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

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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

Where is Your Journey Taking You?

I love missionaries. Missionaries are the people on the front line for God.

As a result I get a lot of newsletters, both electronic and the old fashion variety, from missionaries around the world. This week I received a letter from missionary friends, Jim and Marilou Long. Jim normally shares their news around a theme – this time the theme was Trips and Journeys. Since their previous letter their ministry has taken them to California, Delhi, India, and Kathmandu, Nepal. I have to admit to a certain amount of envy.

At the end of the letter was this challenge: “Where is God taking you? What kind of JOURNEY are you on right now? Remember that God is always with you and leading you—even in new journeys and in uncharted territories. When the children of Israel were ready to cross the Jordan River and were probably quite apprehensive about it, God said to them through Joshua, “Then you will know the way to go since you have not been this way before,” Joshua 3:4. We take great comfort and encouragement in knowing that He is going before us in these new ventures.”

In the past few months I started a couple of those journeys into uncharted territories, so this got my attention.

But the reality is that for the Christian, all of life is a journey or perhaps a series of journeys.

You might not realize that you are on a journey – but you are. Your life is not a series of unrelated, random events. Things just don’t happen to you.

Your life is not even made up of decisions that you make from day to day.

Somehow God takes all of it – the daily events of life; the decisions you make and molds all of it into His sovereign will for you.

The writer of Proverbs had that in mind when he wrote:

The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1).

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).

So where is God taking you on your spiritual journey?

God has you on a journey that is unique just to you. No one else has your journey. Even your spouse is on a different journey. While there will be obvious similarities in your journeys, there will also be some significant differences.

So how should you approach this idea of a journey?

There are several basic things that you should do.

1. Recognize that you are on a journey but ultimately you’re not in charge of this journey. This is a journey (a life) directed by God for His purpose, for His glory.

2. Ask God to show you the way forward on your journey. He might make your journey as clear as crystal (the Israelites were following the ark). He may not. Just keep following the ark (IE, Bible reading & study, prayer, church – all of the great spiritual disciplines).

3. Commit to the journey. Don’t bail out when you can’t figure it out. Be committed.

4. Decide that even if the way isn’t clear you’ll keep following (see #2) one day at a time.

You probably won’t always know where your journey is taking you but you do know the final destination.

And as the old song says, it will be worth it all when we get there.

Happy Journey.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Need to be Addicted

I’ve been off the grid for a few weeks while I prepared for teaching in Haiti. Then there was the actual missions trip (18 days) and putting my life back together – not to speak of my office when I returned!

In the past I’ve sometimes written from Haiti but this trip we only had sporadic use of wifi. At times we went two to three days between connections. Talk about withdrawal systems! I didn’t realize what going without wifi for a couple of days would do to a group of Americans. Technology is great but we seemed to have reached a point of addiction – at least if my experience was typical of the average Americans.

That brings up an interesting thought. Is addiction always wrong or is there a time when it’s actually a good thing?

Waiting on my desk when I returned was a letter about a seminar on addiction. It dealt mostly with alcohol and drug addiction. But there are many other forms of addictions. Those who study addictions report the following statistics in the United States:

Alcohol Addiction 14,000,000
Cocaine Addiction 2,000,000
Meth Addiction 1,400,000
Heroin Addiction 800,000
Gambling Addiction 15,000,000
Porn Addiction 4,000,000
Tobacco Addiction 83,400,000
Food Addiction 8,000,000
Sexual Addiction 12,000,000 (and no ladies it’s not just a man problem!)

The list of addictions is long and includes workaholics, compulsive spenders, TV and video game addicts, and other less well-known addictions.

It seems like everyone is addicted to something.

Therapists list six signs of addiction:

1. Importance. How important is this to your life? What priority does it have in your life?

2. Reward response. Does doing it make you feel better and not doing it worse?

3. Prevalence. Do you want to do it more often?

4. Cessation. Do you feel uncomfortable if you do not do it for a period of time?

5. Disruption. Does it mean that you have to reorder your life in some way?

6. Reverting. Do you try to stop but find yourself doing it anyway?

As Christians we tend to think that all addictions are wrong and damaging. And for the most part that’s true. But think again about addiction.

Aren’t there some things that Christians should be addicted to? What about . . .

Loving God
Living like Jesus
Reading your Bible
Praying
Going to Church
Sharing your Faith
Loving other people

Shouldn’t these things be Important, make us feel better (IE loved by God)? Shouldn’t we want to do them more often and shouldn’t not doing them make us feel uncomfortable? And shouldn’t we reorder our lives to make them priorities and find it next to impossible not to do them?

I recognize that using the word addiction may be over the top, however, I think you get my point. Too often as Christians we take the things that are important to our spiritual lives too lightly. We’re not addicted to them the way we should be.

The Apostle Paul’s encouragement to us is to let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). If we’re going to live in a way that is worthy of God it’s going to take some effort, some work, maybe even some addiction.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You can read more about addiction here

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/is-everyone-addicted-to-e_b_490824.html

https://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/consumer_updates/sexual_addiction.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201411/6-signs-youre-addicted-something

What Will People Say at Your Wake?

Have you ever wondered what people will say about you when you’re gone? It would be interesting to be able to listen to the conversations taking place around the room at your wake. What will people say?

I don’t think that they will talk about how much money you made, or how many hours you spent working, or the house you lived in, or the car you drove. But people will remember you for how honest you were, how caring you were, how faithful you were, how godly you were. They will remember you for your generosity, your compassion, and your faithfulness to God. They will remember you for the important things.

That leads to the question: What’s really important? What are the really important things in life? It’s a good question to ponder. After all, life is too short to spend it doing unimportant things. If we want our lives to really amount to anything we had better spend it doing things that matter – things that are important.

So what are the important things in your life? What are the things that you’ll look back on with pride and satisfaction when you’re in the winter of life? What are the things that you’ll be glad you accomplished?

If I was going to make a list of the important things for my life, a sort of spiritual bucket list, it would look something like this:

• being a faithful husband
• being a Godly influence on my children and grandchildren
• spending more time serving God
• becoming a better teacher of the Word
• doing more to help and encourage the Believers in Haiti

What’s even more critical than what people will say about you is what God thinks about you. In reality it doesn’t matter what people think or remember. What God thinks, however, IS important. So what does God think about what you think is important in life? Does He agree with your list or is He wondering why you have so many unimportant things on your list?

My prayer for all of us today is that we will spend today – and everyday, doing what is really important in life. In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul wrote, Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Better When . . .

Most people are looking for something in life that will make their life better – a better job; a nicer house; more money etc. The basic problem is that too often they’re looking for the wrong things in the wrong places. For the Christian, life is better when you begin looking for the right things (followed by right actions) in the right place. The quality of our lives does not depend on the amount of things that we have (Luke 12:19) but on the way we choose to live our lives.

With that thought in mind, here are 10 ways that you can make your life better.

Life is better when . . .

you live a life of Forgiveness instead of a life of Bitterness (Matthew 6:12 & 14)

you live a life of Giving instead of a life of Miserliness (2 Corinthians 8)

you live a life of Generosity instead of a life of Greed (Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38)

you live a life of Honesty instead of a life of Lies (1 Peter 3:10-12)

you live a life of Purity instead of a life of Immorality (Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians 6:18)

you live a life of Serving instead of a life of Taking (1 Peter 4:11)

you live a life of Sacrifice instead of a life of Selfishness (Romans 12:1)

you live a life of Order instead of a life of Turmoil (1 Corinthians 14:40)

you live a life of Calm instead of a life of Chaos (Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 5:9)

you live a life of Humility instead of a life of Pride (Luke 14:11, James 4:6)

You get the idea. Life is always better when we attempt to live it God’s way whether that makes sense to us or not; whether it’s easy or not; whether it will benefit us or hurt us in the short term; no matter what anyone else is doing.

What would you can add to this list that would make your life better if you began to do things God’s way?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Problem With Faith

Every year at our church we choose a theme – something that will guide our thoughts and lives during the year in a Biblical direction. Several times throughout the year we come back and review the theme to see how we’re doing. This year our theme is Everything by Faith. The idea is that faith for the Christian is not just expressed at the point of salvation but it is one of the ruling characteristic of our lives. Everything we do in life is to be guided by faith. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please [God]. The emphasis of the entire 11th chapter is on how followers of God lived out their faith on a day-by-day basis.

But there’s a problem with faith – or more specifically, there’s a problem with how we as Christians often attempt to exercise faith. I received an email after yesterday’s sermon from one of our members. The issue that they raised illustrates the problem that many Christians have in understanding faith. Here’s a brief quote: Where does living by faith come in when you had faith that a loved one would be safe but they were killed? . . . do human reactions and responses like this [IE being upset if our prayer isn’t answered] diminish our faith or somehow indicate to us that our faith wasn’t strong enough? We’ve all been there. We’ve all had these same thoughts and struggles.

Here’s the problem as it relates to faith. What that individual was describing was faith in faith, not faith in God. And that’s often how we exercise our faith. We equate faith with how strongly we believe or how hard we pray. If we pray but our prayer isn’t answered in the way we prayed – in this case the prayer was for safety but the individual was killed, we immediately assume that the problem was with our faith. In fact the outcome may have had nothing to do with our faith.

The measure of our faith is not in the quality of our beliefs or prayers, it is in the quality of the One in whom we believe. In other words it is the object of our faith that is the critical issue. The object of our faith as Christians is not in a strong faith (although that is certainly something we should desire). The object of our faith is the Eternal God who never changes; who is always faithful; who always does what is right; who always does what is best for His kingdom and for our good; and who loves us with an eternal, undying, unequaled love.

Faith in faith is simply faith in ourselves; in our ability to believe harder. That’s dangerous and weak territory in which to live. With a loving, all-powerful God as the object of our faith we can pray for someone’s safety knowing that if they run into danger God had something better in His eternal plan. That’s living by faith.

Will there be times of doubt, tears and disappointment? Sure – that’s part of our humanness and God understands (Psalm 103:14) but we keep on trusting, not because we have such strong faith but because we have such a powerful God.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve