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

Advertisements

Trusting God

I started a new series in our church yesterday called Unreasonable Faith. Sometimes in the Christian life, God askes us to do things that from our perspective might seem unreasonable, even impossible.

Let me stress that they are not unreasonable when you look at them with spiritual eyes. But most of the time we aren’t looking at life through the eyes of faith and it’s then that things begin to appear as unreasonable.

I began the series with a sermon called Unreasonable Trust.  Even in the darkest times of life God wants our complete trust in His goodness and in the fact that what He does is always right (Proverbs 3:5-6) even if we don’t understand it.

He wants (from a human perspective) an unreasonable trust. He wants our complete, total trust in every situation.

There is so much to say in a sermon like that, that you can’t say everything. But my wife reminded me that I left out something very important. I never answered the question What can I do that will help me trust God more?

So, let me give you a couple of ideas how you can build that kind of trust in God.

Remember the Past

It’s all over the Old Testament. Whenever Israel was down, discouraged, despairing, or even forgetting God, they were reminded of the past. Specifically of the things that God had done for them in their ancient history.

He brought plagues on Egypt; He parted the Red Sea; He gave them water from the rock; He led them through the wilderness; He provided manna for them; He gave them meat to eat (all mentioned in Psalm 78 and other places).

The point was that as they remembered these events, they would be reminded of the faithfulness of God – that He was worth trusting. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 78, said that the value of remembering was that they might set their hope in God, and not forget His works (Psalm 78:7).

The point is that God is worth trusting because of what He has done for you in the past.

What has God done in your life, sometime in the past, that you need to remember today?

Build Monuments

When Israel crossed the Jordan river into the Promise Land, God told them to build a monument using twelve stones from the river. One stone for each tribe.

The purpose of the monument was so they would never forget what happened at that time and in that place (Joshua 4:1-7). And when their children in future years asked them the meaning of the stones, they could tell them what God had done. They were to be stones of remembrance.

Again, the point was that they could trust the God of the past to be their God today.

I’m not suggesting that you build a stone memorial when God answers your prayer or is faithful to you in some other way. There may be other ways you can build a monument. If you’re into journaling, write it down. Take pictures if that’s appropriate. Have your children color pictures and hang them in the upstairs hallway.

Do something to remind you that God is worth trusting.

Know Him Better

There is a direct relationship between how well you know someone and how much you trust them.

Do you remember the game you use to play where you fell backward and hoped that another player would catch you? Sometimes it’s called Trust Fall.

If you didn’t know the person who was supposed to catch you, it was harder to trust them.

The same thing is true of God. You’re only going to trust God to the extent that you know Him.

When the Bible tells us to trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5) it’s implying that you know God with all your heart.

The better you know Him the more you’ll trust Him.

So, spend time in your Bible, praying, meditating on the Word, listening to the Word, worshiping and praising Him. You’ll be amazed at what it will do for your trust.

Complete trust in God won’t come naturally. You’ll have to be intentional about developing it.

It is possible.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Trust His Heart

I read a statement recently that intrigued me. It said, When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.

There will be times in life when you don’t see the hand of God, either because you’re not looking in the right place or because God has hidden His hand from you (that’s another blog!). And because you can’t see His hand you don’t understand His plan.

What do you do then?

If you are like many Christians your reaction can range from panic to doubt to complaining. Because you haven’t yet learned to trust. Trusting God when you can’t see what’s going on is not easy.

We want answers. We want full disclosure.

What we really want is to control our lives – to call the shots.

The reality is that we simply don’t trust God to do what’s best for our life. That’s a natural human reaction.

But it’s not the right reaction.

Have you ever had a friend that you were so close to that you trusted them explicitly? It didn’t matter what they did or even what they said about you, you knew that they had your best interest at heart?

They might even publicly disagree with you, perhaps causing you some degree of embarrassment but you knew that they loved you. So you gave them the benefit of the doubt. You accepted their criticism.

You trusted their heart.

That’s all God wants. He wants you to trust His heart even when you don’t understand His plan for your life.

I think that’s the essence of Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t trust in your own understanding, perspective, wisdom (my translation/ commentary).

Trust HIS heart, not your heart. Trust HIS wisdom, not your wisdom. Trust HIS way not your way.

As Christians we are to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith refers to the things that we can’t see. You can’t walk by faith if everything in life is clear and plain.

Walking by faith demands hiddenness.

Walking by faith demands trust.

Trust in the Heart of God.

Trust that His heart is Good. That His heart is Pure. That His heart is Loving. That His heart will never take you where His Grace cannot take care of you.

So when you can’t see the Hand of God – you can’t tell what God is doing in your life, Trust His Heart.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

P.S. You might enjoy the song Trust His Heart. You can listen to it here.

What Does Trusting God Look Like?

Each year at our church we choose a theme – something about the Christian life that we want to emphasize throughout the year. Our theme for this year is Everything by Faith. It comes from the Apostle Paul’s statement, the life which I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Paul considered his life to be dead and the life of Christ to be alive in him so that everything he did in this life he did by and through faith. Faith was the ruling factor in his life. The Apostle’s life was all about trusting God in every circumstance, in every decision, in every moment.

As Christians we are to live, like the Apostle Paul, every moment of every day by faith. That means trusting God in everything. It won’t be easy – in fact it will be difficult. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by faith; the world will tempt you not to live by faith; Satan will oppose you if you try to live by faith. But living by faith is the goal of our lives on this earth.

But what does trusting God in everything look like on a practical level? It’s one thing to say that you trust God, it’s another thing to know what trust actually looks like. Let me give you some snapshots of trust that I’ve recently shared with our church family plus a few additional ones.

Trusting God is to believe, embrace and act on the truth that . . .

You are important to Him even when it seems like He’s forgotten you (John 3:16, Matthew 10:39-41)

He knows and will always do what is best for your life (Philippians 1:6)

He knows what is going on in your life and is involved in ways that you cannot see (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:13)

He is leading your life to make you into someone He wants you to be (Romans 8:29)

His desire for your life is better than anything you could come up with (that’s just common sense)

His work in your life is rooted in His extreme love for you (Romans 5:8)

He can turn the bad of your life into something good (Genesis 50:20)

Your life is not spinning out of control because He is in control (Isaiah 14:24)

If you follow Him it’s the right thing to do even when it means that things don’t always go smoothly for you (1 Peter 1:3-9)

If you choose to follow Him and live life His way it will all work out in the end (1 Peter 1:6-7,9)

He can and will help you in ways that are best for you (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16)

What looks like a failure in life to you He can turn into something that looks like a success to Him (remember Peter? John 21:15-17)

When you can’t explain what God is doing in your life you accept it knowing that there will be a day when it will all make sense (1 Corinthians 13:12)

You will be more like Jesus when He’s done with you than you were when He started (Romans 8:29)

Remember that the Christian life is not about what we can see, but Who we trust. Our motto is and must be we walk by faith [always trusting] not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Splashed with Someone Else’s Sin

In my personal Bible reading I’m working my way through the book of Isaiah and I’ve come to chapters 7 & 8 where, hidden among the words of judgment, I found an important lesson.

The background for this section of Isaiah was the invasion of the southern kingdom, Judah, by the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom, Israel. The central issue was, would Judah trust God to protect them or would they search for a protector among the pagan nations of the world, in this case Assyria? The prophetic message of Isaiah was for the nation to trust in God and not in the strength of human armies. He was all that they would need. But as the story played itself out Judah was blinded by its own sin and chose a human protector over a divine protector.

What caught my attention was the tension that runs through the passage between the godly and the ungodly people in Judah. God was going to bring His judgment on the ungodly for their sin but at the same time the godly people in Judah would be caught up in that judgment. Through no fault of their own, they would suffer the same punishment as everyone else. The prophet clearly predicted (vs 17) that God would hide His face from Judah (withhold His blessing) because they chose to trust in the King of Assyria to deliver them instead of trusting in God. But the nation was composed of both godly people (the minority) and ungodly people (the majority) and when He withheld His blessing because of the actions of the ungodly, the godly in Judah would pay the same price.

That offends our sense of fairness. Certainly, if God was fair, He would reserve His judgment for those who did the sinning. But sometimes innocent people get caught in the sin of the world and suffer along with everyone else. That’s true when a nation sins and it can be true when individuals sin. Sin rarely, if ever, affects only the sinner. Innocent people get splashed with the mud of someone else’s sin all of the time.

The question for us is not Why should I pay when someone else sins? but How should I respond when I am not the guilty party? Isaiah tells us. In the same breath that he pronounced God’s judgment he said: I will wait on the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him (Vs 17). There’s the answer: wait and hope. In the case of Isaiah, wait for the time that God would deliver the nation and hope (trust) in His goodness. For you and me it’s wait for the time when God will make all things right (maybe now, maybe later) and trust that He does everything right even though we don’t understand it.

And that’s where we so often get hung up. We can wait for God when everything is going great, or when we can understand what’s going on. But wait for Him when the situation we are going through seems so unfair to us?

We can trust God when there’s really little that we actually need to trust Him for (after all we only need to trust when there’s trouble – which isn’t all of the time. I know we always need to trust Him but you get the point). But trust Him when we suffer because of what someone else did?

That’s exactly what God wants. He wants us to wait for His timing – after all His timing will always prove to be better than our timing. And He wants us to simply trust Him, even when it’s not our fault, because He knows what is best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When All Else Fails – Hang On!

I’m preaching a series of messages at our church called Family Matters. We’ll be looking at various issues related to the family like the importance of the family; what God wants from our families; and how we can survive as families in a world that has gone mad. As I told our people yesterday, families can be messy things. I’ve come to the conclusion that we live in a rather messy world and our families have been affected – so we have messy families. The age of Ward, June, Wally and Beaver is over (and they thought they had messes to deal with? They had nothing!).

When I use the word messy I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the problems we face in our families. I just can’t think of a better term to use to describe what I’m talking about. Families get messy when divorce rips a family apart. Families get messy when teenagers reject their parents authority. Families get messy when they are disrupted by alcohol, drugs or teen pregnancy. Families get messy when dad or mom lose their job, when parents fight, or when children are abused. Families get messy when they have no hope. There are a thousand and one ways that your family can get messy.

I don’t know what mess you’re dealing with today, but what do you do when things get messy in your family? It use to be that we dealt with messes by promising to pray and quoting a quick Bible verse. Somehow that doesn’t seem to work as well today. Maybe our messes are just that much messier. Maybe it’s simply that Christians today aren’t as spiritually mature as in previous generations.

I’m not against prayer or the Bible. I think that we need to pray for each other. I also believe that the Bible has good answers to our problems. But there are times when we’ve prayed and read all of the relevant scriptures and nothing changes. What then?

That’s where faith comes in. When all else fails – hang on! That’s just another way of saying, when you’ve done all you can do and nothing has changed, just keep on believing. Believe that God is in control of your life. Believe that even though you don’t understand what’s going on, He does. Believe that He loves you and cares about your pain. Believe that He is working in your life to change you into His image. Believe that He’s more interested in your holiness than in your comfort. Believe that He’s purifying you through the fire of adversity.

There are numerous examples in scripture of people who went through messy times, often without answers, and chose to hang on – to simply trust God. Job, Joseph, Daniel, and the three Hebrew children come to mind. I know that we look at them as spiritual giants and none of us will probably ever match up, but we can follow their example and hang on. We can choose to trust God.

Two passages come to mind. Read them again and ask God to give you the faith to believe Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

No trial has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able, but with the trial will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Is It True that God Will Never Give You More than You Can Handle?

I was listening to the testimony of a new, young, talented Christian artist when this statement caught my attention. In reference to God she said, we know that He loves us and He’s never going to let us fall. Really? Tell that to Israel, David, Samson or the Apostles Paul or Peter. No one fell farther, faster than Peter – I don’t know what you’re saying; with an oath, I don’t know the man; then he began to curse and swear, I don’t know the man! (Matthew 26:70, 72, 74). If that’s not falling I don’t know what is. That’s not just falling, that’s hitting bottom!

Certainly God loves us, that much is true, but His love does not preclude our falling into either problems (Paul) or sinful behavior (Peter). In fact you could make the case that it is precisely because He loves us that He doesn’t stop us from falling. His love gives us freedom and freedom can be a dangerous thing.

The real problem here is that too much of what we believe comes from the wrong sources. Too many Christians today live in a place of spiritual shallowness that is similar to the pop-culture of our broader society.  We have distilled our beliefs down to sound bites; to spiritual clichés: God is my co-pilot; God will not give you more than you can handle; Do your best, trust God with the rest. As writer Eric Geiger points out in an article titled Why God is Not Your Co-Pilot, these statements are simply not true. They may sound nice and on occasion offer us a modicum of comfort but they are often contrary to the truth of scripture. You can read his full article here.

Let’s face reality, we’ve arrived at this place because of our own spiritual laziness. It’s easier to tell someone God will never give you more than you can handle, then to spend the time with them digging into scripture to find out 1) if it’s true and 2) why God has brought them to the breaking point. Again, read the article for a good answer. You may not agree with everything the writer says but it should make you think in a different way about what you believe and why you believe it.

Whenever we distill our beliefs down to sound bites we are in danger of losing out on the richness of our faith. By their very nature sound bites have to leave out more than they include. Do you really want to do that with your faith? Do you want to risk knowing more about God and how He works in our world and our lives just so you can say less?

Here’s the strange part. Somewhere in our minds we know that these statements are not entirely sufficient answers – but we use them anyway. It’s just easier. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know the right answers and we don’t want to admit it. The next time someone pours their heart out to you because they don’t understand what God is doing in their life, resist the temptation to throw them a spiritual one-liner. Spend some time with them searching the Word of God for the real answers to their problems.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve