Friday, November 30, 2007

Good morning -

Get the government off our backs. No, it's not a controversial political statement; it's actually a biblical prayer request:

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. " (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

We are to pray for government leaders to do their job so that we can do ours. And our important work of evangelism and instruction is clearly outlined in the following verses:

"This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Political involvement by Christians continues to be a controversial topic, but one thing is certain: the desire of our Father's heart is that all people come to salvation and truth, and He calls upon us to pray that government in no way hinder this important work. Our clear responsibility to government is to pray that it not interfere with evangelism and biblical education.

God's clear objective is that all people have the opportunity to know and embrace this truth:

"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time." (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

This truth, from God's perspective, is so important that government must not hinder it and God's people must be free to proclaim it.

Being "saved" and coming to "the knowledge of the truth" are synonymous. A salvation decision sets us on the road toward discovering, both intellectually and experientially, the One true God and the mediator man, Christ Jesus. If this goal is not in focus then we are in danger of seriously diverting from the course that will lead us to the Kingdom of God.

I challenge each of us to take time today to pray for our government leaders to do their job so that we can do ours. As we are sensitive to the Father's desires concerning salvation and truth, we can be assured - as we surrender to Him - that He will bring us in to harmony and participation with His great plan.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Good morning -

You can usually smell it before you see it. A stagnant pond is a murky greenish-gray color with the putrid smell of decaying organic matter. At one time it teemed with life as water flowed in and as plant life flourished, but the inactive waters were eventually depleted of life-giving oxygen and deprived plants and fish eventually died and decayed.

A stagnant pond is an odd illustration for spiritual condition but it is uniquely used by the prophet Zephaniah:

"I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, 'The LORD will not do good or evil!' (Zephaniah 1:12)

God is displeased to be considered the God of inactivity. Such is the view of an agnostic: he or she believes that God exists but is detached and removed from His creation.

While most of us would quickly disassociate ourselves from the title of agnostic, the phrase, "stagnant in spirit" may be uncomfortably descriptive. The Living Waters that once flowed through our lives with energy and life may have presently diminished to a stagnant pool. That which remains is but a memory of past vibrancy and spiritual vitality.

The good news is that this moment offers us the opportunity for renewed life. The common theme of God's disfavor in the Old Testament is always eclipsed by His offer of future restoration. Both themes are designed to invoke an immediate response from those who are receptive.

"Therefore wait for Me," declares the LORD ... "For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him shoulder to shoulder." (Zephaniah 3:8,9)

The Lord calls to us to wait upon Him; to consider our spiritual condition and our need for Him. As we call out to Him with full recognition of our need and condition His is quick to cleanse and heal.

I pray that the Living Waters are flowing like a mighty river in your life today, but if the true reality is that the waters have diminished to a stagnant pond you can be assured of the possibility of new life and vitality as you come before Him with your need. Our Father has provided us with His Son to be the source of life-giving waters:

"whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (John 4:14)

Drink deeply today.

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good morning -

The moment is forever captured in a stunning photo. We stood atop a mountain in a tropical paradise, overlooking a sparkling emerald-blue bay and the vast expanse of the ocean, dotted with small, lush green islands. A bank of dark rain clouds advanced against the bright blue sky and dramatically darkened a portion of the island below.

Growing up in the rural Midwest, I would never have imagined that one day I would stand atop a mountain on the island of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands to drink in this breathtaking scene. But that's a very small portion of the high places that you and I have been taken to:

"The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places." (Habakkuk 3:19)

The lyrics to a popular contemporary song state: "You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up... To more than I can be." Such was the prophet Habakkuk's perspective - The Lord was his strength and had elevated him to walk in high places. This was his resolute faith amidst the uncertainty of the present age:

"Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Prosperity has the tendency to insulate us from dependence on the Lord. We too easily find strength and comfort in that which is temporary and unreliable. The true test is when those things give way or are taken away. If we have rejoiced and found strength in the Lord in prosperity we most certainly will amidst adversity.

The ultimate "high place" we are destined to walk is the Kingdom of God. Even now we've been elevated to positions of authority and leadership as we live today as the government in waiting and training. Today's opportunities and challenges are the "proving ground" of our kingdom character and ability. Our management and stewardship of life today is the basis for that which we will be entrusted with in the coming kingdom.

As breathtaking as that unforgettable scene was on a Caribbean island, it's miniscule compared to the high places you and I will walk in the coming kingdom. We can begin the experience today as we walk the high places of the kingdom of God.

May the view of the kingdom high places today be stunning,

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good morning -

Difficult times inevitably come to us all. Sometimes we see them coming, like storms clouds on the horizon; other times they strike with paralyzing swiftness. The true test of character is what we do in the face of difficulty.

The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him." (Nahum 1:7)

Do we turn to despair or to the Lord in difficult times? The answer is determined by the character being formed within us on a daily basis. If the Lord is our strength and joy in the good times then He very naturally is our stronghold and refuge in difficult times. The Lord is both our joy and refuge so long as we are walking daily with Him.

I grew up in the Midwest in "tornado alley". It was a regular occurrence in the spring of the year to be alerted to the danger of conditions that could produce tornadoes. Our family had an emergency plan if we learned that a tornado was approaching - it consisted of a quick trip out of the house to a nearby cement well pit in the ground. Those cramped underground quarters could barely contain a family of four, but they provided safe refuge in the face of danger.

The time to develop a crisis plan is before the crisis occurs. It's too late to search for a safe refuge when a tornado begins to splinter your home. It's also disastrous to seek out the Lord as a refuge in times of trouble when we haven't sought and found Him in our daily existence.

The best preparation for adversity is cultivating a vital relationship with the Lord during times of prosperity. If He is our joy in prosperity then He is easily our refuge in the day of trouble.

It would be wonderful if everyone reading this was going through the best of times, but realistically I know that some are in "the day of trouble". If this be the case with you, may the Lord be your refuge even as He has been your joy in the good times. May each of us truly be able to say as did the Apostle Paul:

"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Philippians 4:11), and:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Seeking to stand strong today whether in storms or sunshine,

Pastor Steve

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good morning -

We have every reason to be eternal optimists. The ultimate outcome of our lives gives realistic basis for confidence and hope, but present resources available to us also inspire optimism:

"Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me. " (Micah 7:8)

No believer is immune to missteps in their lives. We each are capable of unwise decisions and disobedient actions. Our daily existence consists of a mixture of God-honoring choices and actions as well as sinful ones. Regardless of choices we make that cause us to fall in our faith, however, we ultimately will rise through the strength of Him who is at work within us (Philippians 2:13).

Beyond our present "falling and rising" is an even greater hope: though we ultimately fall in death we will most certainly rise in resurrection. Death will never be our final reality. We are destined to be optimistic overcomers of the greatest darkness.

We presently live in an age of darkness but "the LORD is a light for me". As we are surrounded by the pessimism of economic uncertainty, global warming, increasing crime and moral decay, we live optimistically as those with the light of the Lord within illuminating our path toward the Kingdom of God. The light of that optimism shines out brightly against the darkness of this age as we "appear as lights in the world, holding fast (forth) the word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16).

The challenge and privilege of this day is to nourish and fuel the light of the Lord within so that we shine brightly as a beacon of hope to those lost in the world's darkness. Kingdom citizens are points of light in the darkness so long the Lord shines brightly from within. That light shines, not so much through our DOING but through our YIELDING. As we yield the Lord of light produces the fruit of good deeds through us that accomplishes far more than we ever could in our own strength and resolve.

As a popular song goes, "carry your candle; go light your world". Through cultivating the light of the Lord within by nourishing that vital relationship, may we each shine brightly and hopefully in a dark world today.

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good morning -

We each have certain expectations, whether we communicate them or not. We expect to be treated honestly and fairly by others. We expect to be paid agreed-upon wages by our employers. We expect certain job performance from employees. We expect our spouse to be faithful to us.

What about God's expectations of us? Many are confused and consider His expectations to be overly-harsh and unrealistic. After all, how can unholy people ever live up to the expectations of a holy God?

A long time ago a prophet named Micah was inspired to pen God's expectations as succinctly as have ever been written:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Amidst all the detailed laws and requirements, could God's expectations really be that simple? Apparently so. Jesus similarly framed God's expectations when He was challenged to declare God's highest commandments:

" 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

A walk of faith and active love for our Father, His Son, and all people are the essence of God's expectations. The coming kingdom will be characterized by perfect justice, genuine love and kindness for all, and an unhindered relationship with our Creator. The reality of the coming age breathes life into our existence today as we live within this future realm. We become living demonstrations of the coming kingdom as we participate with God through active justice and kindness and a humble daily walk with Him. In this way the seeds of the coming kingdom germinate within and begin to bear fruit that is both God-pleasing and people-appealing. This kingdom lifestyle gives validity to the kingdom message that we declare.

God's expectations are profoundly simple yet radically life-altering. They cannot be met except through a total transformation of mind and attitude. It is only through the sacrifice and active work of Jesus that we able to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and enabled to be a living and holy sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

God's expectations cannot be met by our own resolve or in our own strength but we can be wonderfully transformed through the act of surrender, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13).

May His transforming power guide your today into the lifestyle that pleases Him and demonstrates the reality of His coming kingdom in a compelling way for others.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good morning -

We pursue that which we are passionate about. It's as simple as that. If our passion is for material possessions then we are driven to acquire them. If our passion is for a college degree then we aggressively pursue it through education. Passion motivates pursuit.

This fundamental principle is key to spiritual life and vitality. The passion for a dynamic and intimate experience with our Creator through our Savior drives the pursuit. The passionate drive to know leads to a sincere desire for lifestyle.

Spiritual passion is not generally characteristic of the peoples and nations of the world today, but one day it will be:

"And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." (Micah 4:1-2)

Pastors and church members longs for people to "stream to" church, but typically people today instead stream to malls, sporting events, and theme parks. This is the passion that they pursue. But a time is coming when the Lord's literal presence will be upon a mountain in Israel and people and nations will have a passion to stream to it to learn His ways, will and word. The passion to learn the Lord's ways will lead people and nations to "hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war." (Micah 4:3). Passion for the Lord's ways will overcome our aggressive warring passion.

Are you passionate for the Lord? Does a driving desire motivate you to learn the Lord's ways and will? Passion motivates pursuit. If passion for the Lord burns within then it is driving you to know Him better through His word and through other spiritual pursuits.

May your passion be so kindled that you relentlessly pursue the Lord and His will and ways.

Pastor Steve

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Good morning -

What if I missed it? Can you imagine having tickets to a very special event and then suddenly becoming alarmed that you were mistaken on the date and the event was already past? But even worse, what if you have missed out on THE event of the ages?

"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Understanding what the Bible says about future events can be confusing, but there is little cause for confusion over the return of Jesus. We can be absolutely certain that Jesus is not presently ruling from Jerusalem nor is His earthly kingdom presently established (if we're living in the kingdom now, I'm greatly dissapointed!).

"The Day of the Lord" - the sudden breakthrough of the Lord in which time gives way to eternity - will not occur until after two key events take place:

"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)

The return of Jesus will be preceded by a massive falling away from the true faith which will in turn pave the way for the ultimate despot ruler to take his place and declare himself to be God - the ultimate blasphemy. It is vitally important that we understand these key facts and respond intelligently. This knowledge of the future carries important responsibility.

The only safeguard against failling away from the true faith is to be in love with the truth. Those who are caught up in the massive deception at the end of the age are "those who did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Familiarity with the truth is no substitute for passionate love for the truth.

One of the most effective approaches to the Bible is to be so disciplined as to read a certain portion of it daily and ask these simple questions: (1) What does it say?, and; (2) What does it say to me? When our goal is to do what it says we have moved into the realm of loving the truth.

THE event of the ages is coming but not before events that will challenge us to the very core of our faith. Knowing that storms are approaching necessitates certain preparations. God in His grace has given advance warning so that His people can be adequately prepared and protected.

Anticipating the Great Event while preparing for the preceding storms,

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Good morning -

The main thing is to not lose sight of the main thing. There are myriads of good things that can easily displace the pursuit of the best, but ultimately the priority is to stay focused on the best.

"Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one." (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3)

For the Apostle Paul "the main thing" was always the advancement of the word of God. He was absolutely consumed with this top-priority purpose. And he was so focused and consumed with this great purpose that he called upon those impacted by the word to join him in the most effective way possible: through prayer.

What could be accomplished today if each of us focused on "the main thing" and actively sought the prayers of others so that "the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified"? Even more basic, what if each of us simply began our day by praying that simple request for ourselves?

The most common objection I've heard over the years regarding speaking the word of God to others is unfamiliarity over what it really is. "I don't know enough about the Bible to talk to others about it" is a common complaint. Sadly, allowing that concern to hinder us from speaking the word to others guarantees that we will never personally grow in our knowledge and understanding. One of the greatest ways to grow in what we know is to share what we do know. That's my personal benefit in writing these thoughts to you: I grow in my understanding by sharing what the Lord has allowed me to understand of His word.

Getting the word of the Lord out to others is important enough for us to devote time in personal study as well as soliciting the prayers of others for this great cause. It's also important to pray for protection from those who oppose truth with a recognition that the Lord is faithful to strengthen and protect us from the opposition of the evil one.

With a clear recognition that the word of the Lord is essentially "testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets" (Acts 28:23), let us resolve to be consumed with this great purpose.

Let's quietly start a "Word Revolution" today. Pray "that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified" through your life and the lives of other believers. That focus will guarantee that "the main thing" truly is the main thing.

Praying and anticipating great things through the word,

Pastor Steve

Friday, November 02, 2007

Good morning -

Could it really be that simple? Is it really the answer to one of our biggest questions? Apparently so.

"in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Every follower of Christ seeks to know the will of the Lord for their life. Much time, effort, and prayer goes in to learning His will for us in areas such as career, marriage, service, and where to live. But could His will be as simple as "in everything give thanks"? Perhaps it really is that simple.

There is often a misconception regarding Paul's words here that require an important clarification. There is a world of difference between the word "in" and "for". I've talked with believers who thought these words indicated that God's will is that we should be thankful FOR everything. It is important that we see that we are directed to be thankful in the midst of everything rather than FOR everything. Regardless of our circumstances, we must never lose the ability to be thankful because this truly is God's will for us in Christ Jesus.

Thankfulness is to be the pervading attitude of those who eagerly expect the return of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God. We are reminded to "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17) as well as to give thanks in everything. The overwhelming joy and expectation that the return of Christ brings to our lives expresses itself through perpetual rejoicing and prayer. Eternal optimism concerning the outcome of our lives powerfully motivates praise, prayer, and thanksgiving.

The Church at Thessalonica to which Paul addressed this important letter had a distorted view regarding how to live in response to the fact of the return of Jesus. Their belief in his soon return led them to quite their jobs, shirk daily responsibilities, and idly look up in expectation every day. Zealous believers throughout the ages have done similar things; even in our age today. Not many years ago a band of followers ascended a mountain and waited naked for the Second Coming, expecting to be clothed in immortality. At some point these cold, disappointed disciples must have returned to normal life and reevaluated their response to the hope of Christ's return.

If we believe, we will be moved to rejoice, pray and be thankful. It really is that simple. A life today of thankful, optimistic service, outreach, and holiness is the most fitting response to the motivating hope of tomorrow.

Seeking to cultivate praise, thanks, and joy while waiting,

Pastor Steve

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good morning -

Sometimes we're so busy living today that we lose sight of tomorrow. The routine and rhythm of life can seem so predictable and mundane that we fail to consider the dramatic suddenness that will usher in the age to come. There is a specific date and time fixed on God's calendar in which everything will change.

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Many have sought to pinpoint the time of Jesus' return based upon "the signs of the times", but the only real "sign" given will be "the sign of the Son of Man" which "will appear in the sky" (Matthew 24:30) at the actual return of Jesus. Eternity will break through the ordinary with incredible swiftness. For those who are prepared, it will be a time of indescribable joy; for the unprepared, it will be indescribable sorrow.

The fact that is so obvious but so easily overlooked is that He IS coming back. Our rendezvous with this great event is certain and inescapable. There won't be time, as that day approaches, to cease our daily routines and move into "preparation mode"; every day and every moment IS "preparation mode".

I'd love to be near a cemetery when the Great Day occurs. I can almost picture the silent ascension of dead believers from their graves to their appointed rendezvous with the triumphant returning Christ. There will be only a moment to ponder this incredible sight because our instantaneous change from mortality to immortality will occur very shortly after this great event. Within moments we will be transported to the side of resurrected believers around the presence of Christ as He returns. And "so we shall always be with the Lord". Our present fragmented and imperfect relationship with Christ will come to perfect and complete wholeness. We will be inseparable! It's little wonder that we are reminded to "comfort one another with these words." Are there any words or truth more reassuring?

In this midst of today's busyness may you take time to consider the amazing future that is destined to break through in an instant. May the thought of this wonderful truth bring great joy and comfort to you as you live today for the bright tomorrow in store for all who believe.

Pastor Steve