Evil Will Be No More

There are certain place names that have been seared into our collective consciousness. Names we will never forget. Names that provoke instant, dark images in our minds.

Auschwitz, The Gulag, Chernobyl, Sandy Hook, Shanksville.

Add one more name: Tree of Life Synagogue.

You don’t have to be Jewish to be nauseated by what happened this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, PA. Innocent people killed simply because of their nationality and faith.

We forget how strong hate is.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing against the backdrop of the Civil War reminds us of the power of hate in his poem Christmas Bells, later made into the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. (I especially like this dramatized version of the song that you can listen to here.)

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

If we stop to only look at the evil in our world this will be the verse we sing – over and over again.

But there’s more than just the power of evil in this world. And that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus came to defeat the powers of evil and in a strange twist of events did just that – not at Bethlehem but at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-15).

Longfellow seemed to understand that. He concluded his poem with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

No God is not asleep. He knows what is going on in our world. He knows the evil. He knows the hurting. And someday, in His time, The Right will prevail.

We have that to look forward to. Not because Longfellow said it, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said it.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days . . .

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

(Isaiah 2:2, 4)

Someday the Messiah will come and The Righteous One will sit on the Throne of David and there will be peace (Isaiah 9:7).

And that Righteous One will make sure that Evil will be no more.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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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

Responding to the Face of Evil

Blacksburg, Virginia (2007) – 32 & 17
Fort Hood, Texas (2009) – 13 & 32
Aurora, Colorado – (2012) – 12 & 58
New Town, Connecticut (2012) – 27 & 1
San Bernardino, California (2015) – 14 & 21

These are not all of the mass killings in the past ten years but they are enough.

And now we can add Orlando, Florida to the list – 50 & 53. Fifty killed, 53 injured.

There are so many unanswered questions. Why? Why now? Why here? How do we move on? How can we stop the killings?

One question that we need to ask from a Christian perspective is How should we respond to the face of evil?

Is it enough to build a higher fence? To limit immigration? To pass stricter laws?

Probably not.

But those questions miss the most essential point. God has already told us how we are to respond.

Before I get to that, there is another important thing that God has told us that plays into all of this.

He told us to expect it. Perhaps not mass shootings exactly, but evil. We should expect evil to happen in all of its ugliness and in many twisted forms.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1). The Apostle describes the perilous times as men without self-control, those who are brutal and despise the good and those who have a form of religion but don’t know Christ.

So how should we respond to this kind of evil? Again the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. . . do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

I bet you didn’t see that coming! You may not even like it. But it’s there, right in the Bible.

Some take-a-ways from this passage:

1) We are to do everything we can to live in peace with all men. Even those who attack us.

2) Responses to evil are to be left up to God. Any attempt on our part to get even comes out of a place of wrath and anger – which comes from the pit of hell.

3) We are to treat the enemy in ways that are counterintuitive and run totally against our natural inclinations.

4) The winning formula is to overcome evil with good.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we should stop making good laws. Or that we don’t need police security. Or that we should never protect ourselves and our families.

But what God wants is for us to 1) Do all of this in the right way, 2) Not be motivated by revenge, 3) Strive to live in peace even with the peace-breakers, 4) Treat those who attack you with love, and 5) Leave the rest up to Him.

There is a way for Christians to respond to evil – and most of us have missed it.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that people of other faiths have such misconstrued and misinformed ideas about Christians.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Responding to Evil

Just when it seems like the world can’t get worse – it does. We live in an age when we barely have time to recover from one tragic, gut-wrenching catastrophe before another takes its place.  We struggle to make sense of natural disasters that devastate our world but what about man-made disasters? What about boys molested by someone they should have been able to trust? What about the innocent people attending a movie whose lives have been forever changed? How do we even begin to explain these tragedies?

The fact of the matter is – we can’t. We can offer opinions. We can argue about what drove a man to perform an evil act. We can attempt to analyze the facts. But we will never satisfactorily explain evil. Evil simply makes no sense, there is no satisfactory answer. It is the great unexplainable.

For the Christian the issue is not how to explain what happened; the issue is how do we respond to evil? It is not our place to attempt to explain the unexplainable, it is our duty to analyze our lives and determine how we as followers of Christ are going to respond. It is only as we determine the godly response to evil that we can find hope and solace. Any Christian response to evil must include several actions.

1. Pray for the victims

Few of us have a personal connection to any of the victims but we can pray for them. Pray for God to bring comfort into their lives. Pray for their salvation which is ultimately the only way that they will find peace. Pray for their emotional, physical and spiritual healing. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) avails much (James 5:16).

2. Pray for the offenders

It’s a difficult thing to do but the Jerry Sanduskys and the James Holmes’ of our world need Christ just as much as anyone else. Christ taught us to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). If we cannot pray for the worst among us how are we like Christ?

3. Don’t be overcome with evil

It’s easy for us to be overwhelmed with the evil around us. We feel helpless to make sense of it or to explain it and so we resign  ourselves to view it as inevitable. It’s simply going to happen and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. The Apostle Paul felt differently when he wrote: Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

4. Renew your commitment to holiness

Take this opportunity to renew your commitment to holiness. The world sees too much evil; it needs to see more holiness and it will only see holiness as we commit ourselves to living out the life of Christ. Be holy for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16) is not only a command of scripture, it is the only way that society will change from a culture of death to a culture of life.

5. Keep your eyes on Jesus

Even though sin is rampant in our world, we are called as Christ-followers to run the race of life, keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). It’s so easy to focus on the evil but we are called to focus on the good. Keeping the right focus will keep us on the right track.

6. Remember that sin has already been defeated

At the cross Christ defeated sin once and for all. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ took the accusations of sin that were lodged against us and nailed them to the cross. And in that supreme act of sacrifice He marched in triumph over Satan and the evil powers that are the ultimate cause of such sinful acts (Colossians 2:13-15). Sin may still rock our lives but it cannot win the war.

7. Rejoice that someday righteousness will prevail

There is coming a day when evil will be judged and righteousness will prevail (Revelation 19-22) and in that truth we can rejoice. When that day comes there will be no more evil, only true righteousness.

For the Christian our response to evil is what matters. The story that is playing out in Colorado is important for society at large but the story that is playing out in your life as you determine your response to these events is important on a personal level. How you respond says something about the quality of your faith.

If you want to read an excellent article about the tragedy in Colorado from a Christian perspective I recommend this one.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve