Watch Out for the Potholes

We have entered into another New Year. It’s officially 2019. With a new year comes new expectations, new hopes, and new dreams. There is always a fresh optimism at the beginning of another year.

But the reality is – life is still the same. Turning another page on the calendar doesn’t really change anything. Life goes on. You’ll face the same issues, same problems and same hardships as you did on the last day of 2018.

That’s the bad news.

I’m not trying to ruin your year. There is good news.

The good news is that you can face whatever 2019 throws at you with a new sense of strength and hope if you face it with the knowledge that Jesus is both your strength and your hope. He’s what you need.

He won’t eliminate the problems (wish He would!). But He will help you handle them if you’ll trust Him.

Read these words from the Bible and let them sink deep into your soul.

Psalm 9:10 – Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.

Psalm 33:18 – Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.

Psalm 42:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.

Isaiah 40:29 – He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

My hope and prayer for you is that you will experience joy and blessing in 2019.  But it is also likely that you will face some problems and hardships. The question is not Will you? but When?

The secret to the Christian life is not in avoiding the problems of another year, the secret is in how you handle them.  Handling them with dependence on God and with the confidence that in His power you can do what is right is the goal.

Blessings on you in 2019. But watch out for the potholes along the road (if you’re from PA you know what I’m talking about!).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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Crushed Hopes

The Cleveland Cavaliers – Crushed Hopes. Phil Mickelson – Crushed Hopes (again!). Argentina, Spain, Germany (especially Germany!), and Brazil – Crushed Hopes.

I know, all examples from the world of sports, in which you may not have any interest. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to understand Crushed Hopes. It happens every day and in far more significant ways then the outcome of a game.

We all have hopes and sometimes they get crushed.

Hope is important in life. Can you imagine a world without the possibility for hope? No hope in a better tomorrow? No hope that life holds a brighter future? No hope that you can be healed?

I wouldn’t want to live in a hopeless world. So very dark.

But sometimes we feel like hope has passed us by. That even though we hope, the reality of the end result is far different from the hope we had.

The truth is that hope is an elusive thing. It often depends on people or events over which you have no control. You cannot always dictate the path that life will take and that makes hope a dangerous thing. Lose hope too often and you’ll give up. It’s not worth getting Crushed again.

The key to realizing your hope is to make sure that it has a solid foundation.

Hope is only as good as that upon which you build. Put your hope in a fragile structure during a hurricane and it really won’t matter how hard you hope or how sincere your hope is – you’ll probably end up in Kansas with Toto.

That’s why it’s important to handle hope wisely. Crushed Hope is the result of putting your faith in the wrong thing. Too many people put their hope in hope and that will never work.

And that’s why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. It gives us a solid Hope. Not just in this life but for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19-22). As Christians our hope is in Jesus and His return to take us to a place where hope won’t be necessary because the expectation will be realized. (Titus 2:13).

Jesus is the solid foundation of our hope.

And so we wait. But we wait in the firm hope, the certain expectation, the reality of His coming (Galatians 5:5).

And while we might experience Crushed Hopes in this life, the hope that anchors our souls is firm, it is solid, it will last the storms of life (Hebrews 6:10).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Unthinkable Has Happened

I did not plan to write about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. So much has been written that there is little, if anything left to say. On a personal level I find it difficult to express what my heart feels. Perhaps at some later time I will share some thoughts with you.

I have been asked, however, to share my perspective by several people in our church. Please bear with me as I pass the buck. Dr. Albert Mohler is one of the greatest minds in the evangelical church today. Last Friday he wrote an excellent blog dealing with the tragedy. It’s long but worth reading. I could not write anything nearly as good or as biblical. Here it is.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut

Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15]

It has happened again. This time tragedy came to Connecticut, where a lone gunman entered two classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire, killing at least twenty children and six adults, before turning his weapons of death upon himself. The young victims, still to be officially identified, ranged in age from five to ten years. The murderer was himself young, reported to be twenty years old. According to press reports, he murdered his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook, in her home before the rampage at the school.

Apparently, matricide preceded mass murder. Some of the children were in kindergarten, not even able to tie their own shoes. The word kindergarten comes from the German, meaning a garden for children. Sandy Hook Elementary School was no garden today. It was a place of murder, mayhem, and undisguised evil.

The calculated and premeditated nature of this crime, combined with the horror of at least twenty murdered children, makes the news almost unspeakable and unbearable. The grief of parents and loved ones in Newtown is beyond words. Yet, even in the face of such a tragedy, Christians must speak. We will have to speak in public about this evil, and we will have to speak in private about this horrible crime. How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

We Affirm the Sinfulness of Sin, and the Full Reality of Human Evil

First, we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears. Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in.

What else can we say about the murder of children and their teachers? How can we understand the evil of killing little children one by one, forcing them to watch their little friends die and realizing that they were to be next? How can we bear this?

Resisting our instinct toward a coping mechanism, we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick. His heinous acts will be dismissed and minimized by some as the result of psychiatric or psychological causation, or mitigated by cultural, economic, political, or emotional factors. His crimes were sick beyond words, and he was undoubtedly unbalanced, but he pulled off a cold, calculated, and premeditated crime, monstrous in its design and accomplishment.

Christians know that this is the result of sin and the horrifying effects of The Fall. Every answer for this evil must affirm the reality and power of sin. The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.

The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. More recently, we see evil in the impassive faces of Osama bin Laden and Anders Behring Brevik. We will now add yet another name to the roll call of mass murderers. His will not be the last.

The prophet Jeremiah knew the wickedness and deceit of the sinful human heart and asked the right question — who can understand it?

Beyond this, the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common. We must be thankful for the restraint of the law, operating on the human conscience. Such a crime serves to warn us that putting a curve in the law will inevitably produce a curve in the conscience. We must be thankful for the restraining grace of God that limits human evil and, rightly understood, keeps us all from killing each other.

Christians call evil what it is, never deny its horror and power, and remain ever thankful that evil will not have its full sway, or the last word.

We Affirm the Cross of Christ as the Only Adequate Remedy for Evil

There is one and only one reason that evil does not have the last word, and that is the fact that evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly.

On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction.

Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.

A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide.

In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.

We Acknowledge the Necessity of Justice, Knowing that Perfect Justice Awaits the Day of the Lord

Charles Manson sits in a California prison, even now — decades after his murderous crimes were committed. Ted Bundy was executed by the State of Florida for multiple murders, but escaped both conviction and punishment for others he is suspected of having committed. Anders Behring Brevik shot and killed scores of young people in Norway, but he was sentenced to less than thirty years in prison. Adolf Hitler took his own life, robbing human courts of their justice, and Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.

The young murderer in Connecticut took his own life after murdering almost thirty people, most of them children. He will never face a human court, never have to face a human accuser, never stand convicted of his crimes, and never know the justice of a human sentence.

But, even as human society was robbed of the satisfaction of that justice, it would never be enough. Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan.

Human justice is necessary, but it is woefully incomplete. No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime, and no human judge can restore life to those who were murdered.

Crimes such as these remind us that we just yearn for the total satisfaction that will come only on the Day of the Lord, when all flesh will be judged by the only Judge who will rule with perfect righteousness and justice. On that day, the only escape will be refuge in Christ, for those who knew and confessed him as Savior and Lord. On that day, those who are in Christ will know the promise that full justice and restoration will mean that every eye is dry and tears are nevermore.

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort.

What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer. We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior.

They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]

Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but let us never forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children.

But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
[Jeremiah 31:16-17]

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

What Happens After the Resurrection?

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. For Christians Easter rivals Christmas and the celebration of His birth as the most important day of the year. It is certainly the most significant event as it relates to our eternal destiny. Without the resurrection of Christ we have nothing to look forward to (1 Corinthians 15:32), we have no hope (verse 17) and we have no message (verse 14). Even non-Christians seem to instinctively understand the importance of the day. Typically Easter Sunday is one of the highest attended services of the year.

I want to make two observations about Easter Sunday. The first is that while I’m always happy to have more people in church, there is a sadness that is attached to the higher numbers. The sadness is that those same people who see a need to attend Easter services don’t see a need to come back again until Christmas. Somehow they have missed the importance of what took place at the resurrection and just how transforming that one event can be.

My second observation is that as followers of Christ we shouldn’t need a special day to celebrate His resurrection. Whatever unique feeling, blessing, worship, joy or significance we attach to Easter should not be confined to one day of the year. Easter should be an everyday event for us. I have no problem setting aside a day to remember such an epic event, as long as whatever is good about that day carries over to every other day of our lives.

A more basic issue for the Christian is: What about the day after Easter? What happens after the resurrection? While the resurrection of Jesus stands alone in its importance, there must be more. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead simply to show God’s power, His miracles had already addressed that issue. At the heart of the resurrection there must have been a purpose, an objective that continued long after the event itself had transpired. There was.

Two readily come to mind. The first is Hope. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that the followers of Christ today have hope that they too will enjoy resurrection life (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). We should live as hope-filled people, knowing that Christ set the precedent for us. Because He lives we too shall live. That fact in itself should impact (change?) how we view life; how we live life; and how we react to the struggles of life.

The second long-term effect of the resurrection is that we have something to talk about! In fact we have something that we should and need to talk about. This is revolutionary. It’s life-changing. And it’s the only thing that can make an eternal difference in the lives of those in your sphere of influence. Unless we talk about the resurrection they will never understand why they need to consider its significance. They will never grasp just what it can do in their lives.

How important is the resurrection of Jesus to us today? Let’s put it this way: There is nothing in your life or my life that has the potential to change our world and the people in it more than this single event.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Disappointments of Life

Anyone who has lived for very long realizes that life is full of disappointments. Life just doesn’t always go the way we planned or hoped. Students aren’t accepted into the college of their first choice, marriages fail, people lose their jobs, children disappoint their parents, sickness keeps us from enjoying our later years, etc. Granted there are good aspects to life, but it seems that it is the disappointments that we tend to remember. The greater the disappointments the longer they linger in our memories.

With all of the controversy surrounding Harold Camping’s (Family Radio) prediction of the rapture on May 21, it’s easy to forget that he, and those who followed him, were sincere in their belief. Some have suggested that he was deceitful and manipulative. I don’t think so. I think that he sincerely believed, however misguided he was, that Christ was going to return. So far the only public reaction that he has given is to say that he is flabbergasted. I would be too if I thought that Christ was going to come back last Saturday.  I think another good description would be disappointed. I can’t imagine anyone who followed Camping not being disappointed today. In fact it would be a disappointment far greater than anything else I can think of. What do you do when life hands you a disappointment? How do you respond?

The Apostle Peter, writing to Christians who had been scattered around the Roman Empire by intense persecution, reminded them that even though life had not gone their way, they still had something to hang onto.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now, you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Peter reminds these believers that they had hope. They had an eternal inheritance. They had the knowledge that their salvation was secured by the will of God. And even though life was filled with disappointments they could rejoice that their faith in God’s mercy and goodness was more precious to God than gold. Beyond that, their faith, especially in the bad times, would ultimately result in praise, honor and glory to Christ.

That is what we have to hang onto as we face the disappointments of life. We have a living hope. We have an inheritance to look forward to. We have a salvation that can never be taken away from us. And in that hope, that inheritance and that security we can rejoice. Don’t lose faith. It is the faith in times of disappointments that is precious to God. It is the faith in times of disappointments that will bring praise, and honor, and glory to Him.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve