Finish Well

Today is a special day for one member of our church – today a dear lady named Ruth celebrated her 90th birthday!

Several years ago I decided that anyone in our church who reached their 90th birthday deserved a party, so we have a celebration after the church service complete with balloons, streamers and cake. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that for Ruth. For several years she has been in an assisted care facility and while she can move around independently, she’s not strong enough to attend church. So, we took a bundle of birthday cards to her from people in our church. She was so appreciative.

We all have special days – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations etc. Days that mark special events or that remind us of specific times of life.

When you visit with Ruth, she will often remark that she is ready to move on. She knows there are more days behind her than she has in front of her. I really believe that she is longing for and looking forward to heaven.

As I visited with Ruth today the thought came to me, she’s finishing well! Ruth is just a simple lady from a Pennsylvania Dutch background. Most people, unless they are part of her small group of friends, don’t know Ruth. They’ve never heard of her. But God isn’t going to evaluate Ruth’s life by how many people knew her – he’s going to weigh her life by her faithfulness to Him. And by that standard I think Ruth will rank high.

Life isn’t about the fame or the accolades, it’s about faithfulness. And faithfulness is about finishing well. Ruth, even with her physical problems is finishing well.

The Apostle Paul was concerned about finishing life well. As the end of his life loomed before him he wrote to Timothy, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Paul was faithful to the end.

That’s really all that God wants from any of us. Simply to complete the race. To finish life well.

Life hasn’t been easy for Ruth. It’s not easy for most people. But you can still finish well. Don’t let the problems of life determine how you live your life or how you finish life.

Be faithful. Keep the faith. Finish well. Be like Ruth.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

So You Think You’re in Charge?!

In our Adult Bible Fellowship at church we’re studying the book of Proverbs. As part of our study we’re encouraging everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs a day for the four months that we’ll be in this study. 31 chapters in 30 or 31 days. By the end of the study they will have read through Proverbs four times. That’s a good way to imprint the truths  of God’s Word on our minds.

Today was Proverbs 16 (September 16 – get it?).

One of the things that jumped out at me this morning was just how much God is involved in our lives – even when we think we’re in Charge.

Three verses in particular from this chapter emphasize just how much God is involved in our lives.

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

Proverbs 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

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

If there is one thing these verses teach it is that God is ultimately sovereign over the affairs of our lives.

We can make preparations, plan our way and even make decisions the old fashion way by casting lots, but God is in control.

We don’t understand how it all works but somehow God takes even our worst decisions, our messed up plans and our flip of the coin and uses them for His good.

That doesn’t excuse us from making good plans, but it does encourage us that even when we make plans that are not the best plans, it won’t frustrate God. He is bigger than any of our plans.

At least four times the writer of Psalms declares the Lord reigns, affirming the fact that God is sovereign (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 97:1, 99:1). And in the final book of the Bible, the Apostle John quotes a great multitude in heaven who declare Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6).

It was that truth that George Fredrick Handel picked up and used in the Hallelujah Chorus as the focus of his soul-stirring masterpiece, that we know as Handel’s Messiah. You can listen to the Royal Chorus Society sing it here.

Some people are put off by the teaching that God is sovereign. I find it a comfort for several reasons.

-If the outcome of my life depends on my decisions rather than on God’s sovereignty it’s going to end badly – very badly.

-The truth that God is in control gives me infinitely more comfort than knowing that I’m cast onto the whims of fate, my own plans or someone else’s decisions.

-Because God is good (see Luke 18:19), I know that His control of my life will be good. I can’t even trust my own control to always be good.

-Since God knows the beginning from the end, He knows what is best for me. I don’t.

For these and many more reasons I can rest quietly in the sovereignty of God.

Rather than see God’s sovereignty as a restriction in life, see it as a benefit. Something that helps you do life God’s way.

You might think that you are in charge of your life, but thankfully you’re not. Someone much wiser, more powerful, and infinitely more loving is in control.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Fragile: Handle With Care

We’ve all seen the stamp on the box: Fragile: Handle With Care. It’s a warning that the contents of the box can easily be broken and you need to be careful.

I remember sitting on an airplane several years ago, watching out of the window as they were loading the last suitcases into the cargo hold. At that exact moment one of the baggage handlers took a suitcase by the handle, swung it 180 degrees and launched it through the air and onto the conveyor.

Guess whose suitcase it was. Yep, mine. I’m sure that he was unaware that the owner of that suitcase was sitting thirty feet directly above him watching his every move. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

I think that all suitcases should be marked with a Fragile: Handle With Care sticker before they are turned over to the baggage handlers!

In quick defense of baggage handlers everywhere – I’ve also witnesses hundreds of suitcases being transferred from the baggage cart to the conveyor with great care.

Those guys don’t get enough credit.

Here’s what’s true (with apology to Forrest Gump): Life is like a suitcase.

Picture yourself as a suitcase on the baggage cart of life. Only this time you are also the baggage handler. Are you handling your suitcase carefully or are you slinging it around by its handles?

The Bible gives us some fascinating descriptions of life including a shadow (Job 8:9), a vapor (James 4:14), a fast runner (Job 9:25), a fading flower (Job 14:2), the wind (Psalm 78:39, Isaiah 64:6) and the wild grass in the field (Psalm 103:15, Isaiah 40:6, 1 Peter 1:24).

What all of these descriptions have in common is brevity. They are here one minute and gone the next. That’s life.

The biblical writer James makes this exact point when he says, What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).

In the greater scheme of the universe you’re only here for a moment. Not even enough time to appear as a blimp on the radar screen.

Which means you have to be careful how you handle your life. You haven’t got much time to make the maximum impact. In fact, you don’t have much time to make any kind of significant impact.

The strange thing is that it only takes a blink in time to make a negative impact with your life, but it often takes a lifetime to make a positive impact. But that’s a discussion for another day.

The point that I want to make today is that life is fragile because life is short. You need to handle your life with care. Everyone should be born with a sticker that says Fragile: Handle With Care.

What kind of impact are you making with your life? Who have you influenced today? What kind of influence did you leave behind? Whose life will you touch tomorrow?

As a pastor I’ve conducted a lot of funerals. There has been a trend lately to have an open mic at funerals and allow everyone an opportunity to say how their life was touched by the deceased. The saddest funerals are those where few people speak.

Live your life so when it comes time for people to speak at your funeral the line will be long.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

And Life Goes On

Most problems/hardships that those of us in the Western world struggle with on a daily basis are really not that important. Not to those of us living far from the squalid slums of Mexico City, the oppressive poverty of the Congo, the ravages of war, or the hundreds of thousands of hopeless children that roam the streets of the major cities of the world.

If we can put those pesky, unpleasant images out of our minds – we live well. Nothing much to worry about.

And life goes on.

I’m not disparaging people who are struggling with legitimate and life crushing issues. But that’s not most of us. Most of us are just fine. We have a roof over our heads, food on our tables, and money to pay the bills. We live in the land of the 3 S’s: Security, Satisfaction and Surplus.

Yet we live so much of our lives uptight about the little things. The things that are not that consequential in the grander scheme.

Think about the last thing that made you uptight. Was it really that important? Probably not. No matter which way it went, life would probably go on. You’d still have a warm bed to sleep in, more than enough food to eat, more clothes in your closet than some third world villages combined, and people who still loved you.

That’s more than most people in the world have.

The reason that we in the prosperous West get so uptight about the little things is because we’ve made life all about us. In our minds a good life is dependent on two things – our comfort and our enjoyment.

And what we’ve forgotten is the transient nature of life.

The Bible addresses this issue in several places, like James chapter 4.

You should know better than to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!” What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears (James 4:13-14).

 In the eternal scheme your life isn’t even a blimp on the radar screen. It’s a puff of smoke – here one moment and gone the next.

There has to be something more than our comfort and enjoyment that gives meaning and significance to our lives.

And there is.

James goes on to say, You should say, “If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things.”  (James 4:15).

What James recognizes is the importance of bringing God into the decisions of our lives. We do what we do dependent on Him.

In reality life is about Him. He is the focal point of life. He is what gives life meaning and significance.

Acting as if we are autonomous and there is nothing greater than us is what leads us to place so much significance on the insignificant things of life. When we eliminate the most significant (God) we will elevate the less significant to heights far above what they deserve.

It’s in keeping God in His rightful place that we will find balance in life. When He is the focal point everything else will fall into its proper place.

Jesus put it this way: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

That’s keeping God in the right place. It will also keep the problems/hardships of life where they belong.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

The Power of a Life

People die every day. The famous ones have their pictures plastered on magazine covers and on social media.

The ordinary people might get a mention in the local newspaper.

Over the last few months our church has said goodbye to two very ordinary people. Two of our most senior saints have gone on to their reward. They weren’t famous but they were lives well lived. They were the kind of people of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).

They will be missed by those who knew them.

Norman Zimmerman and Anna Mary Byler were both Pennsylvania Dutch. Such good people.

For those of you who are not familiar with south central PA – You might be Pennsylvania Dutch if you . . .

-You know how to cook, but not without butter.
-Your iced tea is sweeter than Pepsi.
-Your idea of Chicken Pot Pie has nothing to do with a pie and you can’t
figure out why people might think it would.
-You order “dippy eggs” for breakfast.
-The Green Dragon isn’t a Chinese restaurant.
-Three words: Red Beet Eggs.
-You know what a Whoopie Pie, a Shoo Fly Pie and Fasnachts are.
-You out the light.
-You go to the store when the milk is all.
-A “Bud” is not a beer and it’s much better than those cheap knockoffs like
Hershey’s kisses.
-English might not be your first language – ever hear Pennsylvania Dutch?

Back to the main point.

Norman didn’t speak English until he went to grammar school. And even then it was difficult for him. Because of a speech problem he was sometimes hard to understand. But he was a master craftsman, a faithful husband to his dear wife, Ruth, and a man whose word could be trusted.

Anna Mary was, among other things, a self-taught Bible scholar. She may have known more about the Bible than her pastor. She was a woman of grace, of hospitality, of honor and a faithful wife to her husband Marvin.

As I reflected on the lives of these dear saints three things stood out to me.

The first is that neither of them were people who lived in the limelight. They didn’t demand or even longed for the spotlight. It just wasn’t in their nature. Yet both of them accomplished more for the Lord than many who stand in the front of the church.

The second thing that stood out about them is that they were faithful. Faithful to their God, their families, their churches, their jobs, their friends. Unbelievably faithful. It’s a quickly vanishing trait.

The third thing that characterized both Norman and Anna Mary was the power of their influence. They both had great influence on other people. They might not have known it but others did. Their influence was shown in different ways to be sure, but it was – and still is – there. They both had an influence on my life.

That’s the Power of a Life. People left behind whose lives have been marked by your life. We should all aspire to such a legacy.

It was a privilege for me to have been the pastor for both Norman and Anna Mary for the last decade of their lives. They have inspired me to keep on; never quit; don’t give up; be faithful; don’t worry about who gets the credit; love Jesus, my wife, and others; speak the truth – in love and with grace; make my life count.

To both Norman and Anna Mary I would borrow from the gospels and say, well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Life is Hard

Sometimes when I look out over my congregation of really great people I can’t help but wonder how they’re making it. In fact I marvel that they’re making it.

One of the privileges, and at the same time burdens, of being a pastor is that you know things about people. They tell you things. You know their hardships. You know who’s crying on the inside.

That one is unemployed. Another one over there is too. Over there is a wife that just left her husband of 50 years in the Alzheimer Unit. There and there and there are people dealing with life-changing health issues. People struggling with their marriages – and divorce. Families are crying out to God for their prodigals. On that side a mother who just buried her son. Behind her a husband sitting alone because his dear wife is struggling with depression. Every month the family in the back drives two hours to visit a son in the state prison – they’ll do it for at least 10 years. Several more struggling with various kinds of cancer. Old age is slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, creeping up on our seniors. Broken relationships. Too many bills and not enough money. Sick children.

I’m not making this stuff up.

There’s more. A lot more.

I marvel at these people.

But life is Hard. It is for everyone. Not to the same extent. Not in the same way. But Hard.

The trap that we have to avoid is thinking that we have it hard while other people have it easy. That leads to questioning and even doubting God. Why should I suffer while other people enjoy the good life?

The reality isn’t that some people have an easy life and others have a hard life. The reality is that some people have learned how to handle the hard life without letting it destroy them while others are still searching.

If you’re still trying to figure it out here are 3 things to remember.

Even when life is hard, God still loves you. Don’t gauge His love by the relative ease of your life. He loves you just as much in the Hard Times. Maybe more (if that’s even possible).

Someone else is suffering more than you. I know that sounds like a lousy reason to look up, but it’s still true. The writer of Hebrews used this argument in Hebrews 12 when he said that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus who suffered death. Not keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to discouragement. Then he blasts us with this: You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin (vs 4). His point: Jesus suffered more than you so don’t give up yet.

You might have it bad but there are plenty of people in the world who are hungrier, who are hurting more, who have been beaten and raped and tortured. Keep it all in perspective. Don’t lose heart. It’s just a light affliction.

Not my words. Paul’s (you need to read this. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t you hate it when he’s right!

You’ll make it. We’ll all make it. You might arrive bruised and bleeding, but you’ll make it. God will see to that.

It might not be clear to you now but He’s got your life under control and He’s leading you even in the darkness. Sometimes on the mountain. Sometimes through the valley. But He knows the way and You’ll. Make. It.

He’s never lost anyone yet.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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