We Need to be Careful (And Kind)

I’m not into the world of secular music so it’s not surprising that I know little to nothing about current musicians and their music. However, my interest level did go up a few notches when articles began to appear recently in both the religious and secular media concerning Kanye West – of whom I admittedly know very little.

What I have read (you can read here and here) is that he has had some kind of religious awakening – call it what you will. His latest album released this past week, Jesus is King, is said to be overtly religious. Apparently, Kanye has dabbled in religion for many years, but in the past year has turned somewhat more serious, even hosting weekly religious gatherings for his staff and friends called Sunday Services.

There are those who are thrilled by his new-found commitment to Christ and those who see it as a publicity stunt. I have no idea and I’m content to leave any judgment up to God.

Here’s where I think we need to be careful. It’s not spiritually wise to make a spiritual novice the face or hope of Christianity. Some people are excited, anticipating the great spiritual influence that a public figure like Kanye can have on people, especially on young people. And he may – we’ll have to wait and see.

But let’s not put more responsibility on his shoulders than we should. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue in writing to Timothy regarding spiritual leadership: not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6-7).

Granted this is a qualification for Elders in the church and no one that I know of has suggested that Kanye should be or even wants to be an Elder. But it is still sound advice and should apply to everyone in spiritual leadership.

While I can’t say with any degree of certainty, from what I have read, it does not appear that Kanye falls into the category of the spiritually mature. He needs more time to grow and to demonstrate that good testimony not only to those in the church but especially to those who are outside.

In the meantime, those of us who are naturally suspicious and may lean toward the is this simply a publicity stunt ? (and even some non-Christians have suggested as much) need to be kind in our assessment and judicial (pharisaical?) proclamations.

Like most things in life, it will become clearer with more time and a little grace.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Grace for the Race

I read this statement recently: Grace for the Race.

Forrest Gump was right, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get until you take one and bite into it. But the imagery differs from reality. With a box of chocolates you always get something sweet. With life you sometimes get something bitter. Mixed in with the sweet chocolates are bitter pills of anxiety, illness, suffering, and disappointment.

But for the Christian there is Grace for the Race. That’s exactly what we need and it’s freely given.

In our staff prayer time at SVBC we pray for the people in our church – those who aren’t able to attend as often as they use to because of age or health; those who are going through difficult health issues; those who are struggling spiritually; those who are facing trials that we don’t know about because they have not shared them; those who are involved in ministries; and of course everyone else.

What all of these people need is Grace for the Race.

Two passages came to mind as I read that statement. The first was from the writings of the Apostle John who wrote: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace (John 1:16). Another way of translating that last phrase is grace on top of grace.

The idea is that God’s grace cannot be exhausted.

F. F. Bruce, in his commentary compares God’s grace to the waves of the ocean, one wave on top of another. One wave replacing another. He writes There is no limit to the supply of grace which God has placed at His people’s disposal in Christ.

Which means that you will always have Grace for the Race. It will always be there for you.

The other passage was from the pen of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote: My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In the context Paul asking God to take away what he called his thorn in the flesh. But God didn’t remove it as Paul asked (even the Apostle Paul didn’t have all of his prayers answered the way he wanted them to be answered.).

When you think of all of the trials that Paul went through in his Christian experience – beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, stonings etc. (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), this was the only one he asked God to remove. His thorn in the flesh was especially difficult.

Why would God refuse to remove it?

Because He had something even better for Paul. It’s called Grace.

What Paul needed more than relief from suffering was Grace for the Race.

That’s what we need most days – but we don’t know it. Thankfully God does.

He knows that His grace is enough for our trials.

Take those two thoughts with you today – God’s grace is always available, and God’s grace is enough. Let them sustain you, support you, nourish you. Don’t look for grace for tomorrow. Ask God for enough grace to get you through today with all of its trials, hardships, and problems of.

Ask Him for Grace for the Race.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Handling Hardships (or Grace for the Journey)

I was complaining to God recently about the difficulties of life (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does that!). All I wanted was a little relief. Some time – a few days of peace when I didn’t have to think about problems and stress.

You would think God would be OK with that. But it didn’t happen.

On the same day of my complaint, (not before and not later!) I was reading in the book of 2 Timothy and came to verse 3. It says, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

That’s where I stopped reading. No point in going any further. The answer was right in front of me in black and white.

Not if you want to, but you must!

There’s no ambiguity about it. Hardships will come in the Christian life and you must endure them; tolerate them; stomach them; put up with them.

Just to make his point clear, the Apostle followed that statement up with illustrations of three people who have to put up with hardships. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. All of them face hardships by virtue of the occupation they have chosen, and they must endure them to be successful.

I’m sure that anyone who goes into one of those three lines of work knows that their life will involve hardships, but I doubt that any of them understood the extent of the hardships they would face.

The same is true of the Christian. When you became a Christian you automatically were placed in a position similar to that of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. A place of hardship.

You may have had some vague idea that the Christian life would make your life harder in some way, but, like the soldier, athlete or farmer, you probably didn’t understand the extent of the hardships you would face.

And then you found out!

And the encouragement you got as you searched the Word of God for answers is that sometimes you simply have to endure.

Endure the pain. Endure the suffering. Endure the hardships.

There’s not much comfort in that. But there is comfort in the knowledge that you can handle the greatest hardships in life by the grace of God.

That was the lesson the same Apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:3 learned and recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as he dealt with his own hardship. As he asked God to remove his trial, the divine response was My grace is sufficient for you. All Paul needed to handle his hardship was the grace of God.

And that’s all any of us need.

We need God’s grace.

Thankfully, God has made sure that in the person of Jesus we received His grace. Another Apostle, this time John, wrote, and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. The emphasis is on the abundance of grace that we received in the person of Jesus. We have all of the grace we need.

All of the grace to face the hardships that will come. All of the grace to make it through difficult times. All of the grace to handle the stress of life.

Grace piled on top of grace.

So, I had to stop and ask God to give me grace instead of praying for a way of escape.

The good news is that there is Grace for the Journey.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Grace to Heal

The longer I minister to people, the more I realize that most people in life are dealing with difficult issues. If you aren’t, consider yourself blessed. Some are dealing with not just difficult issues but debilitating issues – some physical, some emotional, some financial.

Without being cavalier let me say – That’s Life. Jesus warned us about it (John 16:33).

While we would like life to be all roses and candy, more often it resembles dead flowers and stinking fish. That’s Life.

If you are going through one of those times in your life, whether it is difficult or debilitating, what you need more than anything else is Grace to Heal. God’s grace to be specific. In His grace is healing power for whatever you are going through.

But here’s the thing about God’s grace – it normally comes through people.

There’s no pill called the Grace pill. There’s no elixir that you can take that will give you more grace. There’s no Grace Spa that you can go to. There are only four places where you can find God’s Grace.

The Bible. Prayer. The Holy Spirit. And God’s People.

That’s it. That’s the short (literally!) list.

But that’s enough. It is ALL you need.

You already know what to do with the first two. Read the Bible faithfully. Pray faithfully. The third one (Holy Spirit) is totally up to God.

But what about the last one? God’s People?

You can control how much or how little you read the Bible and pray. But you can’t control God’s People. They are literally out of your control. You can’t demand that another person give you grace. All you can do is wait for someone to show you grace, either through an intentional act or perhaps without even realizing it.

And that’s where we as Christians come into the picture.

God wants us to be people of Grace. While God does work in significant ways through scripture and prayer, and He is always working in our lives through the Holy Spirit, He also works in significant ways through His people. That’s why there are so many commands in the Bible like Be Kind; Love One Another; Pray for One Another; Build each other up, etc. It’s all about becoming a person of grace.

The apostle Paul exhorts us to Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). By following Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, we are in the end following Jesus, the ultimate Man of Grace.

So if you are breezing through life today – look for someone who isn’t and show a little grace.

If you are struggling today, it’s still a good time to show grace to someone else. Being the healing power in their lives will also turn on the healing power of grace in your life.

At some time(s) in life we all need Grace to Heal.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

A Christian Response

Las Vegas, Nevada – 58/500+
Sutherland Springs, Texas – 26/20

That’s how many people were killed and wounded at two terrible shootings in our country between October 1 and November 5. In 36 days.

84/520+.

I’ll leave the political debate to others. My concern is from another perspective. Since the vast majority of my audience is made up of Evangelical Christians, the issue for us, most of who are far removed from either Nevada or Texas, is how do we respond?

How should Christians respond to horrific events in our culture?

After the shooting in Las Vegas I suggested five Christian responses in a blog published on October 2. You can read it here.

The five responses I gave following the Las Vegas shooting were:

-Hate is Wrong
-Sinful Anger is Not an Option
-Revenge is Out of the Question
-Prayer is Always Good
-Self Inspection is Appropriate
-Forgiveness is Always Right

Those are still good points. Let me add three more.

Recognize the Awfulness of Sin

This is a bottom line issue and the bottom line is that men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and sinners do terrible things. Sure not all sinners do such extremely bad things, but we are all capable of the most horrific actions. It’s time that we faced the reality of the awfulness of sin (James 1:15). There’s nothing good about it. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your life until there is nothing left. The sin that was committed in Sutherland Springs should cause us to take swift and fierce action against any sin in our own lives.

Recognize Your Own Deadly Potential

The problem is that we downplay sin. It’s not so bad. At least my sin isn’t so bad. So we keep it and it lives in the deep recesses of our lives. And all the while it’s worse than we can even imagine. The step from lust to adultery, from anger to hatred, from hatred to murder is much smaller than we think. The deadly potential for unspeakable sin lies deep in all of us – just ask King David (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51). We are not as far from Devin Kelley as we would like to think.

Rejoice in the Grace of God

But then there’s grace. Praise God for grace! It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from committing more horrific sins than we do. It was grace that took a sworn enemy of Christianity like Paul and turned him into the greatest missionary of the church. It was grace that took a slave trader like John Newton and changed his heart so that he wrote one of the most enduring hymns of Christendom. And it’s only the grace of God that will help us cope with the terrible sins in our culture. And in that grace we can and should rejoice.

As you grapple with the awfulness of sin and your own potential for sin and the wonderful grace of God, remember to pray for the people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

One Title – Two Messages

Occasionally someone in our church will recommend a song for us to sing – something they heard at another church or on the radio. We welcome suggestions at our church and look into requests to see if the song has potential for us to use in our worship.

This past Sunday one of our worship team members suggested a song called Bow the Knee. When I began to search for the song on the internet I quickly discovered that there are two songs by this name (sometimes you’ll find four or more songs with the same name!). The song that had been suggested is this one – and it’s a good song. You can actually watch the writer of the song (Ron Hamilton) sing it here. Its message is along the lines of recognizing who God is and bowing before Him. Similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement (Philippians 2:9-11):

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The other song by the same title has a different message. Written by Chris Machen and Mike Harland it takes the idea of bowing before God in the direction of accepting the work that God is doing in our lives, even when we don’t understand it.

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.

There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.

When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.

And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.

When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.

Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.

Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.

And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

You can listen to this version here.

Two songs. Both songs with a good biblical message. Both true.

As Christ followers we need to recognize who God is. He IS King of all the ages and He alone deserves our worship.

It is also true that this God who is high and lifted up is one that we can trust on our journey through life even when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan. The writer reminds us of a truth that we need to hang onto; don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight – see 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Wherever you are today – rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God or struggling to understand the heart of the Father – stop long enough on your spiritual journey to bow your knee.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Grace Factor

Sometimes we have those favorite passages from the Bible that we like to quote. We often do it for encouragement or to explain something we don’t understand. One passage that people use like this is from the book of Isaiah: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Our normal thought process runs something like this: we can’t explain what God is doing in our lives so our fallback position is that God’s mind just works differently than our minds, so God must have some purpose or reason for – not answering my prayer; for allowing me to suffer; for not blessing me etc.

While all of that may be true on some level, the passage in Isaiah has a very specific context and that context is all about God’s grace.

The two verses just before this set the context. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).

It is in the context of God’s mercy and forgiveness that we learn that God’s mind works differently than our minds. God is willing to forgive the wicked who seek Him, call on Him and forsake their sin.

What God knows is that we struggle in this area. When someone has hurt us, wounded us, sinned against us, we struggle to forgiven them even if they seek our forgiveness. We just want to get even. To let them feel our hurt. They deserve at least a little pain. But not so with God. Whenever someone who has hurt the holiness of God by their sin comes seeking Him, He’s there. When they call, He’s listening. When they repent, He’s willing to forgive.

Why? Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His ways and thoughts are higher, much higher than ours.

There are two things that we can take away from this passage. One, and this is the primary teaching of the passage, is that God’s grace is not something that He jealously guards but something that He willingly and enthusiastically gives away to those who need it. That’s how His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

The second takeaway is that this is exactly how we are to live. We are to be grace-givers on a magnitude that we have never before imagined. Grace is not something you keep, it is something you dispense, something you give away freely and without reservation. Unless you give it, grace is not grace. It only becomes grace through the unselfish act of giving. God is not only showing us the magnitude of His grace in this passage – He is challenging us to live the life of grace.

The apostle John touched on this same issue when he wrote: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace piled on top of grace (my translation of John 1:16). Since we have received grace in a magnitude that we cannot begin to understand, we need to give grace in a magnitude that others do not expect. That’s the Grace Factor.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve