Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

That was one of my favorite hymns . . . back in the day . . . when we still sang hymns. For those of you too young to have ever sung a
hymn . . . or too old to remember what you sang, the first verse goes like this:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Wow! I can’t remember the last time I sang that song in church.

This isn’t about the worship wars. We all have our opinions and I’m not sure anyone has ever changed anyone else’s mind.

It’s more about the need to lean on God in times of – as the writer of the hymn phrases it, alarms.

The idea of leaning on something or someone implies two thoughts: 1) a need, and 2) a trust. Used with it’s normal meaning, both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek refer to the need for support, either physical or emotional. That’s what leaning says – you’re weak or tired and you need support.

But there’s also the trust side. If you need support you lean on something or someone you can trust. You don’t lean against a rotten tree for physical support, you lean against a tree that you can trust.

And you don’t lean on something or someone who has the potential to fail you for spiritual support, you lean on the only One who will not fail you. The One with Everlasting Arms.

Proverbs 3:5-6 brings this out. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths (way).

Acknowledging God indicates a need for direction. So you lean on Him because you trust Him.

Because of the new normal in our lives most of us are at a place where we know that we need someone greater than ourselves just to make it through another day. We need someone to lean on.

To have that joy divine and peace that the song talks about we have to lean. We need to recognize our need and learn to lean. Only then will we be safe and secure from all alarms.

Stay in the Word,
Pastor Steve

Relax, He’s Got This

In my daily Bible reading I just finished the book of Daniel. Talk about timely and appropriate! One of the great themes running through this Old Testament book is that God is still in control even when life looks hopeless. That’s a message that all of us need to hear right now with the world-wide Coronavirus epidemic.

The truth of God’s involvement in our world and lives is found in every chapter of the book.

Chapter 1 – God honors Daniel and his friends before the king.

Chapter 2 – God sets up and takes down kingdoms.

Chapter 3 – God saves the three Hebrews from certain death.

Chapter 4 – God humbles the greatest king on earth.

Chapter 5 – God brings judgment on the mighty Babylonian empire.

Chapter 6 – God protects Daniel from the lions.

Chapter 7 – God determines kingdoms and will set up His own kingdom.

Chapter 8 – God reveals the future kingdoms of the Medo-Persians and Greeks.

Chapter 9 – God reveals the future of Israel to Daniel.

Chapters 10-12 – God reveals more of His future plans for Israel and the world.

From the personal lives of Daniel and his friends to great Kings to the future of the world and eternity, we see God’s hand moving people like chess pieces into the places He has determined.

So why are we so concerned about the Coronavirus?

It’s probably because we’re afraid of what we don’t know. And that’s understandable. An unknown future is an unsettling thing.

But realize that it’s only unknown to us. It’s not unknown to God, in fact, He is the author of the future and as Christians we believe that history is going exactly the way God wants it to go.

And if that is the case then we have every reason to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6), even though we’re going through something unlike anything we’ve experienced in life.

So, take care of yourself. Follow the advice of the CDC and health care professionals. Practice good hygiene. And Relax, He’s Got This.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Does God Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

It’s popular in Christian circles to say to someone who is going through difficult times, God will never give you more than you can handle. While I write from an Evangelical perspective, I assume that this is quoted in most branches of Christianity. I have said it in the past myself.

But is it true? Is it true that God will never give you more than you can handle?

One caveat here, I also assume that by handle we mean face them in a good and godly way without sinking into despair, questioning our faith, struggling with God, or worse yet, dying. It seems to me that none of these can qualify as handling our trials.

I’ve tried to research where this came from and it seems that most people who have looked into it trace it back to 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Commentators will tell you that the Greek word, here translated as temptation can mean either a trial or a temptation to sin and that is true. So, the question is, which is Paul talking about? Is he talking about a trial that comes into your life or is he talking about a temptation to sin? It makes a difference!

I think that two different episodes in the New Testament help to clarify this issue.

One is the Apostle Paul who face a serious trial in his life that he called his thorn in the flesh. It was so distressing to Paul that three times he asked God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Remember that Paul had a long litany of trials – he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, thrown into prison, run out of various towns, and in his own words, been exposed to death again and again (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). But he never asked God to remove these from his life.

Whatever his thorn in the flesh was, it was something that he desperately wanted God to remove – but He didn’t. Paul had to live with this trial. There was no way of escape that God had promised for him.

The other example is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed and asked God if it was possible to remove the extreme suffering of the cross that He was about to faced. God didn’t. Jesus endured unbelievable pain and suffering. His only way of escape was death.

My point is that both Paul and Jesus faced tremendous suffering which they asked God to remove it, but He didn’t. It was suffering that they felt they could not endure and in Jesus’ case, He died because of it. There was no way of escape outside of death.

God does not always make the way of escape from the trials of life.

So, 1 Corinthians 10:13 cannot be talking about trials. I believe that this passage is talking about temptations to sin and there is always a way to escape temptations even if it just means running from them.

So back to the original statement: God will never give you more than you can handle.

Yes, God will sometimes give us trials that are more than we can handle, even if (and this should always be true of us) we face them in His strength. I think that this was the Apostle Paul’s testimony when he wrote:  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).

When someone is suffering, don’t tell them that God will never give you more than you can handle. Tell them that God is present in their suffering and although they, and you, may not understand it, God is working in their lives in some unknown, mysterious way.

The bottom line is, we have to Trust when we can’t explain.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Trouble With Trusting God

If you have lived long in the Christian life, you know that trusting God can be difficult at times. We don’t like to admit it, let alone say it because it sounds so unchristian, but it’s true. Trusting God is hard.

That can be true for several reasons. Sometimes God doesn’t show up – at least not in discernable ways. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in ways we can identify. Sometimes the Christian life isn’t as easily explained as we would like it to be. Sometimes we suffer for long periods of time – and maybe never see a change in our circumstances.

There are just things in the Christian life that we cannot explain – things that seem so wrong and it nails us right in our trust.

Yet we’re told to trust God both explicitly (Proverbs 3:5, Psalm 37:5 etc.) and implicitly (Psalm 46:10, Matthew 6:25 etc.). It’s all over the Bible. You can’t escape the fact that what God wants from us is to trust Him completely, in every circumstance of life.

The trouble with trusting God is that – well it takes trust. And when you don’t have it, it’s hard to get it.

When you’re dealing with trust-busting issues, it’s hard, if not next to impossible to summon up enough trust to just make it through the day. What God is asking us to do is not easy. In fact we can’t do it on our own. It takes more strength than we have.

So what to do?

I’m not sure that I have all of the answers. I’ve been working on this trust thing a long time and it’s still not that clear. But here are a few things to think about when you’ve lost your trust.

Tell God. Tell Him that you’ve lost your trust in Him. Tell Him that you don’t trust Him. It’s Ok – He already knows so there’s no point in acting like it isn’t so.

After that, and it may take a long time after that, tell Him that you can’t trust Him in your own strength and ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust Him. To teach you what it means to trust in spite of your lack of faith.

That will lead you to the Word of God. Read some passages about trusting God and God’s faithfulness and see what the Spirit reveals to you.

Then pray. Pray for the situation you are in. Pray for God to change you. Pray for faith to trust Him even if nothing ever changes. Pray that God will somehow use your pain and suffering even if you never understand how.

Then resolve to trust Him. Just to stubbornly, pigheadedly, tenaciously, trust Him.

It won’t be easy. In fact, at times you’ll wonder if you’ve totally lost your faith. You will probably still struggle with God. And sometimes you will doubt Him. That’s part of the Christian battle.

But God won’t give up on you and He doesn’t want you to give up on Him.

Remember that you aren’t going through anything that other Christians before you haven’t gone through and Christians after you won’t go through. That probably won’t make it any easier for you, but it does mean that God isn’t just picking on you.

So keep working on the trust thing because we’re walking by faith not by sight. And someday . . .

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

 

Living in Fearful Times

I had originally planned to write an optimistic blog about the New Year and how we can make the most out of the blank canvas that we call 2020.

But things have changed. Quickly. Events in the middle east have taken a turn since last Friday that few, if any of us saw coming. More U.S. troops are being deployed. People on both sides are using war language. It is certain that the assassination of Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani has changed what 2020 would have been into something else and that it will not be the final act in this drama being played out in real time.

We are Living in Fearful Times. No one knows where or how this will end – not even the decision makers.

And we don’t know how the events that will certainly play out in 2020 will affect each of our lives. While most of us live far from the Middle East and probably far from any direct impact of retaliatory actions, there is the possibility that our personal worlds will be affected. The times are far from certain.

So how are we to live in uncertain times? How are we to face fearful days?

Without question there are some specific things that each of us can do to prepare our families, and I’m sure that we will soon be inundated with advice telling us how to get ready for Armageddon. Some of the advice will undoubtedly be practical and useful and some will be over the top and simply engender more fear.

But what do we tell our children about these days? What do we tell ourselves? How do we handle an unknown future that appears threatening?

The Bible is clear that as Christians we are not to live in fear (2 Timothy 1:7). So what are we to do?

The answer is not difficult – we are to live in the reality that God is ultimately in control of our world (Isaiah 14:24, 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Luke 12:22-32, Ephesians 1:11). Even though bad things happen – and we have no guarantee that we won’t be affected by them, we are to reaffirm that God is the One in control, not those men who sit with their fingers on the red button.

Beyond that we know that this God who is in control is a God of great mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and that His grace is sufficient for our journey (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so we trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Even when we don’t understand His ways. Even when we can’t reconcile what’s happening in our world with His mercy and grace. Even when fear grips our hearts. Even then we trust Him.

None of us knows what will happen in 2020 – but He does. And that is enough.

So we live in faith not in fear. That is the choice for all of us – faith or fear.

No matter what happens in this New Year, God does not want you to live in fear. He wants you to trust Him and live in faith.

When you feel fear creeping in, get alone in a quiet place with God and tell Him again that you’re going to trust Him regardless of the chaos around you. And keep telling Him, not because He needs to hear it over and over, but because you need to confess it until your heart believes it.

You can live in peace in a fearful world.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Trusting Bravely in The Darkness

One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is trust. Although we often use the words faith and trust as synonyms, there is actually a difference. As one writer said, trusting is what we do because of the faith we have been given.

We begin the Christian life by trusting in the death of Jesus to save us. And we grow in the Christian faith as we learn to trust God in the various times of life.

In Joshua 1:9, God said to Joshua, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. He was saying, trust Me whatever life throws at you.

The Bible has a lot to say about trust, especially in the Psalms. Just a few examples include Psalm 9:10, Those who know your name trust in you; Psalm 13:5, I trust in your unfailing love; Psalm 20:7, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God; and Psalm 37:3, Trust in the Lord and do good.

The classic passage on the subject is Proverbs 3:5-6 which stresses just how important the issue of trust is. Trust in the Lord with all your heart (all that you are), and don’t lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

God wants us to trust Him all of the time for everything in life. Even in the hard times.

The thing about trust is that you really don’t know the strength of your trust until your trust is tested. It is in the trials of life that the depth of trust is revealed. It is in the darkness that we really learn just how much we trust. What is assumed in the light is often exposed in the darkness.

And that’s why God sometimes puts us in difficult circumstances. Trust demands trials. Without them we really don’t know anything about the strength of our trust.

David McCullough in his excellent biography about the early life of President Theodore Roosevelt, Mornings on Horseback, relates what was undoubtedly the darkest day of Roosevelt’s life.

Roosevelt had always had a close relationship with his mother, which only deepened after the death of his father. In October of 1880 he married Alice Lee, the love of his life and the only other woman to whom he gave his love (until a second marriage some years later). These two women, his mother and his wife, were the lights of his life and he could not have been happier.

Until a fateful day in 1884 when tragedy struck. His mother was the first to die of typhoid fever. Alice died eleven hours later in the same house of a kidney disease after giving birth to their only child.

Contemplating the death of his wife some months later he wrote, When my heart’s dearest died, the light went out from my life forever. It was a dark place.

One of Roosevelt’s contemporaries prayed that God would give Roosevelt strength to work bravely in the darkness.

I would like to make a small change to his prayer and pray for you and for me, that when we are in that dark place, that place where we don’t understand what God is doing, when we can’t explain His plan, that He will give us strength to trust Him bravely in the darkness.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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