their actions they are saying that God is important in their life.

But attending church, praying and even reading your Bible does not necessarily mean that He’s as important to you as He should be.

It’s not enough to say He’s important. As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. It’s not even enough to do the minimum things that every Christian should do. God wants more than that.

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of the commandments (Matthew 22:34f), and He said, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, He was getting to the heart of how important God should be in our lives.

What does it mean that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds?

The Expositor’s Greek New Testament explains it this way: The clauses referring to heart, soul, and mind are to be taken cumulatively, as meaning love to the uttermost degree; with “all that is within” us.

In other words our love for God is to be complete, total (to the uttermost degree). Love for Him should consume us. It should be the focal point of our lives; the essence of our lives; the center of our lives. Our lives are to be wrapped up in God.

His truth (i.e. the Bible) is to inform every thought you think, every decision you make, and every action you carry out.

Love for God is not determined simply by the things that we so often use to gauge our relationship with Him (church attendance, how much we give in the offering, how often we pray, how many chapters of the Bible we read etc.), as good and as important as these things are. It’s determined by the everyday things, by the simple things we do that reflect His character.

When the everyday things of our lives begin to reflect God then we know that He’s becoming increasingly important to us.

It’s the little things that make the difference. It’s the little things that tell us just how much we really love Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on God’s Mercy

Mercy. There are various ways to define it – especially when you’re talking about God’s mercy. At its core it’s an aspect of the Love of God. Sometimes we equate it with compassion.

I’ve often defined mercy as God’s love given to those who need it the most. While grace is God’s love given to those who don’t deserve it. Not perfect definitions, but helpful in distinguishing these two aspects of God’s love.

Think of the people on whom Jesus had compassion – the blind, the deaf, the destitute, and the dead. People who were desperate; people who, humanly speaking, need God’s love the most.

The ultimate mercy is when God gave His love to sinners in the person of Jesus (John 3:16). Sinners certainly need God’s love the most.

We often pray for God’s mercy – for God to be merciful to us. What we want is for God to change our circumstances. To make our life better.

But how do we know when our prayer is answered? How do we know when God gives us His mercy?

If you’re like most people you equate the reception of His mercy with a change in your life. Life becomes better because God answered your prayer the way you wanted Him to answer it.

But is that a good barometer of God’s mercy?

What if in His omniscience He knew that what you cried out for, what your heart longed for, would not be good for you in the long run? What if His mercy was NOT to give you what you wanted? What if, in His love, He knew that it might even be harmful to you in some way?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He knew would be harmful to you?

Wouldn’t you prefer that God withheld from you something that you wanted but that He didn’t give you because He had something even better for you?

The truth is that you won’t always immediately recognize God’s mercy. Sometimes you’ll see it in hindsight. Sometimes far, far hindsight.

So in the meantime you need to live by faith. Not seeing the evidence but believing in what you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith believes that God always acts toward you in ways that are merciful, even when life doesn’t go your way. It believes that God is merciful even when He disciplines you (Hebrews 12:5-6). It believes that God is always merciful. That there is never a time that He does not act in mercy (sometimes we draw a dichotomy between God’s wrath and His mercy – as if when God disciplines us He stops being merciful. That would mean that God would have to stop being God).

What if, as Laura Story has reminded us in her song Blessings (you can listen to it here), that God loves you too much to give you the little things you want instead of the greater things He has for you. What if the trials of life are His mercies in disguise?

Don’t judge God’s mercy based on how He responds to your prayer. He will always respond in love. He is always merciful.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

It’s a War Out There

The title of this blog can relate to almost any area of life today.

If you are over 50 you can probably remember a time when life was much calmer; people weren’t so uptight; the news wasn’t so depressing; political parties tended to work together in congress for the good of the people; and for the most part, everyone got along with everyone else.

Did everyone agree? Of course not, but there was a certain civility and respect that permeated our society.

The 60s change a lot of things. Many of the changes had ripple effects into other areas of life that I’m not sure we understand even today. Since then it seems that we have become more uptight, less peaceful, less respectful of other people, less tolerant not more, and less hopeful – as a nation and as individuals.

Many people – mostly the older crowd, remember life before the 60s nostalgically and long for the good ol’ days, while those who were born after the 60s scoff at the thought of every going back to the days of Ward, June and Beaver.

The post-60s crowd is right – you can’t go back. But does that mean that we’re destined for ever-increasing bickering and division in our society? Isn’t it possible for us to move forward and do it in a civilized manner, respecting our differences and honoring those with whom we disagree?

Here’s where I take issue with my own tribe. As Christians we have failed to set the example. In fact Christians have often been at the forefront of the political wars – and it’s difficult to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. We’ve made things worse not better. That shouldn’t be.

I’m not suggesting that Christians avoid controversial issues – I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t do battle the way other people do battle. Our attitudes, methods, responses and reactions are to be distinctly Christian. If they aren’t then we may will the battle but we’ll end up losing the war. Not the cultural war perhaps, but the more important spiritual war. The war for the souls of men.

Over and over the Bible implores us to be careful how we walk through life (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). In fact we are not to act like other people act (Ephesians 4:17) and we’re not to act in ways that fulfill our natural desires (Romans 8:1).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

What would happen if Christians actually began to act like Christians? If we approached the political-cultural issues with a Christ-like attitude, spiritual weapons, and dependence on God instead of on a political party?

What would happen if we really understood that the war is essentially spiritual in nature and began to fight it that way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve